Seven letters by Raimondo di Sangro on the discovery of the Philosophical Candle. May be the greatest written contribution of prince di San Severo to Alchemy.
Eclectic mind, inventor, and machinery designer. So no wonder the text I have translated from italian was essentially technical, about a technique hardly treated in the alchemical, as well as scientific, treatises of the time: the eternal lantern or, as he calls it, the philosophical candle. Pay attention to the term here, in fact prince di Sangro uses “lume” which in the italian language of the eighteenth century was different from the latin “Lumen” which instead determined a light, rather than the device producing light.
Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771) was certainly a man of monumental biography, and that without even mentioning the numerous anecdotes and popular legends about him, and neither to hint at the design of the San Severo Chapel, nevertheless I think it is important to point at his cultural background. His parents families went down from Burgundy, Roman and Aragon nobility. The education at Gesuiti in Rome. And, above all, we cannot underestimate the eighteenth century Neapolitan environment, that may amaze the alchemical and hermetic world but Neapolitan scholars, it is enough to say that in the first century B.C a colony from Alexandria of Egypt settled down in Napoli and started a chain of initiations who then lost, or scattered, in thousand streams.
Perhaps for the first time, Raimondo di Sangro used a clearly alchemical lexicon. We know that in the end of our preparatory works we can see a light in our vessel, the phenomenon di Sangro describes is instead a lighting of the already fixed and divided Mercurius Philosophorum ( with the texture of a soft butter in summer), due to a fortuitous proximity to a match. The flaming of the Mercurius Philosophorum will apparently last for months without consuming.
My synopsis is taken from “Raimondo di Sangro, Sette Lettere sul Lume Filosofico”, edited by Collana Arcana for Edit@ 2014. In those letters di Sangro di San Severo tells his experiences to an unidentified friend ( probably the florentin Jean Giraldi). The letters are similar to those in “Lettres écrites par Monsieur le Prince de S. Sevère de Naples a Monsr l’Abbé Nollet. Première Partie”, Neaples, Joseph Raimondi 1753. The correspondence is almost identical, except that in the italian letters di Sangro states he was writing the same letters to the Abbot Nollet. It is unfortunate that the letters replies never came to us.
Back to the little book edited by Collana Arcana, I recommend the purchase, even only for Anna Bellon’s long, scholar and intriguing introduction, which of course I didn’t translate.
As promised, here I am to tell you on my wonderful discovery. At first I though a single letter would be enough, but now I see it will take at least three or four letters. I get to the point: in the July of the last year I have worked on a chemical operation to get some physical evidences, after some four months work, one of the last november nights around one in the night (1), while I was about to open four little flasks in front of me on a table, by chance occurrence I happened to bring the matter in one of the flask (less 7 grams to 1/4 ounce weight) near a match and see the matter to light on with a lively yellowish flame.
I was really amazed and tried to move the flask away, to prevent the matter in the other flasks to take fire. To safely do it I pulled out a handkerchief and great was my surprise when I found that the flaming flask was just a bit more than tepid, so that I could comfortably keep it with my nude hand. Then I let it to burn to see for how long that would last, but it was already seven in the night and, after six hours of burning the flame was as strong as freshly lighted, so I decided to go to sleep and extinguish the flame, but while taking the glass plug to suffocate the flame I noticed it was as tepid as six hours before.
The next morning I wake up early to rush to my little flask to try to light the matter again, but that was impossible. I started to blend it with an ivory toothpick and so a tiny, and temporary, flame came out. Like the temporary flame from a bad rectified, and so packed with phlegm, spirit of wine. I spare no efforts, but in vain. I happen to think to weigh the matter, since it looked as if nothing was consumed off, and even the texture was the same as the night before, that’s to say like a soft butter in summer. In fact, with my great surprised, I found the weight was exactly the same as before taking fire. What do you think, my dear friend, wasn’t the situation start ing to become serious and astonishing? But this was just the beginning. I spent three or four days closed off in my room trying to formulate some hypothesis.
I soon thought to make a kind of candle. So I took a portion of the matter in one of the three little flasks and put it in a short tube with a hole, then I set a never consuming wick, well known by physicists, and, after having well smeared that exterior part out of the hole with my mentioned matter, I tried to bring a match near, but there was no way to light a flame on it. So I decided to remove the wick, and the plug, and tried to give fire directly to the matter, as the previous night the casual proximity with a match had begun the phenomenon. But, no way, the matter didn’t take fire. So I began to think that probably the matter was too little. I placed again the wick, but not perfectly set, and put the tube on a scale and add some matter with the toothpick. The matter came to weigh 1/4 of ounce plus 27 grams and the wick. Then I brought a match close to the wick and it took fire. To make sure it was the addition the reason of the ignition, I started to remove matter under the wick with the toothpick. At a certain point the flame began to shake like a flame close to extinguish. I soon put back the removed matter and the flame attained a smooth flaming. The flame was yellowish, as previously said, and smaller than a normal flame. When placing a hand over it at a distance of four fingers, I felt a burning pain. When bringing an unlit candle near it, it soon took fire. Hovering a paper over the flame, it got smoked. The light wasn’t too much strong, anyway enough to read.
Having experienced all that, I thought to add some more matter. I eventually added all the matter in the little flask and it was 1/4 of an ounce plus 20 grams. Thus 47 grams of matter. Nevertheless this increase did not help the flame, as it kept to be small as before. Then I suspect the wick, since it wasn’t of cotton. Thus I made a similar wick and put in an oil lamp: it took flame like a normal cotton wick. I conclude the reason of the small flame was in the matter. Lost every hope to obtain a bigger flame, I took the tube and began to move it to another room, but after four steps the flame began to dangerously shake like hit by wind, but the windows were well closed, nor there was any air current.
I thought to have caused the air current with my stepping, so I took a piece of paper and made a shield around the flame. I was amazed to see the flame agitation greatly increased. I stopped my steps. Then started again. Thanks God I managed to get to the new room. I closed the wooden windows, set down my candle and remove the paper protection. I decided to investigate. I bent the flame toward right and the flame suddenly calmed down, when I did the contrary action, toward left, the flame restarted to shake. After having experienced on it over and over, I thought the candle needed a perpendicular position, which I did with a water level and putting pieces of paper under the table’s legs. Did that, the flame remained perfectly steady. So I could even open the wooden windows and stayed with only the glass part of the window closed. I didn’t tell you how many times I entered the room to check my flame. From the end of november till today, which is march the second, the flame keeps burning, always steady and small. The amazing thing is that today I have weighed the matter, and it is still the same after three months, without consumption.