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The Golden Calf

The famous story of an alchemical transmutation reported by John Frederick Helvetius. The Golden Calf, Which the World Adores, and Desires..., London 1670.
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Chapter III.

At the Hague, on the sixth Calend of January, or the 27th of December, in the year 1666, a certain man came to my House in the Afternoon, to me indeed planely unknown, but endued with an honest gravity, and serious authority of Countenance, cloathed in a Plebeick Habit, like to some Memnonite: of a middle Stature, his Visage somewhat long, with some Pock-holes here and there dispersed: his Hairs were indeed very black, yet not curled, little or no hair on his Chin, and about three or four and fourty years of Age: his Countrey (as far as I am able to conjecture) is the Septentrional Batavia, vulgarly called Nord-Holland.

After salutations ended, this new Guest, with great Reverence, asked, whether he might have freedom to come to me; because for the Pyrotechnick Art sake, he could not, nor was he willing to pass by the Door of my house; adding, that he had not only thought to have made use of some Friend to come to me, but had also read some of my little Treatises, especially that, which I published, against D. Digbies Sympathetick Powder, in which I discovered my doubt of the true Philosophick Mystery. Therefore, this occasion being taken, he asked me, whether I could believe, that place was given to such a Mystery in the things of Nature, by the benefit of which a Physician might be able to cure all Diseases universally, unless the Sick already had a defect either of the Lungs, or Liver, or of any like noble Member?

To which I answered. Such a remedy is exceedingly necessary for a Physician, but no man knows what and how great are the Secrets yet hidden in Nature, nor did I ever in all my Life see such an Adept Man, although I have read and perused many things, touching the verity of this thing, or Art, in the Writings of Philosophers. I also enquired of him, whether he (speaking of the Universal Medicine) were not a Physician?

But he answered by denyal, professed, that he was no other than a Melter of Orichalcum, and that in the Flower of his years, he had known many things, from his Friend, rare to the Sight, and especially the way of Extracting Medicinal Arcanums by the force of Fire, and that for this very cause, he was a Lover of this so noble Science of Medicine.

Moreover, long after other discourses, touching Experiments in Metals, made by the violence of Fire, Elias the Artist spake to me thus; Do you not know the Highest Secret, when it is offered to your sight, viz. the Stone of Phylosophers, you having read in the Writings of many Chymists most excellent, touching the Substance, Colour, and strange effect of the same?

I answered, not at all; except what I have read in Paracelsus, Helmont, Basilius, Sandivogius, and like Books of Adept Phylosophers extant. Nevertheless, I think, I am not able to know the Phylosophick Matter, whether it be true, or not, although I should see it present before me.

Whilst I was speaking thus, he pulled out of his Pocket and Ivory Box, in which he had three ponderous Fragments, in magnitude scarcely equalizing a small Walnut; these were Glass-like, of the colour of pale Sulphur, to which the Interior Scales of that Crucible did adhere, in which this most noble Substance was liquified, for I suppose the Value of it might equalize twenty Tun of Gold. But after I had plighted my Faith, I held that Cheimelion [or precious Treasure] of this Stone, within these my hands, for almost a quarter of an hour, and from the Philosophick Mouth of the Owner, I heard many things worthy of note, touching the same, for humane and Metallic bodies. Indeed, I, with a sad and afflictedly afflicted Mind, restored this Treasure of Treasures to him, the Lord and Possessor, who gave the same into my hand for a very short space of time; and yet I did that (after the manner of Men overcoming themselves) not without the greatest action of thanks, as was fit in such a Case. Afterwards I asked him, how it came to pass, (since I had otherwise read, that the Stones of Philosophers were endowed with a Rubinate, or Purple Colour) that this his Philosophick Stone was tinged with a Sulphureous Colour?

He answered me thus: O Sir, this is nothing to the purpose: for the Matter is Sufficiently mature.

Moreover, when I entreated him, that he would give to me, for a perpetual remembrance, one small part of the Medicine included in his Box, although no more in bulk than a Coriander-Seed; he denied, answering: O no! For this is not lawful for me to do, although you would give me this whole Roome full of Gold in Duckets; and that not be reason of the price of the Matter, but by reason of another certain Consequence. Yea, surely, if it were possible, that Fire could be burned with Fire, I would sooner cast this whole Substance into the devouring Flames of Vulcan, before your Eyes.

A little after this, he also asked me, whether I had not another Room, the Windows of which were not to the Street-side; I presently brought this Phaenix, or Bird most rare to be seen in this Land, into my best furnished Chamber; yet he, at his Entrance (as in the manner of Hollanders is, in their Countryes) did not shake off his Shoes, which were dropping wet with Snow. I indeed, at that very time, thus thought: perhaps he will provide, or hath in readiness some Treasure for me; but he dashed my hope all to pieces. For he immediately asked of me a piece of the best Gold-mony; and in the mean while layed off his Cloak, and Country Coat; also he opened his Bosom, and under his Shirt he wore in green Silk, five great Golden Pendants, round, filling up the magnitude of the Interior Space or an Orb of Tin. Where, in comparing these, in respect of Colour and Flexibility, the difference between his Gold, and mine, was exceedingly great. On these Pendants he had inscribed with an Iron Instrument, the following Words, which, at my request, he gave leave that I should coppy out.

The form of the Pendants, and words engraven thereon, are as follows.

I. Amen. Holy , Holy, Holy, is the Lord our God, for all things are full of his Power. Leo: Libra.
II. The wonderfull wonder-working wisdom of Jehovah in the Catholick Book of Nature. Made the 26 day Aug. 1666.
III. [Sun. Mercury. Moon] The wonderfull God, Nature, and the Spagyrick Art, make nothing in vain.
IV. Sacred, Holy, Spirit, Hallelujha, Hallelujha. Away Devil, Speak not of God without Light, Amen.
V. The Eternal, Invisible, only wise, Best of all, and omnipotent God of Gods; Holy, Holy, Holy, Governour and Conserver deservedly ought to be praysed.

Moreover, when I, affected with admiration, said to him; My Master, I pray tell me, where had you this greatest Science of the whole World?

He answered, I received such Magnalia from the Communication of a certain Extraneous Friend, who for certain dayes lodged in my House, professing, that he was a Lover of Art, and came to teach me various Arts; viz. how, besides the aforesaid, of Stones, and Crystal, most beautiful precious Stones are made much more fair than Rubies, Chrysolites, Saphires, and others of that kind. Also how to prepare a Crocus Martis in a quarter of an hour, of which only one Dose infallibly heals a Pestilential Dysentery. Likewise a Metallick Liquor, by the help of which, every Species of the Dropsy, may be cured certainly in four dayes space. Also a certain Limpid Water, more sweet, than Hony, by the help of which, I can extract the Tincture of Granates, Corals, and of all Glasses blown by Artificers, in the space of two hours in hot sand only. Many other things like to these he told me, which I neither well observed, nor committed to memory; because my intention was carryed further, viz. to learn the Art of pressing that so noble juice out of Metals for Metals; but the Shadow in Waters deceived the Dog of his piece of Flesh, which was substantial. Moreover, this Artist told me, that his Master, who taught him this Art, bad him bring a Glass full of Rain water, with which he mixed a very small quantity of a most white pouder; commanding me (here the Disciple of that Master proceeds in his Discourse) to go to the Silver-Smith, for one ounce of Cupellate Silver, laminate, (or beat very thin), which Silver was dissolved in a quarter of an hour, as Ice in hot water. Then he presently gave to me one half of this potion, by himself so speedily made, to drink, which in my mouth tasted as sweet Milk, and I thence became very cheerful.

He having related these things, I ceased not to enquire of him, to what end he had instanced this? Whether the Potion was Philosophick?

To this, he answered, You must not be so curious.

Afterwards, he told me, how he, by the command of that Laudable Artist his Master, took a piece of the Leaden gutter of his house, and when the Lead was melted in a new Crucible, the said Artist drew out of his pocket a Casket full of Sulphureous Powder, of which, he took a very small part upon the point of a knife, once, and again, and injected the same upon the Lead in Flux; presently giving order, that the Fire should be blown with two pairs of Bellows strongly, for exciting the heat more vehemently; a little after, he powred out of the Crucible, most pure Gold, upon the Red stones, which were in the Kitchen. I (said this most pleasing discourser to me) did commodiously behold this verity of the Transmutation of Metals, but was so astonished with fear and admiration, that I was scarcely able to speak one word. But my Master heartening me, said, Cheer up, and be contented: take for your self a sixteenth part of this Mass, which keep for a Memorandum; but the other fifteen parts distribute to the Poor: and I did as he said. For, (if my memory deceive me not) he bestowed this exceedingly great Alms, on the Sparrendamen-Church; but whether he gave it at distinct times, or not, or whether he told it down in the Substance of Gold, or of Silver, I asked him not.

And at length (saith he, speaking of his Master) he directly taught me this great divine Art.

Therefore, the Narration of all these things being ended, I most humbly entreated him, that he would shew me the effect of Transmutation upon impure Metals, that I thence might have the better assurance of those things by him related to me, and my Faith being confirmed, securely give credit to the real Truth of the matter. But he very discreetly gave me the repulse; yet taking his leave of me, he promised to return again after three Weeks, and then shew to me certain curious Arts by Fire, as also the way of projecting; making this Provisoe, if it should then be lawful for him.

The three Weeks being elapsed, according to his word, he came to my House, and invited me to walk abroad with him for one hour, or two, as we both did, having in that Time Certain Discourses of the Secrets of Nature in the Fire, but in the mean while, this well spoken Companion in the way, was not lavish, but rather too sparing of his words, touching the great Secret; affirming, that this singular Mystery tended not, but to the alone magnifying of the most illustrious Fame of the most glorious God; and that very few men considered, how they might condignly Sacrifice themselves by their Works, to so great a God; uttering these Expressions no otherwise, then as if he had been a Pastor of the Church. But I, in the mean time, fayled not to solicit him, to demonstrate to me the Transmutation of Metals. Moreover, I beseeched and intreated him, to vouchsafe to eat with me, and to lodge in my house, urging him with such Earnestness, as no Rival, or Lover, could ever use more perswasive Words, for winning his beloved to a willingness of gratifying him above all others: but he, agitated by a Spirit of so great constancy, made void all I endeavoured.

Nevertheless, I could not choose but speak to him thus: Sir, You see I have a very convenient Laboratory, in which you may shew me the Metallick Transmutation. For, whosoever assents to him, that asketh, obligeth himself to him.

It is true (answered he) but I made a promise to you of imparting some things, with this Exception, if at my Return, I be not interdicted, but have leave to do the same.

All, and every of these, my requests being in vain, I instantly, and earnestly besought him, that (if he would not, or by reason of the Heavenly Interdiction could not demonstrate what I asked) he would only give me so much of his Treasure, as would be sufficient for transmuting four grains of Lead into Gold. At this my request, he, after a little while, pouring forth a Flood of Philosophick Mercy, gave a small particle, as big as a Rape-Seed, saying: Take of the greatest Treasure of the World, which very few great Kings, or Princes could ever see.

But I, saying: my Master, this so small particle perhaps will not be sufficient for the tinging of four granes of Lead.

He answered; Give it me. I accordingly gave it him, conceiving good hope of receiving somewhat a greater particle instead thereof; but he breaking off the one half almost of it, with his thumb-nayl, threw it into the fire, and wrapping the other up in blew paper, he gave it to me, saying, It is yet sufficient for thee.

To which, I with a sad Countenance, and perplexed Mind, answered: Ah Sir! What mean you by this? Before I doubted, and now I cannot believe, that so small a quantity of this Medicine will suffice for transmuting four grans of Lead.

O, said he, if you cannot rightly handle your Lead in the Crucible, by reason of the so very small quantity thereof, then take two drams, or half an ounce, or a little more of the Lead; for more must not be tinged, then well may.

To him I again said: I cannot easily believe this, viz. that so little of the Tincture, will transmute so great a qualtity of Lead into Gold.

But he answered; what I say is true.

In the mean while, I, giving him great thanks, inclosed my diminished, and in the Superlative degree concentrated Treasure, in my own Casket, saying: Tomorrow I will make this Tryal; and give no notice to any Man thereof, as long as I live.

Not so, not so, answered he, but all things, which tend to the Glory of God Omnipotent, ought by us singularly to be declared to the Sons of Art, that we may live Theosophically, and not at all dye Sophistically.

Then I confessed to him; that when I held the Mass is his Medicine in my own hand, in that short space of time, I attempted to raze something there-from with my Finger Nayl, but I got no more, than a certain invisible Atome; and, when I had cleansed my nayl, and had injected the collected matter, wrapt in paper, upon Lead in Flux, I could see no transmutation of it into Gold; but almost the whole Mass of Lead vanished into Aire, and the remaining Substance was transmuted into a Glassy-Earth.

At the hearing of this, he smiling, sayed: You could no more dexterously play the Thief, than apply the Tincture. I wonder, that you, so expert in the Fire, do no better understand the fuming Nature of Lead. For if you had wrapped your Theft in yellow Wax, that it might have been conserved from the Fume of Lead, then it would so have penetrated into the Lead, as to have transmuted the same into Gold. But now a Sympathetick Operation was performed in Fume, and so the Medicine permixed with the Fume, flew away: For all Gold, Silver, Tin, Mercury, and like Metals, are corrupted by Lead Vapours, and likewise converted to a brittle Glass.

While he was thus speaking, I shewed him my Crusible, who viewing the remaining Substance, perceived a most beautiful Saffron-coloured Tincture, adhering to the sides of the Crucible, and sayed, To-morrow at nine of the Clock, I will return, and shew you, how your Medicine must be used to transmute Lead into Gold.

In which promise of him, I rested secure. Yet, in the mean while, I again and again requested information of him, whether this Philosophick Work, required great Charges in the preparing, and a very long Time.

O my Friend, answered he, you very accuratly affect to know all things; yet I will open this to you; The Charge is not great, nor is the Time long. But, as touching the matter of which our Arcanum is made, I would have you to know; there are only two Metals and Minerals, of which it is prepared. And because the Sulphur of Philosophers is more abundant in these Minerals, therefore it is made of them.

Then I again asked him: What the Menstruum was, and whether the Operations were made in Glasses, or in Crusibles.

He answered: The Menstruum is a Celestial Salt, or a Salt of Celestial Virtue, by the benefit of which, Philosophers only dissolve the Terrene Metallick Body, and in dissolving, the noble Elixir of Philosophers is produced. But the Operation is performed in a Crucible, from the beginning to the end, in an open Fire. And the whole Work may be begun, and plainly ended in no longer time, then four daies: Also in this whole Work, no greater Cost is required, then the value of three Florens. Lastly he added; Neither the Mineral, from Which, nor the Salt by Which, is of any great Price.

I again said to him: My Master; This is strange, for it is repugnant to the sayings of various Philosophers, who have writ, that at least seven, or nine Moneths are imployed in this Work.

He answered: The true writings of Philosophers are only understood by the truly Adept. Therefore, touching the Time, they would write nothing certain; yea, I say, no Lover of this Art, can find the Art of preparing this Mystery in his whole Life, without the Communication of some true Adept Man. In this respect, and for this Cause, I advise you, my Friend, because you have seen the true Matter of the true Work, not to forget your self, and thirsting after the perfection of this Art, to cast away your own Goods; for you can never find it out.

Then I sayed: My Master, although I am so unknown to you, as you are unknown to me; nevertheless, since he was unknown to you, who shewed you the way of finding out the Operation of this Arcanum, perhaps you may also, if you be willing, notifie to me somewhat, touching this Secret, that the most difficult Rudiments being overcome, I may (as the saying is) happily add somewhat to things already found out; for by the occasion of one thing found, another is not difficultly invented.

But the Artist answered: In this Work the matter is not so. For unless you know the thing, from the beginning of the Work to the end, you know nothing thereof. Indeed I have told you enough, yet you are ignorant how the Stone of Philosophers is made, and again, how the Glassy Seal of Hermes is broaken, in which Sol gives forth Splendor from his Metallick Rayes, wonderfully coloured, and in which Speculum, the Eyes of Narcissus behold Metals transmutable, and from which Rayes the Adept gather their fire, by the help of which, Volatile Metals are fixed into most fixed Gold, or Silver. But enough for this time, because (God willing) on the Morrow, we shall have occasion of meeting yet once more, that we may talk together touching this Philosophick matter; and according as I said, at nine a Clock, I will come to your House, and shew you the way of Projecting.

But with that happy Valediction for one night, that Elias the Artist hath left me most sad in expectation unto this very day. Yea, the Mercury of Philosophers did with him vanish into Aire; because from him I did no more again hear so much as one word. Yet he, (because he promised that he would come again to me betimes the next morning) half an hour before ten, sent to me another unknown man, signifying that, that friend, who yesternight promised to re-visit me this morning, by reason of other urgent business, could not come, nevertheless, at three of the Clock in the afternoon, he would again see me. But after I had, with a most vehement desire expected him, till almost eight a Clock, I began to doubt in the truth of the matter. Besides, my Wife also, a very curious Searcher in the Art of that Laudable man, came to me, troubling me, by reason of the Philosophick Art, cited in that aforesaid Severe, and Honest man; saying, Go to, let us try, I pray thee, the Verity of the work, according to what the man said. For otherwise, I certainly shall not sleep all this night.

But I answered; I pray let us deferr it till tomorrow; perhaps the man will come then. Nevertheless, when I had ordered my Son to kindle the fire; these thoughts arose in me; That man indeed, otherwise in his discourses so Divine, is now found the first time guilty of a Lye. A second time, when I would make Experiment of my Stollen Matter hid under my Nayl, but to no purpose, because the Lead was not transmuted into Gold. Lastly, a third time, he gave me so very little of the Matter, for tinging so great a Mass of Lead; that he almost drove me to Desperation.

Notwithstanding these thoughts, I commanded yellow Wax to be brought, wherein to wrap the Matter, and finding Lead, I cut off half an Ounce, or six Drachmes. My Wife wrapped the Matter of the Stone in the Wax, and when the Lead was in Flux, she cast in that little Mass, which, with Hissing and Flatuosity, so performed its Operation in the Crucible well closed, as in one quarter of an hour, the whole Mass of Lead was transmuted into the best Gold. Certainly, had I lived in the Age of Ovid, I could not have believed, any Metamorphosis more rare, than this of the Chimical Art; but if I could behold things with the hundred Eyes of Argus, I should scarcely see any work of Nature more admirable. For this Lead, mixt with the Stone of the Wise, and in the Fire melted, demonstrated to us a most beautiful colour, yea, I say, it was most green; but when I poured it out into a [Cone, or] fusory Cup, it received a colour like blood, and when it waxed cold, shined with the colour of the best Gold: I, and all who were present with me, being amazed, made what haste we could with the Aurificate Lead (even before it was through cold) to a Gold-Smith, who after a precious Examen, judged it to be Gold most excellent, and that in the whole world, better could not be found; withall, adding, that for every Ounce of such Gold, he would give 50 Florens.

The next day, the rumour of this wonderful Metallick Transmutation was spread all over our Hague; whence many illustrious men, and lovers of Art, made hast to me, among which, by name, the General Examiner of the Moneys of this Province of Holland, Dn. Porelius, came to me, with certain other illustrious men, earnestly desiring, that I would communicate to them some small particle of my Artificial Gold, to prove it by legitimate Examens: these, for their curiosity sake, I willingly gratified; and we went together to the house of a certain very curious Silver-Smith, by name Brechtelius, in whose Workhouse, the Excellency of my Gold was evidenced, by that form of Probation, which Skillful Artists call Quarta, viz. when they in a Crucible melt three or four parts of Silver, with one part of Gold, and then by hammering, reduce that mixture into thin Plates, on which they pour a sufficient quantity of Aquafortis, by which the Silver is dissolved, but the Gold settles to the bottome, like a black powder. Afterward, the Aqua fortis is poured off, and the golden powder, is again put into a Crucible, and by strong fire reduced to Gold.

But when this work was ended, we supposed, that one half of the Gold was vanished, yet in the very deed it was not so: for we found that the Gold, besides it own weight, had transmuted some part of the Silver into Gold, viz. two drams of the Gold, transmuted two scruples of the Silver (through the abundance of its Tincture) into like Gold Homogeneal to it self.

After this, we, suspecting that the Silver was not well separated from the Gold, did presently make a mixture with seven times as much Antimony. And after this Examen, we lost eight grains of Gold; but when I had again evaporated the Antimony, I found nine grains of Gold, yet in colour somewhat pale. Thus, in the best Tryal of Fire, we lost nothing of this Gold, And this infallible kind of Probation, I thrice performed in presence of those most noble and illustrious Men, and found, that every Dram of Gold acquired from the Silver for an augmentation to itself, one Scruple of Gold: and the Silver, is pure good, and very flexible. So, according to this, the five drams of Gold, attracted to itself from the Silver, five scruples; and (that I may together, and at once, comprise all that remains to be said) the whole weight which that Laudable Powder, in quantity so exceeding small, did transmute, was six drams, and two scruples, of a more vile Metal, into Gold, in such a wise fixed, as it was able perseveringly to sustain the most intense Torture of Fire.

Behold! thus have I exactly, from first to last, commemorated this History. The Gold I indeed have, but where, or in what Land or Countrey Elias the Artist is at this day hospited, I am wholly ignorant, for he told me, his purpose was to abide in his own Country no longer then this Summer; that after he would travil into Asia, and visit the Holy-Land. Let the most wise King of Heaven (under the Shadow of whose divine Wings he hath hitherto layn hid) by his Administratory Angels accompany him in his intended Journey, and prosper it so, as he living to a great Age, may with his inestimable Talent greatly succour the whole Republick of Christians, and after this Life gloriously behold, and partake of the prepared Inheritance of Life Eternal. Amen.