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Samuel Norton - The Key of Alchemy
This transcription was originally made by W.A. Ayton in the latter decades of the 19th century, from the original manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Ashmole 1421. Samuel Norton was the great-grandson of the famous 15th century English alchemist Thomas Norton, author of the Ordinall of alchemy.
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If I shall (right renowned and magnificent Princess) happen in this my treatise to set forth less shows of theoretical doctrine, then ever to have been used among the chemical writers, pardon me therefore; I beseech your Highness, neither attribute nor impute it to theoretical, ignorance, nakedness of skill, or insufficiency of art, but rather so that I have been bound by duty, stirred by good will, provoked by your infinite virtues, and altogether carried away with affectionate desire, to do ought that may import, though but a likelihood to be acceptable unto your Majesty, having directed my course another way, is sent myself to another charge; Namely in plain words, and speeches of art, not with fickle, voices of obscuring, so set down and open the materials, courses and practices contained in the secrets of the philosophers stone, both for physic, and also for that which I found of truth (as far as I have gone) for transmutation of metals. In which doings I shall not greatly digress from some of the philosophers fore footsteps; Morien the Roman moved with the virtues and earnest suits of king Calid of Egypt, instructed him in the science; Aristotle stirred by the good will he bear to Alexander, imparted the same to him; Of later years Raymond taught it to king Robert of Sycill. Here it was to your Highness' great grandfather of famous memory. King Edward the 4th; in whose time there were seven, whom I can right well prove, that had the art; of which three of them were favored with the King, and were laymen, the residue were religious, of whom Dalton, Monk of Tewkesbury was one; My great grandfather's master, another, the third our noble George Ripley Chanon: The 4th Wharram, Bishop of York to whom Ripley wrote his Medulla. The laymen which were favoured of the King, one of them was a stranger born in Lorraine, the other nigh the middest of England, the 3rd of them was my great grandfather himself, being of the privie chamber, divers times an ambassador for him, and one also that with himself bore such fortune's frowns (as the treacherous Earl then drove the King into when he was forced to flee into Burgonie). Of whom I not a little wonder why he would not impart it to the King; and yet in his book I find that he was willing thereto, yet some great fault in the King had not letted it; for in his book after a mourning sort he said:
Truly King Edward was nigh thereto
If sin had not kept him therefrom
But surely sin jointly with grace
Will not be together in one place.
For further he added:
Gratia tradatur peccatum dum dominatur,
That is to say:
Grace of consolation
Is deferred while sin hath domination.
Yet both in the beginning and ending of his book he after a prophetical kind of manner giveth out that that science shall happen to the Kings of England, where his words are found to be on this wise:
Yet once this science as I understand,
Shall greatly honor the throne of England
When in this Land shall reign a king,
Which shall love God above all thing.
The Latin verses in the beginning of his book are too many and too long to be recited, but that which I most of all desire to come to pass, is that which he intimates in his 6th Chapter where speaking of the stone to be revealed to the kings of this land, it shall be found he saith:
By the fortune and by the grace
Of a woman fair of face
And what know I Oh Queen! Whether it be yourself or no? I write not this unto your Majesty that I mean hereby, to present myself as able to perform it, although I hope it may be by your Majesty licensed from danger of law, and in the meantime this my writing which here I term Clavis Alchemiae, shall serve instead of a key, to open and discover the philosopher's writings, practised and locked by sentences; which they have so covertly locked up under a mantle of philosophy, to the intent that it might be kept close, being a thing of so great price, both from the rude vulgar sort; as also that it might not be attained of the ungodly and wicked persons, or achieved by such evil disposed minds, as using it to serve their appetites, or seeking thereby to accomplish their foul devices; would be ready to run headlong into a thousand outrages and mischiefs, to the great abusing of the art, heaping the displeasure of god, causing the effusion of blood, and ruin of nations, with subversions of estates. And therefore right few there were that wrote so plainly, or disclosed ought so practically, that one might have found just cause to blame him; as rare to find a black swan. Although ever monarch like, it pleased Alexander to reprove Aristotle for want of secrecy. As little cause had also either they which raised that note of imperfection of Lullie, of whom it is written, Cui claudit sua dogmata nulli, either as had my grandfather to profess Anaxagoras in that respect for a gentle matter; for sure I am that if they had received no more secret instructions from their masters by mouth, or else had had no greater knowledge afore than they had from their works; Alexander should never have need to find fault with Aristotle his master, nor Thomas Norton to have termed Anaxagoras so gentle a master; nor those to have raised that report on Raymond, whose writing if they speak plain, that is to those, which of themselves beside, are able to understand, as one brother may another. And surely in my opinion, if in any place he was overplain, it was in these books, first in his Epistle of Accortations to King Robert; And in his Magick which accordeth with the work of the Accortations, and his book De Testamento and Codicillio, where he teacheth to bring Mercury into water ready for separation, but far without comparison, is the transparent stone whereof he so largely intreateth in his first book De Quintessentiis; and in 44 canon.
But seeing we are now entred to speak of such writers as have uttered plainness in their works, that thereby posterity might be instructed; there is none that have deserved more commendations and honor, than have our own countrymen; of whom, I will name two, Ive and George Riplie, whose works I judge were by some divine providence of God left to the renewing of those excellent arts, that they should not be hidden, and lie dead among such few as pleased God to stir up for the attainment of the same; Ive under color of physic taught how to handle the case and to extract the menstrue; but our noble Riplie whom I cannot sufficiently extol; although some there be that mightily inveigh against him, whom I will refer over to their own errors. Yet Riplie not to blame, but such as mistake Riplie, and understand him not. I take God to witness, I never yet found false conclusion in Riplie, but that the proofs fell justly with his speech; and therefore I must needs say that Riplie was alone the man: for beginning where Ive beginneth; he teacheth not; but plainly sheweth, how to begin, how to continue, and how to finish and make perfect. And as there is no secret in the art, which he in plainness toucheth not; so doth he above all the writers of the world, open the secrets of handling the ferment. For in vain is all our labor, though we attain to the stone, if we know not how to ferment it. Which is so rare a secret that hithertoo I could never find it in any one author; neither could I yet speak with any that ever came near it; which me once, or twice per dere et oleum et operam; till at the last better weighing my Master Riplie's words, I learned to stand upright where I was want to fall. For he it is, whose only hand hath rolled away the stumbling stone whereat men usually fell, and hath made the ground level; alone Riplie hath the price of the vegetable stone. Of the universal also he wrote right learnedly, plainly and well. Although Geber therein beareth the bell; from whom Riplie almost hath it verbatim; and yet neither of them both reveal the manner and how to extract the Lac Virginis or menstrue from Mercury alone by himself, which since that time hath been nobly set forth by the learned brother Theophrastus Paracelsus; the man at whom so bear-like, our davish Gallens mastiffs so fellie yell, and so baitingly bawl. I may not for manners sake, say howling, like curs, that bark at the moon. But now as concerning the animal stone, I will set down what experience hath learned me.
Thus have I here in manner of preamble declared those authors to your Highness, in whose works there is most plainness to be found, and yet have they set down nothing so plain, but that it is covered philosophically enough; although shadowed or shrouded with a more or less mantle of philosophy. The rest therefore of my preamble shall show forth the divisions of my book with the significations of obscure names, and voices of art.
The book I divided into eight several parts or treatises; whereof the first entreateth of the practices of the vegetable stone; The second of the mineral stone; the third of the animal stone, The fourth teacheth the fermentation; the fifth containeth the mixed stone; The sixth the composition of the transparent stone; the seventh the Elixir of Life; The 8th giveth rules of multiplication and projection.
To finish the last part therefore, let us come a little to explain some terms, which may seem at the first somewhat difficult to understanding Therefore the philosophers minding as much as in them lay, to uncolour their writings with obscure speeches; did not openly use to name the metals with their accustomed names, but sometimes with devised names of each one's own particular invention; but most commonly they gave them the names of planets, as unto lead, Saturnus; unto tin, Jupiter; unto Iron, Mars; unto quicksilver, Mercurius; unto copper, Venus; unto Gold, Sol; and unto silver, Luna and marked them with the characters of the planets. Lead also is by Rodagivius named Capricornus and being burnt or calcined they call that: Minium. So writeth Anaxagoras; Tin calcined they name Cerusa; Iron, crokeferr, or Crocus Martis; Quicksilver calcined with corrosive water, precipitate; and with dry and pulverised, corrosive sublimate; copper calcined Aes Adust; gold or silver, Calces prepared. Moreover when they meant to hide the material of the vegetable stone, they then termed their Lead, Lead of philosophers; and being calcined which they afore termed Minium they again called Adrop; and the gum which to the vegetable work proceedeth of that matter; they call Sericon; The oil which proceedeth of that gum menstrue, moreover, they termed the gum the green lion of the philosophers; and this menstrue is called the blood of the green lion. The liquors which proceed from that, they gave the names of elements. For imitating the law and works of nature, we set her operations before us as a plate and frame of nature, for as there was four elements divided out from that; which is termed [undecipherable Greek word] so out of our prime hyle, we divide or separate four substances which we call elements; of which that which riseth with most lent fire, we call air, or ardent water; and being thoroughly rectified upon the earth; that termeth Raymond his Lunarie. The other water or liquor, which is more weak and of color more greyish, is the flood, or phlegme. The red liquor which is of goldenish color or somewhat more deeper red, is counted the oil or fire. That which remaineth, is called the earth or ley [lees]. Sulphur of Nature, is the salt or sublimed lifted up earth of bodies, after the complete putrefication. The bodies are the metals. This sulphur is also named foliate or congelate; which sulphur being dissolved into oils, or liquors are called oils incombustible, especially the oils of gold or silver, which is the ferment of the stone; Either being assigned to the Sun or Moon which are the chief lights of the world. They figuratively adapt the same names and are called the lights of the stone, for as the sun and moon are lights to the world and besides give influence in creatures, so the ferments are lights to the stone, giving it his chief influence; Moreover it is also called the soul which quickeneth the whole stone; for as the soul in man is cause of quickness and motion; So the ferments are quickeners and movers of the whole stone, without which it can never be observed. So therefore we say join body, soul and spirit. By bodie we mean his sulphur, or his […] alterate calces. By soul the ferment. By the spirit the tincture whether white or red. The Fire, ardent water. Lac virginis, or lunarie, is the white tincture. The oil or fire is the red tincture.
We give also in this art 4 fires, namely fire of nature, fire against nature, unnatural fire, and elemental fire. Fire of nature is the liquor extracted out of the bodies; Namely, the air, quintessence or lunarie, and is called the fire of nature, in that it is agreeable and amicable unto all bodies; And for that it recomforteth things corrupted by fire against nature. This fire of nature is also called mercury vegetable. Fire against nature is all corrosive, and because they eat and corrode bodies, are called fire against nature. Unnatural fire, are balnea, that is dunghills, or husks of grapes, which serve for digesting, or putrefying heats. The last is elemental fire fed by combustible matter, of which fire we have three genders or kinds, and a number of species and degrees. Of which the first is called the fire of the first degree, and containeth all degrees between lent heat and scalding; and is the moist heate of water, called Balneum Maria. The second is the heat of ashes, which is a dry fire and his graduations is from the beginning to the end, double each degree of the bath; until the height of distilling heat. The 3rd degree is the heat of sand, whose graduations are from the distilling heat; unto the highest that can be given; that is until it be all fire hot. The first degree of fire is for digestion, putrefaction, separation of air and water, and circulation, or with dissolution and rectification. The second degree of fire serveth for some rectification, desiccation, coagulation, sublimation and dry calefaction. The fire of the 3rd degree pertaineth to the extraction of oils, corrosive waters, precipitation, and things to be done raised with extremity of fire.
As we have treated of fires, so shall it not be unnecessary to say somewhat of waters and earth in the vegetable stone as touching siccation, dissolution, philosophical putrefaction and multiplication, (except for preparation of ferment) we use no other waters but our mercuries white and red. In the mineral stone I mean out of Argent vive or quicksilver we only use his proper element to all purposes, for alteration of body. And in other mineral works we use and have water of sundrie compositions, as shall appear in the mixed stone. To speak of earths, and first of the vegetable stone; we have twain, and yet both come out of one matter. The first is that, which remaineth behind upon the draught of the menstrue. The other is the residence [residue] which remaineth in the bottom of the glass after the separation of the elements and it is called the earth of the stone, or the second black earth. The earth of the mineral stone is all one earth; and remaineth after the extraction of the liquor, which must be separated.
All corrosive waters be lightly made of one, or some of these following. Salt prepared, vitriol, commonly called copperas, or the Green Lion of fools, which vitriol being evaporated is termed vitriol Roman, Salt petre, or Niter, Sal armoniack, and Alum. With these corrosives, are the bodies corroded to elixirs alchemical, or else with Argent vive called Aroe, or with the sharp vinegar otherwise called the water of the sea; which is of the water of Mercury sublimed, wherewith the bodies prepared are soon dissolved to serve for mineral ferment.
Of furnaces, I shall not need here to speak, whose portraiture shall in the end of the book be plainly set forth; But seeing that of necessity I shall be driven to speak of vessels, it shall not be inconvenient for better understanding, as well as for knowledge of varieties of vessels, to express both their several forms and names. [A diagram of various vessels is shown here]. Which done, our vegetable treatise hath his beginning.