Contents Index


in William Nicholson's British Encyclopedia; or, Dictionary of arts and sciences. Comprising an accurate and popular view of the present improved state of human knowledge. 6 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1809), I, unpaginated.

ALCHEMY, that branch of chemistry that had for its principle objects the transmutation of all the metals into gold; the panacea, or universal remedy for all diseases; and the alkahest, or universal menstruum. Those who pursued these delusive projects gradually assumed the form of a sect, under the name of Alchemists, a term made up of the word chemist, and the Arabian article al as a prefix. The alchemists laid it down as a first principle, that all metals are composed of the same ingredients, or that the substances at least which compose gold exist in all metals, and are capable of being obtained from them. The great object of their researches was to convert the baser metals into gold. The substance which produced this property they called lapis philosophorum, "the philoospher's stone;" and many of them boasted that they were in possession of that grand instrument. The alchemists were established in the west of Europe as early as the ninth century; but between the eleventh and fifteenth alchemy was in its most flourishing state. The principal alchemists were Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Arnoldus de Villa Nova, Raymond Lully, and the two Isaacs of Holland.