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From van Helmont to Boyle. A study of the transmission of Helmontian chemical and medical theories in seventeenth-century England

  • Antonio Clericuzio (a1)


Van Helmont's chemistry and medicine played a prominent part in the seventeenth-century opposition to Aristotelian natural philosophy and to Galenic medicine. Helmontian works, which rapidly achieved great notoriety all over Europe, gave rise to the most influential version of the chemical philosophy. Helmontian terms such as Archeus, Gas and Alkahest all became part of the accepted vocabulary of seventeenth-century science and medicine.



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Earlier versions of this paper were read at the Warburg Institute (London), at the Hartlib Studies Seminar (Sheffield) and at All Souls' College (Oxford). I would like to express my gratitude to Simon Ditchfield, Malcom Oster, Philip Weller and to an anonymous referee for their comments. I am deeply grateful to Michael Hunter for his advice and suggestions. I wish to thank the staff of the Hartlib Papers Project (University of Sheffield) for their generous assistance. The Boyle Papers and Letters are quoted with the kind permission of the Council of the Royal Society of London.

1 For van Helmont see Pagel, Walter's Joan Baptista van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine, Cambridge, 1982. Halleux, R., ‘Helmontiana’, Mededelingen van de Koninlijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren, en Schone Kunsten van Belgie (1983), 45, 3563.

2 For Sylvius (Franciscus de le Boë) see Lindeboom, G. A.'s article in Dictionary of Scientific Biographies (hereinafter as DSB) (ed. Gillispie, C. C.), New York, 1970-, s.v. As Professor of Medicine in Leiden, Sylvius defended iatrochemistry in numerous disputations. For a bibliography of Sylvius' writings see Baumann, E. D., François de le Boë Sylvius, Leiden, 1949, 240–2.

3 De inaudita philosophia Joannis Baptistae Helmonti, praeses: Johannes Micraelius, respondens: Johannes Lobedanus, Stettin, 1649. Theses XVII, XXII and XXXIII charge van Helmont with holding heretical opinions on matter and soul. For Micraelius see Geldsetzer, L.'s Introduction to the reprint (Düsseldorf, 1966, pp. ixxii) of Micraelius, J., Lexicon philosophicum terminorum philosophis usitatorum, 2nd edn, Stettin, 1662.

4 On Polemann, Tachenius, A. O. Faber and Zwelfer see below. For Kerger, Martin, author of De fermentatione liber physico-medicus, Wittenberg, 1663, see Dictionnaire des sciences médicates. Biographie médicate, 7 vols., Paris, [1820]–1825, v, 416. A German edition of van Helmont's works was made by the von Rosenroth, German Cabalist Christian Knorr: Aufgang der Artzney-Kunst, Sulzbach, 1683.

5 See Patin, 's letter to Spon, Charles of 7 04 1645, Lettres choisies de feu Mr. Guy Patin, 2 vols., Paris, 1692, i, 9, quoted by Packard, F. R. in his Guy Patin and the Medical Profession in Paris in the XVII Century, New York, 1925, 221.

6 Fontaine, Gabriel's De veritate Hippocraticae medicinae, Lyons, 1657, contains a virulent attack on van Helmont and a defence of the Galenic doctrine of humours. For Fontaine see Dezeimeris, J. E., Dictionnaire historique de la médecine ancienne et moderne, 7 vols., Paris, 18281839, ii, 338–9.

7 On P-J. Fabre see Joly, B., ‘La réception de la pensée de van Helmont dans l'oeuvre de Pierre Jean Fabre’, in von Martels, Z. R. W. M. (ed.), Alchemy Revisited. Proceedings of the International Conference on the History of Alchemy at the University of Groningen, 17–19 April 1989, Leiden, 1990, 206–14. Joly, B., La Rationalité de l'alchimie au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1992. Van Helmont's works were translated into French in 1670: Les Oeuvres de Jean Baptiste Van Helmont traittant des principes de médecine et physique (tr. Le Conte, Jean), Lyons, 1670. Jean Le Conte was also the author of a Clavis hermetica which drew much upon van Helmont. For the diffusion of van Helmont's doctrines in France see Debus, A. G., The French Paracelsians. The Chemical Challenge to Medical and Scientific Tradition in Early Modern France, Cambridge, 1992, passim.

8 Tachenius prepared a detailed Index rerum memorabilium for the Venice edition of the Ortus medicinae (1651). For Tachenius see below (n. 152). Ludovico Conti was born in Macerata, where he also took his doctorate in medicine and philosophy and taught medicine until 1628, then he moved to Venice.

9 See Dini, A., Filosofia della natura, medicina, religione. Lucantonio Porzio (1639–1724), Milan, 1985.

10 See Pagel, , op. cit. (1), 199208; Debus, A. G., The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 2 vols., New York, 1977, ii, 447537; Rattansi, P. M., ‘The Helmontian-Galenist controversy in Restoration England’, Ambix (1964), 12, 123; Webster, C., The Great Instauration. Science, Medicine and Reform 1626–1660, London, 1975. Clericuzio, A., ‘Robert Boyle and the English Helmontians’, in von Martels, (ed.), op. cit. (7), 192–9.

11 See Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God, London, 1659 (the work, known as Seraphick Love, was almost completed in 1648), see The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. Birch, T., 6 vols., London, 1772, i, 293 (hereinafter as Works).

12 See Webster, , op. cit. (10), 282f. See also Morgan, J., Godley Learning: Puritan Attitudes Towards Reason, Learning, and Education, 1560–1640, Cambridge, 1986, 4161; Mendelsohn, J. A., ‘Alchemy and politics in England (1649–1665)’, Past and Present (1992), 135, 3078.

13 See Gelbart, N. R., ‘The intellectual development of Wallet Charleton’, Ambix (1971), 17, 149–68.

14 Chatleton, W., Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charletoniana: Or a Fabrick of Science Natural, upon the Hypothesis of Atoms, London, 1654, 381–2.

15 The presence of Helmontian themes in Walter Charleton's late writings has been stressed by Fleitmann, S., Walter Charleton (1620–1707), ‘Virtuoso’, Frankfurt am Main, 1986, 95119.

16 For Boyle's chemical ideas see Clericuzio, A., ‘A redefinition of Boyle's chemistry and corpuscular philosophy’, Annals of Science (1990), 47, 561–89.

17 There is little internal evidence to reconstruct the history of the composition of the Ortus medicinae, which, as a letter of van Helmont to Mersenne seems to suggest, was already started in 1631. See van Helmont, Jean Baptiste to Mersenne, , 30 01 1631, Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, ed. de Waard, C. et al. , 17 vols., Paris, 19321988, iii, 5273.

18 Van Helmont, wrote the ‘Eisagoge’ in 1607, just after his return from England. In a letter to Mersenne, of 19 12 1630 he wrote that in 1607 he had been in England, where he had observed a comet.

19 For Peder Soerensen (Petrus Severinus) see Debus, A. G., op. cit. (10), i, 128–31 and Bianchi, M. L., ‘Occulto e manifesto nella medicina del Rinascimento: Jean Fernel e Pietro Severino’, Atti e memorie dell'Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere, La Colombaria, 48, Nuova serie (1982), 33, 183248.

20 Van Helmont, 's ‘Eisagoge’ was published in Broeckx, C., ‘Le premier ouvrage (Eisagoge in artem medicam a Paracelso restirutam, 1607) de J. B. van Helmont’, Annales de l'Académie Arcbéologique Belge (1853), 10, 327–92, (1854), 11, 119–91.

21 Ibid., 365–6, 379–80. See Severinus, P., Idea medicinae philosophicae, Basel, 1571, 79. The Paracelsian notion of scientia has been dealt with by Pagel, Walter, Paracelsus: an Introduction to the Philosophical Medicine in the Era of Renaissance, Basel and New York, 1958, 60–1.

22 Van Helmont's statement on magic was one of those condemned as impious by the ecclesiastical authorities of Malines. See Propositions notatu dignae, depromptae ex ejus [Helmontji] disputationes de magnetica vulnerum curatione Parisiis edita, Liège, 1624.

23 Van Helmont, , Ortus medicinae, Amsterdam, 1648, 771.

24 Van Helmont maintained that the seminal reasons of all bodies were contained in Paracelsus, ' Iliad, see Supplementum de spadanis fontibus, op. cit. (23), 688.

25 Van Helmont claimed that the atoms of water could be compressed, but did not change their nature. The same atomistic interpretation of water's evaporation occurred in his letter to Mersenne, of 15 01 1631 and in the tract entitled ‘Elementa’ (15), op. cit. (23), 53. In Basson, S.'s Philosophiae naturalist adversus Aristotelem libri XII, Geneva, 1621, 40, 59, we read that water cannot be transmuted into air since their respective ultimate particles have different natures. Although in ‘De lithiasi’, published in Opuscula medica inaudita, Coloniae, 1644. Van Helmont maintained that bodies acted one upon the other by means of their weight, bulk, hardness, shape and motion, nevertheless, he stated that these properties were of great value in mathematical explanations, but of very little use in natural philosophy (physica) (‘De lithiasi’, iv, 1113).

26 Gassendi, P., Epistolica exercitatio, in qua praecipua principia philosophiae Roberti Fluddi medici reteguntur, Paris, 1630, reprinted in Opera omnia 6 vols., Lyon, 1658, iii, 211–68, with the title of Examen philosophiae Roberti Fluddi. See Mersenne, , op. cit. (17), ii, 582–94.

27 Mersenne, , op. cit. (17), ii, 530–40. Van Helmont's letters to Mersenne attest that the French savant was eager to learn from van Helmont on a wide range of topics – medical, chemical, alchemical and physical.

28 Van Helmont, to Mersenne, , 15 01 1631, Mersenne, , op. cit. (17), iii, 31. It is significant that although van Helmont did not deny that all natural bodies were composed of the three principles, in the letters to Mersenne written in 1631 he showed a critical attitude towards the traditional methods of chemical analysis.

29 Van Helmont, , ‘Tria prima’, 53, op. cit. (23), 407.

30 Van Helmont, , ‘Tria prima’, 59, op. cit. (23), 408.

31 Pagel, , op. cit. (1), 142–3.

32 Van Helmont, , ‘Imago fermenti’, 8, op. cit. (23), 112–13. Van Helmont was conscious of the philosophical implication of his thesis. In the tract devoted to the origin of forms he expressly praised Augustine's theory of seminal reasons and rejected scholastic accounts of the production of forms.

33 University of Sheffield, Hartlib Papers (hereinafter HP) 13/98A. Culpeper found these titles in van Helmont, 's Opuscula medica inaudita (1644). The list – in Culpeper's hand – contains ten titles: (1) Initia physica; (2) De lactice urinae; (3) De hydrope; (4) De venationae scientiarum; (5) De morbis; (6) Quod calor non digerat in <sensitivis>; (7) Quod in herbis et lapidibus est magna virtus; (8) De spasmo; (9) De splaeno; (10) Quod hominum perturbationes in praecordijs circa os stomachi fabricantur. (1) is the subtitle of Ortus medicinae; (2) is mentioned on p. 175 of Opuscula and refers to the tract entitled ‘Latex humor neglectus’ (van Helmont, , op. cit. (23), 381–7 (erroneously 377)); (3) is the tract entitled ‘Ignotus hydrops’ (ibid., 508–22); (4) refers to the tract on pp. 20–32 of ibid.; (5) is the title van Helmont gave to a group of 27 tracts (ibid., 529–684); (7) is the title of the tract on pp. 575–84 of op. cit. (23); (6) refers to ‘Calor efficienter non digerit…’ (ibid., 201–6). I have not been able to identify the last three titles in Culpeper's list.

34 HP 13/96A. The first English published work containing reference to van Helmont is Foster, William's Hoplocrisma spongus, London, 1631, an attack on the doctrine of the magnetic cure of wounds.

35 HP 13/96B.

36 HP 13/96A-B. Culpeper here refers to ‘De lithiasi’, Opuscula, 22–3.

37 Jan Morian was Hartlib's main source of information on van Helmont as well as on Glauber. Already in 1645 information on the works of van Helmont had also been sent to Hartlib by Henry Appelius. See Webster, , op. cit. (10), 277.

38 HP 28/2/26A. Hartlib also expressed the wish (which Rand was to share in 1652) that one could make excerpta and a compendium out of van Helmont's works (HP 28/2/25A).

39 ‘By some bodies instigation Gleen was made to fall upon some of Helmonts houses which he plundered and set on fire, wherein many excellent writings of his perished. Amongst others a great Volume of letters written by himself and by others to him about many arcana.’ (HP 28/2/25A). In Ephemerides of the same year Hartlib wrote that the Duke of Holstein was about to publish ‘opera Helmontii inedita’ (HP 28/2/25A).

40 See Hartlib, 's letter to Boyle, of 15 05 1654 (Works, op. cit. (11), vi, 89). Hartlib's son-in-law, Clodius, one of the most prominent chemists of the Circle, was acquainted with Jan Baptista van Helmont's widow, from whom he received some Helmontian manuscripts (HP 28/2/19A). On Clodius, who corresponded with Boyle for several years, see Webster, , op. cit. (10), especially 303–4. A letter from Morian, to Hartlib, of 6 07 1655 (only a Latin extract of the letter survives) bears evidence that van Helmont's widow contributed to the diffusion of her husband's manuscripts. This is also attested in Boyle's manuscripts (Royal Society Boyle Papers (hereinafter RSBP), 37, fol. 117r-v) and in the fourth Essay of The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 102.

41 Royal Society MS 187, fols. 35v–37r.

42 The Philosophical Transactions (26 10 1674), 107, reprinted in Works, , op. cit. (11), iv, 149–50.

43 Boyle said that he had met the German chemist fourteen or fifteen years before. The published account of the destruction of the Helmontian manuscripts is slightly different from the one in the RSBP. In the former, Boyle stated that just one manuscript was destroyed in the fire of London, whilst in the latter he wrote that just one escaped the fire. The German chemist who brought van Helmont's manuscripts to England might have been Dr Michaelis, who was in England in 1659. In ‘Ephemerides’ of 1653 Hartlib reported: ‘One of Lipsick with him Clodius is acquainted hath excerpta of Helmonts Ms De Fermentatione.’ In 1658 Oldenburg wrote to Hartlib: ‘I pray, salute Mr Claudius from me and tell him that Dr Michaelis at Leipzig made honourable mention of him’, The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg (ed. Hall, A. Rupert and Hall, Marie Boas), 13 vols., Madison, Wisc, and London, 19651986, i, 181. On Michaelis, Johann (16061667), see Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärtze aller Zeiten und Völker (ed. Hirsch, A.), 5 vols., Berlin, 19291934, iv, 197.

44 HP 31/22 8B. On William Hamilton and Johann Brun (alias Unmussig) see Wilkinson, R. S., ‘The Hartlib Papers and seventeenth-century chemistry. Part I’, Ambix (1968), 15, 64–9.

45 ‘Ephemerides’ 1650, HP 28/1/40B. Thomas Henshaw, who – together with Thomas Vaughan – kept a chemical laboratory in Kensington, was in possession of some of Hugh Plan's manuscripts bearing evidence of the latter's acquaintance with van Helmont when the Flemish physician was in England. Hartlib also wrote that Henshaw, Vaughan, Webb and Robert Child tried to form a ‘chymical club’ to collect chemical printed works and manuscripts and to promote mutual communication among the chemical philosophers. George Starkey, who arrived in England in 1650, immediately became famous as a skilled chemist and as one who knew ‘almost all Helmont by heart’ (ibid.). Starkey was introduced to Boyle by Child and collaborated with the former in the early 1650s. For T. Vaughan see Rudrum, A.'s Biographical Introduction to The Works of Thomas Vaughan (ed. Rudrum, A.), Oxford, 1984, 131. For Starkey see Wilkinson, R. S., ‘George Starkey, Physician and Alchemist’, Ambix (1963), xi, 121–52. Dr W. Newman is now engaged on a study of Starkey/Philalethes. Starkey's early knowledge of the Flemish physician's works is attested in a letter he sent to John Winthrop Jr in 1648, in which he asked, among other chemical books, for van Helmont's De lithiasi and De febribus which were published in the Opuscula medica inaudita, see Wilkinson, R. S., ‘The Alchemical library of John Winthrop Jr. (1606–1676) and his descendants in colonial America’, Ambix (1963), xi, 46. A copy of van Helmont, 's Opuscula medica was in the library of John Winthrop Jr, see Wilkinson, , op. cit. (45), part II, p. 162.

46 HP 62/27/1B. For Rand, who in 1656 produced a project of ‘College of Graduate Physicians’, see Webster, , op. cit. (10), 301–7, 533–4.

47 HP 62/17/1A. It is likely that in 1651 Morian had contributed to changing Rand's mind on van Helmont. See Rand, 's letter to Hartlib, of 10 01 1653, HP 62/17/4/A. It would seem that Clodius disliked the idea of epitomizing van Helmont's works (HP 28/12/30A). British Library, MS Sloane 615 contains an Index of the 1652 edition of Ortus medicinae, an ‘Index rerum Memorabilium’ of the same work and some excerpta from van Helmont's works.

48 See French, J., The Art of Distillation, London, 1653 (the first edition appeared in 1651), 89. For French, who served as physician to the parliamentary army, see Webster, , op. cit. (10), 279. French was acquainted with Johann Brun, whose Helmontian interests were evident already in 1648.

49 French, , op. cit. (48), 92–4.

50 Biggs, N., Mataeotechnia medicinae praxeos. The Vanity of the Craft of Physick, London, 1651, 50, 57–8, 112. Biggs's work has been discussed by Debus, A. G., ‘Paracelsian medicine: Noah Biggs and the problem of medical reform’, in Debus, A. G. (ed.), Medicine in Seventeenth Century England, Berkeley, 1984, 3348. Very little is known of Noah Biggs, even his identity is obscure. Cook suggests that Noah is the pseudonym of either Thomas or of his son Henry Biggs. See Cook, H. J., The Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London, Ithaca and London, 1986, 122.

51 Biggs, , op. cit. (50), 123.

52 Biggs, , op. cit. (50), 219.

53 Webster, J., Academiarum examen, London, 1654, reprinted in Debus, A. G., Science and Education in the Seventeenth Century. The Webster—Ward Debate, London, 1970, 10. For John Webster see Elmer, P., The Library of Dr John Webster: The Making of a Seventeenth-Century Radical, London, 1986. John Webster himself gave information on his chemical studies in Metallographia (1671): ‘it is about 35 years since I first learned a course of Chymistry under old Johannes Huniades, and have ever since at times and seasons been employed therein’ (p. 161). For Hunniades see Taylor, F. Sherwood and Josten, C. H., ‘Johannes Banfi Hunniades’, Ambix (1953), 5, 4452. Hartlib's ‘Ephemerides’ bear evidence that Hunniades was in contact with Samuel Hartlib in 1648 (HP 31/33/40B).

54 Webster, , op. cit. (53), 77. It is noticeable that, following van Helmont, Webster criticized the Aristotelian notion of nature by means of arguments which were to be adopted by Boyle, in A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receiv'd Notion of Nature, London, 1686 (see Webster, , op. cit. (53), 65–6).

55 Hartlib, 's letter to Boyle, of 9 05 1648 shows that at that time Boyle was in touch with Morian and Worsley.

56 RSBP, 28, 309.

57 The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 149.

58 Works, , op. cit. (11), ii, 54. It is noticeable that Boyle's statement is taken almost word for word from the Ortus medicinae, see van Helmont, , op. cit. (23), 241.

59 The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 83, 130–1, 138–42. Boyle's studies of the thetapeutical properties of spirit of urine and spirit of blood were to continue throughout his scientific career, see below.

60 Ibid., ii, 86.

61 Ibid., ii, 72.

62 Ibid., ii, 241.

63 Ibid., ii, 165. In the same essay Boyle styled van Helmont, 's De magnetica vulnerum curatione an ‘extravagant piece’ (p. 149). However, Boyle's manuscripts show that he planned to write a tract on this subject and in addition he suggested trying the weapon-salve on animals. See RSBP, 8, fol. 208, 16, fol. 211r, 18, fols. 69–70, 403r, 28, fol. 327.

64 The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 159.

65 Ibid., ii, 167.

66 Of this essay we have only some extracts made by Oldenburg, see Royal Society, MS. 1, fols. 74r–88v, especially fols. 82r and 87v. For the date of composition of Boyle's Essay see Boas, M., Robert Boyle and the Seventeenth-Century Chemistry, Cambridge, 1958, 29.

67 Starkey recorded his meeting with Boyle, in Pyrotechny Asserted and Illustrated, To be the Surest and Safest Means for Art's Triumph over Nature's Infirmities, London, 1658, p. i. In 1654 Starkey fell into disgrace among the members of the Hartlib Circle, see Webster, , op. cit. (10), 304. This may explain Boyle's reticence at mentioning his name. Nevertheless, Starkey dedicated to Boyle, his Pyrotechny Asserted, London, 1658 and his Liquor Alchahest (published posthumously in 1675, but possibly completed in 1664).

68 The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 215–16.

69 Royal Society, Boyle Letters (hereinafter as BL) 5, fol. 133r-v. Boyle paid special attention to the preparation of van Helmont's Alkahest and recorded that a chemist of his acquaintance had almost obtained the ‘immortal solvent’ (The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 97).

70 The Usefulnesse, Works, op. cit. (11), ii, 61.

71 HP 16/1/7AB. Boyle kept an open mind about the possibility of obtaining the universal solvent. In a manuscript note bearing no date we read: ‘Why should it be thought impossible that the Alchahest or some other liquor wherein nature is skillfully assisted to the utmost heightened by art, should be able to dissolve concretes of very differing textures’ (RSBP, 16, fol. 211r).

72 Boas, M.An early version of Boyle's Sceptical Chymist’, Isis (1954), 45, 153–68. Boas has suggested that the manuscript was composed between 1651 and 1657.

73 Ibid., 159. See van Helmont, , ‘Complexionum atque mistionum elementalium figmentum’ 10, op. cit. (23), 105.

74 See Debus, A. G., ‘Fire analysis and the elements in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries’, Annals of Science (1967), 23, 127–47.

75 Boas, , op. cit. (72), 162–3.

76 Ibid., 165.

77 Ibid., 165–6. In The Sceptical Chymist, Works, op. cit. (11), i, 499 Boyle holds to a more cautious position on the same subject.

78 Boas, , op. cit. (72), 167–8. In the 1650s several British natural philosophers accepted the theory that water was the material principle of natural bodies. See Webster, C., ‘Water as the ultimate principle of nature: the background to Boyle's Sceptical Chymist’, Ambix (1966), 13, 98105.

79 Boas, , op. cit. (72), 167.

80 Ibid., 167.

81 Staehl's manuscript notes of his chemical courses may be found in the British Library MS Sloane 1624, fols. 1–59 and MS Sloane 499, fols. 1–172. On Staehl see Turnbull, G. H., ‘Peter Stahl, the first public teacher of chemistry at Oxford’, Annals of Science (1953), 9, 265–70.

82 See Gunther, , Early Science in Oxford, 14 vols., Oxford, 19211945, i, 2245.

83 See British Library MS Add. 32554, fols. 118v–119r, 121r, published in Romanell, P., John Locke and Medicine. A New Key to Locke, Buffalo, NY, 1984, 207–9. It is very likely that Locke's interests in Helmontian iatrochemistry were reinforced by his friend DrThomas, David (c. 16341694), with whom he corresponded from 1666 to 1694. DrThomas, ' letters of 29 11 1667, 19 10 1669 and 18 11 1669 deal extensively with Helmontian medicines. See The Correspondence of John Locke (ed. De Beer, E. S.), 8 vols., Oxford, 19761989, i, 315, 324, 325. Locke's copy of van Helmont, 's Ortus medicinae, Amsterdam, 1652, now to be found in the Bodleian Library, contains an index of subjects and numerous marginalia in Locke's hand.

84 The Sceptical Chymist, Works, op. cit. (11), i, 496.

85 Ibid., i, 574.

86 Ibid., i, 571.

87 Works, , op. cit. (11), vi, 37. The letter does not bear any date. A reference to the forthcoming publication of New Experiments and Observations touching Cold (1665) shows that Boyle's letter was written in the late 1664 or in early 1665. I believe that Boyle's correspondent was the Flemish doctor Wilhelm Spannut. In his letter to Boyle from Ypres of 2 December 1664 Spannut expresses his agreement with Boyle's interpretation of van Helmont and asks for his correspondent's advice in the preparation of some Helmontian medicines, see BL 5, fol. 124.

88 Starkey, G., Natures Explication and Helmont's Vindication, London, 1657. The author's Epistle to the Reader bears the date of 20 November 1656.

89 Jonathan Goddard, FCP, FRS, was Professor of Physic at Gresham College, where he kept a chemical laboratory. In 1665 he joined the ‘Society of Chymical Physitians’. See Thomas, H., ‘The Society of Chymical Physitians: An Echo of the great Plague of London, 1665’, in Underwood, E. A. (ed.), Science, Medicine, and History, 2 vols., Oxford, 1953, ii, 5571; Rattansi, P. M., ‘The Helmontian-Galenist controversy in Restoration England’, Ambix (1964), 12, 123; Cook, , op. cit. (50), 169–71. On Goddard see Wood, A., Athenae Oxonienses, 4 vols., London, 18151820, iii, 1029–30. For Ralph Bathurst, see Frank, R. G. Jr, Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists, Berkeley, 1980, 70–1. The others were Doctor Ridgely, possibly Luke Ridgely MD, Cambridge, 1646, see Munk, W. R., The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians, i, 1518–1700, London, 1861, 249; Dr Gurdane, probably Nathaniel Gurdon, matr. Cambridge, Emmanuel College and incorporated at Oxford in 1657, see Venn, J. and Venn, J. A., Alumni Cantabrigenses, ii, p. 275; John French (see above), Dr William Currer, who got his medical degree in Leiden in 1643 and was incorporated in the University of Oxford in 1646, see Smith, R. W. Innes, English-Speaking Students of Medicine at the University of Leyden, Edinburgh, 1932, 61. Foster, , Alumni Oxonienses, i, 363.

90 Starkey, , op. cit. (88), 43.

91 Starkey, , op. cit. (88), 262–4, 290–1.

92 Ibid., 291–2.

93 Ibid., 292–3. One more Helmontian treatise saw the light in 1657, that is, Thompson, James's Helmont Disguised: Or The vulgar Errours of Impericall and Unskilful! Practicers of Physick confuted… In a Dialogue between Philiatrus and Pytosophilus, London 1657. The dialogue does not show any particular acumen on the author's part in the interpretation of van Helmont. Yet, the insistence upon illumination as the source of the physician's knowledge is remarkable. This occurs in the context of an attack upon Galenic medicine, which is dismissed as pagan science (ibid., 27–8). Thompson's view that Fernel was one of the first physicians who opposed the Galenic orthodoxy is likewise of some interest as it was reaffirmed by Marchamont Nedham in 1665.

94 Starkey, , op. cit. (67), ‘The Epistle Dedicatory’, p. iii.

95 Ibid., 28, 46, 42. In the early 1660s, when the number of chemical physicians was rapidly increasing, Starkey saw the Helmontian cause threatened by the ‘empiricks’. Among these there was Lionel Lockier, a Ranter, who sold his pills in London. He was attacked by Starkey in two pamphlets: A Brief Examination and Censure, of Several Medicines, of Late Years Extol'd for Universal Remedies…, London, 1664 and A Smart Scourge for a Silly…, n.p., 1665, where Lockier is styled a quack. On Lockier see Elmer, P., ‘Medicine, religion and the puritan revolution’, in The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century (ed. French, R. and Wear, A.), Cambridge, 1989, 23–4.

96 Polemann, J., Novum lumen medicum: Wherein the Excellent and most Necessary Doctrine of the Highly-gifted Philosopher Helmont Concerning the Great Mystery of the Philosophers Sulphur is Fundamentally Cleared, London, 1662. This work aroused a sudden and large interest in England. In a letter of 3 March 1659 Samuel Hartlib informed Oldenburg of the publication of Polemann's Lumen, a work – he stated – written according to van Helmont's principles (Hall, and Hall, Boas (eds.), op. cit. (43), i, 201). In the letter of 2 July 1659 to Hartlib, Oldenburg describes Polemann as ‘a person knowne in France too for an able chymist’ (ibid., i, 277). Oldenburg's letters of January-February 1660 give further information on Polemann (Hall, and Hall, Boas (eds.), op. cit. (43), i, 347–62).

97 Polemann, , Novum lumen medicum, sig. Alv, p. 33. Cf. van Helmont, , ‘De lithiasi’, Opuscula and ‘Jus duumviratus’, Ortus, 309.

98 Polemann, , op. cit. (97), on 105.

99 Ibid., 198–203. Polemann styled van Helmont, Jan Baptista and Boehme, Jacob ‘the two brightshining torches for this present age’ (ibid., 116). His combination of Helmontian medicine with the teachings of Jacob Boehme was not isolated. It is also evident in Biggs, N.'s Mataeotechnia medicinae (op. cit. (50)) and Webster, J.'s Academiarum (op. cit. (53)). On the fortune of Boehme in England see Hutin, S., Les Disciples Anglais de Jacob Boehme, Paris, 1960. Boehmist influences on English iatrochemists have been discussed in Webster, C., op. cit. (10), 280–1 and in Elmer, P., ‘Medicine, religion…’, in French, and Wear, , op. cit. (95), 23–7.

100 On Faber's iatrochemistry see Sampson, H., ‘Dr. Faber and his Celebrated Cordial’, Isis (1943), 34, 472–96. Faber based his views of angelical apparitions on van Helmont, 's ‘Tractatus de morbis’ (‘Demonstratur thesis’ 35–7, op. cit. (23), 664.

101 Oriatrike, or Physick Refined, London, 1662, sig. a1v.

102 Van Helmont's Workes…, London, 1664. Blunden's preface does not contain the religious overtones of Chandler's concerning the origin of the medical learning.

103 Nedham, Marchamont, Medela medicinae, London, 1665. On Nedham see Cook, , op. cit., (50), 145–7. On the ‘Society of Chemical Physicians’ see Rattansi, , op. cit., (10).

104 Nedham maintained that in Fernel, J.'s De abditis rerum causis one could find a description of the vital spirits which ‘exactly agrees with that which is set down by Helmont and his followers’ (Nedham, , op. cit. (103), 299300). Nedham also stated: ‘Had Fernel lived in this age he would have embraced the chemical Physick’ (ibid, 440).

105 Sprackling, R., Medela ignorantiae, London, 1665. The polemics which followed the publication of Nedham's book have been discussed in Jones, R. F., Ancients and Moderns: A Study of the Rise of the scientific Movement in Seventeenth-Century England, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1936, passim. See also Cook, , op. cit. (50), 147–8.

106 Sprackling, , op. cit. (105), 33.

107 Ibid., 45. Similar statements on the role of chemistry can be found in Primerose, J., Popular Errours (Engl. trans. Witty, R.), London, 1651. Sprackling's censures fell on the corpuscular philosophy as well. He stated that corpuscular philosophy could help the physician discover the processes producing a given disease, but was of no help in finding the remedies (Sprackling, op. cit. (165), 46, 64–5).

108 Sprackling, , op. cit. (105), 148.

109 Twysden, J., Medicina veterum vindicata: Or an Answer to a Book entituled Medela medicinae, London, 1666. For John Twysden, fellow of the College of Physicians in 1664, see DNB, s.v. Twysden maintained that he had often been in Boyle's laboratory and had received from the latter some medicines (Twysden, , this note, 117–18).

110 Twysden, , op. cit. (109) 114–15, 118.

111 Twysden claimed that Paracelsus himself ‘was more modest about Element and Principles’ (Twysden, , op. cit. (109), 173.) He attacked Etienne de Clave, but defended Willis, for having preserved the doctrine of humours in his works (ibid., 166–7).

112 Twysden maintained that when he met Gassendi the latter had reassured him by stating that he was no follower of Epicurus, his aim being just to write the latter's biography (ibid., 139).

113 Twysden, , op. cit. (109), 152–6.

114 Castle, G., The Chymical Galenist, London, 1667, sig. A3v–A4r.

115 Ibid., 1–2, 27–9. Willis' rejection of van Helmont, 's notion of Archeus occurs in Cerebri anatome (1664) (see Engl. tr. in Practice, 109).

116 For George Thomson see Webster, C., ‘The Helmontian George Thomson and William Harvey: the revival and application of splenectomy to physiological research’, Medical History (1971), 15, 154–67. In a letter of 24 October 1665 Oldenburg informed Boyle of Thomson's autopsy of a man who had died of plague. (Hall, and Hall, Boas (eds.), op. cit. (43), ii, 578).

117 Thomson, G., Loimologia. A Consolatory Advice, And some brief Observations Concerning the Present Pest, London, 1665. Thomson's first published work was his MD dissertation for the University of Leiden: Disputatio medica, Leiden, 1648. For a bibliography of Thomson's writings see Webster, , op. cit. (116), 167.

118 Thomson, , op. cit. (117), 45. Thomson's attacks on astrological explanations may have been the reason for John Heydon's sanguine comments upon him. See Heydon, J., Psonthonphanchia, Or A Quintuple Rosiecrucian Scourge For the due Correction of that Pseudochymist and Scurrilous Empereick, Geo. Thomson, Being in part a Vindication of the Learned Society of Physitians, London, 1665.

119 Thomson, , op. cit. (117), 1821.

120 The list given by Thomson is the following: ‘Dr John Frier, Thorly, Dr Joseph Dey, Tho. Norton, Dr William Currer*, Marchamont Nedham, Dr Thomas Troutbeck, Thomas O'Dowde, Dr Ever. Maynwaring, Thomas Williams, Dr P. Massonet, Jeremy Astel, Dr Spranger*, Ed. Cooke, Dr Horsington*, Horsnel, Dr George Thomson*, Febrve, Thomas Smart, Kefler, Tho Tillison, Wilson’. Those I have marked with an asterisk took their MD, from Leiden. See Innes-Smith, , op. cit. (89).

121 Thomson, G., Galeno-Pale: Or, Alchymical Trial of the Galenists, London, 1665. On the petition see Rattansi, , op. cit. (10), 1214.

122 Thomson, , op. cit. (121), 4.

123 Ibid. 35–6. Among the numerous replies to Thomson's treatises, William Johnson's (published in 1665) was one of the most moderate. Johnson claimed that ‘the Judicious and Learned do not build the Praises of Galen, on the Disgrace of Vanhelmont, but honour both according to their respective worth’ (Some brief Animadversions Upon two late Treatises; one of Master George Thomsons, Entituled, Galeno-Pale, London 1665, 3). For Johnson, Thomson's aim was not to support van Helmont's doctrines, rather to gain a reputation as physician (ibid., 5). Johnson also criticized Thompson's emphasis on divine illumination as the foundation of medical knowledge. He styled Thomson a religious ‘Fanatick’ who had misunderstood van Helmont (ibid., 41–2).

124 Thomson, G., Animatiasis, Or the true way of Preserving the Bloud in its Integrity…, London, 1670, 31.

125 See Poynter, F. N. L., ‘A Seventeenth Century Medical Controversy. Robert Witty versus William Simpson’, in Underwood, , op. cit. (89), ii, 7281. Simpson, like many other English Helmontians, took his MD from Leiden. See Innes-Smith, , op. cit. (89), 213. Witty was a friend of Primerose, whose De vulgi in medicina erroribus he translated in 1651 as Popular Errors. Primerose distinguished himself for his hostility to Harvey's discoveries in anatomy and to Paracelsian medicine.

126 Simpson, W., Zenexton anti-pestilentiale. Or a Short Discourse of the Plague, London, 1665, 8.

127 Ibid., 9–10.

128 Simpson, W., Hydrologia chymica…, London, 1669. The frontispiece bears the motto: ‘Ex Aqua Omnia’.

129 Ibid., 246. Boyle's willow-tree experiment was also quoted in support for this view (ibid., 258–9). Witty, 's reply to Simpson, 's Hydrologia occurred in Pyrologia mimica, a work which endeavoured to promote a reconciliation between iatrochemists and Galenists. Pyrologia mimica was reviewed in The Philosophical Transactions of 1669. The review bears evidence of the conciliatory attitude of the Society (The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (07 1669), 39, 9991000). An enlarged account of Witty, 's book came out in the same year (51, 1038–40). This time the reviewer made rather favourable statements on Witty's work. A letter dated 11 October 1669, bearing the title of ‘Some reflexions made on the enlarged accompt of Dr Witties answer to hydrologia chymica’ appeared in The Philosophical Transactions of 17 10 1669 (52, 1050–5). The author of the letter was Daniel Foote, who also wrote some iatrochemical tracts and made translations of van Helmont's writings, now to be found in the British Library, MSS Sloane 617, 630, 632. On Foote, see Venn, J. and Venn, J. A., op. cit. (89), ii, 156.

130 Works, , op. cit. (11), iii, 60, 69, 106–7. In his Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis (1674) Boyle expressed strong reservations about the chemists' uncritical use of the Helmontian notions of gas, blas and Archeus (Works, op. cit. (11), iv, 69).

131 For Coxe, Daniel (16401730) see Hunter, M.'s forthcoming article for the DNB.

132 See Coxe, to Boyle, , 14 10 1666, BL, 2, fol. 69r. In Medicina instaurata, or A Brief Account of the true Grounds And Principles of the Art of Physick…, London, 1665 (dedicated to the Duke of Buckingham and containing a letter from Nedham) Edward Bolnest defended chemists against the charge of ignorance and invited them to join the ‘new chemical society’. See Rattansi, , op. cit. (10), 1213.

133 Coxe, to Boyle, 19 01 1666, BL, 2, fol. 54r.

134 Ibid., fol. 54v.

135 See Coxe, to Boyle, , 14 10 1666, RSBL, 2, 68r–69. Boyle was given Jan Baptista van Helmont's recipe for Laudanum (a medicine based mainly on opium) by a German chemist who visited him before 1666. He received another recipe for the same medicine from Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont. See ‘An account of the two sorts of the Helmontian laudanum, together with the way of the noble Baron F. M. van Helmont, (son of the famous Johannes Baptista) of preparing his Laudanum’, Philosophical Transactions (26 10 1674), 107, 147, reprinted in Works, , op. cit. (11), iv, 149–50. Richard Lower reported that he had used Boyle's Laudanum successfully with several patients (letter to Boyle, 8 06 1664, Works, op. cit. (11), vi, 475). It is apparent that Coxe sent Helmont's Laudanum to John Beale, as the latter's reference to Dr. C. – whom I suspect to be Doctor Coxe – seems to attest (see Beale, 's letter to Boyle, of 2 11 1663, Works, op. cit. (11), vi, 352.

136 Webster, J., Metallographia, Or an History of Metals, London, 1671. Webster's book was favourably reviewed in The Philosophical Transactions (12 12 1670), 2034–6 and in Le Journal des Sçavans (18 07 1678), 158–9. In his dedication to Prince Rupert, Fellow of the Royal Society and himself interested in chemistry and metallurgy, Webster expressed his admiration for the Royal Society which he styled ‘one of the happy fruits of His Majesties blessed and miraculous Restauration’. For Prince Rupert's chemical interests see DNB, s.v.

137 Webster, , op. cit. (136), 34–5.

138 Ibid., 41–2. This view was also held by Boyle, see below.

139 Ibid., 46.

140 Ibid., 50, 54–9. Webster's main source in his discussion of the intermediate state of metals is van Helmont, who called this soap-like substance (the immature metal) Bur (ibid., 51–3). Webster suggested that the term Bur was a corrupted form of Gur.

141 Sherley, T., A Philosophical Essay… From which Occasion is Taken to Search into the Origin of all Bodies, Discovering Them to Proceed from Water, and Seeds, London, 1672. The work bears a dedication to the Duke of Buckingham. On Shirley, 's Philosophical Essay see Debus, A. G., ‘Thomas Sherley's Philosophical Essay (1672): Helmontian mechanism as the basis of a new philosophy’, Ambix (1980), 27, 124–35. Thomas Sherley studied medicine in France, where he took his MD. On his return to England he was appointed ‘physician in ordinary’ to Charles II. For further biographical details see DNB, s.v. Sherley elected Boyle and van Helmont as his masters (Philosophical Essay, sig. A6v, p. 83.) and referred to Boyle as ‘my excellent Friend’ (p. 84).

142 Sherley, , op. cit. (141), sig. A6v–A7r.

143 Ibid., sig. A7r.

144 Ibid., pp. 24, 32, 35.

145 Ibid., pp. 28, 52. In the section dealing with the generation of minerals Sherley commended John Webs whom he styled ‘Industrious Metallurgist’ (ibid., 52).

146 Works, op. cit. (11), iii, 518.

147 Ibid., 529. In the section of the Essay devoted to the therapeutic powers of gems Boyle suggests that such medical virtues can originate from subterranean exhalations, which mingle with mineral liquors. This, according to Boyle, ‘may be inferred from the experiment of mixing the gas (as the Helmontians call it) or the scarce coagulable fumes of kindled and extinguished brimstone, with wine, which is thereby long preserved’ (Works, op. cit. (11), iii, 557).

148 See Stubbe, 's letter to Boyle, , 18 05 1670, Works, i, p. XCIII.

149 Simpson, W., Zymologia physica, Or a Brief Philosophical Discourse of Fermentation, from a A Hypothesis of Acidum and Sulphur, London, 1675.

150 Ibid., sig. A4r.

151 Ibid., 4–7.

152 Tachenius took his MD in Padua (1647) and practised in Venice for many years. His first work, devoted to the Alkahest, was Epistola de famoso liquore Alcahest (1654), published in Dieterich, H., Vindiciae, Hamburg, 1655. For Tachenius, see Partington, , A History of Chemistry, London, 1962, ii, 291–6.

153 Reflexions upon the Hypothesis of Alcali and Acidum, London, 1675, in Works, op. cit. (11), iv, 291.

154 Otto Tachenius his Hippocrates Chymicus, Discovering The Ancient Foundation of the Late Viperine Salt… (tr. , J. W.), London, 1690. Among the Boyle Papers there are manuscript English translations of Tachenius' Antiquissimae Hippocraticae medicinae clavis, Frankfurt, 1669 and of Hippocrates chimicus, Venice, 1666; RSBP 32, 1631.

155 British Library, MS Sloane 3646, fols, 58r–61v. In this manuscript Plot defends Tachenius' Hippocrates from the censure written by Zwelfer in the Appendix of the Pharmacopoeia Augustana reformata: discursus apologeticus adversus Hippocratem chymicum Ottonis Tackenii, Dordrecht, 1672. For Plot, see Taylor, F. SherwoodThe alchemical papers of Dr Robert Plot’, Ambix (1949), 4, 6776 and Partington, , op. cit. (152), ii, 483. An alchemical manuscript by Plot (an amanuensis' copy) is now in the archives of the Royal Society, Letter Copy Book, 8, pp. 5–7. The manuscript shows Plot's interest in van Helmont's chemistry. For Johann Zwelfer see Partington, , op. cit. (152), ii, 296–7.

156 British Library, MS Sloane 3646 fols. 42r–57v.

157 In The Producibleness of the Chemical Principles (1680) he stated: ‘Of the several substances, that chymists obtain by the fire from mixt bodies that, which they call phlegm or water… seems to the Helmontians, and divers other modern artists, to bid the fairest for the title of elementary and primordial.’ (Works, i, 651.)

158 Ibid., 653–4.

159 Ibid., 630–51. For the Helmontian position, see above.

160 Very little is known about William Bacon besides what he says at the end of his work, where he mentions Starkey and Thomson as his chemical mentors. He also praises Edmund Dickinson, alchemist, corpuscular philosopher and Physician-in-Ordinary to Charles II and James II (A Key to Helmont, London, 1682, 31–2). In the same year of the publication of Bacon's Key, appeared Case, John's The Wards of the Key to Helmont Proved unfit for the Lock: or the Principles of Mr William Bacon Examined and Refuted, and the Honour and Value of the True Chymistry Asserted, London, 1682, containing a reply to Bacon. Case, who in the frontispiece of the book is styled ‘student of Physick and Astrology’ stated that fire is the beginning of all things and that ‘all bodies are guided and governed by four Elements’ (ibid., 8). For Case, John, who also wrote Ars anatomica, London, 1695, astrology was an indispensable companion of medicine.

161 Bacon, , op. cit. (160), 12.

162 Ibid., 3.

163 I am grateful to Michael Hunter for drawing my attention to Greg's work.

164 George Acton stated that the volatile salt contained in the blood was ‘the balsome of life, and preserver of the whole body from corruption’ (Acton, G., Physical Reflections upon a Letter Written by J. Denis, London, 1668, 9).

165 Memoirs for the Natural History of Humane Blood, Especially The Spirit of that Liquor, London, 1684, in Works, , op. cit. (11), iv, 610. The analogies between van Helmont's and Boyle's views of vital spirit have been pointed out by Debus, see Debus, A. G., ‘Chemistry and the quest for a material spirit of life in the seventeenth century’, in Bianchi, M. L. and Fattori, Marta (eds.), Spiritus. Atti del IV Convegno Internazionale del Lessico Intellettuale Europeo, Rome, 1984, 254–26, reprinted in Debus, A. G., Chemistry, Alchemy and the New Philosophy, 1550–1700. Studies in the History of Science and Medicine, London, 1987.

166 Works, op. cit. (ii), iv, 620.

167 Glisson, F., Tractatus de ventriculo et intestinis, London, 1677.

168 This is mainly evident in British Library, MS Sloane 3308, dealing with vital spirits.

169 See Glisson, F., Tractatus de natura substantiae energetica, London, 1672.

170 Ibid., 313. Glisson rejected the water theory on the basis of the five chemical principle theory.

171 Ibid., 336–42. For Glisson, , the Archeus totius corporis formati does differ from the one contained in the egg and directing the development of the embryo.

172 On active principles, see Henry, J., ‘Occult qualities and the experimental philosophy: active principles in pre-Newtonian matter theory’, History of Science (1986), 24, 335–81. John Henry has failed to recognize the importance of chemistry in pre-Newtonian theories of matter.

173 ‘Causae et initia naturalium’, King's College, Keynes MS 16. The importance of van Helmont's chemistry in Newton's career has been discussed in Rattansi, P. M., ‘Newton's Alchemical Studies’, in Debus, A. G. (ed.), Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, 2 vols., New York, 1972, ii, 167–82.

174 The long survival of Helmontianism is also attested by John Colbatch who in 1696 declared that he was a disciple of Helmont, see Colbatch, J., A Physico Medical Essay…, London, 1696. The work in fact contains very little of van Helmont's iatrochemistry. It is mainly devoted to refuting the received view that acids are responsible for the major diseases. He believes that diseases derive almost entirely from alkaline particles. For Colbatch, see Cook, H. J.Sir John Colbatch and Augustan medicine: experimentalism, character, and entrepreneurialism’, Annals of Science (1990), 47, 475505.


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