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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/623

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THE FUTURE OF ALCHEMY.

with the attainment of his aim. But, though most of the arts do so, all do not. For, among that vast group of human activities to which the name of "arts" is applied, there are certain forms, the very essence of which consists in the seemingly unattainable character of their ends. And these activities, constantly striving for the absolute—for ideals of the many forms of beauty and of strength—are those known as the "Fine Arts."

But all the forms of the ideal world are a part of the religious system of a time, and for this reason all the fine arts have ever been in such close relation with religious belief. And, consequently, when we consider the essential and persistent characteristics of alchemy, such as its intimate connection with religion, and its endeavors to realize chemical ideals, we are compelled to regard alchemy as a primitive fine art, which fell into decay on account of the extreme inadequacy of its means, and the despondency of the artist. The true artist-hero, when he perceives that the absolute perfection he aims at is unattainable, save by the moral, intellectual, and technical education of successive generations, undismayed persists in creating, though not the ideal, yet at least beauteous forms, adumbrations of its image. The alchemist, when he saw that the prize was not to be attained in his day, ignominiously abandoned the field of action.

These facts point to a probability of the revival of alchemy in the future. But the conception of the perfectibility of matter is closely united to that of its transmutability. And when we inquire, "Has the chemical science of our time, by the unceasing toil of the last two centuries, not already developed the means which might enable us to successfully resume the great work of alchemistic art?" we receive not a favorable answer. Chemistry has taught us to resolve compounds into elements and to unite elements to compounds, but it knows naught of transmutation; all its inductions seem to disprove the existence of any reality corresponding to the idea. Year by year the belief that definite, specific forms of matter, such as water or iron, though resolvable or combinable, are yet in themselves absolutely fixed and invariable, has become more firmly rooted. And, if we would therefore hope to see the transmutation of imperfect forms of matter into others more perfect realized, it is not on the inductions and theories of chemistry that our hopes may be founded. It is among chemical conditions, and with the aid of chemical knowledge, that the future alchemist must resume his pursuit; but, before he may do so with any promise of success, these conditions and that knowledge must undergo a change, and chemical science, unleavened as yet by the thought which shall work it, must receive it from without.

The source whence this thought may be derived is the current of organic science, now distributing far and wide the fertilizing influence of the theory of evolution, a view of creation which, though not new,