FLAMEL, NICOLAS (c. 1330–1418), reputed French alchemist and scrivener to the university of Paris, was born in Paris or Pontoise about 1330, and died in Paris in 1418, bequeathing the bulk of his property to the church of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, where he was buried. During his life he contributed freely to charitable and religious purposes from the considerable wealth he amassed either by the practice of his craft, or, as some surmise without definite proof, by fortunate speculation or money lending, or, as legend has it, by alchemy. According to a document purporting to be written by himself in 1413 (printed in Waite’s Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers, London, 1888), there fell into his hands in 1357, at the cost of two florins, a book on alchemy by Abraham the Jew, which taught in plain words the transmutation of metals. It did not, however, explain the materia prima, but merely figured or depicted it, and for more than 20 years Flamel strove in vain to find out the secret. Then, returning from a journey to Spain, he fell in with a Christian Jew, named Canches, who gave him the explanation, and after three more years’ work he succeeded in preparing the materia prima, thus being enabled in 1382 to transmute mercury into both silver and gold. But this fantastic story was disposed of by the facts, derived from parish records, set forth in Vilain’s Essai sur l’histoire de Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, 1758, and his Histoire critique de Nicolas Flamel et de Pernelle sa femme, recueillie d’actes anciens qui justifient l’origine et la médiocrité de leur fortune contre les imputations des alchimistes, 1761.
A book on alchemy in the Paris Bibliothèque, Le Trésor de philosophie, professing to be written and illuminated by Flamel with his own hand, is of very doubtful authenticity, and other treatises bearing his name, such as the Sommaire philosophique de Nicolas Flamel, published in 1561 in a collection of alchemist treatises entitled Transformation métallique, are certainly spurious.