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Bernard of Treviso's quest for the Stone

This is an extract from an English translation in MS Ferguson 28, of a work on alchemy by Bernard [1406-1490] Count of the Mark of Treviso (in fact Treves), which includes his famous fountain allegory.
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Part second,
in which are described the huge labours of the Author
and the great expences with the singular operations from the beginning to the end,
and truly with the most incontrivertibly success.

When I first undertook this work the Book of Rases fell into my hands in which indeed I laboured 4 years and expended 800 Crowns: also in Geber's books I threw away more that 2000; many imposters soliciting and inducing me thereto that they might exhaust my substance. In this manner I inspected the books of Archelaos for three years in which I operated along with a certain monk and in the books of Rupecissa and Joh. de Sacrobosco by means of Aquae vitae (spirit rectified thirty times with the faeces, so that it went off in such acridity that no glass could contain it), in that labour I lost other three hundred Crowns. Twelve or fifteen years having been consumed in this manner and innumerable monies, without benefit, after the experiments of many received ones, it dissolving and congealing common, ammoniacal, pineal, saracen, and metallic salts, then more than a hundred times calcining them in the space of two years; also in alums of all kinds, in marcasites, blood, hair, urine, human dung and semen, animals and vegetables, in coperas, vitriols, soot, eggs, by separation of the elements in an Athanor by the alembic, and the Pelican, by circulation, boiling, reverberation, ascension, descension, fusion, ignition, elementation, rectification, evaporation, conjunction, elevation, subtilation, and commixtion: and other infinite regimens of sophistications to which I stuck for twelve years having attained 38 years of age, still insisting upon extractions of the Mercuries from herbs and animals, thus had I uselessly dilapidated, as well by my own folly as by the seduction of imposters, about 6000 Crowns so that I became almost despondent. But nevertheless in my prayers I never forgot to beseech God that he would deign to assist my endeavours.

Afterwards I fell in with a certain Magistrate of our Country at the same time investigating, who endeavoured to make the Stone out of common Salt, dissolving this in the air and congealing it in the Sun, with many other processes too prolix for narration. In this work a year and a half was spent in empty labour because we did not operate upon the true substance. In vain we sought for it, in the above substance although it is asserted for truth in the Codex Turbae [Hermeticae]. When therefore common Salt could be no means be made to yeild what we wished, and after even 5 to 10 repetitions of our labours appeared to demonstrate to us no change whatever of its natural properties, we gave up all further trials of it.

Moreover we saw others dissolving in most strong waters the finest Silver, Copper and other metals, also argentum vivum in the same strong waters, which was put aside in a separate vessel and at length mixing all the solutions of that description, after suffering them to rest for twelve entire months, asserting that this permixtion was the conjunction of the spirit and body. They placed the vessel of this description upon hot ashes until the third part of the water was evaporated, they exposed the residue to the rays of the Sun thinking that cristalline concretions would thence be procreated, white, congealed and liquable, able to extract from the white metal a white tincture and from the red metal, the red tincture, but of 22 phials half full of this liquor they gave three to us. We all waited for the event of the generation of the said concretions in the bottoms of the vessels for 5 years, but in vain: indeed, as is said in the Turba, there is no need of any thing extraneous for that Stone: for it is manufactured by itself in its own metallic matter.

At that time I had completed the 46th year of my age when I attempted the Stone along with a learned monk called Gotfried Lepor as had been premeditated by him. We knew that every other work than the Stone was vain and frustraneous: therefore we attempted to fabricate it in the following manner viz: We bought two thousand hens eggs, which we separated by boiling them hard in water, calcining the shells to the utmost whiteness; but we allowed the yolks and the whites, each by itself, to putrefy in horse dung and afterwards we distilled thirty times into a white water and a red oil separately with many other useless processes, which we shall not now relate. In this vain work two years and a half were also spent without utility and at a very great expense which being finished we would have deserted the pursuit entirely if we had not been supported by new hopes: we began again to investigate the sublimation of spirits, the distillations of strong waters, the separation of the elements, various structures of furnaces and fires, in which we were occupied eight years.

A certain other learned Theologian Prothonatory of Berg then joined us, with whom also we tried to get the Stone, and by whose investigation we thought to procure it from vitriol alone, and in the first place we distilled the acetum acerrimum eight times, in which we dissolved and abstracted vitriol called calcined: again we abstracted the infusion ten and five times every day for the space of two months, on account of the very vehement smell of which I laboured under a quartan fever fourteen months. We permitted the mixture to rest for this whole year, but with no fruit, because it was extraneous matter.

It was afterwards told us by a certain learned man, Confessor to the Emperor, whose name was Magister Henricus, that he did most certainly possess and retain the mastery of the Stone. In order therefore that we might attain the knowledge of it, it became necessary for the greatest mediation of friendship, and besides an expense of more than 200 Crowns, before he could render it familiar to us. He operated in the following manner: he made a paste of Silver and Mercury and oil of Olives, boiling it at the same time on a slow fire in a very well luted pelican and incorporating it with a wooden spatula, but the matter could never be mixed into one body, even in the space of two months. At length having placed this matter into another phial, at the same time strongly luted and sealed, we buried it altogether in hot ashes and we kept up the fire around it thinking that the Mercurium would be converted into argentum optimum in the course of 15 or 21 days by virtue of the sulphureous body (the oil). The decoction being taken out of the phial, was placed upon a test with Lead, and by a very violent fire was all melted into one (vitrious) mass. Which being revived by means of a piece of burning charcoal we expected to have found our Silver increased one third part in its weight. For my own part I gave ten Marks of Silver, others thirty-two marks, from which we thought to have received one hundred and thirty Marks. But it happened otherways, since my companions only received twelve out of their Marks, and I got four from my ten.

Wherefore by believing that this Father Confessor had the secret I was made poorer by forty Crowns and in great grief I abstained for two months, and that I might entirely relinquish the work my relations tormented and teased me daily, so that I could neither eat nor drink and was reduced to such an emaciated condition that every body thought that I had received some deadly poison. Nevertheless I speedily became a thousand times more inflamed than ever, because I was ashamed of having spent my time so uselessly; I was then in my 58th year. The cause of all my errors alas! was this alone, that wandering astray I never operated in the congruous matter...

...We saw innumerable persons operating in amalgamations and multiplications at the White and Red, in matter of every kind which can be thought of by very great labours and so great perseverance that greater cannot be used, but we never hitherto saw Silver enriched a third part or even in the least degree. Nevertheless we saw infinite dealbations and rubifications, and many sophistications received in various and different regions such as Rome, Navarre, Scotland, Turkey, Greece, Alexandria, Barbary, Persia, Messina, Rhodes, France, Spain, the Holy Land, and in neighbouring regions, in Italy, Germany, England, and almost round all the world, we have as yet seen nobody in these places, but such as were labouring in sophistic matters such as herbs, vegetables, animals, plants, minerals, stones, salts, alums, strong waters, by distillations, separations of elements, sublimations, calcinations, congelations of Argentum vivum, by means of herbs, stones, waters, oils, fumes, fires, and even with extraneous vessels, but never found any body operating upon congruous material substances. We found some in their regions who knew the method and the secret of making the Stone; but we could never attain their familiar confidence. Wherefore here and there running about, investigating and xperimenting, I had already consumed 10,300 Golden Crowns. I had also sold a certain propertie which was worth 8 thousand Florins German money, so that I fell into disgrace with all my relations, because I was reduced to poverty and very little money now remained to me, and I was then 62 years old and upwards. Nevertheless although ruined in my circumstances by so many adversities, yet I was not wearied in my mind so as to desist from my design but rather confiding in the mercy of God, never failing in good will to diligent men, leaving my Country in great disgrace, I went to Rhodes unknown to all mankind, in order to console my afflictions.

One day, I had heard of a certain man, very religious and of a great name. There was a rumour that he possessed the Stone so much sought after, with whom I entered into friendship at a very great expense. I borrowed from a person who knew my relations very well, eight thousand Florins. The formula of his labour was this. He placed in horse dung Gold and Silver very well refined and foliated, mixed with four parts of sublimated Mercury, which had stood eleven months in the dung. He distilled the water from it with a most vehement fire: we calcined the earthy residue at the bottom of the vessel in a violent fire per se, but we distilled the water again six times. With each distillation we joined the earth subsiding from the first, and repeated the distillation so often that no more residue was deposited. The earth being triturated and placed in an urinal we sprinkled them by degrees, but in vain did we attempt with great labour to make them imbibe their own water: yet we could never mix them because the water always swam above the earth, although we kept it in continued heat for the space of seven months there was no conjunction, no alteration, the fire being even increased, which having been found frivolous, and having spent three years upon`it, and thrown away 500 Crowns, we gave up the work.

That religious man had most excellent chemical books such as Rosarius magnus, Arnaldus de Villanova, the Book of the Words of Mary the Prophetess, in which finally I began to study and abstained from the work eight years. The for the first time I ascertained by evident philosophical reasons, that whatever I had done before were only foolish and useless labours, particularly when I considered the following saying of great truth in the Codex "Nature, is not amended unless in its own proper nature, Nature delights in her own nature, Nature conquers Nature, and Nature retains Nature". After having studied this book I was brought out of all my sophistications and erroneous labours. I therefore resolved to study first rather than begin to operate again at a great expense and without fruit. Many nights did I pass without sleep assiduously arguing with myself and concluding in this opinion: what occasion is there that I should seek this art from mankind, in vain tormenting myself in this manner? If they do know the art they will never reveal it; if they do not know it, in vain do I meddle with them, and endeavour to gain their confidence and friendship at a great expense. I considered strongly in what places of the book chiefly concurred in the same meaning, thinking that there the truth lay concealed which cannot exist in many meanings, but in one alone; in this manner the truth became obvious to me and what I so anxiously sought after was contained in one point.

Although one calls it by one name and another by another, yet it is the same substance, the sole error is committed in the diversity of words and not in the concordances. Therefore, my Children, I have written this book for your sakes, lest you should despond or fail in your minds from being so miserably led astray as I was; moreover it is always the safest way to learn from others misfortunes.

I truly believe (so may God love me) that those men who have written figuratively and parabolically about hair, urine, blood, sperms, herbs, vegetables, animals, plants, mineral stones, as salts, alums, coperas, attramenta, vitriols, boraxes, magnesia, had never operated at all upon these matters, but described them out of sheer cruelty. And I am very sorry indeed, of the calamities and miseries of those unfortunate people, who have been led into such labyrinths by Impostors. Whoever therefore is inclined to repose confidence in me will not do so without very great advantage, as my sole labour will be to instruct others. Whoever will not believe me will soon experience what fatality attends the bad examples of others. Shun the sophistications Alchemists by all means, and all those who give their faith to them. For if the reading of true books should teach you any good, they endeavour to carry you off by false oaths and asseverations all to lead you off from the true road, having nothing to excuse their errors but this "I have often made it", say they, "but at present I do not possess that which is requisite for it" - or they say "if such and such things are added". Unless you shun more strongly than the plague those impostors and scoundrels, you will never make and good of this Art.

Before I perfected this work by an experiment, I learned the art for two years from books, nevertheless whem detestable men and damnable thieves of that description came to me, they asserted with solemn oaths that the most manifest errors were true experiments, however they had long ago made me almost mad on account of the great expense to which I had been put. I was never confirmed in my own good opinions until I had entirely given up the company of such fellows, and proceeded most vigilantly in my own studies on that subject. Whoever desires to learn the true Art will associate with wise men, that is to say, he will read their books and not those of Impostors, although they speak in obscure language...