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The world’s first true alchemist was Ernest Rutherford. Jim Al-Khalili, Atom: The Key to the Cosmos, BBC 2007
Alchemy ... I believe it took Islamic scholars to turn this quasi-religion into something much more scientific: chemistry. Jim Al-Khalili, Science & Islam: The Empire of Reason, BBC 2009
Coin-making is one of the many examples of how the practical needs of the booming economy began to turn the magical practice of alchemy into modern chemistry. ibid.
They dreamed of immortality. From the Far East through Europe to London the back-streets and cellars were a seething bubbling hot-bed of alchemical research. Jim Al-Khalili, Chemistry: A Volatile History, BBC 2010
Boyle was bringing alchemy out of the shadows and into an enlightened rational age. He was opening up the scientific method for everyone to see. The alchemists must have feared he was giving away their secrets. But he wasn’t so much interested in debunking alchemy as getting rid of its metaphysical baggage, and replacing it with a more rigorous scientific approach. ibid.
Newton spent much of his time absorbed by alchemy. Jim Al-Khalili, Genius of Britain: The Scientists Who Changed the World, Channel 4 2012
As I thought of these things, I drew aside the curtains and looked out into the darkness, and it seemed to my troubled fancy that all those little points of light filling the sky were the furnaces of innumerable divine alchemists, who labour continually, turning lead into gold, weariness into ecstasy, bodies into souls, the darkness into God; and at their perfect labour my mortality grew heavy, and I cried out, as so many dreamers and men of letters in our age have cried, for the birth of that elaborate spiritual beauty which could alone uplift souls weighted with so many dreams. W B Yeats, Rosa Alchemica
Sulphur and mercury are the two elements of which the alchemists thought the universe was composed. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man 4/13: The Hidden Structure, BBC 1973
The first written reference we have to alchemy is just over two thousand years old and it comes from China. ibid.
The belief of the ancients that all cures must come either from plants or from animals – a kind of vitalism. Now the alchemists introduced minerals into medicine – salt for example. ibid.
Fire is the alchemist’s element. ibid.
Fire is a process of transformation and change by which material elements are rejoined into new combinations. ibid.
He practised alchemy; in secret he wrote immense tomes about the Book of Revelation. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man 7/13: Majestic Clockwork
Unknown to others he had been consumed by alchemy ... The Lucasian Professor had become the sorcerer’s apprentice ... He wrote over a million words on alchemy. Tristram Hunt, Great Britons: Isaac Newton, BBC 2002
European aristocracy transferred its lighted candles from Christian alters to Masonic lodges. The flame of occult alchemists which had promised to turn dross into gold reappeared at the centre of new circles seeking to recreate a golden age. James Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men introduction
There is a vital agent diffused through everything in the Earth, a mercurial spirit extremely subtle and supremely volatile which is dispersed through every place. Isaac Newton, Notes on Alchemy c.1680
He [Isaac Newton] also scoured the Bible looking for supposedly hidden formulas to explain alchemy, the mythical process that turns base metals such as lead into gold. By the eighteenth century alchemy had been discredited as mystical folly. Yet Newton, one of the pillars of rational science, irrationally obsessed over it. Nostradamus Effect s1e5: The Apocalypse Code, History 2009
The first people who systematically tried to unlock the secrets of what the world were made of and to alter it were the alchemists. They flourished in the later Middle Ages, working in secret, protecting their knowledge with codes and ciphers. It’s easy to dismiss the alchemists as deluded mystics, ever trying to turn lead into gold. Michael Mosley, The Story of Science: Proof & Passion, BBC 2010
I have absolutely no doubt that the quest to understand what the world is made of was hugely helped by the work done down the years by the alchemists. ibid.
A Philosopher’s stone: a legendary source of limitless wealth and eternal life. It’s a popular myth, and for alchemists it was a serious quest. Ancient X Files: Philosopher’s Stone and Lost Ark, 2011
It is hoped the manuscript will shed light on Newton’s supposed quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. ibid.
The Philosopher’s Stone is the alchemists’ ultimate hope. ibid.
For around half of Newton’s life the practice of alchemy was illegal and punishable by death. ibid.
Alchemy posed a more earthly threat to monarchy. ibid.
By Newton’s time alchemy was also considered to be a source of forged currency. ibid.
But Newton himself was evidently engaged in work so dangerous or valuable his notes had to be writ in code. ibid.
‘This is why alchemy exists,’ the boy said. ‘So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold.
‘That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.’ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Who does not understand should either learn, or be silent. John Dee, The Hieroglyphic Monad
Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen years of age, we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon: the inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate, and the wonderful facts which he relates, soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind; and, bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father. My father looked carelessly at the title page of my book, and said, ‘Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.’
If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical; under such circumstances, I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and have contented my imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of my volume by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with the greatest avidity. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
And yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Aesop makes the fable, that when he died he told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under the ground in his vineyard: and they digged over the ground, gold they found none, but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man’s life. Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
The alchemical tradition assumes that every physical art or science is a body of knowledge which exists only because it is ensouled by invisible powers and processes. Manly Palmer Hall, in Meditation Symbols in Eastern and Western Mysticism
If by fire
Of sooty coal th’ empiric alchymist
Can turn, or holds it possible to turn,
Metals of drossiest ore to perfect gold. John Milton, Paradise Lost V:439
In 1727, just weeks before his death, one of the most famous men of his day is busy burning boxfuls of his manuscripts. What could have been in them that he was so desperate to destroy? Mystery Files: Isaac Newton, National Geographic 2011
This man was the father of modern science. But it seems that falling apples were not at the top of his priority list. He had spent his life secretly studying the ancient art of alchemy. Why was he so secretive? ibid.