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Reginald Scot on alchemy

Reginald Scot's influential The discoverie of Witchcraft, (first issued in 1584 and reprinted a number of times in the 17th century), has a section (the fourteenth book) devoted to a criticism of alchemy.

The first Chapter.

Of the art of Alcumystrie, of their woords of art and devises to bleare mens eies, and to procure credit to their profession.

Ere I thought it not impertinent to saie somewhat of the art or rather the craft of Alcumystrie, otherwise called Multiplication; which Chaucer, of all other men, most livelie deciphereth. In the bowels herof dooth both witchcraft and conjuration lie hidden, as whereby some cousen others, and some are cousened themselves. For by this mysterie (as it is said in the chanons mans prolog)

They take upon them to turne upside downe,
All the earth betwixt Southwarke and Canturburie towne,
And to pave it all of silver and gold, etc.
But ever they lacke of their conclusion,
And to much folke they doo illusion.
For their stuffe slides awaie so fast,
That it makes them beggers at the last,
And by this craft they doo never win,
But make their pursse emptie, and their wits thin.

And bicause the practisers heereof would be thought wise, learned, cunning, and their crafts maisters, they have devised words of art, sentences and epithets obscure, and confectious so innumerable (which are also compounded of strange and rare simples) as confound the capacities of them that are either set on worke heerein, or be brought to behold or expect their conclusions. For what plaine man would not beleeve, that they are learned and jollie fellowes, that have in such readinesse so many mysticall termes of art: as (for a tast) their subliming, amalgaming, engluting, imbibing, incorporating, cementing, citrination, terminations, mollifications, and indurations of bodies, matters combust and coagulat, ingots, tests, &c. Or who is able to conceive (by reason of the abrupt confusion, contrarietie, and multitude of drugs, simples, and confections) the operation and mysterie of their stuffe and workemanship. For these things and many more, are of necessitie to be prepared and used in the execution of this indevor; namelie orpiment, sublimed Mercurie, iron squames, Mercurie crude, groundlie large, bole armoniake, verdegrece, borace, boles, gall, arsenicke, sal armoniake, brimstone, salt, paper, burnt bones, unsliked lime, claie, saltpeter, vitriall, saltartre, alcalie, sal preparat, claie made with horsse doong, mans haire, oile of tartre, allum, glasse, woort, yest, argoll, resagor, gleir of an eie, powders, ashes, doong, pisse, &c. Then have they waters corosive and lincall, waters of albification, and waters rubifieng, etc. Also oiles, ablutions, and metals fusible. Also their lamps, their urinalles, discensories, sublimatories, alembecks, viols, croslets, cucurbits, stillatories, and their fornace of calcination: also their soft and subtill fiers, some of wood, some of cole, composed speciallie of beech, etc. And bicause they will not seeme to want anie point of cousenage to astonish the simple, or to moove admiration to their enterprises, they have (as they affirme) foure spirits to worke withall, whereof the first is, orpiment; the second, quicksilver; the third, sal armoniake; the fourth, brimstone. Then have they seven celestiall bodies; namelie, Sol, Luna, Mars, Mercurie, Saturne, Jupiter, and Venus; to whome they applie seven terrestriall bodies; to wit: gold, silver, iron, quickesilver, lead, tinne, and copper, attributing unto these the operation of the other; speciallie if the terrestriall bodies be qualified, tempered, and wrought in the houre and daie according to the feats of the celestiall bodies:with more like vanitie.

The second Chapter.

The Alcumysters drift, the Chanons yeomans tale, of alcumysticall stones and waters.

Now you must understand that the end and drift of all their worke, is, to atteine unto the composition of the philosophers stone, called Alixer, and to the stone called Titanus; and to Magnatia, which is a water made of the foure elements, which (they saie) the philosophers are sworne neither to discover, nor to write of. And by these they mortifie quicke silver, and make it malleable, and to hold touch: heereby also they convert any other mettall (but speciallie copper) into gold. This science (forsooth) is the secret of secrets; even as Salomons conjuration is said among the conjurors to be so likewise. And thus, when they chance to meete with yong men, or simple people, they boast and brag, and saie with Simon Magus, that they can worke miracles, and bring mightie things to passe. In which respect Chaucer truelie heereof saith:

Each man is as wise as Salomon,
When they are togither everichone:
But he that seemes wisest, is most foole in preefe,
And he that is truest, is a verie theefe.
They seeme friendlie to them that knowe nought,
But they are feendlie both in word and thought,
yet many men ride and seeke their acquaintance,
Not knowing of their false governance.

He also saith, and experience verifieth his assertion, that they looke ill favouredlie, & are alwaies beggerlie attired: his words are these:

These fellowes looke ill favouredlie,
And are alwaies tired beggerlie,
So as by smelling and thredbare araie,
These folke are knowne and discerned alwaie.
But so long as they have a sheet to wrap them in by night,
Or a rag to hang about them in the day light,
They will it spend in this craft,
They cannot stint till nothing be laft.
Here one may learne if he have ought,
To multiplie and bring his good to naught.
But if a man aske them privilie,
Whie they are clothed so unthriftilie,
They will round him in the eare and saie,
If they espied were, men would them slaie,
And all bicause of this noble science:
Lo thus these folke beetraien innocence.

The tale of the chanons yeoman published by Chaucer, dooth make (by waie of example) a perfect demonstration of the art of Alcumystrie or multiplication: the effect whereof is this. A chanon being an Alcumyster or cousenor, espied a covetous preest, whose pursse he knew to be well lined, whome he assaulted with flatterie and subtill speach, two principall points belonging to this art. At the length he borrowed monie of the preest, which is the third part of the art, without the which the professors can doo no good, nor indure in good estate. Then he at his daie repaied the monie, which is the most difficult point in this art, and a rare experiment. Finallie, to requite the preests courtesie, he promised unto him such instructions, as wherby with expedition he should become infinitelie rich, and all through this art of multiplication. And this is the most common point in this science; for herein they must be skilfull before they can be famous, or atteine to anie credit. The preest disliked not his proffer; speciallie bicause it tended to his profit, and embraced his courtesie. Then the chanon willed him foorthwith to send for three ownces of quicke silver, which he said he would transubstantiate (by his art) into perfect silver. The preest thought that a man of his profession could not dissemble, and therefore with great joy and hope accomplished his request.

And now(forsooth) goeth this jollie Alcumyst about his busines and worke of multiplication, and causeth the preest to make a fier of coles, in the bottome whereof he placeth a croslet; and pretending onelie to helpe the preest to laie the coles handsomelie, he foisteth into the middle ward or lane of coles, a beechen cole, within the which was conveied an ingot of perfect silver, which (when the cole was consumed) slipt downe into the croslet, that was (I saie) directlie under it. The preest perceived not the fraud, but received the ingot of silver, and was not a little joyfull to see such certeine successe proceed from his owne handie worke wherein could be no fraud (as he surelie conceived) and therefore verie willinglie gave the cannon fortie pounds for the receipt of this experiment, who for that summe of monie taught him a lesson in Alcumystrie, but he never returned to heare repetitions, or to see how he profited.

The third Chapter.

Of a yeoman of the countrie cousened by an Alcumist.

I could cite manie Alcumysticall cousenages wrought by Doctor Burcot, Feates, and such other; but I will passe them over, and onelie repeate three experiments of that art; the one practised upon an honest yeoman in the countie of Kent, the other upon a mightie prince, the third upon a covetous preest. And first touching the yeoman, he was overtaken and used in maner and forme following, by a notable cousening varlot, who professed Alcumystrie, juggling, witchcraft, and conjuration: and by meanes of his companions and confederats discussed the simplicitie and abilitie of the said yeoman, and found out his estate and humor to be convenient for his purpose; and finallie came a wooing (as they saie) to his daughter, to whome he made love cunninglie in words, though his purpose tended to another matter. And among other illusions and tales, concerning his owne commendation, for welth, parentage, inheritance, alliance, activitie, learning, pregnancie, and cunning, he boasted of his knowledge and experience in Alcumystrie; making the simple man beleeve that he could multiplie, and of one angell make two or three. Which seemed strange to the poore man, in so much as he became willing enough to see that conclusion: whereby the Alcumyster had more hope and comfort to atteine his desire, than if his daughter had yeelded to have maried him. To be short, he in the presence of the said yeoman, did include within a little ball of virgine wax, a couple of angels; and after certeine ceremonies and conjuring words he seemed to deliver the same unto him: but in truth (through legierdemaine) he conveied into the yeomans hand another ball of the same scantling, wherein were inclosed manie more angels than were in the ball which he thought he had received. Now (forsooth) the Alcumyster bad him laie up the same ball of wax, and also use certeine ceremonies (which I thought good heere to omit). And after certeine daies, houres, and minuts they returned together, according to the appointment, and found great gaines by the multiplication of the angels. Insomuch as he, being a plaine man, was heereby persuaded, that he should not onelie have a rare and notable good sonne in lawe; but a companion that might helpe to adde unto his welth much treasure, and to his estate great fortune and felicitie. And to increase this opinion in him, as also to winne his further favour; but speciallie to bring his cunning Alcumystrie, or rather his lewd purpose to passe; he told him that it were follie to multiplie a pound of gold, when as easilie they might multiplie a millian: and therefore counselled him to produce all the monie he had, or could borrowe of his neighbours and freends; and did put him out of doubt, that he would multiplie the same, and redouble it exceedinglie, even as he save by experience how he delt with the small summe before his face. This yeoman, in hope of gaines and preferment, etc.: consented to this sweete motion, and brought out and laid before his feete, not the one halfe of his goods, but all that he had, or could make or borrowe anie maner of waie. Then this juggling Alcumyster, having obteined his purpose, folded the same in a ball, in quantitie farre bigger than the other, and conveieng the same into his bosome or pocket, delivered another ball (as before) of the like quantitie unto the yeoman, to be reserved and safelie kept in his chest; whereof (bicause the matter was of importance) either of them must have a key, and a severall locke, that no interruption might be made to the ceremonie, nor abuse by either of them, in defrauding ech other. Now (forsooth) these circumstances and ceremonies being ended, and the Alcumysters purpose therby performed; he told the yeoman that (untill a certeine daie and houre limitted to returne) either of them might emploie themselves about their busines, and necessarie affaires; the yeoman to the plough, and he to the citie of London, and in the meane time the gold shuld multiplie, etc. But the Alcumyster (belike) having other matters of more importance came not just at the houre appointed, nor yet at the daie, nor within the yeare: so as, although it were somewhat against the yeomans conscience to violate his promise, or breake the league; yet partlie by the longing he had to see, and partlie the desire he had to enjoie the fruit of that excellent experiment, having (for his owne securitie) and the others satisfaction, some testimonie at the opening thereof, to witnesse his sincere dealing, he brake up the coffer, and lo he soone espied the ball of wax, which he himselfe had laid up there with his owne hand. So as he thought (if the hardest should fall) he should find his principall: and whie not as good increase hereof now, as of the other before. But alas! when the wax was broken, and the metall discovered, the gold was much abased, and beecame perfect lead.

Now who so list to utter his follie,
Let him come foorth, and learne to multiplie;
And everie man that hath ought in his cofer,
Let him appeare, and waxe a philosopher,
In learning of this elvish nice lore,
All is in vaine, and pardee much more
Is to learne a lewd man this sutteltie,
Fie, speake not thereof it woll not bee.
For He that hath learning, and he that hath none,
Conclude alike in multiplcatione.

The fourth Chapter.

A certeine King abused by an Alcumyst, and of the kings foole a pretie jest.

The second example is of another Alcumyst that came to a certeine king, promising to worke by his art manie great things, as well in compounding and transubstantiating of mettals, as in executing of other exploites of no lesse admiration. But before he beganne, he found the meanes to receive by vertue of the kings warrant, a great summe of monie in prest, assuring the king and his councell, that he would shortlie returne, and accomplish his promise, etc. Soone after, the kings foole, among other jestes, fell into a discourse and discoverie of fooles, and handled that common place so pleasantlie, that the king began to take delight therein, & to like his merrie veine. Whereupon he would needes have the foole deliver unto him a schedull or scroll, conteining the names of all the most excellent fooles in the land.

So he caused the kings name to be first set downe, and next him all the names of the lords of his privie councell. The king seeing him so sawcie and malepert, ment to have had him punished: but some of his councell, knowing him to be a fellow pleasantlie conceipted, besought his majestie rather to demand of him a reason of his libell, etc, than to proceed in extremitie against him. Then the foole being asked why he so sawcilie accused the king and his councell of principall follie, answered; Bicause he sawe one foolish knave beguile them all, and to cousen them of so great a masse of monie, and finallie to be gone out of their reach. Why (said one of the councell) he maie returne and performe his promise, etc. Then (quoth the foole) I can helpe all the matter easilie. How (said the king) canst thou doo that? Marie sir (said he) then I will blotte out your name, and put in his, as the most foole in the world. Manie other practises of the like nature might be hereunto annexed, for the detection of their knaverie and deceipts whereupon this art dependeth, whereby the readers maie be more delighted in reading, than the practisers benefited in simplie using the same. For it is an art consisting wholie of subtiltie and deceipt, whereby the ignorant and plaine minded man through his too much credulitie is circumvented, and the humor of the other slie cousener satisfied.

The fift Chapter.

A notable storie written by Erasmus of two Alcumysts, also of longation and curtation.

The third example is reported by Erasmus, whose excellent learning and wit is had to this daie in admiration. He in a certeine dialog intituled Alcumystica doth finelie bewraie the knaverie of this craftie art; wherein he proposeth one Balbine, a verie wise, learned, and devout preest, howbeit such a one as was bewitched, and mad upon the art of Alcumystrie. Which thing another cousening preest perceived, and dealt with him in maner and forme following.

M. Doctor Balbine (said he) I being a stranger unto you maie seeme verie saucie to trouble your worship with my bold sute, who alwaies are busied in great and divine studies. To whome Balbine, being a man of few words, gave a nodde: which was more than he used to everie man. But the preest knowing his humor, said; I am sure sir, if you knew my sute, you would pardon mine importunitie. I praie thee good sir John (said Balbine) shew me thy mind, and be breefe. That shall I doo sir (said he) with a good will. You know M. Doctor, through your skill in philosophie, that everie mans destinie is not alike; and I for my part am at this point, that I cannot tell whether I maie be counted happie or infortunate. For when I weigh mine owne case, or rather my state, in part I seeme fortunate, and in part miserable. But Balbine being a man of some surlinesse, alwaies willed him to draw his matter to a more compendious forme: which thing the preest said he would doe, and could the better performe; bicause Balbine himselfe was so learned and expert in the verie matter he had to repeat, and thus he began.

I have had, even from my childhood, a great felicitie in the art of Alcumystrie, which is the verie marrow of all philosophie. Balbine at the naming of the word Alcumystrie, inclined and yeelded himselfe more attentivelie to hearken unto him: marie it was onelie in gesture of bodie; for he was spare of speech, and yet he bad him proceed with his tale. Then said the preest, Wretch that I am, it was not my lucke to light on the best waie: for you M. Balbine know (being so universallie learned) that in this art there are two waies, the one called longation, the other curtation; and it was mine ill hap to fall upon longation. When Balbine asked him the difference of those two waies; Oh sir said the preest, you might count me impudent, to take upon me to tell you, that of all other are best learned in this art, to whome I come, most humblie to beseech you to teach me that luckie waie of curtation. The cunninger you are, the more easilie you maie teach it me: and therefore hide not the gift that God hath given you, from your brother, who maie perish for want of his desire in this behalfe; and doubtlesse Jesus Christ will inrich you with greater blessings and endowments.

Balbine being abashed partlie with his importunitie, and partlie with the strange circumstance, told him that (in truth) he neither knew what longation or curtation meant; and therefore required him to expound the nature of those words. Well (quoth the preest) since it is your pleasure, I will doo it, though I shall thereby take upon me to teach him that is indeed much cunninger than my selfe. And thus he began: Oh sir, they that have spent all the daies of their life in this divine facultie, doo turne one nature and forme into another, two waies, the one is verie breefe, but somewhat dangerous; the other much longer, marie verie safe, sure, and commodious. Howbeit, I thinke my selfe most unhappie that have spent my time and travell in that waie which utterlie misliketh me, and never could get one to shew me the other that I so earnestlie desire. And now I come to your worship, whom I know to be wholie learned and expert herein, hoping that you will (for charities sake) comfort your brother, whose felicitie and well doing now resteth onelie in your hands; and therefore I beseech you releeve me with your counsell.

By these and such other words when this cousening varlot had avoided suspicion of guile, and assured Balbine that he was perfect and cunning in the other waie: Balbine his fingers itched, and his hart tickled; so as he could hold no longer, but burst out with these words: Let this curtation go to the divell, whose name I did never so much as once heare of before, and therefore doo much lesse understand it. But tell me in good faith, doo you exactlie understand longation? Yea said the preest, doubt you not hereof: but I have no fansie to that waie, it is so tedious. Why (quoth Balbine) what time is required in the accomplishment of this worke by waie of longation? Too too much said the Alcumyster, even almost a whole yeere: but this is the best, the surest, and the safest waie, though it be for so manie moneths prolonged, before it yeeld advantage for cost and charges expended thereabouts. Set your hart at rest (said Balbine) it is no matter, though it were two yeeres, so as you be well assured to bring it then to passe.

Finallie, it was there and then concluded, that presentlie the preest should go in hand with the worke, and the other should beare the charge, the gaines to be indifferentlie divided betwixt them both, and the worke to be doone privilie in Balbins house. And after the mutuall oth was taken for silence, which is usuall and requisite alwaies in the beginning of this mysterie; Ba1bine delivered monie to the Alcumyster for bellowes, glasses, coles, &c: which should serve for the erection and furniture of the forge. Which monie the Alcumyster had no sooner fingered, but he ran merilie to the dice, to the alehouse, & to the stewes, and who there so lustie as cousening sir John: who indeed this waie made a kind of alcumysticall transformation of monie. Now Balbine urged him to go about his businesse, but the other told him, that if the matter were once begun, it were halfe ended: for therein consisted the greatest difficultie.

Well, at length he began to furnish the fornace, but now forsooth a new supplie of gold must be made, as the seed and spawne of that which must be ingendred and grow out of this worke of Alcumystrie. For even as a fish is not caught without a bait, no more is gold multiplied without some parcels of gold: and therfore gold must be the foundation and groundworke of that art, or else all the fat is in the fier. But all this while Balbine was occupied in calculating, and musing upon his accompt; casting by arythmetike, how that if one ownce yeelded fifteene, then how much gaines two thousand ownces might yeeld: for so much he determined to emploie that waie.

When the Alcumyst had also consumed this monie, shewing great travell a moneth or twaine, in placing the bellowes, the coles, and such other stuffe, and no whit of profit proceeding or comming thereof: Balbine demanded how the world went, our Alcumyst was as a man amazed. Howbeit he said at length; Forsooth even as such matters of importance commonlie doo go forward, wherunto there is alwaies verie difficult accesse. There was (saith he) a fault (which I have now found out) in the choice of the coles, which were of oke, and should have beene of beech. One hundreth duckets were spent that waie, so as the dising house and the stewes were partakers of Balbines charges. But after a new supplie of monie, better coles were provided, and matters more circumspectlie handled. Howbeit, when the forge had travelled long, and brought foorth nothing, there was another excuse found out; to wit, that the glasses were not tempered as they ought to have beene. But the more monie was disbursed hereabouts, the woorsse willing was Balbine to give over, according to the disers veine, whome frutelesse hope bringeth into a fooles paradise.

The Alcumyst, to cast a good colour upon his knaverie, tooke on like a man moonesicke, and protested with great words full of forgerie and lies, that he never had such lucke before. But having found the error, he would be sure enough never hereafter to fall into the like oversight, and that henceforward all should be safe and sure, and throughlie recompensed in the end with large increase. Hereupon the workehouse is now the third time repaired, and a new supplie yet once againe put into the Alcumysts hand; so as the glasses were changed. And now at length the Alcumyst uttered another point of his art and cunning to Balbine; to wit, that those matters would proceed much better, if he sent our Ladie a few French crownes in reward: for the art being holie, the matter cannot prosperously proceed, without the favour of the saints. Which counsell exceedinglie pleased Balbine, who was so devout and religious, that no daie escaped him but he said our Ladie mattens.

Now our Alcumyster having received the offering of monie, goeth on his holie pilgrimage, even to the next village, & there consumeth it everie penie, among bawds and knaves. And at his returne, he told Balbine that he had great hope of good lucke in his businesse; the holie virgine gave such favourable countenance, and such attentive eare unto his praiers and vowes. But after this, when there had beene great travell bestowed, and not a dram of gold yeelded nor levied from the forge; Balbine began to expostulate and reason somewhat roundlie with the cousening fellowe; who still said he never had such filthie lucke in all his life before, and could not devise by what meanes it came to passe, that things went so overthwartlie. But after much debating betwixt them upon the matter, at length it came into Balbines head to aske him if he had not foreslowed to heare masse, or to saie his houres: which if he had doone, nothing could prosper under his hand. Without doubt (said the cousener) you have hot the naile on the head. Wretch that I am! I remember once or twise being at a long feast, I omitted to saie mine Ave Marie after dinner. So so (said Balbine) no marvell then that a matter of such importance hath had so evill successe. The Alcumyster promised to doo penance; as to heare twelve masses for two that he had foreslowed; and for everie Ave overslipped, to render and repeate twelve to our Ladie.

Soone after this, when all our Alcumysters monie was spent, & also his shifts failed how to come by any more, he came home with this devise, as a man woonderfullie fraied and amazed, pitiouslie crieng and lamenting his misfortune. Whereat Balbine being astonished, desired to knowe the cause of his complaint. Oh (said the Alcumyster) the courtiers have spied our enterprise; so as I for my part looke for nothing but present imprisonment. Whereat Balbine was abashed, bicause it was flat fellonie to go about that matter, without speciall licence. But (quoth the Alcumyster) I feare not to be put to death, I would it would fall out so: marrie I feare least I shall he shut up in some castell or towre, and there shall be forced to tug about this worke and broile in this businesse all the daies of my life.

Now the matter being brought to consultation, Balbine, bicause he was cunning in the art of rhetorike, and not altogither ignorant in lawe, beat his braines in devising how the accusation might be answered, and the danger avoided. Alas (said the Alcumyster) you trouble your selfe all in vaine, for you see the crime is not to be denied, it is so generallie bruted in court: neither can the fact be defended, bicause of the manifest lawe published against it. To be short, when manie waies were devised, and divers excuses alledged by Balbine, and no sure ground to stand on for their securitie; at length the Alcumyster having present want and need of monie, framed his speech in this sort; Sir said he to Balbine, we use slowe counsell, and yet the matter requireth hast. For I thinke they are comming for me yer this time to hale me awaie to prison; and I see no remedie but to die valiantlie in the cause. In good faith (said Balbine) I knowe not what to saie to the matter. No more do I said the Alcumyster, but that I see these courtiers are hungrie for monie, and so much the readier to be corrupted & framed to silence. And though it be a hard matter, to give those rakehels till they be satisfied: yet I see no better counsell or advise at this time. No more could Balbine, who gave him thirtie ducats of gold to stop their mouthes, who in an honest cause would rather have given so manie teeth out of his head, than one of those peeces out of his pouch. This coine had the Alcumyster, who for all his pretenses & gaie gloses was in no danger, other than for lacke of monie to leese his leman or concubine, whose acquaintance he would not give over, nor forbeare hir companie, for all the goods that he was able to get, were it by never such indirect dealing and unlawfull meanes.

Well, yet now once againe dooth Balbine newlie furnish the forge, a praier being made before to our Ladie to blesse the enterprise. And all things being provided and made readie according to the Alcumysters owne asking, and all necessaries largelie ministred after his owne liking; a whole yeare being likewise now consumed about this bootlesse businesse, and nothing brought to passe; there fell out a strange chance, and that by this meanes insuing, as you shall heare.

Our Alcumyster forsooth used a little extraordinarie lewd companie with a courtiers wife, whiles he was from home, who suspecting the matter, came to the doore unlooked for, and called to come in, threatning them that he would breake open the doores upon them. Some present devise (you see) was now requisite, and there was none other to be had, but such as the oportunitie offered; to wit, to leape out at a backe window: which he did, not without great hazard, and some hurt. But this was soone blazed abroad, so as it came to Balbines eare, who shewed in countenance that he had heard heereof, though he said nothing. But the Alcumyster knew him to be devout, & somewhat superstitious: and such men are easie to be intreated to forgive, how great soever the fault be, and devised to open the matter in maner and forme following.

O Lord (saith he before Balbine) how infortunatlie goeth our businesse forward! I marvell what should be the cause. Whereat Balbine, being one otherwise that seemed to have vowed silence, tooke occasion to speake, saieng; It is not hard to knowe the impediment and stop heereof: for it is sinne that hindereth this matter; which is not to be dealt in but with pure hands. Whereat the Alcumyster fell upon his knees, beating his breast, & lamentablie cried, saieng; Oh maister Balbine, you saie most trulie, it is sinne that hath doone us all this displeasure; not your sinne sir, but mine owne, good maister Balbine. Neither will I be ashamed to discover my filthinesse unto you, as unto a most holy and ghostlie father. The infirmitie of the flesh had overcome me, and the divell had caught me in his snare. Oh wretch that I am! Of a preest I am become an adulterer. Howbeit, the monie that erstwhile was sent to our Ladie, was not utterlie lost: for if she had not beene, I had certeinlie beene slaine. For the good man of the house brake open the doore, and the windowe was lesse than I could get out thereat. And in that extremitie of danger it came into my mind to fail downe prostrate to the virgine; beseeching hir (if our gift were acceptable in hir sight) that she would, in consideration thereof, assist me with hir helpe. And to be short, I ran to the windowe, and found it bigge enough to leape out at. Which thing Balbine did not onelie beleeve to be true, but in respect therof forgave him, religiouslie admonishing him to shew himselfe thankfull to that pitifull and blessed Ladie.

Now once againe more is made a new supplie of monie, and mutuall promise made to handle this divine matter hence forward purelie and holilie. To be short, after a great number of such parts plaied by the Alcumyster; one of Balbins acquaintance espied him, that knew him from his childhood to be but a cousening merchant; and told Balbine what he was, and that he would handle him in the end, even as he had used manie others: for a knave he ever was, and so he would proove. But what did Balbine, thinke you? Did he complaine of this counterfet, or cause him to be punished? No, but he gave him monie in his pursse, and sent him awaie; desiring him, of all courtesie, not to blab abroad how he had cousened him. And as for the knave Alcumyster, he needed not care who knew it, or what came of it: for he had nothing in goods or fame to be lost. And as for his cunning in Alcumystrie, he had as much as an asse. By this discourse Erasmus would give us to note, that under the golden name of Alcumystrie there lieth lurking no small calamitie; wherein there be such severall shifts and sutes of rare subtilties and deceipts, as that not onelie welthie men are thereby manie times impoverished, and that with the sweete allurement of this art, through their owne covetousnesse; as also by the flattering baits of hoped gaine: but even wise and learned men hereby are shamefullie overshot, partlie for want of due experience in the wiles and subtilties of the world, and partlie through the softenesse and pliablenesse of their good nature, which cousening knaves doo commonlie abuse to their owne lust and commoditie, and to the others utter undooing.

The sixt Chapter.

The opinion of diverse learned men touching the follie of Alcumystrie.

Albert in his booke of minerals reporteth, that Avicenna treating of Alcumystrie, saith; Let the dealers in Alcumystrie understand, that the verie nature and kind of things cannot be changed, but rather made by art to resemble the same in shew and likenesse: so that they are not the verie things indeed, but seeme so to be in appearance: as castels and towers doo seeme to be built in the clouds, whereas the representations there shewed, are nothing else but the resemblance of certeine objects beelow, caused in some bright and cleere cloud, when the aire is void of thicknes and grossenes. A sufficient proofe hereof maie be the looking glasse. And we see (saith he) that yellow or orrenge colour laid upon red, seemeth to be gold. Francis Petrarch treating of the same matter in forme of a dialogue, introduceth a disciple of his, who fansied the foresaid fond profession and practise, saieng; I hope for prosperous successe in Alcumystrie. Petrarch answereth him; It is a woonder from whence that hope should spring, sith the frute thereof did never yet fall to thy lot, nor yet at anie time chance to anie other; as the report commonlie goeth, that manie rich men, by this vanitie and madnes have beene brought to beggerie, whiles they have wearied themselves therewith, weakened their bodies, and wasted their wealth in trieng the means to make gold ingender gold. I hope for gold according to the workemans promise, saith the disciple. He that hath promised thee gold, will runne awaie with thy gold, and thou never the wiser, saith Petrarch. He promiseth mee great good, saith the disciple. He will first serve his owne turne, and releeve his private povertie, saith Petrarch; for Alcumysters are a beggerlie kind of people, who though they confesse themselves bare and needle, yet will they make others rich and welthie: as though others povertie did more molest and pitie them than their owne. These be the words of Petrarch, a man of great learning and no lesse experience; who as in his time he sawe the fraudulent fetches of this compassing craft: so hath there beene no age, since the same hath beene broched, wherein some few wisemen have not smelt out the evill meaning of these shifting merchants, and bewraied them to the world.

An ancient writer of a religious order, who lived above a thousand yeares since, discovering the diversities of theftes, after a long enumeration, bringeth in Alcumysters, whom he calleth Falsificantes metallorum et mineralium, witches and counterfetters of metals and minerals; and setteth them as deepe in the degree of theeves, as anie of the rest, whose injurious dealings are brought to open arreignment. It is demanded (saith he) why the art of Alcumystrie doth never proove that in effect, which it pretendeth in precept and promise. The answer is readie; that if by art gold might be made, then were it behoovefull to know the maner and proceeding of nature in generation; sith art is said to imitate and counterfet nature. Againe, it is bicause of the lamenesse and unperfectnesse of philosophie, speciallie concerning minerals: no such manner of proceeding being set downe by consent and agreement of philosophers in writing, touching the true and undoubted effect of the same. Where upon one supposeth that gold is made of one kind of stuffe this waie, others of another kind of stuffe that waie. And therefore it is a chance if anie atteine to the artificiall applieng of the actives and passives of gold and silver. Moreover, it is certeine, that quicke silver and sulphur are the materials (as they terme them) of mettals, and the agent is heate, which directeth: howbeit it is verie hard to know the due proportion of the mixture of the materials; which proportion the generation of gold doth require. And admit that by chance they atteine to such proportion; yet can they not readilie resume or doo it againe in another worke, bicause of the hidden diversities of materials, and the uncerteintie of applieng the actives and passives.

The same ancient author concluding against this vaine art, saith, that of all christian lawmakers it is forbidden, and in no case tollerable in anie commonwealth: first bicause it presumeth to forge idols for covetousnes, which are gold and silver; whereupon saith the apostle, Covetousenesse is idolworship: secondlie, for that (as Aristotle saith) coine should be skant and rare, that it might be deere; but the same would ware vile, and of small estimation, if by the art of Alcumystrie gold and silver might be multiplied: thirdlie, bicause (as experience prooveth) wisemen are thereby bewitched, couseners increased, princes abused, the rich impoverished, the poore beggered, the multitude made fooles, and yet the craft and craftesmaisters (oh madnes!) credited. Thus far he. Whereby in few words he discountenanceth that profession, not by the imaginations of his owne braine, but by manifold circumstances of manifest proofe. Touching the which practise I thinke inough hath beene spoken, and more a great deale than needed; sith so plaine and demonstrable a matter requireth the lesse travell in confutation.

The seventh Chapter.

That vaine and deceitfull hope is a great cause why men are seduced by this alluring art, and that there labours therein are bootelesse, etc.

Hitherto somewhat at large I have detected the knaverie of the art Alcumysticall, partlie by reasons, and partlie by examples: so that the thing it selfe maie no lesse appeare to the judiciall eie of the considerers; than the bones and sinewes of a bodie anatomized, to the corporall eie of the beholders. Now it shall not be amisse nor impertinent, to treate somewhat of the nature of that vaine and frutelesse hope, which induceth and draweth men forward as it were with chordes, not onelie to the admiration, but also to the approbation of the same: in such sort that some are compelled rufullie to sing (as one in old time did, whether in token of good or ill lucke, I doo not now well remember) Spes and fortuna valete; Hope and good hap adieu.

No mervell then though Alcumystrie allure men so sweetlie, and intangle them in snares of follie; sith the baits which it useth is the hope of gold, the hunger wherof is by the poet termed Sacra, which some doo English, Holie; not understanding that it is rather to be interpreted, Curssed or detestable, by the figure Acyron, when a word of an unproper signification is cast in a clause as it were a cloud: or by the figure Antiphrasis when a word importeth a contrarie meaning to that which it commonlie hath. For what reason can there be, that the hunger of gold should be counted holie, the same having (as depending upon it) so manie milians of mischeefes and miseries: as treasons, theftes, adulteries, manslaughters, trucebreakings, perjuries, cousenages, and a great troope of other enormities, which were here too long to rehearse. And if the nature of everie action be determinable by the end thereof, then cannot this hunger be holie, but rather accurssed, which pulleth after it as it were with iron chaines such a band of outrages and enormities, as of all their labor, charge, care and cost, etc: they have nothing else left them in lieu of lucre, but onlie some few burned brickes of a ruinous fornace, a pecke or two of ashes, and such light stuffe, which they are forced peradventure in fine to sell, when beggerie hath arrested and laid his mace on their shoulders. As for all their gold, it is resolved In primam materiam, or rather In levem quendam fumulum, into a light smoke or fumigation of vapors, than the which nothing is more light, nothing lesse substantiall, spirits onelie excepted, out of whose nature and number these are not to be exempted.

The eight Chapter.

A continuation of the former matter, with a conclusion of the same.

That which I have declared before, by reasons, examples, and authorities, I will now prosecute and conclude by one other example; to the end that we, as others in former ages, maie judge of vaine hope accordinglie, and be no lesse circumspect to avoid the inconveniences therof, than Ulysses was warie to escape the incantations of Circes that old transforming witch. Which example of mine is drawne from Lewes the French king, the eleventh of that name, who being on a time at Burgundie, fell acquainted by occasion of hunting with one Conon, a clownish but yet an honest and hartie good fellow. For princes and great men delight much in such plaine clubhutchens. The king oftentimes, by meanes of his game, used the countrimans house for his refreshing; and as noble men sometimes take pleasure in homelie and course things, so the king did not refuse to eate turnips and rape rootes in Conons cotage. Shortlie after king Lewes being at his pallace, void of troubles and disquietnesse, Conons wife wild him to repaire to the court, to shew himselfe to the king, to put him in mind of the old intertainement which he had at his house, and to present him with some of the fairest and choisest rape rootes that she had in store. Canon seemed loth, alledging that he should but lose his labour: for princes (saith he) have other matters in hand, than to intend to thinke of such trifeling courtesies. But Conons wife overcame him, and persuaded him in the end, choosing a certeine number of the best and goodliest rape rootes that she had: which when she had given hir husband to carrie to the court, he set forward on his journie a good trudging pase. But Conon being tempted by the waie, partlie with desire of eating, and partlie with the toothsomnes of the meate which he bare, that by little and little he devoured up all the roots saving one, which was a verie faire and a goodlie great one indeed. Now when Canon was come to the court, it was his lucke to stand in such a place, as the king passing by, and spieng the man, did well remember him, and commanded that he should be brought in. Conon verie cheerelie followed his guide hard at the heeles, and no sooner sawe the king, but bluntlie comming to him, reached out his hand, and presented the gift to his maiestie. The king received it with more cheerefulnes than it was offered, and bad one of those that stood next him, to take it, and laie it up among those things which he esteemed most, and had in greatest accompt. Then he had Conan to dine with him, and after dinner gave the countriman great thanks for his rape roote; who made no bones of the matter, but boldlie made challenge and claime to the kings promised courtesie. Whereupon the king commanded, that a thousand crownes should be given him in recompense for his roote.

The report of this bountifulnes was spred in short space over all the kings houshold: in so much as one of his courtiers, in hope of the like or a larger reward gave the king a verie proper ginnet. Whose drift the king perceiving, and judging that his former liberalitie to the clowne, provoked the courtier to this covetous attempt, tooke the ginnet verie thankefullie: and calling some of his noble men about him, began to consult with them, what mends he might make his servant for his horsse. Whiles this was a dooing, the courtier conceived passing good hope of some princelie largesse, calculating and casting his cards in this maner; If his maiestie rewarded a sillie clowne so bountifullie for a simple rape roote, what will he doo to a jollie courtier for a galent gennet? Whiles the king was debating the matter, and one said this, another that, and the courtier travelled all the while in vaine hope, at last saith the king, even upon the sudden; I have now bethought me what to bestowe upon him: and calling one of his nobles to him, whispered him in the eare, and willed him to fetch a thing, which he should find in his chamber wrapped up in silke. The roote is brought wrapped in silke, which the king with his owne hands gave to the courtier, using these words therewithall, that he sped well, in so much as it was his good hap to have for his horsse a jewell that cost him a thousand crownes. The courtier was a glad man, and at his departing longed to be looking what it was, and his hart dansed for joy. In due time therefore he unwrapped the silke (a sort of his fellow courtiers flocking about him to testifie his good lucke) and having unfolded it, he found therein a drie and withered rape roote. Which spectacle though it set the standers about in a lewd laughter, yet it quailed the courtiers courage, and cast him into a shrewd fit of pensifenes. Thus was the confidence of this courtier turned to vanitie, who upon hope of good speed was willing to part from his horsse for had I wist.

This storie dooth teach us into what follie and madnes vaine hope may drive undiscreete and unexpert men. And therefore no mervell: though Alcumysters dreame and dote after double advantage, faring like Aesops dog, who greedilie coveting to catch and snatch at the shadowe of the flesh which he carried in his mouth over the water, lost both the one and the other: as they doo their increase and their principall. But to breake off abruptlie from this matter, and to leave these hypocrits (for whie may they not be so named, who as Homer, speaking in detestation of such rakehelles, saith verie divinelie and trulie;

Odi etenim seu claustra Erebi, quicunque loquuntur
Ore aliud, tacitoque aliud sub pectore claudunt:

I hate even as the Gates of hell,
Those that one thing with toong doo tell,
And notwithstanding closelie Keepe,
Another thing in hart full deepe:

To leave these hypocrits (I saie) in the dregs of their dishonestie, I will conclude against them peremptorilie, that they, with the rable above rehearsed, and the rowt hereafter to be mentioned, are ranke couseners, and consuming cankers to the common wealth, and therefore to be rejected and excommunicated from the fellowship of all honest men. For now their art, which turneth all kind of metals that they can come by into mist and smoke, is no lesse apparent to the world, than the cleere sunnie raies at noone sted; in so much that I may saie with the poet,

Hos populus ridet, multumque torosa juventus
Ingeminat tremulos naso crispante cachinnos:

All people laugh them now to scorne,
each strong and lustie blood
Redoubleth quavering laughters lowd
with wrinkled nose a good.

So that, if anie be so addicted unto the vanitie of the art Alcumysticall (as everie foole will have his fansie) and that (beside so manie experimented examples of divers, whose wealth hath vanished like a vapor, whiles they have beene over rash in the practise hereof) this discourse will not moove to desist from such extreame dotage, I saie to him or them and that aptlie,

--- dicitque facitque puod ipse
Non sani esse hominis non sanus juret Orestes:

He saith and dooth that verie thing,
which mad Orestes might
With oth averre became a man
beereft of reason right.

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