Tag: alchemy

Sleepless in the Priory

Among the famous insomniacs of the world one finds all kind of people through the ages. (Lists here and there.) Be it rulers – from a Roman Emperor (Caligula) via Catherine the Great to Lincoln or Mao Ze Dong – or historical & modern artists (among them Marlene Dietrich), writers (Kafka, Proust, Dumas senior) – insomnia can strike anyone.
Philippe ARIÈS (Ger., Eng.) quotes in his Geschichte des Todes (first 1978) from the Dernier vers of the French poet RONSARD (1524-1585) (Ger., Eng.). RONSARD wrote these poems towards the end of his live and laments about his illnesses, among them gout:

La goutte jà vieillard me bourrela les veins

And there are phases of insomnia:

Mais ne pouvais dormir, c’est bien de mes malheurs
Le plus grand, qui ma vie & chagrine & despite.
Seize heures pour le moins, je meurs, les yeux ouverts,
Me tournant, me virant de droict & de travers
Sur l’un, sur l’autre flanc, je tempête, je crie …
Miséricorde ! Ô Dieu ! ô Dieu, ne me consume
A faute de dormir …
Vielle ombre de la terre, ainçois ombre d’enfer,
Tu m’as ouvert des yeux d’une chaîne de fer,
Me consumant au lict, navré de mille pointes …
Mechantes nuits d’hiver, nuits, filles de Cocyte …
N’approchez de mon lit, ou bien tournez plus vite.

He turns to the natural remedy, but it makes him only dull:

Heureux, cent fois heureux, animaux qui dormez …
Sans manger du pavot qui tous les sens assomme !
J’en ay mangé, j’ay bu de son jus oublieux,
En salade, cuit, cru & toutefois le somme
Ne vient par sa froideur s’asseoir dessus mes yeux.

Pavot, papafer, the poppy – he tried it as salad, he cooked it, he drank the juice, but it did not work for poor RONSARD. That is sad when even the opium does not make one sleep, even the animals are better off. The medical doctors of his age would possibly have given him a Theriak (Ger., Eng.)  – helps against anything -, or an early form of Laudanum (Ger., Eng.). PARACELSUS mixed that stuff together sometime between 1520 and his death 1541, so in the 1580s it could have been available for poor RONSARD.
Or they could have offered him something special – a Schlafschwamm. This comes directly from the surgical toolbox, dates back to the ninth century and even further back: Early Arabic writings know the possibility of an anaesthesia by inhalation. A 9th century Antidotarium from Bamberg mentions “the sponge”, also a contemporary codex from Monte Cassino.
The ingredients are opium, hyoscyamin (Ger., Eng.), Maulbeersaft (for sweetness), Salat, Schierling (Ger., hemlock), Mandragora (Alraune) and Efeu / ivy (Ger., Eng.). A sip of this mixture would knock anybody out.
The “sponge” is soaked with the liquid and dried afterwards. Before use it is wetted and put under the patient’s nose, who inhales the fumes and goes to dreamland. Unwanted side effects are asphyxia and death.
This tool was seemingly well-known in the medicine school of Salerno (Ger., Eng.), and for example Hugo BORGOGNONI and others (Ger., Eng.) made it known at the places where they practised.
I’d prefer a good swig from Bombastus’ laudanum bottle, and RONSARD was surely well-advised when he kept to the poppies.

Peculiar Peculators

There are not many women found in the history of alchemy (Ger., Eng.). At the beginning of this noble art stands Maria the Jew (Ger., Eng.), who possibly was a real person. That is not always necessarily the case, Basilius Valentinus (Ger., Eng.) for example seems to be a fictional character only, a kind of vehicle for some people to publish texts, or an alter ego for the alchemist Johann THÖLDE (Ger.).
But in 18th century’s Paris we find a noble woman who runs her own laboratory : Jeanne d’URFÉ (1705-1775) (Ger., Fr., list of ladies).
She was born as Jeanne CAMUS de PONTCARRÉ, her father served as president of the parlement de Normandie (Eng., Fr.) in Rouen (Ger., Eng.). In 1724 she married Louis-Christophe de LAROCHEFOUCAULD de LASCARIS, Marquis d’Urfé et de Langeac, Count of Sommerive (1704−1734) – what a name. She gave birth to three children from this marriage : A son Alexandre, who died in infancy ; a daughter Adelaide, later a Marquise de BAGE and Agnes Marie, later a Comtesse de CREUILLY. Her husband died after ten years (1734) and left behind a wealthy widow of 29.
The main source for her life seems to be the autobiography of CASANOVA (1725-1798) (Ger., Eng.), whom she supported for some time. They met in 1757 in Paris. CASANOVA surely was an adventurer, but he also was a businessman. He was co-founder of the national lottery in France, what generated a steady income for him ; he was well-connected and was sent f.e. to Amsterdam in business missions – as carefully as one has to read his memories (Ger., Eng.), so they let recognize the author’s attempt to be serious and sincere, partly at least. When he wrote it, he was sitting in the cold castle of Dux (Ger., Eng.) in the darkest Bohemian forest and it was no pleasure for him, a tragic relic, a curiosity left over from another time, the days before the bloody revolution, happier days of elegance style & lightness, when he sat at the table of La Marquise and listened to the amusing stories of St.Germain (Ger., Eng.), also an adventurer, but on a totally different level. Nevertheless both were living by the means of Jeanne d’URFÈ.
CASANOVA comes (back) to Paris on the 5th of January 1757 and is introduced to the Marquise. He seems to be busy working on his lottery project and is successfull : In the following year he is granted a patent, the whole thing is legally established and on the 18th of April 1758 the first numbers are drawn.
In the fifth chapter of the fifth book of his biography CASANOVA mentions that he is invited to the table of la marquise. She resided at the Quai des Theatins, renamed 1791 Quai Voltaire, “next the Hôtel de Bouillon“, today nr. 17 Quai Malaquais. She seems to be obsessed with the occult, with alchemy, and she is one of the few who actually has a laboratory and works in it by herself – CASANOVA is shown the whole institute and he is impressed. And, what is even more important for the magnum opus, she had the books: The library of the d’URFÉs was famous, later it was sold, and finally integrated into the Bibliothèque National.
La marquise was all too ready to believe that CASANOVA was an adept, a true follower, man in the know – and he surely did nothing to convince her of the contrary. She trusted him with business affairs and send him to the Netherlands, regarding her shares of some trading company, and CASANOVA insists that he did not betray her in this respect, that he in fact made a good deal for her. He calls her greedy, because she spends only 30.000 Francs a year, and amasses a fortune by speculation. Her daughter Adelaide brings her in front of a judge for not receiving her share. Basically her case is justified, but the judge is an old lover of la Marquise, who wants to return the favour.
Later, of course he did con her, and after 1763 he’d better not come to Paris, at least for some time. But these days are far away in the future, his star is far away from sinking : Money flows in, gold wants to be made, it’s all adventure !
Or, as TALLEYRAND (1754-1838) (Ger., Eng.), whom Napoleon called “merde dans un bas de soie”, put it : “Ceux qui n’ont pas connu l’ancien régime ne pourront jamais savoir ce qu’était la douceur de vivre.


… as it’s just so … Looking at the wiki-list with people of the name “Hardy” I found Claude HARDY (Ger., Fr.) (1598 or 1604-1678), a mathematician and very talented linguist who is said to have been in command of 36 languages. He published his first book at the tender age of nine years, a translation of a text by ERASMUS’ under the title De la civilité morale des enfants. HARDY works as lawyer in Paris, at least from the mid-1620s on; he is a sought -after translator and specialised in mathematical treatises. He is connected with the learned circle around Marine MERSENNE (Ger., Eng.) (1588-1648), knows DESCARTES (Ger., Eng., SEP) (1596-1650) and Blaise PASCAL (Ger., Eng., SEP) (1623-1662). After DESCARTES’ death we hear nothing else about HARDY until his death twenty-five years later.
What piqued my curiosity is the last sentence in the biographical articles that mentions that he conducted alchemical experiments together with Annibal BARLET, who taught alchemy in Paris, and Pierre BOREL (Ger., Eng.) (1620-1671) – after all physician (Médecin ordinaire du Roi) to Louis XIV. since 1654. He brought together a very large hermetic library containing * around four thousands books and manuscripts.
BARLET wrote a book about the art of chemistry (Le vray et methodiqve covrs de la physiqve resolvtive, vvlgairement dite chymie. Representé par figures generales & particulieres. Povr connoistre la theotechnie ergocosmiqve, c’est à dire, l’art de Diev, en l’ovvrage de l’vnivers, Paris 1657*, link, woodcut, woodcut), that is characterized in the Getty image database as “for the most part good practical pharmaceutical chemistry”.
It is also mentioned there that one of the visitors of his science classes was the diarist John EVELYN (Ger., Eng.) (1620-1706), also an avid book collector. The manuscript of his diary is in the BL and not online accessible, there have been some editions**. He covers the years between 1641 and the late 1690s, so he certainly writes about his stay in Paris, and I wonder whether he describes some of the experiments he seemingly had witnessed***.

Where does this lead to? Nowhere; and it’s not intended to do so; it’s just an aimless rambling in the 17th century.
What happened to all these books?

* Because this was googelised it is not in the Europeana, here.
** Link to the edition by William BRAY (1879), pdf-isised by google, accessible via the Bodleiana.
*** Up to now I found no mention of alchemical experiments there, ach

Cold Fusion

Making beer the cold way, with the help of the Getreidestein, also known as Zeilithoid – heavens how could I forget?!
I am wading through 19th century natural science literature – those golden days when everything all of a sudden seemed to be possible, when the idea of eternal progress was not only founded, but strengthened by actual inventions, embetterments, ideas … LIEBIG* (Ger., Eng., museum) saw a cow, fulguration set in – and here’s the Brühwürfel (Ger., Eng.): Concentrated cow, just add water, boil and have a soup. So killing and boiling cows gets you honoured with a German university (Ger., Eng.) named after you – ta!
While I worked myself through the bookmines today I came upon the small work of Karl BALLING (1805-1868) (Ger.) about Zeilithoid: Der Getreidestein (Zeilithoid) und seine Anwendung zur Biererzeugung auf kaltem Wege nach den dabei gemachten Erfahrungen erläutert, 2. vermehrte Auflage, Prag 1852.  The first edition Prag 1852 is available as google scan. I could find no actual information about this product, but around 1900 it was still known and had found its way into a well established Conversationslexikon, as lemma “Bierstein”.
So, what is it actually?
It is Bierwürze (Ger., Eng.), condensed and concentrated; throw it into water, add a little yeast (Ger., Eng.), and voilà – have a beer! It will take a bit of time and preparation **, and Herr CARL, the chief of the Apotheke *** in the Juliusspital who tested Zeilithoid in 1853, mentioned that the water used can even be a little bit unclean ****, but after 24 hours latest one should be able to down a cold beer. And because Zeilithoid comes in different variations it can be a Bavarian, a Belgian or an English kind of “brew” you produce in your very own bathtub.
I really wonder whether it still exists as a product.

* There’s a hall of fame for nearly anything on this planet I guess.
** See the (German only) article in the Polytechnisches Journal 27 (1853), 3. Heft, 236 seq.: Ueber Zeilithoid (Getreidestein), um in der kürzesten Zeit Bier zu bereiten. Gutachten, erstattet an den Verwaltungsausschuß des polytechnischen Vereins zu Würzburg, von Hrn. F. CARL, Vorstand der Apotheke des k[öniglichen] Julius-Hospitals.
*** The Apotheke is still there, open one hour in the afternoon, 14:00-15:00, Monday to Friday.
**** Würzburg always was a wine-city, not a beer-dump. It’s built on Silvaner.