Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Week 4.  Sensation

 excerpts from
A Philosophical Essay... (1672)
by Dr. Thomas Sherley (1638-1678)

2 of 3: Sections 3 & 4


Section the Third.

THe Doctrine I am now about to affirm, is no Novel conceit; but so Ancient, that we shall find that it was held, [and by them transmitted to Posterity] not only by Plato, Timaeus Locrus {Greek Pythagorean philosopher, Timaeus of Locri (5th c BCE)}, Parmenides, Pythagoras, &c. Philosophers of the Academick, and Italick Sect; but also by Orpheus, Thales the Milesian, and also by Mochos, and Sanchoniathon, the great, and Ancient Phoenitian Philosophers; nay, by that Divinely illuminated Man, Moses.

I urge this point of the Antiquity of the Doctrine I am now going to affirm, because I know it is the custom of some Men, to disgust any Philosophical truth, that cannot shew it self to be as ancient as Aristotle's time; but to please such, let them consider, that the Hypothesis we intend to make use of in this ensuing Discourse, beareth an equal Date with the World, and was at first deliver'd to Man by the Ancient of Dayes himself.

This Doctrine then [which hath of late years been revived, and assumed by the Noble Helmont, and other great wits,] I now am come to lay down, and explain; and in the next place shall endeavour to prove, and confirm it; first, by reason, then by experiment, and lastly, by Authority.

The Hypothesis is this, viz. That stones, and all other sublunary bodies, are made of water, condensed by the power of seeds, which with the assistance of their fermentive Odours, perform these Transmutations upon Matter.

That is, that the matter of all Bodies is originally meer water; which by the power of proper seeds is coagulated, condensed, and brought into various forms, and that these seeds of things do work upon the particles of water, and alter both their texture, and figure; as also, that this action ceaseth not, till the seed hath formed it self a Body, exactly corresponding with the proper Idea, or Picture contained in it.  And that the true seeds of all things are invisible Beings, [though not incorporial;] this I affirm, and shall endeavour to prove.

But to make this the better to be understood,  I shall præmise some generals, and then descend to particular proofs of what I assert.

First then, nothing is produced by chance, or accident.  And therefore in every Generation, or Production, there must necessarily be presupposed some kind of seed which hath a power, or faculty, to alter the Matter, and dispose it to such a Being, and Form, as God and Nature have design'd to produce.

Secondly, all seeds (in some degree) are endow'd with Life, and a power of acting:  for nothing that is not Vital can promote it self to perfection.  And if Bodies are distinguishable from their internal Efficients, and are specificated by them, then must they be allowed to contain a seed.

These positions will not [perhaps] be denyed to Animals, nor Vegetables; because their supposed seed is visible.  For the seed [or rather, sperm] of perfect Animals, is an efflorescence of the best parts of the blood [elaborated in the Testicles] and impregnated with Spirits from all parts of the Body; in which resideth the vis Plastica, or Efficient; [and this indeed is the real seed, or geniture, though it be invisible] which containeth in it self the Image, or Type of the thing to be made; which it performs by a Fermental Odor, or Aura, and by breathing upon those proper juices it finds in a Female Womb; it first coagulates them, and then by degrees explicates it self, working this Female Matter into a Body exactly corresponding with its own pre-conceived Figure:  the grosse body of the Male-seed all this while being but a vehicle, to convey with safety this subtile fermentative breath to its proper place of action; which being done, the body of the sperm is ejected from the Womb, as useless to Generation.

That this is so, hath been proved by the industrious and curious dissection of divers sorts of Beasts, made at several seasons after their Conceptions; and continued till the formation of the foetus; and yet no Vestigiae, or foot-steps of the Male-sperm could be found in the womb.  This is asserted by that incomparable Man, Dr. Harvy {English physician, William Harvey (1578-1657)}; to whom I refer him that desireth further satisfaction in this point.

The sperm of Man, if but for a moment it be exposed to the touch of the external Air, becomes dead, and unprolifick; and that by reason of the subtilty of the spermatick ferment, [it being very apt to desert the body of the seed.]  This is a truth so generally known, that the Virtue of that Lady is justly suspected by all rational Men, who pretended to have Conceived with Child, by attracting the seed of a Man which floated in a Bath, wherein she Bathed her self.

As to Vegetables; They also take their beginnings, are propagated, and do fructifie, from the like invisible cause; viz. a fermentative Odor, [or Aura] which also contains the Idea of the Plant to be produced.

The body of the Seed, or Grain [which is the Casket that contains this invisible Workman] being committed to the Earth [its proper Womb] is softened by the Nitrosulphurous juice of the soyl; that the Vis Plastica [which is the Efficient of the Plant] may, being loosened from its body, be at Liberty to act.  Which being done, the body of the seed, or Grain, is destroyed; according to the sacred Writ:  [Except Seed, committed to the ground, dye, it produceth no fruit:]  But the Architectonick Spirit being now at Liberty, ferments, by its Odor, the Liquors it finds in the Earth, converting them into a juice, fit to work the Plant out of it, which it by degrees performs.  [This Liquor in the Earth, is by Paracelsus {German chemist and physician, Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (c. 1493-1541)}, and Helmont, by a Barbarous name, call'd Leffas Terræ; and is the proximate matter of all Vegetables.]  For proof of what I seem to have with some boldness asserted in this place; Let any sort of Grain be put for a small time in an Oven, [or any analogous heat,] that the external warmth may suscitate and excite this ferment of the Seed to take wing, and desert its body; This Grain, though entire to sight, if it be committed to the Earth, shall never by any Art be brought to produce its like.

As Vegetables, and Animals have their Original from an invisible Seminal Spirit, or breath; so also have Minerals, Metals, and Stones.

To this purpose Dr. Jordan {English physician, Edward Jorden (1596-1632)} tells us,

There is a Seminal Spirit of all Minerals in the Bowels of the Earth, which meeting with convenient Matter, [what that is, we shall shew in its place] and Adjuvant Causes, is not idle, but doth proceed to produce Minerals, according to the Nature of it, and the Matter which it meets withal; which matter it works upon as a Ferment, and by its motion procureth an actual heat, as an Instrument to further its work; which actual heat is increased by the fermentation of the Matter.

The like we see in making of Malt, where the Grains of Barley being moyst'ned with water, the Generative Spirit in them is dilated, and put in Action; and the superfluity of the water being removed [which might choak it] and the Barley laid up in heaps, the Seeds gather heat, which is increased by the contiguity of many Grains lying one upon another.  In this work Natures intent is to produce more individuals, according to the Nature of the Seed; and therefore it shoots forth in spires; but the Artist abuses the intention of Nature, and converts it to his ends, that is, to increase the Spirit of his Malt.

The like we find in Mineral Substances, where this Spirit, or Ferment, is resident, as in Allom, and Copperas-Mines; which being broken, exposed, and Moystned, will gather an actual heat, and produce much more of these Minerals than else the Mine would yield; as Agricola {German metallurgist, Georg Bauer (1490-1555)}, and Thurniser {German alchemist and physician, Leonhardt Thurneisser zum Thurn (c.1530-1596)} do affirm, and is proved by common experience.  The like is generally observed in Mines, as Agricola, Erastus {Swiss theologian and physician, Thomas Lüber, Lieber or Liebler (1524-1583)}, Libavius, &c. do avouch out of the daily experience of Mineral Men; who affirm, that in most places they find their Mines so hot, as they can hardly touch them; although it is likely, that where they work for perfect Minerals, the heat, which was in fermentation whilst they were yet in breeding, is now much abated, the Minerals being now grown to their perfection.  And for this heat we need not call for the help of the Sun, which a little Cloud will take away from us; much more the body of the Earth, and Rocks; nor for subterranean fires.  This imbred heat is sufficient, as may appear:  also by the Mines of Tinglass, which being digged, and laid in the moyst Air, will become very hot; so Antimony and Sublimate being mixed together, will grow so hot as that they are not to be touched.  If this be so in little quantities, it is likely to be much more in great quantities, and huge Rocks.  Heat of it self differs not in kind, but only in degree, and therefore is inclined no more to one Species, than to another; but as it doth attend, and serve a more worthy Superiour, such as this Generative Spirit is. Thus far he.

Moreover, that Minerals, and Metals have their proper Seeds, hear further what a Mystical Chymist, (but a very rational Man) Cosmopolita {author of The New Chemical Light (c.1608), published by Polish alchemist Michael Sendivogius (c.1566-c.1640), but possibly written by Scottish alchemist, Alexander Seton (d. 1604)} sayes, ...

Nature doth Create the Mineral, or Metalline Seed, in the Bowels of the Earth; therefore it is not believed, that there is such a Seed in Nature, because it is invisible

And the same Author again, thus:

... And what prerogative have Vegetables above Metals, that God should put Seed into them, and undeservedly exclude these?  Are not Metals of the same dignity with God that Trees are?  This may be held for certain, that nothing doth increase without Seed:  for where there is no Seed, that thing is Dead.

So that it is plain, you see, by the afore-cited Authorities, that Minerals, and Metals have Seed, & that this Seed is invisible; and that it works by the help of its ferment, or as a ferment.  That stones grow, common experience teacheth us; as also the tenth History alleadged, in the first Section of this present Essay; and consequently must be endowed with seed, and ferment; so that here is, at least, an analogous way of production to that of Animals, and Vegetables (which we have declared above) and was the thing we intended here to prove.

But before I proceed, that I may be the more clearly understood, I shall declare what I understand by the Ferment of the seed.  The word Fermentum, which signifieth Leaven, is by some esteem'd to be quasi fervimentum, or a thing made hot; and generally is used to denote, not only a turgescence, and dilatation of the parts of Matter, (as in Leavened Bread, &c.) but also signifieth the working of any sort of Liquor, till it become Maturated, and exalted into a generous, and sprightly Drink.  Fermentation is thus defined by the Learnned Dr. Willis {English physician, Thomas Willis (1621-1673)}:

.. . Fermentation is an intestine motion of the Principles, or particles, of which day Body consists, with an intent to perfect the said Body, or change it into another.

Ferments then are subtile, tenuous Bodies, [which we generally call Spirits; for as to Leaven, Yeast, &c. they are but the cloathings of these Spiritual, and finer Substances; as we before shewed the Grains of Vegetables, and the Sperm of Animals were:]  which fine subtile breath (the Ferment) hath an expansive power; by which, being immersed in any Matter, or Substance, it desiring to dilate it self, variously agitates the small particles of that matter it is joyned to, and making Excursions through all parts of the Subject it is resident in, it adhering intimately to every small part of the Matter, doth first by the peculiar motion it hath put them into, alter and break the particles into new shapes, and sizes; and then by conveneing together with them, constitute a new texture of that Matter; and thus a new Concrete is made by the power of the Ferment.

So that, in truth, the Ferment of a Seed, [I mean Natural Ferment] is not any Substance distinct, or separable from the Seed it self; since it is connatural with it, and intimately the same, [and is indemonstrable a priori, as well as the Seed, and may be thus defined.

A Ferment is an Expansive, Elastick, or Springy power of the Seed of any thing; by which motion of its self it also moveth the smallest particles of that Matter in which it is immersed: by which motion also [which is of divers kinds, according to the variety of Seeds] the particles of Matter acquire new shapes, sizes, and postures amongst themselves; and so a new texture of the whole is produced, agreeable to the peculiar Nature of the Seed, and correspondent to its Idea; [which Idea we shall explain in its place.]

We have likewise declared often, that seeds do operate by Odors, or scents; which we think is not said without cause:  for if it be well observed, it will be found, that no seeds do generate; but in the time of their acting upon the Matter there are specifick Odors produced; that is, while they are in Fermentation, and the work incompleat: for, when the Concrete is perfected, the Odor is much abated: [as, not to instance in artificial things, making of Malt, the fermenting of Beer, and Wine, in the Barrel, and the leavening of Dough, &c.] for 'tis observable, that the Grains of Wheat, or other Vegetables, sown in the ground, when their invisible seed begins to ferment, do send forth Odors; so also the Eggs of Birds, on which the Hen hath sat.  And that Minerals, and Metals, in their making do send forth such plenty of stinking Odors, that many times the workmen in Mines are suffocated therewith, no body can be ignorant.  Now these Odors are fine and subtile Effluviums, or small particles of the Matter now put into motion by the power of the seed, Ferment:  which having extricated themselves from their Companions, and roving in the Air, do at last strike against those parts of our Noses that are fitted by Nature to be sensible of the touch of such very small Bodies.

Odors then are a sign of Fermentation begun, and are nothing but small particles of Matter got loose from their Fellows, begun to be alter'd, and specificated by the seed; and therefore are very various, according to the diversity of seeds, and their Ferments, from whence they proceed.

Having before declared, that all Bodies proceed, and are made from Seminal Beings; and that the real seeds, and Ferments of things are invisible; and having declared, what I would have understood by a seedy Ferment, and Odor; and also having hinted above, that all Bodies are Materially [and Primarily] nothing but water; I shall now endeavour to prove the same more fully, and clearly; the which I shall do by three sorts of Arguments. 

All which assertions I hope to prove, both by Experiment, and Reason, and shall likewise endeavour to strengthen by good and sufficient Authorities.

Section the Fourth.

AS to the first Argument, founded on that Axiom, that All Bodies are made of that Matter into which they are ultimately resolved, and è Contra; This Maxim is agreed upon of all hands, both by the Aristotelians, the Old Chymists, and the New ones; and that almost upon the same ground.  For the first supposed all Bodies reducible at last into Fire, Air, Water, and Earth; and therefore held the Quaternary of Elements, [which, by the way, they could never yet sufficiently prove.]  And the Second believed Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury to be the first Principles of all Bodies.  And the last sort, the modern Chymists, hold Spirit, Oyl, Salt, Water, and Earth, to be the true Primary Principles of Bodies, for the same reason; viz. because many Concrets are resolvable by fire into the first three, if not into the last five, distinct Substances before named.

But that all Bodies are by Art to be brought back, uniformly, into water; hear what that Learned Man, Helmont, saith.... 

For our handy-craft Operation [that is, his Liquor, Alkahest] hath manifested to me, that all Bodies [to wit, the Rocky Stones] the Pebble, the Precious stone, the Flint, Sand, Marcasits, Clay, Earth, Brick, Metal, Glass, Lime, and Brimstone, &c. may be reduced into a real Salt, equal in weight to its own Body from whence it proceeded: And that Salt being often cohobated with the circulated Salt of Paracelsus, doth altogether lose its fixedness, and is transmuted into a Liquor, which also at length becomes insipid water; and that water is of equal weight to the Salt of which it was made. -- But Plants, Flesh, Bones, Fish, &c. and every such thing [saith he] I know how to reduce into its three first Principles, from whence afterwards I have made an insipid water: but Metal, by reason of its strict, and exact commixture with its Seed, and the Sand ... are most difficultly reduced into Salt:  for Sand, or the Original Earth, doth resist as well Art, as Nature, neither will by any means [the only artificial fire of Gehenna {Gehenna is derived from the name of a valley south of Jerusalem where heathens were said to have sacrificed their children.  Such an accursed place came to represent hell, and the "fire of Gehenna" was its unquenchable eternal fire.  Alchemists used the phrase "fire of Gehenna" to refer to the extreme heat presumed to exist in the center of the earth.} excepted; that is, the Alkahest {name coined by Paracelsus for the universal solvent long sought after by alchemists}] be made to recede from its first-born constancy, &c. [under which artificial fire the Sand is made Salt; and at last water] because it hath a power to work upon any sublunary Body, without its re-acting upon it again.

He likewise tells us ...

For I know a Water [which it is not fit to discover, meaning the Alkahest,] by whose help all Vegetables are changed into a distillable juice, which leaveth no fæces in the bottom of the glass: which distilled juice, if it be mixed with Alkalies, [or fixed Salts] is reduced totally into insipid and Elementary Water.

And a little further in the same Tract, he tells us: 

That he took an Oak-Charcoal, and mixing it with an equal weight of the Liquor Alkahest, he put it in a glass, Hermetically Sealed, which being kept in a Balneo {bath} for three dayes, it was in that time turned into a couple of Diaphanous Liquors, of different colours, which swam upon each other; which being distilled together [in Sand] by a heat of the second degree, it left the bottom of the glass as clear, as if it had never been used.  The two Liquors of the Coal might be distilled with the heat of a Bath, but the dissolving Liquor, [or Menstruum {liquid that dissolves a solid}] in that degree of heat would remain at the bottom of the Glass, not impaired in its weight, or Virtue.  And that the aforesaid two Liquors of the Coal, being mixed with a little Chalk, at thrice distilling, did ascend of the same weight as before; but having lost all their distinguishing qualities, it became undiscernable from Rain-water.

The Operations of this Liquor [which you have heard] in reducing all Bodies uniformly into water, is, I think, of very great force to evince, what I have here affirmed, viz. that all Bodies were Originally Water.  But after all this stress I lay upon these Experiments of Helmont's, it may be objected by some, That they not being possessors of this Liquor, may be allowed to doubt of the truth of what he hath deliver'd concerning it.  To which I answer, first, that I think it no cogent Argument, to conclude there is no such thing, because many men are not possessors of it; and if this should be admitted, all other Arts and things, that are possessed by any Man [and not known to the common people] would be liable to the same exception; and every Cobler, or Ploughman would conclude the impossibility of the effects produced by most Mathematical Automatons, or Engines, because he either knoweth not, or hath not seen the contrivance of the thing, or else is not able to conceive the reason of its Operation:  And if every Man [that knoweth more than the Vulgar] would make it his own case, they would, I suppose, think it an unreasonable and hard way of judging of things.

Secondly, the Man is so consentaneous to himself in his Experiments, that that very thing to me appeareth an Argument of his Truth.  And as to his veracity in those things he delivers as matter of fact, [and upon his own knowledge,] I do not find that even his Enemies have detected him of Falshood; and I am sure, I have hitherto found him most true, in whatsoever he hath delivered us as his own Experience [though possibly many of those things do not at first sight seem over-probable.]  But lest I may seem over-partial, I will give you a Testimony ... from a Man, of whom the World is fully satisfied, not only as to his candid Temper, but also of his ability to judge, both of Men, and things; and the unwillingness of his Nature to encourage falshood: and that is the Inquisitive, and Honourable Mr. Boyl, who saith thus both of him, and the Alkahest.

If our Chymists will not reject the solemn, and repeated Testimony of a Person [speaking of Helmont] who cannot but be acknowledged for one of the greatest Spagirists they can boast of, they must not deny that there is to be found in Nature another Agent, able to analyze compound Bodies less violently, and both more genuinely, and more universally than Fire:  And for my own part, I have found Helmont so faithful a Writer, even in divers of his improbable Experiments, that I think it somewhat harsh to give him the lye, especially to what he delivers upon his own proper Tryal.  And I have heard from very credible Eye-witnesses some things, and seen some others my self, which argue so strongly, that a Circulated salt [or a menstruum, such as it may be] may by being abstracted from compound Bodies, whether Minerals, Animals, or Vegetables, leave them more unlocked than a wary Naturalist would easily believe; that I dare not confidently measure the power of Nature, and Art, by that of the Menstruums, and other Instruments, that even eminent Chymists themselves are as yet wont to imploy about the Analyzing of Bodies.  Thus far he.

Besides, he that had laboured more than thirty years in the fire, and making Experiments, in all probability might attain this secret:  since Geber, and many of the Arabian Philosophers had it before him; as also Basil Valentine {a late 16th c. pseudonymous writer}, Raymund Lully {Spanish-Catalan philosopher, Ramon Lull (1235-1315)}, and Paracelsus.  Nor can I believe so grave and great a man, would in his Old Age, near his Death, impose falshoods and lyes upon the World.

But without the assistance of this Liquor, this Doctrine may be made out; though by more troublesome, and tedious wayes; as we shall now proceed to shew.

The same worthy man, Helmont, saith, [and I have found it true by experience] ...

That fats, and Oyls distilled by fire, a little of an Alkaly, [or fixt salt] being added, do become soap, and at last, may be turned into Elemental Water. -- All Alkalies, fats being added, are converted into watry Liquors, which at last is made and reduced into mere simple water [as it is to be seen in soap, &c.] as often as by a fixed adjunct, [such as Chalk] it shall be made to lay aside its seed, and fatness.

And again,... All distilled Oyl is to be changed into Salt, and by adjuncts into Water.  Also, the best spirit of Wine, which is totally inflamable, if it be joyned with salt of Tartar, will be transmuted into mere water:  which salt of Tartar it self, by the help of Oyls [as is above declared] will at last be reduced into water.

All Vegetables are reducible by distillation into Water, Oyl, and Salt; the water cohobating upon Chalk becomes merely Elemental; the Oyl and Salt may, as is said above, be made to unite into a Saponary Body, which distilled, yield a stinking water, which being oft re-distilled from Chalk [or some such Body] having laid aside its seminal qualities, is indiscriminate from common water:  The Salt it self [which is accounted the most permanent principle] yet by the help of fire, well contrived Vessels, and proper adjuncts, it may be reduced into a Volatil Menstruum, which being put to act upon Bodies, as a dissolvent, it loseth its saline acrimony, and by repeated operations it is totally converted into insipid water.

All Animals upon the face of the Earth are remigrable into water [of which they were formed] And first, as to Snakes, Vipers, Eels, Froggs, &c. these being perfect Animals, as consisting of Organical parts, as Hearts, Stomacks, Livers, Galls, Eyes, &c. [not to mention Worms, and other insects] some of them accounted hot Creatures, and so full of vivacity and life, that several of them will survive after the taking their hearts out of their Bodies some hours, [not to say, dayes;] I say one would little suspect by their out-side, these Creatures should abound with moysture as they do.  For, if any of them be put to distillation, you shall perceive them to boyl in their own juice, and to afford an incredible quantity of Phlegmatick Liquor, which being cohobated upon dry Bodies, as is directed in the reduction of Vegetables, returneth to water; also their Oyls, and fatty substances, being joyned with an Alkaly, and made into a soap, then distilled, they yield a stinking water, which cohobated, as the other, doth likewise return into water.

All other sorts of living Creatures are, by the help of fire, to be dissected into Oyls, a fixt, and a volatile Salt [though they yield most of the latter] an Empireumatical Spirit, and Phlegm:  all which by the above-said helps, and the like repeated Operations, will at last be brought into water.

Middle Minerals, and Mineral Salts, by Art are reducible into Corrosive Spirits; which acting upon Bodies, are dispoil'd of their acrimony; and, at last, return to the shape of water.

As for Minerals, and Metals; if they be fluxed with Alkalies, they are thereby rob'd of their Sulphurs; to which if you add Oyl, it is made soap, and then to be dealt with as is above directed, by the Example of both Vegetables, and Animals:  or else the Sulphurs of Minerals, separated from the Alkalizate Salt, may be burnt, and the Fume caught by a Glass-Bell, [as is usual in making Oyl of Sulphur per Campanam] it will be turned into a corrosive Spirit, which will be reduced into water; as I have shewed above, other corrosive Spirits may be by acting upon Bodies.

Metalline Mercury, or Quick-Silver, [that peerless body for homogeneity, and likeness of parts] which exceedeth water in weight at least fourteen times, [the parts of it being so forcibly compressed by the power of its Seed] may yet totally be reduced into water, in purposely contrived Vessels, and a skilfull management of the fire; as Raymund Lully doth witness, and Experience with him.

Nay, Nature her self doth in time [by the help of Putrefaction, and ferments residing in the Earth,] reduce into water the bodies of Vegetables, and Animals, whether Fish, or Flesh; also Salts, Ashes, Stones burnt to Lime, &c. witness the dunging of Land by these things.  Nay, Metals themselves in time, having past their ... prime, degenerate into middle-Minerals, and Salts; and then return to water.  So that you see, all Bodies have water for their first Matter; and are by Art and Nature reducible into it again at last.

Paracelsus [a Person hardly inferiour to any Man in the knowledge of Metals, and Minerals] giveth us his Opinion of the production of Metals, and Stones, from water, in these words.... 

So therefore God hath ordered, by a wonderful Counsel, that the first Matter of Nature should be water, soft, gentle, potable; and nevertheless the off-spring, or fruit of it, is hard; as Metals, and Stones, &c. than which nothing is harder.

Plato also is of the same judgment with him; for he tells us...: 

There are two sorts of Waters, one moyst, the other fusil, or to be melted.  And presently after, he explaineth what he meaneth by fusil waters...:  But of these, which we call fusil waters, [or to be melted] Gold flowering through the Rock is compacted; for it is, of a most soft, fine, and tender thing, made most hard, uniform, splendid, and yellow, and is a most precious thing.

The Seeds of Minerals, and Metals are invisible Beings; [as we have shewed, above, the true Seeds of all other things are;] but to make themselves visible Bodies they do thus:  Having gotten themselves sutable Matrices in the Earth, and Rocks, [according to the appointment of God, and Nature] they begin to work upon, and Ferment the water; which it first Transmutes into a Mineral-juice, call'd Bur, or Gur from whence by degrees it formeth Metals.  To which purpose I shall give you a testimony, or two.  The first we borrow from that Book, Entituled, Arcae Arcani artificiosissimi apertae {Aperta Arca arcani artificiosissimi (1617) by Johann Grasshof (Grasseus; Chortolasseus)}, beginning thus: ...

Therefore it is to be Noted, that Nature hath her passages and Veins in the Earth, which doth distill waters, either Salt and Clear, or else turbid.  For it is alwayes observable by sight, that in the Pitts, or Groves of Metals, sharp, and salt Waters distill down; therefore while these waters do fall downwards, [for all heavy things are carried downwards] there doth ascend from the Centre of the Earth, Sulphurous Vapours, which do meet them.  Wherefore if so be, the waters be saltish, pure, and clear, and the Sulphurous Vapours pure also, and both of them do strictly embrace each other in their meeting, then a pure Metal is produced; but in defect of such purity, [that is, of the Water, and Vapour] then an impure Metal is generated:  in Elaborating of which Nature spendeth near a thousand years before she is able to bring it to perfection; and this happeneth either by reason of the impurity of the Salt, Mercurial Waters, or the impure Sulphurous Vapours.  When these two do embrace each other, shut up close in Rocky places; then by the Operation of Natural heat there doth arise from them a moyst, thick, fat Vapour, which seateth it self where the Air cannot come, [for else it would flye away:] of this Vapour a Mucilaginous, and unctuous Matter is made, which is white like Butter; Mathesius calls it Gur:  it will spread like Butter, which I also can shew in my hand, above, and out of the Earth.  And the same Author again, thus.  The Matter of Metals before it be Coagulated into a Metalline form, is like Butter made of the Cream of Milk, which may be clam'd, or spread as Butter, which he [he meaneth Mathesius] calleth Gur, which I also [saith the Author] have found in the Mines, where Nature hath produced Lead.  And that Industrious Metallurgist, Webster {English surgeon and alchemist, John Webster (1610-1682)}, [who hath likewise noted the same passages out of this Author] assureth us, that he hath in his possession some pounds weight of this Metalline Liquor, called Gur.

To which I will also add my own Testimony; which is, that about eighteen years past, having made a Visit to a Friend, who dwelt upon the Borders of Derby-shire; and who had at that time newly discover'd a Lead-Mine in his Ground: I remember, that being at the said Mine I saw upon the Work-man's breaking a stone of Lead-Ore, a bright shineing Liquor spurt forth; which in a little while did coagulate, and become solid.

And that Worthy Man, Helmont, confirms what we have related of this Metalline juice, in these words:...

It many times happene[t]h, that a Mine-Man, in the Pits, breaking stones, the Wall is opened, and a Chink is made; from whence a little water hath flowed, of a whitish greeness, which presently hath thickned like soft soap. [I call it Bur, saith he, but I suppose it should be written Gur] and by and by the somewhat greenish paleness being changed, it groweth yellowish, or whitish, or more fully greenish:  So that that is brought to sight, which nevertheless was made within, if the stone had not been broken; because that juice [or Liquor] is brought to perfection by an internal Efficient; therefore the first life of the Metallick seed is hid in the little store-house, [or Cellar] of the place, altogether unknown unto Man:  but when the seed is brought to light, invested with a Liquor, and the Gas hath begun to defile the Sulphur of the water, it is then the middle life of the seed; but the last life is, when it is now grown hard, [that is, become a true Metal.]

And again, that this Metalline juice, which he calls Bur, [and other Authors Gur, which is the true proximate Matter of all Metals] was Originally nothing but water, coagulated by the power of Metalline Seeds; Hear what the same Author sayes:...

Indeed the water, by continuing in the Earth, growing putrid, doth obtain a local, or implanted Seed; and by that means it is changed either into the Liquor ... for all Plants [to be made out of it] or else into the Mineral juice [Bur] according to the particular kinds, chosen by the direction of the Seeds.

But that you may not think, that Lead alone is formed from this Buttery, or Soap-like substance, which we have been speaking of; but also that all other Metalline, and Mineral bodies are produced from the same; I shall give you an Instance, or two; Erastus, as I find him quoted by Webster, saith,

I have two stones of Iron, one of them of an Ironish colour, the other of the colour of the shell of a ripe Chesnut; altogether soft, and fatty, that may like Butter be wrought with the fingers; from which, notwithstanding, hard, and good Iron was extracted by the fire.

Concerning the generating Silver from such a Mineral-Liquor, that Honourable Person, Mr. Boyl, tells us [from Gerrhardus] thus.... 

Also that at Anneberge a blew water was found, where Silver was yet in its first Being, or Ens, which coagulated, was reduced into the powder, or Calx of fixed and good Silver.

As for Gold, and Antimony, Paracelsus saith, it is to be found in its Ens primum, or first Being, Liquid, and in the form of a Red Liquor, or Water, which afterwards is coagulated and exalted into Gold.

Again, he sayes of the primum Ens lege solis, that it is a fugacious Spirit, as yet consisting in volatility, as an Infant in the Womb of a Woman, and is sometimes like a Liquor, and sometimes it is found like an Alcool, or subtile powder.

'Tis a common known thing, that those Men which bore the Ground to find out Coal-mines, do, when they come near the Mine, bring up in their borer a sort of matter they call Soapstone, which is like fat Clay, but of a black colour, and will, when new taken out of the Ground, spread like butter, as Gur will do; but in the Air will soon become so hard, that it will not cut with a Knife.

I might here take notice of what Rulandus {German physician and alchemist Martin Ruland (1532-1602)} hath said of the Medulla Lapidis, which the Germans call Steinmarck; some of which is white, some red, and some of other colours; and most of it in substance like the forementioned Gur:  but to avoid being tedious, I forbear.  And of this sort of coagulated water were those Pebbles made, which Peireskius found soft under his feet in the River Rosne; as is related in the tenth History of Petrification, in the first Section of this Discourse.

So that, I think, it is evident, first, by the afore-cited Authorities, which hold that all bodies were made of water, and seed; and secondly, by the alleadged Experiments, teaching the Reduction of all bodies into water again; that the Original of all Concrets, [even those solid ones of Metals, and Stones] is water.

And I do not find that very ingenious man, Mr. Boyl, to be against this Opinion:  for he saith thus;

Yet thus much I shall tell you at present, that you need not fear my rejecting this Opinion; since however the Helmontians may in Complement to their Master, pretend it to be a new discovery, yet though the Arguments be for the most part his, the Opinion it self is very Ancient.

I have now done with the first Argument, that is, that all Bodies are made of those things into which they are at last to be resolved, and that I have proved to be water.

I now proceed to the second Argument, viz. that all Bodies are Nourished by that of which they are Constituted.


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  • Philosophical Letters between Mr. [John] Ray (1628-1705) and several of his Ingenious Correspondents.... (1718)
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