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Who was an English, Elizabethan alchemist. I have recently gotten a copy of Peter Grund’s edition of the text, based on Simon Forman’s 1590 copy of it. The original was finished about 1572, but it seems various copies and editions were in circulation, with 7 complete manuscripts surviving. Locke himself was a carpenter, craftsman and thus was at the centre of the kind of engineering works of the time, having preiovus worked as the surveyor and chief carpenter for the contrsuciton of Upnor castle.

It is basically an attempt to curry favour with William Cecil, secretary to Queen Elizabeth, because Locke wanted to return to England from Russia, where he wasn’t having a good time. Oddly enough there seems little evidence that he had any knowledge of alchemy before he left England, instead picking it up in Russia – I’m sure there’s some interesting research to be done there if enough evidence survives. It is the only work that Locke ever wrote on the topic. And we know that Cecil had been interested in alchemy, and still was at times, but I suspect he was put off a bit by the affair of De Lannoy, who failed to produce any gold despite promising to do so.

To add to the confusion, it is not clear that Cecil ever actually received the book, instead Locke appears to have escaped Russia before he managed to send a copy of it, but we have no information about Lockes subsequent life. The chapter titled “Sociohistorical Context” has a great deal more information.

Locke’s book is pretty much entirely derivative, with specific chapters of it copied directly from older alchemical works, some of which are famous like Ripley’s Medulla alchemiae. Others of them are less well known, such as ‘Scoller and Master’, which was popular in England but not so much elsewhere. One of the reasons Grund chose to use the Forman edition was because it’s date is known (1590) and it has a good provenance. All too many copies of texts have fake provenances and were poorly copied in the first place, so it makes sense to use one which is known and a good copy.

Grund reckons it draws on:

Chapter 1 – The Mirror of Lights by pseudo- Albertus Magnus (Itself derived from the Semita Recta)

2 – Scoller and Master (anonymous), Perfectum Magisterium (pseudo-Arnald of Villanova); and an unidentified text.

Chapter 3 – Dicta (anonymous), Medulla Alkemiae (George Ripley), Notabilia Guidonis Montaynor (Guido Montanor?), Concordantia Raymundi et Guidonis (George Ripley?)

There are animal, mineral and vegetable stones, mercury sublimed with salt and vitriol; gold and silver are treated with mercury to calcine or remove stuff from them?

The Green lion – page 207, his conception of it seems to involve silver, which with some mercuric substances produces a green liquid. So it is not used on gold, nor is it green to begin with, but only after metals have been added, which seems a bit different from older ideas of the green lion.

Page 173, discussion of the several kinds of mercury, and the ones extracted from silver and gold. In this regard he appears to adhere to the two mercuries theory, dating back to the 14th century.

He is against the use of corrosive waters drawn from vitriol, saltpetre and alum and the like. But interestingly, he uses the older idea of mercury sublimed with salt and vitriol to produce a white substance. He also seems to use the word silver and the symbol for the moon, or indeed gold and the sun, to mean different things, perhaps even different things at different places in the text. But of course different copies use the symbols in differing amounts; either way a full suite of alchemical sigils is used, covering the planets, sulphur, 4 elements, ounce, pound and take or recipe.

The book also comes with a glossary and many pages of explanatory notes which are of great interest if you are carrying out extremely detailed research. Altogether it is a worthy work, it is a shame such rigour and depth of investigation has not been applied to many other works. Anyone interested in 16th century English alchemy should have a copy.

(The full reference is “Misticall Wordes and Names Infinite”: An edition and Study of Humfrey Lock’s Treatise on Alchemy, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies Volume 367, published by the Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe Arizona, 2011.)

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