Add to bookbag
Title: Alchemy
Original Title: Alchimie
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), pp. 248–249
Author: Paul-Jacques Malouin (biography)
Translator: Lauren Yoder [Davidson College,]
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see for information on reproduction.

Citation (MLA): Malouin, Paul-Jacques. "Alchemy." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Lauren Yoder. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Alchimie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): Malouin, Paul-Jacques. "Alchemy." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Lauren Yoder. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Alchimie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:248–249 (Paris, 1751).

Alchemy is chemistry of the subtlest kind which allows us to understand extraordinary chemical operations executing at a more rapid pace those things that require a long time for nature to produce; as for example when, starting with mercury and sulfur alone, in only a few hours we can make a solid red material called cinnabar that is in every way identical to natural cinnabar that requires years and even centuries for nature to produce.

Alchemical operations are endowed with admirable and mysterious traits; we must note that as these operations become better known they lose their unusual character and are then classified as ordinary chemical operations, as has been the case with lilium, panacea, the kermes mineral, emetics, scarlet dye, etc., and in the same way that things usually work in human affairs, chemistry has shamelessly appropriated the advantages it has gained from alchemy ; alchemy has been maligned in most chemistry books. See Alchemists.

The word alchemy is composed of the Arabic preposition al meaning sublime or par excellence and of chemistry , which we will define at the appropriate place. See Chemistry. Therefore, based on the word itself, alchemy means sublime chemistry, chemistry par excellence .

Historians haven't agreed on the origin or the age of alchemy : if we are to believe various fabulous tales, it's been around since the time of Noah. And some even claim that Adam knew something about alchemy .

As far as the age of this science is concerned, we find no records among the ancient authors, whether they be Doctors, Philosophers, or Poets from Homer up through the fourth century of the Common Era. The first author to speak of making gold is Zosimus, who lived around the beginning of the fifth century. He wrote in Greek a Book Sur l'art divin de faire de l'or et de l’argent . The Manuscript is in the King’s Library. This work suggests that by the time it was written chemistry had been practiced for a long time since it has progressed so far.

Nobody speaks about a universal remedy, alchemy's main goal, before Geher, an Arab author who lived during the seventh century.

Suidas claims that the reason there remain no earlier books about Alchemy is that the Emperor Diocletian had all the Books of the ancient Egyptians burned, and it was those Books that held Alchemy's mysteries.

Kirker asserts that the theory of the Philosopher's Stone is explained at length in the table of Hermes and that the ancient Egyptians were well aware of it.

We know that the Emperor Caligula made attempts to extract gold from orpiment. That fact is reported by Pliny, Hist. Nat. ch. Iv. Liv. XXXIII . Such an operation would not have been possible without knowledge of Chemistry that goes beyond that needed for most procedures and experiments in which fire is used.

Furthermore, the earth is so old, and there have been so many revolutions, that there remain few reliable documents showing what the sciences were like in the era preceding the past twenty centuries. I offer only one example: Music was elevated to a point of high perfection at one time by the Greeks; it was so much more advanced than our own, if we judge by its effects, that we have difficulty understanding it. And people would not hesitated to doubt that assertion were it not proven by the singular attention that the Greek government paid to it and by the guarantee of several trustworthy contemporary authors. See An sanitatem musice, written by M. Malouin. Published in Paris by Quillau, Galande Street.

It's also possible that Chemistry was also perfected to such a point, that in Chemistry things we can't do today used to be feasible and that we can’t now understand how they might have been accomplished. Chemistry raised to such perfection is what we call Alchemy. That science, like all others, perished during certain times and remains now in name only. Later, those with a taste for Alchemy suddenly started to perform operations whose reputation shows that Alchemy has some success; they also bypassed what was known in their search for the unknown: they didn’t start by doing Chemistry, and without Chemistry one can become an Alchemist only by chance.

One thing that stands in the way of progress in this science is that Chemists, or those who work from laws, believe that Alchemy is an imaginary science in which they must not dabble, and Alchemists on the other hand believe that Chemistry is not the path they should follow.

The life of any one man, or even a century, is insufficient for perfecting Chemistry; we can say that Beker's era is the time when Chemistry as we know it began. It has since progressed during Stalh's time and others have added to it since then. However it is still far from what it once was.

The principal authors of Alchemy are Geber, Le Moine, Bacon, Riply, Lulle, Jean le Hollandois, Isaac le Hollandois, Basile Valentin, Parcelsius, Van Zuchten, Sendigovius, etc.