The Alchemy web site on Levity.com

Alchemy texts archives - Mutus Liber manuscript

Back to Alchemy texts archive.


From: Adam McLean
Date: 11th Nov 1998

Has anyone seen the manuscript of the Mutus Liber in the Library of
Congress, Ms. Div., acc. 1507 (1).

This apparently contains hand coloured plates possibly from the 1677
La Rochelle.

It also contains a further series of coloured drawings of furnaces.

Does anyone have a mircofilm or photocopy of this manuscript?

Adam McLean

Date: Wed, 11 Nov 98
From: Robert Word

> Has anyone seen the manuscript of the Mutus Liber in the Library of
> Congress, Ms. Div., acc. 1507 (1).

Arche in Milano has published this text in color coming from the Library
of Congress in the U.S. I am in possession of a copy the the Arche
publication. The colors are beautiful and yield a much superior
presentation than the black and white version which they had published
years earlier.

I have not been to the Library of Congress to see the original
manuscript. The editors of the Arche edition describe that although they
received sufficient assistance from the Library to enable them to prepare
the manuscript for publication, yet that assistance was not swift in
coming, taking a year or more.

I suggest that you contact Arche in Milano to obtain a copy of the
publication, or possibly La Table d'Emeraude in Paris which may have some
copies for sale.

My best,
REW

Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998
From: mike dickman

You're aware, I guess, of the limited edition of the coloured prints put out
by ARCHE, Milano, 1979, with Introduction and Commentary by Jean Laplace?

M

From: Adam McLean
Date: 12 Nov 1998

>Arche in Milano has published this text in color coming from the Library
>of Congress in the U.S. I am in possession of a copy the the Arche
>publication. The colors are beautiful and yield a much superior
>presentation than the black and white version which they had published
>years earlier.

Yes I have seen this edition. A friend lent me a copy for a few days
some years ago, and I made some slides of the illustrations, so they are
well known to me. I had not realised that these were reproductions of the
Library of Congress manuscript.

I must try and purchase a copy of this book.

Thanks for pointing this out.

Adam McLean

From: Stanislas Klossowski de Rola
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998

We must attempt to elucidate this. Le Mutus Liber en couleurs appeared
in the French alchemical publication "La Tourbe des Philosophes" over
several issues. This publication was originally started by the late Jean
Laplace and unless I am very much mistaken the source is the same in
the Arche publication as it was in La Tourbe. Now, the original "manuscript"
reproduced in La Tourbe is a MODERN COPY! A finely executed copy
but a copy all the same. It was in fact offered to me as being for sale
by private treaty through the agency of one of the best antiquarian
booksellers in Paris.
The "co-incidence" seems too great to leave much room for doubt
and knowing the Milano publisher, I doubt that he would have resorted
to the Library of Congress in the first place. I will attempt to find someone
who can shed more light on this whole matter and examine the
Washington manuscript.

Yours ever,

Stanislas Klossowski de Rola

Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998
From: Robert Word

My dear Stanislas Klossowski de Rola:

The Arche publication in question specifically states that its text is a
reproduction of one found in the Library of Congress. In order to know
whether or not this claim is true, we must a) Have a copy of the Arche
publication, and b) Compare it directly with the manuscript in the Library
of Congress.

Is anyone out there in possession of copy of the requisite publication
going to Washington D.C., and have time to check the matter out?

I would be very, very surprised that Arche might publish a false claim
of this kind. But the only way to know for sure is to check it out.

My best,
REW

From: Stanislas Klossowski de Rola
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998

Further to my preceding message: I searched the data-base of the Library of
Congress with the following results:

Out of 10 items that came up with the Advanced query "Mutus Liber" were the
two editions published by Arche in Milano.

1) Mutus Liber : reproduction des 17 planches de la rarissime troisieme
edition, 1760 environ: avec deux textes inedits tires d'un manuscrit et 2
fac-simile... Milano Artche 1974. Tirage limite a 500 exemplaires. (Number
146 of 500)

2) This next edition is the one mentioned by Robert Word, Mike Dickman
and Adam:
Mutus Liber : reproduction des 15 planches d'un manuscrit du XVIIIeme
siecle... introduction et commentaires par Jean Laplace
Milano Arche 1979.

3) THIS NEXT ITEM IS VERY INTERESTING:
Title: Alchemy collection, 17th-18th century
Description: 7 items.
1 microfilm reel
Notes: Includes Traite du lapis philosophes (sic) in French, 431 p. ;
Liber Mutus (ca. 1790?) in French 43p. with hand-colored plates;
Summa sapientia Dei in German, originally by John of Padua, 122p.)
Miraculum mundi in German 28 l. ; Il segreto libro di Artefio... che tratta
dell' arte occulta e della pietra filosofale (16--) in Italian 55 p.
Traite de la nature des metaux (ca. 1790?) in French 1255 p.
Liber Sapientiae (1745, in German, by Joseph Antoni Maichelbeck, 87 l. )
Chiefly 17th and 18th century copies of earlier works.
Gift from H. Carrington Bolton, 1912-1914.
Ac. No. 19,099
Described in: Catalogue of Latin and Vernacular Alchemical Manuscripts in
the United States and Canada by W. J. Wilson
(Bruge 1939) items 58-64
Location: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division Washington D.C.
Control No: mm 83098426.
Other than that, I couldn't find the other manuscript mentioned.

Sincerely,
Stanislas Klossowski de Rola

From: Adam McLean
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998

Perhaps I can now throw some further light on this mystery.
However hidden in the tale is another mystery.

Though I do not have a copy of the printed book issued by Arche, I
had the foresight ten or more years ago to make 35mm slides of the
illustrations. I have compared these with the images on pages
377-391 of Roob's Hermetic Museum, which I assume are reproduced
from the Arche edition, as you can clearly see the tell-tale moire
pattern which reveals that a half toned printing plate has been
made from a half-toned printed original. Although it is difficult to compare
the image of the 35mm slide with the printed book, I am quite convinced
that the slides I made from the Arche publication are the same as those
reproduced in Roob. Roob merely states that these come from a late
18th-century French manuscript.

Now to the Library of Congress manuscript. I must confess that in the past
few days I have done the unforgivable thing of borrowing a copy of the
Wilson catalogue from a library and photocopying all 836 pages. I have
wanted a copy of this for years, and was tempted only a little by the copy
presently available from Middle Earth books, but it cost $250 which I could
not afford. Ms.61 in this catalogue is indeed (I quote)

MS. Div., acc. 1507 (1), Liber Mutus, in French, with 15 coloured plates ...
given (June 1914) to the Library of Congress by Mrs H. Carrington Bolton...
Following p.6. (Plates 1-15, copper-plate engravings, coloured by hand, each
16.00x10.0cm)

If this description is correct then this would rule out this as the source for
the Arche edition as the Arche clearly reproduces a manuscript drawn
in pencil and coloured - not coloured engravings from the La Rochelle
or Manget editions.

Here is the sting in the tale. The measurements given in the Wilson
catalogue seemed too small to me, so I looked at my database of
alchemical emblems where I had recorded the measurements of the
two editions

Wilson (Library of Congress) - 160x100mm.
La Rochelle - 267x191mm.
Manget - 265x185mm.

Such confusion. The Library of Congress copy cannot contain
coloured engravings but something else. This illustrates the problems
facing a scholar. It is folly to trust anyone, even such a fine and
thorough cataloguer as was Wilson. Perhaps my measurements are
wrong (but I think not as I clearly recall them being about A4 size.)

So when I began this e-mail I felt I had answered the problem, now
I am ignorant again.

Adam McLean