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Allegorical letter about an alchemical adept

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This allegorical letter which I recent uncovered in MS. Sloane 3667 (folios 15v-16v) in the British Library, a compilation of short pieces dated to the middle-late 17th century, is of interest as it has some parallels with the myth of the discovery of the tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz recounted in the Fama Fraternitatis. It is written as a drama rather than as a factual account of some events. The author leads the reader through his story building the suspense, teasing us with a few details, such as the astonishing way in which news of his master's death was conveyed a great distance through the use of a certain instrument. He keeps us waiting many paragraphs before telling us the secret. The author does to some extent give the game away, because he is so eager to capture the attention of his potential reader that he appends to the rather formal opening about the letter communicated to him by Duke Frederick the words "come and see". This enticement to read would be of course out of place in a genuine letter. The story itself is a fascinating one, that suggests the existence of a adept working for many years in so secret a manner that even his servant did not suspect the truth. This adept passes on his knowledge to his nephew thus keeping the wisdom he had gained within the family circle.
There are many parallels with the Rosicrucian myth. The quiet secrecy and dignity of the Adept, his desire to help others through giving of alms, his generosity to the writer of the letter in rescuing him from the life of an orphan, and his interest in curing diseases; his secret chamber, which was both an oratory and laboratory; his great wealth, though outwardly simple style of living. His spiritual knowledge was in some way bound up with highly developed technology, the ever-burning lights (also found in the Rosicrucian allegories), and the mechanical contrivances such as the telegraphic device. At the end of the story, as with the Rosicrucian myth, we are left holding the feeling that the knowledge known to these adepts was never to be openly revealed, and that somehow a tradition of esoteric mystical and alchemical wisdom continues hidden behind outwardly undemonstrative and quiet individualities. The impression is given that esoteric wisdom is nourished in secrecy and quiet dignity, and that it can only be found though undertaking the kind of inner quest pursued by the Rosicrucians or the adept recounted below, and cannot be had in the brash clamour of the market place, among the hustlers and image makers. These allegories told their readers in their own time of the seventeenth century, that they must look within for the wisdom they sought, a message which is of even more relevance today when there are so many more distractions to the contemplative life.
Adam McLean


An Allegorical Letter
about an Alchemical Adept


The following letter communicated to me by the Most Serene Prince Frederick Duke of Holsatia and Sleswick relates things strange and unheard of, come and see.

My Friend,

You have desired of me an account of the life, death, inheritance and heires of my master B.J. of happy memory. I returne you this answer in Latine as yours to me was, though I be not exactly skilled in it.

He was by nation a Jew, by religion a Christian, for he believed in Christ the Saviour, and openly made profession of the same. He was a man of fervent honesty and gave great alms in secret. He lived chastely, a batchelor, and took me when I was about 20 years of age out of the house where orphans are maintained by the publick, and caused me to be instructed in the Latine, French and Italian tongues, which I afterwards by use added the Jewish or Hebrew. He made use of me so far as I was capable in his laboratory, for he had great skill in physick and cured most desperate diseases.

When I was 25 years of age, he called me into his parlour and made me swear to him that I would never marry without his consent and knowledge, which I promised and have religously kept.

When I was 30 years of age on a morning he sends for me into his parlour, and said very lovingly to me, "My son, I perceive that the balsome of my life by reason of extreme old age coming on," (for he was above 80 years of age), "is well nigh wasted, and that consequently my death is at the doore, wherefore I have writ my last will and testament for the use of and benefit of my brothers sons, and you: I have laid it upon the table of my closet, wither neither you nor any mortal ever entered, for thou doest not so much as knock at the door during the hours set apart for my devotion." Having said this he went to the double door of his closet and daubed over the joynings thereof with a certain transparent crystalline matter, which he wrought with his finger till it became soft and yeilding like wax, and imprinted his golden seale upon it, the said matter was immediately hardened by the cold air, so that without defacing the seal the doore could no way be opened.

Then he took the keys of the closet and shut them up in a small cabinet and sealed the same as before with the said crystalline matter, and delivered the said cabinet, after he had sealed it, into my hands, and charged me to deliver the same to none but his brothers sons, Mr Jesse, Abrah, and Salomon Jootha, who at that time lived in Switzerland, the eldest of them being as batchelor.

After this he returned with me into the parlor and in my presence dropped the Golden Seal he had made use of into a glass of clear water, in which the said Seal was immediately dissolved like ice in hot water, a white powder settling to the bottom, and the liquor was tinged with the pale red of a provaince rose. Then he closed the said glass vial with the above mentioned transparent matter, and charged me to deliver the said vial together with the keys to Mr Jesse.

This being done he repeated upon his bended knees some of David psalmes in Hebrew and betooke himself to his couch, where he was used to sleep after dinner, and commanded me to bring him a glass of Malago, which now and then he sparingly made use of. As soone as he had drunk of his wine, he bid me to come to him, and leaning his hand upon my shoulders, he fell into a quiet sleep, and after half an hour time he fetched a deep sigh, and so yeilded his Soul to God to me great astonishment.

Upon this I according to my promise writ unto Switzerland to give notice of his death to Nephews and to my great wonder that very day after my blessed master died I received a letter from Mr Jesse, wherein he enquired whether my master were dead or alive, as if he had known every thing that had passed, as indeed he did, by means of a certain instrument, of which I shall make mention.

A little after his nephews came, to whom I gave an account of what had passed, at which Mr Jesse heard with a smile, but the other brothers not without astonishment and wonder. I gave the keys together with the glass in which was the fairest golden solution, but they refused to meddle with anything that day, being tired with their journey, but on the morrow, after I had carefully shut all the doors of the house and none but they and I being present, Mr Jesse took the glass vial and broke it over a china dish which might receive the enclosed liquor, and then took some of the liquor and put it upon the transparent matter with which the cabinet was sealed, and immediately the matter which before was hard as Crystal was resolved into a thickish water. So he opened the cabinet and tooke thence the keys of the closet.

Then we came to the door of the closet where Mr Jesse having seen the seal he wet it as formerly with the aforementioned liquid, which immediately gave way, and so he opened the said double doors, but shut it again, and falling down upon his knees prayed as we also did, then we entered, and shut the doors upon us. Here we saw great miracles.

In the midst of the Closet stood a table whose frame was of ebony, the table itself was round and of the same wood, but covered with plates of beaten gold. Before the table was placed a low footstool for to kneel upon, in the midst of the table stood an instrument of a strange and wonderful contrivance, the lower part of it, or pedestal was of pure gold, the middlemost part was of the most transparent crystal in which was enclosed an incombustible and perpetually shining fire, the upper part of it was likewise of pure gold made in the form of a small cup or vial.

Just above this instrument hung down a chain of gold, to which was fastened an artificial crystal, of an oval forme filled with the aforesaid perpetual fire, on the right side of the table we took notice of a golden box and upon the same a little spoon. This box contained a balsam of a scarlet colour. On the left side we saw a little desk of massy gold, upon which was laid a book containing 12 leaves of pure beaten gold, being tractable and flexible as paper. In the midst of the leaves were several characters engraved, as likewise in the corners of the leaves, but in the space between the centre and the corners of the leaves were filled with holy prayers.

Under the desk we found the last will of my deceased master, whilst we were in the closet, Mr Jesse kneeled down leaning upon the desk, and with most humble devotion, repeated some of the aforementioned prayers, and then with the little spoon took up a small quantity of the foresaid balsam and put it into the top of the instrument which was in the midst of the table, and instantly a most grateful smell ascended which with its most pleasing odour, did most sensibly refresh us, but that which to me seemed miraculous was that the said fumes ascending caused the perpetual fire enclosed in the hanging crystal, to flash and blaze terribly, like some great star or lightning.

After this Mr Jesse read the will, wherein he bequeathed to Mr Jesse, all his instruments and books of wisdom and the rest of his goods to be equally divided between him and his brothers, besides he left me a legacy of 600 golden ducatoons as an acknowledgement of my fidelity.

And accordingly first enquiry was made for the instruments and books of wisdom. Of those that were on and about the table, I have spoke already. In the right side of the closet stood a chest of ebony whose inside was all covered with plates of beaten gold and contained 12 instruments all of beaten gold wonderfully turned and contrived with several characters engraven upon them. From thence we went to view a large chest containing 12 looking glasses not made out of glass, but of a certain wonderful unknown matter. The centre of the looking glasses were filled with wonderful characters, the brims of them were enclosed in pure gold, and between the said brims and centre they were polished looking glasses receiving all opposite images.

After this we opened a very large chest or case in which we found a most capacious looking glass which Mr Jesse told us was Salomon's looking glass, and the miracle of the whole world, in which the characterisms of the whole universe were united.

We also saw in a box of ebony, a globe made of a wonderfull matter. Mr Jesse told us that in the said globe was shut up the fire and soul of the world, and that therefore the said globe of itself performed all its motions in a exact harmony and agreement with those of the universe.

Upon this box aforementioned, stood another which contained an instrument resembling a clock dial, but instead of the figures of the twelve hours, the letters of the alphabet were placed around this with a hand or index turning and pointing at them. Mr Jesse told us that this instrument would move of itself, upon the motion of a corresponding and sympathetic instrument which he had at home, and that by this instrument my happy master had signified to him his approaching death, and that after this signification finding that this instrument remained without motion he concluded my master was dead.

Last of all we came to the books of wisdome, which he opened not. Near the said books was placed a box of Gold, full of a most ponderous powder of a deep scarlet colour, which Mr Jesse smiling took and put up.

Near to the closet where we were was another closet adjoining, which we entered into and there found 4 great chests full of small ingots of most pure gold, out of which they gave me my legacy of 6000 golden Ducatoons in a double proportion, but Mr Jesse refused to take for himselfe any of the said gold for he said that those things which were afore bequeathed to him, did fully content him; for he was skilled in my masters Art, and therefore ordered his part of the gold be bestowed upon several poore Virgins known to them, to make up their portions. I myself married one of these and has with her a good portion out of the said gold. She embraced the Christian religion and is yet alive. Mr Jesse packed up all his things and carried them home with him into Switzerland who, since that, he hath chose himself a quiet and well tempered place in the East Indies, from whence he writ to me in the last year, offering me to adopt my Eldest Son whom I have accordingly sent to him.

During the time we were in the closet I saw strange miracles effected by the motions of the said instrument of wisdom, which I neither can nor dare to set downe in writing. This much my intimate friend I was willing you should know. More I cannot add.

Farewell.


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