The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

THE PILGRIM STUDIES ALCHEMY

And Impudence said: "Now at least come here; I will lead thee there where can be found the summit of human wit, and such delightful labours that he who once applies himself to it cannot abandon it as long as he lives, because of the noble pleasure that it gives to the mind." And I begged him not to tarry, but to directly show this to me. And then he led me into what appeared to be a cellar; and behold, there were there several rows of hearths, small ovens, kettles, and divers glass-work, so that everything glittered; men hurried about carrying brushwood and spreading it out; then they blew on it, lighted it, and then again extinguished it, pouring out some substance and mixing it in various fashions. And I asked: "Who are these men, and what are they doing?" Impudence answered: "They are the most subtle philosophers, who accomplish that which the heavenly sun, with its heat, cannot in many years effect in the bowels of the earth; that is, to raise divers metals to their highest degree—to wit, to gold." "But wherefore is this?" I said; "for surely more iron and other metal is used than gold?" "What a dolt thou art!" he said; "for gold is the most precious metal; he who has it fears not poverty.

(Lapis Philosophicus.)

2. "Besides this, the substance which changes metals into gold has other wondrous powers; that one also that it preserves bodily health in its wholeness up to death, and does not admit death (except after two or three hundred years). Indeed, he who would know how to use this substance could make himself immortal. For this lapis is nothing other than the seed of life, the essence and extract of the whole world, out of which animals, plants, metals, and the elements themselves take their being." And I was afeard, hearing such wondrous things, and "These, then, are immortal?" I said. "Not all succeed in finding this substance; and those also who obtain it do not always know how to deal with it fitly." "I should endeavour," said I, "if I had this stone, to use it in such a fashion that death could not reach me; and I should hope to have enough gold for myself and others. But whence, then, do they take this stone?" He answered: "It is prepared here." "In these small kettles?" I said. "Yes."

(The Fortunes of Alchemists.)

3. Wishing such wishes, I thus pursue my way, looking at everything, at what was done and how, and I see that all did not fare equally. One left his fire too cold, and the substance did not boil. Another kept it too hot, then his implements burst, and something evaporated. The man then said that the azoth[1] had escaped, and he burst into tears. Another, while pouring out the substance, spilt some of it, or mixed it wrongly, and damaged his eyes by the smoke, and was unable to observe the calcination and the clearing of the substance; or his eyes were so saturated with smoke that before he had sufficiently rubbed them the azoth had flown from him. Some also died from inhaling the smoke. And there were many of them who had not sufficient coals in their pouch; these had to run to others to borrow some; meanwhile the brew grew cold, and everything came to naught. And this accident was here very frequent, almost incessant. For though they admitted no one among them who had not a full pouch, yet each man's pouch dried up, as it were, so quickly that nothing remained in it, and he was obliged either to stop his work or to run elsewhere on borrowing intent.

4. And gazing at them, I said: "Of those who work here in vain I see many, but I see no one who obtains the stone. I see, indeed, that smelting gold and broiling the element of life, these men squander and dissolve both. But where are these with their masses of gold and their immortality?" He answered me thus: "This knowledge will not be revealed to thee, nor would I counsel these men to do so. So precious a thing must be preserved in secrecy. For if one of the great of the world should hear of such a man, he would wish to seize him and make him a prisoner for life. Therefore must these men be silent."

5. Meanwhile, I see that some of those who had been scorched were meeting together and listening to them. I hear that they were discussing the failure of their endeavours among themselves. One laid the blame on the philosophers, saying that they taught their art in too involved a fashion; another complained of the frailty of the glass implements; a third pointed to the untimely and unfavourable aspect[2] of the planets; a fourth was angry because of the earthly and dim ingredients in Mercury;[3] a fifth complained of the insufficient expenditure. On the whole, they had so many excuses that they knew not how to defend their art. I saw this. And then, as one after the other went out, I also went thence.

  1. I.e., nitrogen.
  2. See note, p. 137.
  3. I.e., quicksilver.