A distillation of erudition and enthusiasm, Prelude to Chemistry is reissued as much to delight the reader with a taste for the occult as to inform the specialist in the history of science and religion. The author covers the history of alchemy from its first stirrings in Egypt and India, through the developments of the Pythagoreans and the transmutations of the Chinese and middle Europeans, to the era of the phlogiston theory. For the modern reader, the “Great Work” of the alchemists is not the preparation of the Philosopher's Stone but the engrossing written record they left behind. This literature forms the basis of the present book, which sets forth and explains long excerpts from it. Also, since many alchemic manuals were almost entirely pictorial, many engravings/m many engravings and woodcuts are reproduced here. Even some alchemic music is included.
Among the topics treated: the Quest, the elixirs of Life, the preparation of the Stone, Astrology, the Golden Tripod, the garden of Hermes, the Four humors, the Gloria Mundi.
Among the alchemists whose work is studied: Paracelsus, Black Berthold, Agricola, Ben Jonson, Basil Valentine, Argicola, Bren Johnson, Michael Maier, Master John Daniel Mylius, Daniel Stocius.
The study of alchemy is more than the study of chemical prehistory. Modern anthropology and psychology have unearthed evidence that the symbols of alchemy are pervasive through the history, thoughts, and dreams of mankind. It may not be irrelevant to recall that a chemistry of the “scientific” era,, Kekulé, gazing dreamily into the fire, envisioned the ancient alchemic and Gnostic symbol of the snake forming a magic ring by seizing its own tail, and so was led to formulate the concept of the benzene ring, which remains a basic “emblem” in organic chemistry.