Sabine Stuart Chevalier here produces a theoretical basis for transmutation. Reasoned writing on why alchemists should use gold and its Mercurius as first matter.
In the end of the chapter on the element earth, the french alchemist puts finally on display her preferences for this metal in a simple but, as she goes, exhaustive argumentation.
My translation from the original french. For an introduction to Sabine Stuart Chevalier and her Discours Philosophique sur les Trois Principles, Animal, Vegetal et Mineral, ou la Clef du Sanctuaire Philosophique. Paris 1781. The first part is rather involute and repetitive and I accompanied it with a commentary, while the last part is fully translated and left as it is: clear and all-inclusive.
Discours Philosophique, page 46: “In order to get some advantages from those spirits, one has to consider the inferior metals and examine nature. There it is the essence of the Art. The imperfect metals contain a precious Sulphur which can coagulate the quicksilver”.
Sometimes Stuart Chevalier uses quicksilver to define mercury and sometimes our philosophical Mercurius/Secret Fire. The last case seems here to be more suitable. In fact, the Sulphur quoted here is surely not metallic sulfur, but a greasy substance usually contained in minerals alleged by the french alchemist to be the natural companion of Mercurius in the natural formation of minerals. The concept is developed in “ Stuart Chevalier and a Virgin Marriages”. This coagulation of Mercurius leading to the formation of minerals is a very ancient ( and rather unsophisticated) idea being around up to the renaissance period in Europe.
“ For the same reason one can extract a combustible oil from wine, which has great metallic virtues because it contains a sulfur coming from the earth; and when it is prepared in a suitable manner, it demonstrates a superior power on all other Spirits”.
Combustibility was another feature alleged by very ancient chemists to that kind of natural Sulphur. Together with coagulation, combustibility was seen as a piece of evidence for raising power, so for a Sulphur.
Discours Philosophique, page 47: “ However we don’t have to forget that all coming from animals and vegetals will never lead us to the perfection of the Great Work, as soon as their nature will be. This is the reason why we absolutely have to depurate, by means of distillations, all that comes from these two reigns, until find their metallic nature; then it will be able to be of service of metals: since there is only a stone and only a foundation, that’s to say there is only the metallic virtue able to enter in the composition of Magisterium.”
A twisting wording to just say that our Mercurius/Secret Fire is mainly contained in the electronic clouds of metallic elements. Mercurius out of no metallic elements is often easier to be extracted (1), but when we want to use it to open gold we have to strengthen it with metallic elements (2). The magisterium is the operation of giving a new body to a Mercurius-Sulphur or Spirit of Life-Soul.
“ If one wants to use what comes from minerals and vegetables, their nature must be taken off and then clothed again with a metallic nature. Because it becomes impossible of coagulating the quicksilver without a Sulphur or a matter partaking in that mineral: since wine has not and cannot have any metallic virtue, apart from containing a Sulphur and this Sulphur containing some gold as well as some silver”.
Stuart Chevalier will be clearer as she goes on.
Discours Philosophique, page 48: “That’s because one can extract from wine a very quick Spirit which improves the gold virtue and can freeze with gold. This Spirit of wine is able of multiplying as well as dilating the Tincture. I can certify that there is a great analogy between the Spirit of wine and the Spirit of Gold: these two Spirits partake in the same hot nature, this is the reason why the essence of the Spirit of wine inseparably fixes itself with gold. However we have to keep notice that the spirits of Nitre, of Vitriol, and of Alum are far from a real fixity, for they are not ripe yet; anyway, they have a great affinity with gold, because they partake quite the same origin of the wine, whose Spirit is of a subtle and quick nature. To follow these considerations a lot of authors create some Spirits of Vitriol, Nitre, and Alum, to make them joined with the Spirit of wine, and once impregnated each other they can more easily join with gold”.
This paragraph is not as impossible as it can appear at first: Alchemy is performed by means of the Secret Fire extracted from matter. This Mercurius is very volatile and difficult to be handled. As soon as one has achieved a decent Mercurius, he can try to implement its “weight” in Secret Fire by either soaking or distilling with other substances richer in Secret Fire, such as metals and metallic gold as the first choice. Spirits here are intended sometimes either the acids or the Quintessences out of them, and sometimes both of them (3). The tincturing power is simply the supreme quantity of Secret Fire one can extract out of its works. A concept of dissolution is here involved. See Guido de Montanor and the latin Verb Tingo-Tinxi for a better explication. The Spirit of wine is often intended either as an alcoholic substance to raise salts or the results of that. Sometimes raising action is itself considered as natural sulfur, sometimes Stuart Chevalier considers just the product or Mercurius.
Page 49: “When a real artist wants to start this operation, he/she provides to make gold ready for the extraction of the seminal virtue: it has to be reduced in its first matter, that’s to say what it was before becoming gold. Then it will sprout and fructify, but it has to be visited the root and be reduced in putrefaction; that’s the only way to make gold fructify”.
The concept here is that the Secret Fire/Mercurius extracted from gold does contain a seminal virtue. That’s one of the more incredible and controversial alchemical issues. In fact, it would be interesting to know if a successful transmutation into other metals than gold and silver has ever been performed ( but at the end of this chapter Sabine Stuart Chevalier will give us her opinion about it). From that derives the belief of gold and silver contain a peculiar seed of perfection to be sowed. A modern alchemist may say that gold and silver do contain the supreme amount of Secret Fire on the earth.
“The wheat immersed in the soil teaches us of the way to operate in the hermetic magisterium. The cereal must putrefy in the earth before being able to germinate, and when the putrefaction has developed, its germ attracts from the earth and from the sky some virtues analog to its nature; these Spirits get invigorated by each other and put the wheat in the situation of producing a hundred times more. We find this method in the Gospel, where we can read that if the wheat is not put to putrefy in the soil, it will not fructify. Because it is in the absence of that it could attract from the earth and from the waters sky, so lacks the generative virtues appropriate for the development of the root-feeding all which is analog to it substance”.
Secret Fire/Mercurius seems to operate in a strange diapason-like system indeed. It awakes and is awakened by itself (4). Ostanes referred to this very concept as: “ One nature delights in another nature, one nature conquers another nature, one nature dominates another nature”. Waters from the Sky are the Mercurius Sideribus (from the stars) and/or Universalis (5).
Page 50: “ For the same reason we have to equally develop the root of gold to make it ready for attracting a metallic and seminal virtue; it has to be reduced in its first matter in order to become a subject apt to receive and attract all the virtues necessary for its generation”.
Here Stuart de Chevalier points at the similitude between the Secret Fire extracted from a molecular matter and that one coming from the stars, the sun, and the moon.
“ This root of gold, as we have already said, is nothing more than a greasy and vaporous extract from the two natures being Sulfur and Mercurius”.
The idea under this paragraph is that of a mineral naturally composed of two substances having some apparent features Mercurius ( vapor) and Sulphur (grease). Of course, all that has nothing to do with our alchemical Mercurius and Sulfur, but a superstitious belief of ancient chemists. In the first post on Discours Philosophique about the formation of minerals into mines, you can find more (6).
“ A great number of alchemists do calcine gold and then water it with oils or Spirits in order to extract their quick nature. They make cooking the calx of gold (7) with some metallic and quick Spirits and by means of those they can fix it till this seminal substance get well fortified and reduced to tincture”.
In this paragraph, Sabine Stuart sums up a good amount of all the alchemical practices. First, the reduction of gold in a powder, in which the element oxygen is not foreign, then dissolution, digestion, volatilization, with metallic spirits ( very rich in Secret Fire, if you remember), then practice of fixation and final reduction to a very powerful substance. I translated Mercurius for “Mercure” and quicksilver for “vif-argent”, so mind of that and try to distinguish the cases and when these two terms may be two different things. I have already said that “seminal” and “tingeing” are two steps or stages in the complete extraction of Secret Fire/Mercurius. When defined as seminal our matter/Mercurius is ready to be doubled, when tingeing our matter is already in the step we call it Sulphur and is next to be able to tinge or transmute.