Therefore, when Van Helmont tells us that, “though a homogeneal part of elementary earth may be artfully (artificially) converted into water,” though he still denies “that the same can be done by nature alone; for no natural agent is able to transmute one element into another,” offering as a reason that the elements always remain the same, we must believe him, if not quite an ignoramus, at least an unprogressed disciple of the mouldy “old Greek philosophy.” Living and dying in blissful ignorance of the future sixty-three substances, what could either he or his old master, Paracelsus, achieve? Nothing, of course, but metaphysical and crazy speculations, clothed in a meaningless jargon common to all mediaeval and ancient alchemists. Nevertheless, in comparing notes, we find in the latest of all works upon modern chemistry, the following: “The study of chemistry has revealed a remarkable class of substances, from no one of which a second substance has ever been produced by any chemical process which weighs less than the original substance . . . by no chemical process whatever can we obtain from iron a substance weighing less than the metal used in its production. In a word, we can extract from iron nothing but iron.” Moreover, it appears, according to Professor Cooke, that “seventy-five years ago men did not know there was any difference” between elementary and compound substances, for in old times alchemists had never conceived “that weight is the measure of material, and that, as thus measured, no material is ever lost; but, on the contrary, they imagined that in such experiments as these the substances involved underwent a mysterious transformation. . . . Centuries,” in short,

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“were wasted in vain attempts to transform the baser metals into gold.”

Is Professor Cooke, so eminent in modern chemistry, equally proficient in the knowledge of what the alchemists did or did not know? Is he quite sure that he understands the meaning of the alchemical diction? We are not. But let us compare his views as above expressed with but sentences written in plain and good, albeit old English, from the translations of Van Helmont and Paracelsus. We learn from their own admissions that the alkahest induces the following changes:

“(1.) The alkahest never destroys the seminal virtues of the bodies thereby dissolved: for instance, gold, by its action, is reduced to a salt of gold, antimony to a salt of antimony, etc., of the same seminal virtues, or characters with the original concrete.

(2.) The subject exposed to its operation is converted into its three principles, salt, sulphur, and mercury, and afterwards into salt alone, which then becomes volatile, and at length is wholly turned into clear water.

(3.) Whatever it dissolves may be rendered volatile by a sand-heat; and if, after volatilizing the solvent, it be distilled therefrom, the body is left pure, insipid water, but always equal in quantity to its original self.” Further, we find Van Helmont, the elder, saying of this salt that it will dissolve the most untractable bodies into substances of the same seminal virtues, “equal in weight to the matter dissolved”; and he adds, “This salt, by being several times cohobated with Paracelsus’ sal circulatum, loses all its fixedness, and at length becomes an insipid water, equal in quantity to the salt it was made from.”

The objection that might be made by Professor Cooke, in behalf of modern science, to the hermetic expressions, would equally apply to the Egyptian hieratic writings — they hide that which was meant to be concealed. If he would profit by the labors of the past, he must employ the cryptographer, and not the satirist. Paracelsus, like the rest, exhausted his ingenuity in transpositions of letters and abbreviations of words and sentences. For example, when he wrote sutratur he meant tartar, and mutrin meant nitrum, and so on. There was no end to the pretended explanations of the meaning of the alkahest. Some imagined that it was an alkaline of salt of tartar salatilized; others that it meant algeist, a German word which means all-spirit, or spirituous. Paracelsus usually termed salt “the centre of water wherein metals ought to die.” This gave rise to the most absurd suppositions, and some persons — such as Glauber — thought that the alkahest was the spirit of salt. It requires no little hardihood to assert that Paracelsus and his colleagues were ignorant of the natures of elementary and compound substances; they may not be called by

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