Le Pelletier in La Pyrotechnie de Starkey ou l’Art de Volatilizer les Alcalis” ties legendary Alkahest to alkaline salt volatilization.
Since preface, French physician Jean Le Pelletier assures he selected all Starkey writings that seemed appropriate for discovering the secret of Alkahest, and the Secret of its mysteries involving the volatilization of alkalis, giving the first entry into the major arcana.
So: “ One could learn to prepare, purify, correct and exalt simples by Alkalis, all we could do with the same Alkahest, because of their penetration”. Accordingly to the most famed sentence on the topic: “If you can not achieve Alkahest, learn, says Van Helmont, to volatilize alkalis and through them, you can make your dissolutions”.
This post is intended as an introduction. If you prefer jumping directly to proceedings, skip at Starkey Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2. Or download the entire file in French that you will find at the bottom of this article.
As for Starkey being Philalethes, doubtful Le Pelletier dedicates several pages presenting contrary pieces of evidence on the case. He portrays George Starkey as a quarrelsome and unlucky man, who charged and was charged with inventions infringements, and who died of plague in a London jail in 1665.
Back to the main topic, in spite of different titles, french treatises are actually one. As Ferguson in his exhaustive Bibliotheca Chemica points out (on the left are here produced snapshots on the subject), Le Pelletier had his treatise published under two different titles and both in 1706, or better he sent to publisher two identical books which only difference was in title-page. However, that was not infrequent in the seventeenth century. But let’s get on with twin treatises now.
Pyrotechnics is an appropriate term for alchemical chemistry. In greek πῦρ (pyr) is fire. Hermetics authors have given it an all-comprehensive meaning. Indeed, in his preface, Le Pelletier introduces Starkey as: “ George Starkey doctor of medicine in London, unhappy with the galenic method he had thoroughly studied, undertook the review of Paracelsus and Van Helmont writings. With such application, he entered principles and Mysteries, which made him a learned philosopher by fire.”
As my post on Aqua Regia said, our Secret Fire or Alkahest or Universal Dissolvent or Spirit or Mercurius or Virgin or Old Man is more than an Alchemy key. It is Alchemy Alpha and Omega (see Basilius Valentinus Azoth). It is no longer a secret that our Dissolvent to reduce matter-mass to its essential can be produced by repeated changes of state in salts or ashes. Hence one can understand the utter importance given by alchemists to salts volatilization. Volatilization means causing a substance to evaporate or disperse in vapor. This is chemically speaking, but since we are in preparatory work this is just the case. See an Opus Magnum scheme.
Le Pelletier is a physician and consequently points to a pharmaceutical preparation. Indeed he suggests volatilized salts be “reduced” in essential oils: “… The Salt of Tartar volatilized can be reduced to a spiritual elixir with essential oils… and this with no other cooking than a Sun-like one. In a short time, they are reduced to a crystalline salt like sugar candy, dyed with the color of simple, whose retains all the taste and odor, that “Magnum oportet” (2), or the middle way holds”. His insistence on essential oils is constant and ubiquitous on these first pages. Anyway, you can hardly find in his book more than vague and insufficient instructions on preparation. Mind that Le Pelletier talks of reduction to the spiritual elixir, not common dissolution in essential oils. Salt of Tartar volatilized and repeatedly volatilized can no more be called common Salt of Tartar volatilized. And essential oils volatility has been well recognized for millennia. Ancient Egyptians and Sabians did know something about it, in fact, they lived in such a warm climate, they hardly needed common fire at all. Please, pay attention, not rush over it. We are here very close to our Alkahest. If you remember my first post on Hollandus De Lapide Philosophico, Mercurius Philosophorum texture is very dependent on Materia Tertia ( raw matter) and Secunda ( purified vehicle matter). So no wonder Le Pellettier talks of “sugar candies” made from spiritual elixir.
In Alchemy Tartar’s term is ubiquitous to an extent that some alchemists have used it as an allegory for Mercurius Philosophorum. Thus we are not here inevitably talking of ordinary potassium carbonate or hydroxide. Indeed, back in the late renaissance and baroque periods, the chemical purity of substances was unknown and scarcely demanded.
To be continued at Starkey Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2 with proceedings. If you want to skip it and jump straight to the original French text to download and translate on your own, you can find it in my google drive at:
LA PYROTECHNIE DE STARKEY, ou
L’ART DE VOLATILISER LES ALCALIS, SELON LES PRECEPTES de Van Helmont, & la préparation des Remèdes Succédanées, ou approchants de ceux que l’on peut préparer par l’Alcaest. Par le Sieur-JEAN LE PELLETIER de Rouen.
As well as an original of Starkey’s Pills:
George Starkey Pill Vindicated from the unlearned alchymist and all other pretenders. With a brief account of other specific remedies of Extraordinary virtue; for the honour and vindication of pyrotechny.
Plain text at Early English Books Online.
- Magnum oportet, latin for “best convenience”.