Nicaise Le Fèvre (1610-1669) was professor of chymistry and apothecary-in-ordinary to Charles II following the restoration. Previously he had made a name for himself giving demonstrations of alchemical experiments at the Jardin du Roi. When he travelled to England his sights were on bigger things: Charles II had ordered him to recreate Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous cordial and in effect Le Fèvre became, as Mendelsohn (1992) argues, a type of court alchemist. In Worth’s copy of Le Fèvre’s A compleat body of chymisty (London, 1670) Le Fèvre depicts furnaces used to make ‘Oil of Sulphur’ and explains its method of distillation:
Nicaise Le Fèvre, A compleat body of chymistry (London, 1670), pp 304-6.
As Coley (2004) points out, much of Le Fèvre’s approach was later subsumed into one of the most popular chymical textbooks of early modern Europe: Nicholas Lémery’s A Course of Chymistry, containing and easier Method of Preparing those Chymical Medicins which are used in PHYSICK (Paris, 1675). Worth’s copy was the third edition of the English translation of the eighth French edition, an edition which, as Powers (1998) suggests, had significantly re-drawn the relationship between alchimia and chimia by emphasising that alchimia was only a part of chimia. The popularity of Lémery’s text was specifically addressed by the translator of Worth’s London 1698 edition, remarking in the preface how the ‘Two former Editions of Monsieur Lemery’s Course of Chymistry having Sold so very well, the Bookseller was sufficiently encouraged to venture upon a Third, tho’ nothing more had been to be added. But now he has all the reason in the World to expect his Profit and Gains by This, seeing it comes with so many more additional Operations and Remarks.’ The reasons why the book was so popular are not hard to deduce: it is lucidly written and acts as a true textbook for the course of lectures given by Lémery. The translator had himself attended Lémery’s ‘Course of Chymical Operations’ which comprised lectures and experiments three or four days a week for seven to eight weeks. He gives the reader an invaluable summary of the course:
‘In that Course which I was present at, he observed this Order.
He explained the Principles of Chymistry, shewed his Furnaces, Vessels and Instruments, and gave their Names and Uses.
1. The Distillation of Wine into Brandy.
2. Distillation of the Spirit of Wine two several ways.
3. Distillation of Vinegar.
4. Purification of Saltpeter.
5. Purification of Vitriol.
6. Calcination of Vitriol.
7. Gilla Vitrioli.
8. A mixture for Aqua fortis.
9. A mixture for the Spirit of Nitre.
10. Preparation for the distillation of Tartar.
11. Distillation of Aqua fortis.
12. Distillation of the Spirit of Nitre.
13. Crystal Mineral.
14. Sal Polychrestum.
15. Distillation of Tartar.
16. Spirit and Oil of Tartar.
17. Rectification of the Spirit of Tartar.
18. Calcination of Tartar.
19. Fixation of Salt-peter by Charcoal.
20. Salt of Tartar and its purification.
21. A mixture for the Spirit of Sal Armoniack.
22. Lapis Infernalis, or the Caustick Stone begun.
23. Nitre fixt and purified.
24. Distillation of the Spirit of Sal Armoniack.
25. Lapis Infernalis, or the Caustick Stone ended.
26. Oleum Tartari per deliquium.
27. Pulvis Fulminans.
28. A mixture for Aqua Regia.
29. Tartarum Vitriolatum begun.
30. Tartarum Vitriolatum ended.
31. Tartar Soluble.
32. Sal febrifugum Silvii.
33. Distillatio of Turpentine.
34. Dissolution of Gold.
35. Styptick water.
36. Lapis Medicamentosus begun.
37. Spirit and Oil of Turpentine.
38. Lapis Medicamentosus ended.
39. Distillation of Silver.
40. Dissolution of Bismuth.
41. Dissolution of Lead.
42. Dissolution of Copper.
43. A mixture for the Saffron of Mars aperitive.
44. Precipation of the Magistery of Bismuth.
45. Magistery of Saturn.
46. Sal Saturni begun.
47. Tincture of Copper.
48. Sal Saturni ended.
49. Crystal of Venus.
50. Calcination of the aperitive Saffron of Mars.
51. Mars astringent begun.
52. Sal Martis begun.
53. Preparation for the distillation of Sal Saturni.
54. Sal Martis ended.
55. Mars astringens ended.
56. Saffron of Mars ended.
57. Tincture of Mars begun.
58. Revivification of Cinnabar into Mercury.
59. Distillation of Sal Saturni.
60. Tincture of Mars continued.
61. Revivification of Mercury.
62. Dissolution of Mercury for making the Sublimate Corrosive.
63. Spirit of Saturn and its Rectification.
64. Revivification of Lead.
65. Tincture of Mars ended.
66. Tartar Martial soluble begun.
67. Spirit of Saturn rectified.
68. Oil of Saturn.
69. Tartar Martial ended.
70. Decrepitation of Salt.
71. A mixture for Sublimate Corrosive.
72. Sublimate Corrosive continued.
73. White Precipitate of Mercury.
74. Red Precipitate begun.
75. A mixture for the Regulus of Antimony.
76. Sublimate Corrosive ended.
77. Another Precipitate of Mercury.
78. Red Precipitate of Mercury ended.
79. Mercurius dulcis.
80. Regulus of Antimony continued.
81. Calcination of Antimony for making the Glass.
Twenty first Day
82. Regulus of Antimony ended.
83. Glass of Antimony.
84. The first sublimation of Mercurius dulcis.
85. The second sublimation of Mercurius dulcis.
86. Precipitation of the Golden Sulphur of Antimony.
87. Mixture for the Butter of Antimony.
88. The Liver of Antimony begun.
Twenty third Day
89. The third sublimation of Mercuries dulcis.
90. Panacea Mercurialis begun.
91. Golden Sulphur of Antimony continued.
92. Distillation of the Butter of Antimony.
93. Cinnabar of Antimony.
94. The Liver of Antimony ended.
Twenth fourth Day
95. The first sublimation of the Panacea.
96. Butter of Antimony ended.
97. Cinnabar ended.
98. Precipitation of the powder Algaroth.
99. Bezoar Mineral begun.
Twenty fifth Day
100. The second sublimation of the Panacea.
101. Powder of Algaroth ended.
102. Bezoar Mineral ended.
103. Tartar Emetick begun.
104. Vinum Emeticum.
Twenty sixth Day
105. The third sublimation of the Panacea.
106. Antimony diaphoretick begun.
107. Flowers of Antimony begun.
108. Salt of Mars ended.
Twenty seventh Day
109. The fourth sublimation of Panacea.
110. Tartar Emetick continued.
111. Antimony diaphoretick and the Flowers ended.
112. Golden Sulphur of Antimony ended.
Twenth eighth Day
113. The fifth sublimation of the Panacea.
114. Tartar Emetick ended.
115. Sal Polychrestum stibiale.
116. Lotio Antimonii diaphoretici.
117. The Flowers of Sulphur.
Twenty ninth Day
118. The sixth sublimation of the Panacea.
119. The Balm of Sulphur begun.
120. Lac Sulphuris begun.
121. Spirit of Sulphur begun.
122. The seventh sublimation of the Panacea.
123. Lac Sulphuris ended.
124. Balm of Sulphur ended.
125. Spirit of Sulphur ended.
One and thirtieth Day
126. The eight sublimation of Panacea.
127. The Oil of Cloves per descensum.
128. Preparation for the fixt Salt of Carduus Benedictus.
129. Flowers of Benjamin.
Two and thirtieth Day
130. The ninth and last sublimation of the Panacea.
131. The fixt Salt of Carduus Benedictus ended.
132. The distillation of Roses.
133. Preparation for the distillation of Vipers.
Three and thirtieth Day
134. The volatile Salt of Vipers.
135. Preparation for the distillation of Wax.
Four and thirtieth Day
136. The Oil and Spirit of Vipers.
137. Rectification of the Butter of Wax.
Which was the last Operation he performed.’
George Wilson made a name for himself as a chemist in 1660s at the sign of Hermes Trismegistus in London. His ‘anti-rheumatick tincture’ in particular had led to royal patronage but, as Williams (2004) suggests, the patronage of James II was a mixed blessing. Whether it was because of his identification with this unpopular monarch or whether his laboratory was feared as a fire risk, a London mob destroyed it in 1688. As a result Wilson was forced to earn an alternative living giving courses on chymisty and in 1698 he decided to turn his hand to writing, producing one of the most popular chymical textbooks of the early eighteenth century, his A compleat course of chymistry. Despite Wilson’s criticism of Lémery’s ‘pompous Way of Philosophizing upon the Processes’, his own textbook owed much to Lémery’s 1675 Cours de chymie. Wilson provided the reader with clear definitions of chymical characters and terms, and included a host of engravings of chemical apparatus.
Wilson explains this engraving as follows:
1. A Reverberatory Furnace, to distil, with twenty long Necks.
2. A Pelican, or Circulatory.
3. A Balneum at the end of the digesting Furnace.
4. The Sand-Bath of the digesting Furnace.
5. The Balneum Mariae.
6. A Melting Furnace.
These experiments should not be attempted.
Coley, N. G. (2004) ‘Le Févre, Nicaise (c.1610–1669)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press).
Le Fèvre, Nicaise (1670), A compleat body of chymistry (London).
Lémery, Nicolas (1698), A course of chymistry… (London).
Mendelsohn, J. A. (1992), ‘Alchemy and Politics in England 1649-1665’, Past and Present no. 135, pp 30-78.
Powers, John C. (1998), ‘ ‘Ars sine arte’: Nicholas Lemery and the End of Alchemy in Eighteenth-Century France’, Ambix 45 (30), 163-89.
Williams, Trevor I. (2004), ‘Wilson, George (1630/31?-1711), chemist’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Wilson, George (1721), A compleat course of chymistry (London).by