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learned and philosophical men.
In the more intellectual among them the folly had something of virtue in it, for they fed their fancies with the hope ofiliscoveries which should aggrandize their country, or render their own names immortal; but, with the selfish or sensual adepts, the motives were ignoble, and the anticipations gross; for they dreamt only of those enjoyments, which Ben Johnson has made Sir Epicure Mammon contemplate, as the rich and certain harvest of the discovery of the grand arcanum:
My meat shall all come in, in Indian shells,
“ My shirts I'll have of taffeta sarsnet, soft and light As cobwebs; and for all my other raiment, It shall be such as might provoke the Persian, Were be to teach the world riot anew." Whatever might be the fallaciousness, how. ever, of the promises of alchymy, the folly of its means, or the absurdity of its expec
tations; yet it found, in our own country, not only private acceptance, but public encouragement. The law of the land took the veritable adept under its protection; and, while it promulgated its prohibitions and punishments against impostors, charletans, and mere pretenders; it provided that the search of the grand arcanum should be prosecuted in quiet and safety, by those whom it deemed to be worthy of such a sanction.
In the year 1449, the alchymy-smitten Robert Bolton humbly applies to Henry VI. for letters patent, to authorise him to exercise his processes without the interruption of certain persons, who falsely accused him of pursuing an illicit art, (supponunt ipsum per artem illicitam operare,) and obtains from the king a license for life, to transfer, or transubstantiate, ever or any imperfect metal into perfect gold or silver.*
In the year 1452, a similar license, for the same purpose, and to the same effect, was granted by Henry to John Mistelden.t
Rymer's Foedera, tom. xi. p. 240.
+ Ib. p. 307.
| Another license occurs, under the year 1456, which authorises. three persons (John Fauceby, John Kirkeby, and John Rayny, reruditissimi in scientiis naturalibus,) to make the elixir of life, and the philosopher's slone, without let or obstruction. It states, that, whereas certain ancient, wise, and most famous philosophers had taught and handed down, in their books and writings, that it was possible to produce from wine, precious stones, oils, animals, and vegetables, many glorious and notable medicines, and more especially a certain most precious medicine, which some called the mother and empress of philosophers; others, the inestimable glory; others, the quint-essence (quintam essentiam); and others, the stone of philosophers, and the elixir of life ; and that, whereas, the virtue of this medicine was such, that it would cure all curable diseases, lengthen life, preserve the bodily powers and intellectual faculties in original perfection to the close of existence; that it would, moreover, heal, without difficulty, all wounds capable of being healed; would prove a certain antidote to poison; and
transmute other metals into the veriest gold, and the finest silver; therefore, his Majesty, reflecting how useful and delectable such a discovery, if effected, would be to himself and his dominions, had conceded perinission to the above-named triumvirate to proceed in their investigations, jointly and severally, according to their own discretion, and to the rules and processes directed by their learned prede
And, not further to multiply examples, we have, in Rymer, a fourth royal privilege recorded, granted to William Savage, Hugo Hurdeleston, and Henry Hyne, to transmute metals into gold and silver, as freely and uninterruptedly as Richard Trevys, doctor in theology, John Billok, and William Downes, had heretofore been permitted to do.t
We have already hinted that such sanctions as the above were necessary to render alchymical processes legal acts; for both religion and law had prohibited the general prosecution of them. Pious Papists had been deterred from alchymy by a constitution of Pope John XXII. in the year 1316; and, in England, the
• Ib. p. 379. # Ib. p. 462.
statute passed in the fifth of Henry IV. had denounced the practice, under severe pains and penalties. “ None, from henceforth,” says the Act, “shall use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication; and if any the same do, he shall incur the pain of felony."* But legal restrictions contend in vain against the powerful propensities of avarice. Where the prospect of gain is great, prohibitions will be disregarded, and the most formidable risks encountered: the smuggler will continue to run his goods, in defiance of fine and incarceration
and. Waylands and Alascoes will never be wanting to back the folly of their deluded patrons. The search of the panacea, and the stone which was to “ turn all it touched to gold," was pursued with ardour, though silently and secretly, through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and only entirely disappeared at that recent period, when true science demonstrated to common sense the absurdity of the pursuit, and the vanity of its expectations.
* Stat. at large, 5 Henry IV. Lord Coke says, that this is the shortest Act of parliament that ever came within his knowledge.