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ENGLISH ALCHEMY WRITTEN FOR THE ‘PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIMENTALIST: A Clew to the Hermetic Labyrinth

John Augustus Tulk
Alchemical manuscript guide for the ‘philosophical experimentalist’ which emerges from a previously unsuspected English circulating manuscript al… Read more
Published in 1807 by Unpublished.
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ENGLISH ALCHEMY WRITTEN FOR THE ‘PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIMENTALIST: A Clew to the Hermetic Labyrinth by John Augustus Tulk

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Alchemical manuscript guide for the ‘philosophical experimentalist’ which emerges from a previously unsuspected English circulating manuscript alchemical group. A man of substantial means living in west London, John Augustus Tulk (1756-1845) was a friend of William Blake - with all his alchemical enthusiasms - of the Scottish inventor, publisher and Rosicrucian Alexander Tilloch as well as continental alchemists such as Sigismund Bacstrom and Augustus Nordenskjöld. As an early reader of Swedenborg, Tulk was a founder of the Theosophical Society and it was his Swedenborgianism that led him to Blake with whom he attended the General Conference in 1789 - Tulk’s son Charles A Tulk continued the family tradition, subscribing to the Songs of Innocence and Experience and introducing Blake to his friend, the poet Coleridge. Written in middle age by Tulk, this proselytising manuscript on behalf of alchemy and alchemists will add to our understanding of the position of alchemy in London intellectual circles at the end of the long 18th century. In it Tulk draws extensively and in scholarly fashion on his own alchemical library as well as glancingly acknowledging the mockery directed towards the discipline in a poetic ‘Encouragement for the Students in Alchemy’ in which he ventures ‘to sport with so solemn a Subject’. And finally, Tulk has to acknowledge the paradox that even as he advises other alchemists he himself has failed in his own pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, ascribing that to ‘the vision of Youth... consumed by false Speculations and erronious Experiments’.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION Small octavo size (12x18cm), half roan over marbled boards, chipping to leather at either end of the spine. Green paper covered endpapers; wove paper stock without watermark. Manuscript title page, dated 1810 (does not match any known imprint). Numbered pages.

ALCHEMICAL TEXT Tulk prefaces his work with ‘A Short Advertisement to the Clew’, explaining that his method of ‘reducing the Philosopher’s Stone... is selected from numerous Collection of Latin Treatises on the Subject, made by Lazarus Zeterus... here rendered into English for modern lovers of the occult science...’ with an addition by Helvetius, signed ‘Ham. 1810. J.A.T.’

First section: ‘A perfect Preparation of Common Salt for the Philosopher’s Stone by Magister Odomar’ (taken from Book III of the Theatrum Chemicum). Text written on rectos with Tulk’s commentary written on occasional versos as at f1v, criticising the Abbe Rousseau who ‘candidly confesses after describing the Philosophic Appearance of his Sophic Mercury... that he obtained what he sought for.’ In the main text Tulk moves on to Rousseau’s ‘Distillation by Alembic’. But the Abbe’s Work was retarded, through an Error which yet has been the practice of some Philosophers in constantly cohabiting his Distillation in his Receip ever upon his faeces in the Alembic...’ Tulk draws parallels with the 17th century alchemical and hermetic texts of Ali Puli or ‘Alipile, the Moor, in his little beautiful Treatise, entitled Centrum Naturae concentratum and Eirenaeus Philolethus’s Secrets Reveal’d, ‘published in a small Volume in 1645, London.’ He continues via ‘the Discourses of Elias Artista with Helvitius’ ending with the Judgement that an Experiment ‘described by Becher in his Concordantia Chemica, where common Sulphur is gradually cart upon Silver in fusion... a Stone of an inferior, that is, of a limited degree in transmutation was produced... This Experiment in it’s Issue appears highly probable in the judgment of the writer, but it is left to that of the Reader - and he here bids him Farewell. (f18) ‘Addenda’: deals with ‘our suggestion towards the Shorter Process, we judge it may be acceptable to the philosophical experimentalist.... described by Becher...’ extracted from Peter Shaw’s Philosophical Principles (1730). Tulk promises to ‘relieve the tedium of the Subject, we shall finish this development of the Mystery of the Old Philosophers with an attempt at a few comico-mystic-chymico Lines’. Quotes from Elias Ashmole (quarto edition of 1652 of Theatrum Chemicum); and at length from Chaucer, refusing to accept that he is mocking alchemy in the ‘Channon’s Yeoman’s Tale’. Signed ‘J.A.T.’ 1807. Tulk continues in verse ‘An Encouragement for the Students in Alchemy’ in which he writes about the rare skills of an alchemist, gives praise to Ashmole and observes of himself: ‘here repeated be/ By Master J.A.T./ Who holds Philosophie,/ And all it’s vanitie,/ From Herm to Doctor Dee/ Just three skips of a flea... So now go at it, and see,/ My adepts how wise you’ll be.’ In his ‘Remarks upoin several Authors’ Tulk makes potted summaries of Paracelsus, Rousseau and then puts ‘Two plain questions... Why, seriously believing what I have written, I should have ventured to sport with so solemn a Subject? The other question is that admitting the Theory to be true, why I should not have verified it in Practice?’ (f34) being obliged to admit ‘I have toiled much in the Investigation of this Chymical Mystery and both in Theory & Practice have detected my own errors’ and pleads ‘Age and infirmity’ with ‘the vision of Youth had been consumed by false Speculations and erronious Experiments’, ‘A.D. 1811’. The text is followed by 6 blank leaves and written from the other end of the MS ‘Cursory Thoughts on Creation’, considering eternity and Divine presence, ff3, handwriting fading away at end.


Full details

Added under Manuscript
Publisher Unpublished
Date published 1807
Subject 1 Manuscript
Product code 8458


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