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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/605

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599
A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY HOAX

absence of any support but tradition for the reality of a fifteenth-century writer under the name or pseudonym of Basil Valentine, that we are not only justified, but in justice obliged to conclude that the works in question were written at or about the period of their production; that in all probability Joh. Thölde was the author of the more important and earlier ones; that Paracelsus was not guilty of stealing his chemical knowledge from a unique copy of some unknown original, and that not Basil Valentine nor Thölde, but Paracelsus, was the first recorder, if not the first discoverer, of a considerable series of chemical facts, and the originator of some influential theories and applications, which appeared for the first time in his publications.

But the established channels of three centuries of chemical tradition are hard to divert. Despite the verdict of modern scholarship, recent text-books and manuals of the history of chemical science are slow to accept and assimilate the changes involved.

Thus, in the "History of Chemistry," by P. P. Armitage (1906), it is still assumed that Basil Valentine or some one writing under that name lived at the end of the fifteenth century, and consequently such statements occur as the following:

With Valentine's successor, Paracelsus, there begins a new school of chemistry.

Accepting Valentine's philosophy of the three elements, mercury, sulphur and salt and like him reading this into all matter indiscriminately, Paracelsus was able to give a theoretic basis to his sense of pathologic phenomena.

So also Hugo Bauer (translation of P. V. Stanford, "History of Chemistry," 1907), while stating that "new life was brought into this ruinous state of affairs in the second half of the seventeenth century[1] by Basil Valentine," yet says:

The most decisive influence upon chemical thought in this period proceeded from the physician Paracelsus, and his successors Van Helmont and de Boe Sylvius. Basil Valentine had already put forth the view that all substances consisted of the three elements sulphur, mercury and salt.

Bauer also gives much space to the chemical work of Basil Valentine and overlooks the similar work of Paracelsus.

Sir Edward Thorpe[2] refrains from assigning any definite period to Basil Valentine, saying:

He was supposed to be a Benedictine monk who lived in Saxony during the latter half of the fifteenth century: but there are grounds for the belief that the numerous writings ascribed to him are in reality the work of various hands. The attempt made by Maxmilian I. to discover the identity of the author was unavailing, nor have subsequent inquiries had any better result.

Thorpe, however, gives a summary of the more important chemical

  1. This may be a misprint for the fifteenth. The subsequent method and order of treatment would bear out such a supposition.
  2. "History of Chemistry," 1909.