The first man to teach the chemistry of the human body and to declare, as did Paracelsus, that the true purpose of chemistry was the preparation of medicine for the treatment of disease was one Jean Baptista van Helmont, a disciple of Paracelsus, sometimes called the Descartes of Medicine.
In his treatise, 'De Natura Vitae Eternae,' he writes
'I have seen and I have touched the Philosophers' Stone more than once. The colour of it was like saffron in powder, but heavy and shining like pounded glass. I had once given me the fourth of a grain--I call a grain that which takes 600 to make an ounce. I made projection with this fourth part of a grain wrapped in paper upon eight ounces of quicksilver heated in a crucible. The result of the projection was eight ounces, lacking eleven grains, of the most pure gold.'
In his early thirties van Helmont retired to an old castle in Belgium near Brussels and remained there, almost unknown to his neighbours until his death in his sixty-seventh year. He never professed to have actually prepared the Philosophers' Stone, but gained
his knowledge from alchemists he contacted during his years of research.
Van Helmont also gives particulars of an Irish gentleman named Butler, a prisoner in the Castle of Vilvord in Flanders, who during his captivity performed strange cures by means of the Hermetic medicine. The news of his cure of a Breton monk, a fellow-prisoner suffering from severe erysipelas, by the administration of almond milk in which he had merely dipped the Philosophers' Stone brought van Helmont, accompanied by several noblemen, post-haste to the Castle to investigate the case. In their presence Butler cured an aged woman of 'megrim' by dipping the Stone into olive-oil and then anointing her head. There was also an abbess who had suffered for eighteen years with paralysed fingers and a swollen arm. These disabilities were removed by applying the Stone a few times to her tongue.
In 'Lives of the Alchcemystical Philosophers,' published in 1815, it is stated that prior to the events at Vilvord, Butler attracted some attention by his transmutations in London during the reign of James I. He is said to have gained his knowledge in Arabia and in this way. When a ship in which he had once taken passage was captured by African pirates, Butler was taken prisoner and sold into slavery in Arabia. His Arab master was an alchemical worker with knowledge of the correct processes. Butler assisted him in some of his operations, and when later he was able to make his escape from captivity, he carried off a large portion of the Red Powder.
Denys Zachare in his memoirs gives an interesting
account of his pursuit of the Philosophers' Stone. At the age of twenty he set out to Bordeaux to undertake a college curriculum, and hence to Toulouse for a course of law. In this town he made the acquaintance of some students in possession of a number of alchemical books. It seems that at this time there was a craze for alchemical experiments among the students of Paris and other French towns, and this craze caught Zachare's imagination. His law studies were forsaken and his experiments in alchemy began. On his parents' death, having expended all his money on this new love of his he returned home and from their estate raised further money to continue his research. For ten years, according to his own statement, after experiments of all sorts and meetings with countless men with a method to sell, he sat down to study carefully the writings of the philosophers on the subject, and states that it was Raymond Lully's 'Testament, Codicil, and Epistle' addressed to King Robert that gave him the key to the secret. From the study of this book and 'The Grand Rosary' of Arnold de Villeneuve, he formulated a plan entirely different from any he had previously followed. After another fifteen months of toil he says:
'I beheld with transport the evolution of the three successive colours which testify to the True Work. It came finally at Eastertide; I made a projection of my divine Powder on quicksilver, and in less than an hour it was converted into fine gold. God knows how joyful I was, how I thanked him for this great grace and favour, and prayed for His Holy Spirit to pour yet more light upon me that I might use what I had attained only to His praise and honour.'
In his one writing entitled 'Opusculum Chemicum' he gives his own personal narrative and states that the Art is the gift of God alone. The methods and possibilities of the transmutation of metals and the Tincture as a Medicine are also considered.
There is also the evidence of John Frederick Helvetius, as testified in 1666. He made claim to be an adept, but received the powder of transmutation from another. He writes:
'On December 27th, 1666, and in the forenoon, there came a certain man to my house who was unto me a complete stranger, but of an honest, grave and authoritative mien, clothed in a simple garb like that of a Memnonite. He was of middle height, his face was long and slightly pock-marked, his hair was black and straight, his chin close-shaven, his age about forty-three or forty-four, and his native place North Holland, so far as I could make out. After we had exchanged salutations, he inquired whether he might have some conversation with me. It was his idea to speak of the Pyrotechnic Art, as he had read one of my tracts, being that directed against the Sympathetic Powder of Sir Kenelm Digby, in which I implied a suspicion whether the Great Arcanum of the Sages was not after all a gigantic hoax. He took therefore this opportunity of asking if indeed I could not believe that such a Grand Mystery might exist in the nature of things, being that by which a physician could restore any patient whose vitals were not irreparably destroyed. My answer allowed that such a Medicine would be a most desirable acquisition for any doctor and that none might tell how many secrets there may be hidden in Nature, but that as for me--though I had read much on the truth of this Art--it had never been my fortune
to meet with a Master of Alchemical Science. I inquired further whether he was himself a medical man since he spoke so learnedly about the Universal Medicine, but he disclaimed my suggestion modestly, describing himself as a brass-founder, who had always taken great interest in the extraction of medicines from metals by means of fire. After some further talk the Artist Elias--for he it was--addressed me thus:
'"Seeing that you have read so much in the writings of the alchemists concerning the Stone, its substance, colour and wonderful effects, may I be allowed to question whether you have yourself prepared it."
'On my answering him in the negative he took from his bag an ivory box of cunning workmanship in which there were three large pieces of a substance resembling glass or pale sulphur and informed me that here was enough of the Tincture to produce twenty tons of gold.
'When I held the treasure in my hands for some fifteen minutes listening to an account of its curative properties, I was compelled to return it, not without a certain degree of reluctance. After thanking him for his kindness I asked why it was that his Tincture did not display that ruby colour which I had been taught to regard as characteristic of the Philosophers' Stone. He replied that the colour made no difference and that the substance was sufficiently mature for all practical purposes. He refused somewhat brusquely my request for a piece of his substance, were it no larger than a coriander seed, adding in a milder tone that he could not do so for all the wealth which I possessed; not indeed on account of its preciousness but for another reason that it was not lawful to divulge. Indeed, if fire could be destroyed by fire he would cast it rather into the flames. Then after a little consideration he asked whether I could not shew him into a room
at the back of the house, where we should be less liable to observation. Having led him into the state parlour, he requested me to produce a gold coin, and while I was finding it he took from his breast pocket a green silk handkerchief wrapped about five medals, the gold of which was infinitely superior to that of my own money. Being filled with admiration, I asked my visitor how he had attained this most wonderful knowledge in the world, to which he replied that it was a gift bestowed upon him freely by a friend who had stayed a few days at his house, who had taught him also how to change common flints and crystals into stones more precious than rubies, chrysolites and sapphires.
'"He made known to me further,'' said the artist, "the preparation of crocus of iron, an infallible cure for dysentry; of a metallic liquor, which was an efficacious remedy for dropsy, and of other medicines."
'To this, however, I paid no great heed as I, Helvetius, was impatient to hear about the Great Secret of all. The artist said further that his master caused him to bring a glass full of warm water to which he added a little white powder and then an ounce of silver, which melted like ice therein.
'"Of this he emptied one half and gave the rest to me. Its taste resembled that of fresh milk, and the effect was most exhilarating."
'I asked my visitor whether the potion was a preparation of the Philosophers' Stone, but he replied that I must not be curious. He added presently that at the bidding of his master he took down a piece of lead water-pipe and melted it in a pot, when the master removed some sulphurous powder on the point of a knife from a little box, cast it into the molten lead, and after exposing the compound for a short time to a fierce fire he poured forth a great mass of liquid gold upon the brick floor of the kitchen.
'"The Master bade me take one-sixteenth of this gold as a keepsake for myself and distribute the rest among the poor, which I did by making over a large sum in trust for the Church of Sparrendaur. In fine, before bidding me farewell, my friend taught me this Divine Art."
'When my strange visitor had concluded his narrative, I besought him in proof of his statement to perform a transmutation in my presence. He answered that he could not do so on that occasion but that he would return in three weeks and if then at liberty to do so he would shew me something that would make me open my eyes. He returned punctually on the promised day and invited me to a walk, in the course of which we spoke profoundly on the secrets of Nature in fire, though I noticed that my companion was exceedingly reserved on the subject of the Great Secret. When I prayed him, however, to entrust me with a morsel of his precious Stone, were it no larger than a rape seed he delivered it like a princely donation. When I expressed a doubt whether it would be sufficient to tinge more than four grains of lead he eagerly demanded it back. I complied, hoping that he would exchange it for a larger fragment, instead of which he divided it with his thumb, threw half in the fire and returned the rest, saying
'"It is yet sufficient for you."'
The narrative goes on to state that on the morrow Helvetius prepared six drachms of lead, melted it in a crucible, and cast on the Tincture. There was a hissing sound and a slight effervescence, and after fifteen minutes Helvetius found that the lead had been transformed into the finest gold, which on cooling glittered and shone as gold indeed. A goldsmith to whom he took this declared it to be the purest gold that he had
ever seen and offered to buy it at fifty forms the ounce. Amongst others the Master of the Mint came to examine the gold and asked that a small part might be placed at his disposal for examination. Being put through the tests with aqua-fortis and antimony it was pronounced pure gold of the finest quality. Helvetius adds in a later part of his writing that there was left in his heart by the Artist a deeply seated conviction that 'through metals and out of metals, purified by highly refined and spiritualized metals, there may be prepared the Living Gold and Quicksilver of the Sages, which bring both metals and human bodies to perfection.'
In the Helvetius tract is also testimony of Kuffle and of his conversion to a belief in alchemy as the result of an experiment which he had been able to perform himself, although no indication is given of the source from which he obtained his powder of projection.
Secondly, there is an account of a silversmith named Gril, who in the year 1664 at the city of the Hague, converted a pound of lead partly into gold and partly into silver, using a tincture received from a certain John Caspar Knoettner. This projection was made in the presence of many witnesses and Helvetius himself examined the precious metals obtained from the operation.
In 1710 Sigmund Richter published his 'Perfect and True Preparation of the Philosophical Stone' under the auspices of the Rosicrucians. Another representative of the Rosy Cross was the mysterious Lascaris, a descendant of the royal house of Lascaris, an old Byzantine family, who spread the knowledge of
the Hermetic art in Germany during the eighteenth century. Lascaris affirmed that when unbelievers beheld the amazing virtues of the Stone they would no longer be able to regard alchemy as a delusive art. He appears to have performed transmutation in different parts of Germany and then to have disappeared into the blue and so out of history.