The Arcanum Hermeticum has been chosen for the first volume of the Collectanea Hermetica, because since its first publication in 1623, in the Latin language, no alchymic tract has been more widely read, and no other has been so often reprinted, alike in Latin, German, French and English.
The author, Jean d’Espagnet, was sometime President of the Parliament of Bordeaux, he flourished from 1600 to 1630, and obtained a great reputation as an Hermetic philosopher and alchymist. Two of his alchymic works are alone extant; Enchiridion Physicæ Restitutæ, and Arcanum Philosophiæ Hermeticæ; of these, the former treats of those theories of chemical constitution upon which the possibility of Transmutations of Metals depends, and the latter the Practice of Alchymy. The Arcanum was first published in 1623 in France; five subsequent French editions in the original Latin are known, and an edition in the French tongue was printed in 1651 from the translation of Jean Bachon. Several editions were also published at Geneva, Kiel, Lubeck, Tubingen and Leipzig. The works of Espagnet are also included in Manget’s Bibliotheca Chemic Curiosa and in the Bibliotheca Chemica of Albineus.
Jean d’Espagnet followed the usual Rosicrucian custom of using a motto instead of his name when publishing Heremtic books. The Hermetic Arcanum is signed “Penes nos unda Tagi;” he also at times added the motto, “Spes mea in Agno est.” These mottoes are anagrams. Each contains the letters of “Deus (IHVH with the Shin letter interposed) omnia in nos,” but there are two letters over, “A S.” The French biographers says, in error, that only one letter, an “E”—his initial—remains over.
Espagnet was not only an Alchymist, but a Mystic as well; he contributed a preface and a sonnet to a work by Pierre de Lancre, entitled Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvaises Anges, the prosecution of persons who were supposed to be black magicians, living in the district called Les Landes and among the Pyrenees; but this action appears to have been the result of his position in the Parliament of Bordeaux.
He ornamented the façade of his house in the Rue de Bahutiers, at Bordeaux, with allegorical sculptures and devices; the house has been destroyed, but these ornaments are still to be seen preserved in the gardens of the mayoral residence.
As a natural philosopher, Jean d’Espagnet declined to be led by the notions of Aristotle, and preferred those of the Alexandrian schools. He postulated the ideal of one material universal basis, or Hyle, from which all varieties of matter have been evolved by stages of development, a necessary doctrine for one who taught the mutual convertibility of the so-called chemical elementary substances. He also insisted upon the importance of representing all manifestation as separable into three worlds, elementary, celestial, and archetypal; this division is related to the scheme of the Four Worlds of the Kabalists, by a concentration which is recognized by such philosophers. He taught the origin of created things from the chaos of the first matter, which under the energetic impulse of the Divine Force, proceeds from stage to stage of development into heterogeneity. He recognized three stages of matter, the subtle, the mean, and the gross: analogous to the airy, moist and earthy natures of the Hermetists. Upon these bases his Enchiridion is almost a text-book of Rosicrucian Philosophy.
The Arcanum describes at considerable length, and with obvious good faith, the procedure of one school of Alchymists in the search for the secret of the Stone Philosophical, and it formulates the stages of the work so that he or she who can read may run. Yet it must be confessed that he has well succeeded in reveiling, as well as revealing, the secret of what was meant by the Prima Materia and the real nature alike of The Sulphur, The Salt, The Mercury.
Such a work as the Arcanum, written by one who knows, is not sent to print, to teach the public, to show a cheap and easy way to wealth and luxury, or to assist coiners of spurious moneys, but is intended as a treasure house in which those who have devoted life and love to the quest may find stored up the data and experiences of such as have trodden the Path and have borne tribulation and persecution, counting all loss to be gain in their progress to success and to the possession of that Stone of the Wise, which when obtained can indeed transmute the things of the material world, but does also equally work upon all higher planes, and enables the Adept to soar unheeding into worlds of joy, wisdom, and exultation, which are unseen, unknown, and inconceivable to ordinary mortals, who have chosen the alternative of physical contentment and material happiness.
The original Latin title is given at the first page, together with an English translation.
The German edition of 1685, Leipzig, was entitled: Das geheime Werck der Hermetischen Philosophie, von Joannes d’Espagnet. Anagr-e-in u. mut. Penes nos unda Tagi. This has an additional preface, and cap. 138 is numbered 137. “Joannes” must be taken as “Joannus.”
An English translation was made by James Hasolle, Qui est Mercuriphilus Anglicus; this is the anagram and pseudonym of Elias Ashmole, famous as an antiquary. Copies of his third edition of 1650 are not uncommon. The present editor of the Hermetic Arcanum had first intended to reprint Ashmole’s version in its entirety, but a comparison with the original Latin has induced him to make a revision of Ashmole’s translation, because he discovered many important inaccuracies, and also because in some places the language was more forcible and plain than our present delicate manners would appreciate.
S. A. is responsible for most of the Notes; a few are from Sigismund Bacstrom, Frater R.R. et A.C., and others are from the marginal references of an anonymous Adept writing in 1710.
(William Wynn Westcott)