By Stanton J. Linden
The literary effect of alchemy and hermeticism within the paintings of such a lot medieval and early smooth authors has been neglected. Stanton Linden now presents the 1st finished exam of this effect on English literature from the past due center a long time in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries. Drawing greatly on alchemical allusions in addition to at the functional and theoretical historical past of the artwork and its pictorial culture, Linden demonstrates the pervasiveness of curiosity in alchemy in this three-hundred-year interval. so much writers―including Langland, Gower, Barclay, Eramus, Sidney, Greene, Lyly, and Shakespeare―were conversant in alchemy, and references to it seem in a variety of genres. but the needs it served in literature from Chaucer via Jonson have been narrowly satirical. In literature of the 17th century, particularly within the poetry of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Milton, the capabilities of alchemy replaced. targeting Bacon, Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Milton―in addition to Jonson and Butler―Linden demonstrates the emergence of latest attitudes and leading edge issues, motifs, pictures, and ideas. using alchemy to indicate non secular progress and alter, purification, regeneration, and millenarian rules mirrored very important new emphases in alchemical, scientific, and occultist writing. This new culture didn't proceed, even if, and Butler's go back to satire was once contextualized within the antagonism of the Royal Society and non secular Latitudinarians to philosophical enthusiasm and the occult. Butler, like Shadwell and quick, increased the variety of satirical sufferers to incorporate experimental scientists in addition to occult charlatans. The literary makes use of of alchemy therefore exhibit the altering highbrow milieus of 3 centuries.
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Extra info for Darke Hierogliphicks: Alchemy in English Literature from Chaucer to the Restoration
At a time when alchemical, iatrochemical, and hermetic writing was much concerned with these new directions, it is natural to find Vaughan and Milton following them as well. This line of development does not continue to the end of the century, however, and owing to the New Science, Rationalism, and the general attacks on philosophical enthusiasm in the Restoration period and beyond, we find a return to satire in the works of Samuel Butler, Shadwell, and Swift. This time the objects of satire are not only alchemy and alchemists but also the New Science and its projectors with whom they have been merged.
26 Darke Hierogliphicks characters is grounded in several of these types, each with its own distinctive context and associations, it will be useful to sketch some of them briefly, drawing primarily upon the writings of alchemical authors. The earlier distinction between esoteric and exoteric alchemy provides a useful point of departure because the alchemists seemed never to tire of classifying and categorizing themselves while stating (and defending) their own positions. For example, as already noted, Patrick Scot, in asserting the primacy of spiritual alchemy and philosophical stoicism in The Tillage of Light, concludes with a warning to practitioners of physical alchemy to abandon their quests for artificial gold and turn to the perfection of their own souls: "If truth may have trust, all their Ignitions, Calcinations, Dissolutions, Amalgations, Circulations, Sublimations, Fixations, and Multiplications, otherwise then in a spiritual!
The macrocosm-microcosm idea is an extension of this theory and of equally ancient origin. "The One is All"-and its visual counterpart, the ouroboros-is one of the oldest motifs in alchemy, pervading the Tabula Smaragdina or Emerald Table of Hermes, which according to two different versions was either found in the tomb of Hermes Trismegistus by Alexander the Great or else "taken from the hands of the dead Hermes in a cave near Hebron, some ages after the Flood, by Sarah the wife of Abraham. "48 Its supposed antiquity and semidivine authorship caused it to be regarded as the most sacred book of alchemy, revealing cryptically the means of producing the philosopher's stone.