Thursday, March 24, 2016

Newton’s recipe for alchemists’ mercury rediscovered

Source: Royal Society of Chemistry
by Emma Stoye

A 17th century alchemy manuscript handwritten by Isaac Newton has been bought by the US’s Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) after being kept in a private collection for decades.

The document contains text copied fom another alchemist's writings as well as descriptions of Newton’s own experiments © Courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation
The document is a copy of a known text authored by another alchemist, written in Latin, as was common practice at the time. Its title translates as ‘Preparation of the [Sophick] Mercury for the [Philosophers'] Stone by the Antimonial Stellate Regulus of Mars and Luna from the Manuscripts of the American Philosopher’. It describes a process for making ‘sophick’ – short for ‘philosophic’ – mercury.
‘Philosophic mercury was [thought to be] a substance that could be used to break down metals into their constituent parts,’ explains James Voelkel, the CHF’s curator of rare books. ‘The idea is if you break the metals down you can then reassemble them and make different metals.’ The process was part of the effort to make the philosopher’s stone, he adds, a mythical substance that alchemists believed could turn lead into gold.

It is likely Newton used the text as a reference when conducting his own alchemical experiments, although it is unclear whether he ever tried to make sophick mercury. There is no mention of the process in hislaboratory notebook, which is currently kept at the University of Cambridge in the UK. But Voelkel says it ‘would not have been out of character’ for him to attempt it.
As well as the copied text, the manuscript includes a description of one of Newton’s own experiments. ‘It’s often the case with Newton’s manuscripts that if they lie around long enough he turns them over and writes something else on the back,’ says Voelkel. ‘In this case there is a note of an experiment that he did. It’s a recipe for distilling a volatile spirit out of lead ore … which corresponds nicely with Newton’s interpretation with various alchemical authors.’

Alchemical anonymity

The author of the original sophick mercury paper was a well-known alchemist at the time known as Eirenaeus Philalethes. Historians now know that this was a pseudonym invented by the Harvard-educated chemist George Starkey, one of the US’s first published scientists. Starkey moved to England in 1650, and worked with some of the most eminent chemists of the time, including Robert Boyle.
‘Starkey found having this alter ego was really useful because he didn’t have to be that person he attributed these writings to,’ says Voelkel. ‘He could publish under another name, and he could completely control people’s “access” to that person because he didn’t exist!’
‘The estimate of Newton’s alchemical output is something like a million words in his own hand’
Although it is not possible to say exactly when it was written, Newton’s copy of Philalethes’ sophick mercury text may pre-date the first known printed version, which was published in 1678. ‘It’s probably the case that he was copying a manuscript that existed before the publication of the printed work,’ says Voelkel. ‘The manuscript he’s copying has at least one mistake in it. At some point the author writes the Latin word ‘ex’ which means ‘out of’ instead of ‘et’ which means ‘and’ – Newton recognises this as being a mistake and corrects it in square brackets. In the printed source this has been corrected.’
Until now, the contents of this particular manuscript had not been made public. It was one of a batch of Newton’s papers sold by his descendants at Sotheby’s in London, UK, in 1936. At that time, many of the texts were purchased by private collectors, but over the years most have been donated or sold back to public institutions. Most of the known alchemical works are now kept at the University of Cambridge where Newton carried out his research.
Now that this particular text has resurfaced, Voelkel says it will be added to ‘The chymistry of Isaac Newton’ project, an online repository curated by Indiana University, so it can be shared and studied more widely. ‘We’ve already imaged it, so the images and the transcription will [be uploaded] and it’ll become a known alchemical document,’ he says.
‘The collection is gigantic … the estimate of Newton’s alchemical output is something like a million words in his own hand. This is just another little page in a corpus of hundreds and hundreds of documents.’

Consider contributing to this site

Hope you like this not for profit site.

We could not devote so much energy into continuing this blog if it was not for the support of readers.

We greatly appreciate any support you provide!

Fair Use of Information for ALL All data is freely available to the ALL, as an inherent inalienable right of consciousness and existence, for the use of any being in creation. No Claim of Ownership is made by MDT, for any data presented on this page or elsewhere. Any information, writing, photographs, videos or content on this page is freely available to ALL without claim of Intellectual Ownership. We advise providing attribution to this website (MakingaDifferenceToday369) when, and if, data herein presented is used elsewhere; so as to remain honest, transparent and to maintain the public trust as to where the information was found. Any and All data herein presented has been re-claimed for the collective benefit of all sentient life from any and all parties who seek to limit its dissemination. Any claims of intellectual ownership or copyright, that were once ascribed to content on this page, or elsewhere, is NULL and VOID; as a result of a misrepresentation of right of ownership and breach of trust by any party whom presumes to claim title and exclusive right of use. No requests, threats, or notices which seek to limit the sharing information for the benefit of ALL will be honored. However, a humble request to provide information in a certain way or form will be considered, up to and including, the partial removal of data, and only as an agreement between 2 honorable parties whom fully disclose and honor a moral duty to the truth. FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, and so on. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. In this respect we are in accordance with the statutes as well as Natural Law.  Issued pursuant to and governed by I AM, eternal essence, in body. MDT is a humble messenger of the One Infinite and Absolute Creator, in service of the Truth and the ALL.