Alchemy's Secrets

By Holly Tucker

Natural philosophers and alchemists everywhere should head over to Yale's Beinecke library to explore their latest exhibit.

Book of Secrets: Alchemy and the European Imagination, 1500-2000

From the exhibit guide and online blog, all beautifully done:

"European readers were familiar with alchemical motifs and literature, even when they did not believe in alchemy or were actively critical of its practitioners. Ben Jonson, so knowledgeably mocking of alchemical practitioners and processes in The Alchemist, was only one of many satirical commentators on alchemy. In Areopagitica, his famous polemic against censorship, the poet John Milton uses alchemical allusions scathingly, arguing that “I am of those who beleeve, it will be a harder alchymy then Lullius ever knew, to sublimat any good use out of such an invention [i.e., book licensing].” This was no passing flirtation with alchemical imagery, but the mining of a metaphor which Milton knew would be familiar to his readers in its many complexities: the science of alchemy, its authorities such as Raymond Lull, and the tenuous state of alchemy’s premise that its practitioners could transform base metal into sublime material. Alchemy, as Milton knew, occupied a place in the cultural economy, circulated by poets and authors in the coinage of verse, satire, literary defense, and attack."

Image: Yale University, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Collections

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

  1. This looks amazing! I was obsessed with alchemy symbols a few years ago, when I was researching/illustrating my novel. The art is so potent, so mysterious. Thanks for posting this link -- will definitely be checking it out.


Let us know what you're thinking!

To keep up with what others are saying about this post too, just click "subscribe [to these comments] by email" below.

And, as always, we love reader email:
editor [at]