ALCHEMICAL MISCELLANY. MANUSCRIPT IN ENGLISH. First half of the 17th century. Small 4° (190x143mm), 254 leaves and some blank leaves, each author's work is separately paginated. Written in a fine cursive bookhand, extensive indexes to the first and third work in a different hand. Contemporary calf, brass clasps and hasps.
PROVENANCE: William Backhouse (1593-1662), alchemist; Elias Ashmole (1617-92), with his arms (quarterly gu. or, in the first quarter a fleur de lis argent) on the spine and on each clasp; also an unidentified 19th-century armorial bookplate (argent chevron ermine between 3 leopards heads erased)
The volume contains the following works:
John ISAAK, of Holland (fl. 16th century). The booke of the hande of the philosopher. With: A true treatise of Alchimie entreatinge of Urine. 113 pages, with a watercolour drawing of a hand with alchemical symbols against the fingers, pasted on a preliminary leaf. Raymond LULLY (1225-1315). The experiments, wherin the operations of ye true chymicall philosophye are plainly delivered. 160 pages. George RIPLEY (d. 1490?). The key of the goolden gate. With: Medulla Alchymiae, translated out of Latine into Englishe in anno domini 1553 by David Whytheade. Also: Pupilla Alchimiae. Also: Of the compound stone. 252 pages, with diagrams of alchemical apparatus. A list of contents, probably in the hand of William Backhouse, on the first flyleaf; also at end an alchemical recipe (in a different hand). 2 pages. Ripley's first treatise has no title, but is identified in another contemporary hand 'The followinge is Ripleyes worke intituled the key of the goolden gate, but it is defective in the practike parte from the originall Latine coppy'.
An interesting manuscript with an important provenance. William Backhouse, a Rosicrucian and alchemist, was a friend and later 'father in alchemy' to Elias Ashmole, whom he encouraged in his astrological studies and adopted and to whom he imparted the secrets of his arcane science. In his diaries Ashmole states that Backhouse made many of his books and manuscripts available to him, when he was writing his Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, published in 1652. In fact in his notebooks for the Theatrum, he mentions two translations of Ripley's Medulla 'one made by Mr. Jo. Higgins, the other possessed by Mr.Backhouse', (Bodleian Ms Ashmole 971.5). It was clearly Ashmole, who had the volume bound. After his death this was evidently one of the thirty manuscripts that did not go to Oxford University, but was probably sold with his remaining books sold at auction in London, by Millington at Rolls' Auction House on 22 February 1694. The sale included 14 quarto manuscripts.
Most of the texts had at that time not been published in English and were available only in Latin. The work by Isaak Hollandus was first published in Latin at Middelburg in 1600; it was published in German in 1667, but no English translation seems to have been printed. (Cf. Ferguson I.413). Although Lull's works were well-known, and there were several Latin editions in the 16th century, there seems to have been no printed English edition, however copies circulated in manuscript. Some of George Ripley's works were printed in English in 1591, and again by Ashmole in his Theatrum Chemicum in 1652, but those were in verse and quite different texts from the present manuscript, apparently never printed.