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I got my copy of “Misticall Wordes and Names Infinite” through the post a couple of days ago. 

It’s “An edition and study of Humphrey Lock’s treatise on alchemy”, by Peter J. Grund.  He wrote it in the 1570’s, after presumably (I’ve not read more than the introduction) studying alchemy in the 1560’s.  It is an interesting text because it is written in English in Elizabethan times, shows the importance of the vernacular language by that stage, and draws upon various sources such as George Ripley, the Mirror of LIghts by pseudo-Albertus, and various other sources, all very popular ones in late medieval England. 

So I don’t expect much that is new in terms of substances and techniques and meaning, but it will be interesting to see how alchemy was dealt with by someone in Elizabethan England – so little work has been done, so much remains in manuscript.  For instance, I had never heard of Humfrey Lock before, despite being quite well read in the history of alchemy!

The early history of alchemy was studied with an eye on important texts (especially the more accessible ones) and authors which would explain why I haven’t heard of it before; the modern approach tries to look a lot more at context and how the texts are used and by whom.  Of course you can’t study such history without evidence, and should be careful what conclusions you draw from the surviving evidence (I shall do a post about a specific example later this month), but the consideration of alchemy in its full socio-cultural-technical-natural philosophical context really does bring it to life, not leaving it 2 dimensional and simplistic like so many books on the subject. 

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