The Preface


From remote Antiquity, and through successive intervals in the higher spheres of mind, the tradition of an Art has circulated but so dark and enigmatical as to evade vulgar apprehension entirely and baffle the most acute.

There is doubtless some temerity in making choice of an obsolete subject, and circumstances have conspired to render Alchemy above every other liable to mistrust; the transmutation of metallic species has seemed impossible, and the pretensions of this science in general are at variance with inductive probability and observed fact.

But many things have in like manner been considered impossible which increasing knowledge has proved true, and others which still to common sense appear fictitious were believed in former times, when faith was more enlightened and the sphere of vision open to surpassing effects. Daily observation even now warns us against setting limits to nature; as experiments multiply, probabilities enlarge in practical life, {v} and, like a swelling flood, obliterate the old land- marks, as they sweep along rapidly to fulfil their destined course.

Thus truth progresses openly in spite of scepticism, when her advocates bear witness together, and over the mists of error and false interests establish her domain. Few, however, have a spontaneous disposition to study, and many have not acquired the aptitude; so that we frequently observe, where labour of thought is a condition, the greatest benefits are slighted and prejudicially deferred. The notion of a mystery is above all things obnoxious to modern taste; as who will now believe either that there has been any truth of importance known which is not publicly declared, or worth knowing that he cannot understand? Every pretension of the kind has been repudiated, therefore, with all such investigations as are not immediately profitable and appreciable by common sense.

In former times; even when philosophy flourished in Greece, Egypt, and in Europe, during the earlier ages of Christianity, when no pains were spared to improve the understanding and educate the rational faculties to their utmost limit of energy and refinement; even then the study of the Hermetic Science was confined to a very few : and though their names still live most famous in the history of philosophy, and {vi} are held in traditionary honour to this day, yet the source of their Wisdom, the Art which made them great, and good, and memorable, has passed into oblivion—the very style has become obsolete; and, but for those lasting theories and solemn attestations which they have bequeathed, the Experiment of the Causal Nature and its developing medium would have been left without a clue of retracement, or relic even for surmise.

Modern Science has hitherto thrown no light on the Wisdom of antiquity; our discoveries have neither added to nor taken any part from it—being of another order, and, as it were, of another world. No consideration of period or place is sufficient to account for the difference; the very ground of human knowledge would seem to have changed.

The philosophy of modern times, more especially that of the present day, consists in experiment and such scientific researches as may tend to ameliorate our social condition, or be otherwise useful in contributing to the ease and indulgences of life; whereas, in the original acceptation, philosophy had quite another sense: it signified the Love of Wisdom. And the doctrine of Wisdom, as delivered to us by the Hebrew and best Ethnic writers, is in no respect extrinsical or dependant on externals, but professes to be based on Causal Experience, {vii} obtained by a systematic disciplining and effectual conversion of the Rational Faculty, up to an Intuition of Universal Truth in its own conscious Identity or Self-knowledge.

Many great and lasting theories have been based on this ground, supported by much venerable testimony and rational evidence; and, although variously taught by individuals of the different schools, it preserves the same native simplicity unchanged, from the remote antiquity of Zoroaster and the Jewish Kabalah, through the enigmas and fables of the Egyptians, the Orphic Mysteries and Symbols of Pythagoras, up to the more scientific and full development of Plato and his brilliant disciples of the Alexandrian School.

These continued to regard the human mind as an imperfect embryo, separated off from its antecedent Law; and, by this common outbirth into individual life, so made subject to the delusions of sense and phantasy, as to be incapable of true progress or wisdom until it had been rectified and re-related, as they assure us, even in this world it may be, by certain artificial aids and media, and made conformable to the Divine vision in truth, whence it sprang. And this was, in fact, though Peripatetics have wandered, the true initiatory object and comprehending whole of ancient philosophy; namely, to turn the eye of {viii} mind away from sensibles and fix its purified regard on the Supreme Intelligible Law within.

We are well aware that this kind of philosophy is obsolete; that the capacity of man is considered unequal to the discovery of essential Causes; and that all pretensions to interior illumination have appeared fanciful, and are lightly esteemed in the comparison with modern experimental science. It may be a question however whether thev, who have determined thus, were competent judges; whether they have at all entered upon the ground of the ancient doctrine to prove it, or studied so far as even to surmise the Method by which the ancients were assisted to propound the mystery of the Causal Principle in life.

It has been repeatedly shown, and may be very evident to those who have considered the subject, that our faculties for knowledge, in common with the whole human characteristic, are by nature imperfect; and that sensible evidence fluctuates so with its objects, that we are unable to rise above a relative certainty, either in respect of those things which are around us or of the nature of our own Being. The more we reflect, indeed, the less conviction do we meet since everything, whether abstract or actual, in respect of human reason, is mere phenomenon, which, being thus naturally placed alone without {ix} a proper intimate assurance in this life, limits, rather than confirms, the evidence of the senses and other faculties. For the Law of Reason is absolute, and demands a satisfaction superior to that which sensibles or any thing extraneous can offer; hence the diversities of opinion, and the sceptical result, which modern metaphysics have arrived at, in the various systems of Locke, Hume, Condillac, Kant, and others, by different roads; and, as it were, without the suspicion, following Reason into her own ultimate defect; as able to prove all things subjectively inferior, yet wanting the proper objective—self-demonstrative light.

Lord Bacon—perspicuously regarding the external and internal worlds as divulsed in this way, without apparent means of intrinsical reunion, and concluding also from the fruitlessness of the Aristotelian philosophy (then long since fallen off from its original intention, and degenerated into a mere metaphysical playground), that the inquisition of mind in its fallen state was and must for ever remain barren and inconclusive condemned the method; and, forsaking it entirely himself, proposed a strictly scientific experiment of external nature, vigorously hoping by such means, and by aid of proceeding induction, to penetrate from without the circumferential compound of Nature into her Formal Centres. {x}

But how very distant his followers, even at this late day, are from such a goal, or from any rational idea of carrying experiment at all into the central ground, is shown in the strong out-working spirit of the age, which, notwithstanding all its abundance of facts,—dead, living, and traditional—has not advanced one step in Causal Science. Effects indeed are found to indicate their Causes, and so we infer many things, and progress externally; but no one particular of nature is the more intrinsically understood; or as respects ourselves, are we become better or wiser from all that has been bequeathed, or ever shall be, by such continual experimenting and superficial facts accumulated on from henceforth to the world's end.

For, as the author of the Novum Organum, in the Preface, himself observes, the edifice of this universe is, in its structure, as it were, a labyrinth to the human intellect that contemplates it; where there are many ambiguous ways, deceptive similitudes of things and signs, oblique and complicated windings, and knots of nature's everywhere presenting themselves to view; furthermore, the senses, as he admits, are fallacious, the mind unstable and full of idols; and all things are presented under a glass, and, as it were, enchanted. {xi}

If, therefore, the journey is to be made perpetually through a labyrinth so obscure and difficult, as that which the Chancellor describes, under the uncertain light of sense, sometimes shining and sometimes hiding itself through and in the woods of experience and particulars; a dreary prospect truly is presented, and one promising about as little success to the traveller as he has actually arrived at now, after the lapse of many centuries of persevering toil and expectation—still, in the same maze of external nature, dissatisfied and unhappy, amidst the passing images of his own outward creation; without a ray of the First Light to guide him into the inner courts of a more certain and sublime experience.

Or how should any stable science arise out of the aggregate of particulars? The common analysis of bodies does not discover their unity, nor is the most scientific synthesis of heterogeneous atoms found to yield any vital effect. The free Spirit of Nature flies before all our destroying tests and crucibles; and, taking refuge in her own Identity, subtly eludes the hopes and active efforts of the inductive mind. May not the same objection, therefore, equally apply to this method of philosophizing as its great advocate opposed to the syllogistic scheme of Aristotle; namely, that it works confusedly, and suffers Nature to escape out of our hands? {xii}

Such being the defective result of experiment, conducted as it ordinarily is through the Macrocosm, without the discovery of life; and since the evidence of modern metaphysics, attempting to enter theoretically, falls short of human faith, and is bounded in this; may it not be worth while to inquire, once more, particularly concerning the doctrine of the ancient Sages, how their pretensions to superior Wisdom were founded, and so practically set forth, from the Ontological ground? For it has been acknowledged by opponents, and must be very evident to all, that the discovery of Causes would be of all parts of Science the most worthy to be sought out, if it were possible to be found and, as regards the possibility, are they not truly said to be ill discoverers that conclude there is no land when they can discern nothing but sea?

The numerous express declarations that are to be met with in those early writers, the Greeks especially, that they were not alone able, but very generally had passed beyond the world of appearances in which we range into the full Intuition of Universal Truth, are, to say the least, remarkable. The liberal allowance of imagination and mere verbiage, which ignorance once ascribed to these men, has no doubt deterred many, and may continue to delay rational inquiry; but can never explain away their {xiii} clear language of conviction, or nullify those solemn assertions of experience in the Divine Wisdom, and surpassing knowledge, which occur, in one form or other, at almost every page of their transmitted works. Neither are the definitions we gather of this Wisdom so incomplete, or ambiguous, that they can be possibly referred to any science or particular relation of science, physical or metaphysical, preserved to these times. But the Wisdom they celebrate is, as we before observed, eminently inverse; consisting not in the observation of particulars, neither in polymathy, nor in acuteness of the common intellect, nor in the natural order of understanding at all; but in a conscious development of the Causal Principle of the Universal Nature in Man.

For man, say they, is demonstrated to be an epitome of the whole mundane creation, and was generated to become wise above all terrestrial animals; being endowed, besides those powers which he commonly exerts, and by means of which he is able to contemplate the things which exist around him, with the germ of a higher faculty, which, when rightly developed and set apart, reveals the hidden Forms of manifested Being, and secrets of the Causal Fountain, identically within himself. Nor this alone; not only is man reputed able to discover {xiv} the Divine Nature, but, in the forcible language of the Asclepian Dialogue, to effect It; and in this sense, namely, with respect to the Catholic Reason which is latent in his life, man was once said to be the Image of God.

It appears, moreover, those ancients were not enlightened on the a priori ground alone, but the same power of Wisdom was confirmed in external operation, in many surpassing effects of spiritual chemistry, and in the asserted miracle of the Philosopher's Stone. And here, though it has seemed a stumbling-block to unbelievers, and we anticipate for our advocacy the utmost scorn; yet, with this theosophic doctrine of Wisdom, the tradition of Alchemy runs hand in hand. It is this which, occultly permeating throughout, gives substance to the transcendental theme, and meaning to the subtle disquisitions of the middle ages—this it was which filled the acute intellect of that period with ardour and admiration. It was this which inspired Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Roger Bacon, the fiery Lully, and his preceptor Arnold di Villa Nova, Ficinus, Picus di Mirandola, Spinoza, Reuchlin, the Abbot Trithemius, Cornelius Agrippa, and all the subsequent Paracelsian School. It is this which, under another title, Plato celebrates as the most efficacious of all arts, calling it Theurgy and the worship of the {xv} gods; this Pythagoras practised in his school, and the Chaldaic Oracles openly proclaim, announcing the efficacy of material rites in procuring divine assimilation; these the Alexandrian Platonists continuously pursued in their Mysteries, which Proclus, Plotinus, Jamblicus, and Synesius have explained in their records, tracing the same to the most remote antiquity in Egypt, as being the prime source and sanctuary of the Hermetic Art.

It is generally known that Alchemy once ranged high amongst the sciences; a belief in the Philosopher's Stone and metalline transmutation was, only a few centuries ago, current in the world : now it is regarded as a vain chimera; a name of obloquy and indifferent contempt. And, but that it serves the occasion of the novelist to strike the chords of human sympathy for an interval into unison with the responsive mystery within, or that modern Chemistry, willing to magnify herself, it may be, at some inaugural meeting or country lecture, vouch- safes to introduce her antique progenitor, arrayed forth in all the phantasmagoria of imputed folly, as a contrasting background to her own so vastly superior and growing importance were it not, we mean that Alchemy now and then affords a subject of jest or amusement to modern self-complacency, it would be a word {xvi} as obsolete in our vocabularies as the true root and explanation are in our minds.

Many circumstances have contributed to this, which in the progress of inquiry may apparent; the peculiar treatment of the subject by philosophers, the fraudulent interpolations of pretenders, falsifying their assertions and instituting errors of their own, and surmises as facts, with endless enigmatical disguises, these repelled credence, while trivial interpretations have thrown a slur over the whole. But of all obstacles to the discovery of truth, indifference has been the most complete: vain is the tradition of Wisdom; the offering of so much assiduous labour, the attestations of scientific experience are vain if there be none found to listen or follow in the pursuit, but men have been content to pass on incredulous, without a thought of inquiry, though the possibility held out was the greatest in philosophy, where reason opposes nothing and the promise is divine.

It is true, the modern study of mankind has not been man; but does it follow hence that the Wisdom of the ancients was nugatory, or that the Hermetic Experiment into Life was impossible because it is unknown? Having ourselves benefited by inquiry, or at least imagining that we have learned something in this particular research, we propose the same to {xvii} others, in hope that our suggestive advocacy may either receive confutation, if erroneous; or become established in the result. That the subject is worthy of investigation from the highest order of minds, we feel no hesitation in affirming; to them it has always proved attractive; for reason, perceiving effects, desires to know causes, and is rarely incredulous in the pursuit.

It is especially towards the analysis of this Causal Experiment, therefore, that the present Inquiry is directed, as being in due order to begin with, the foundation of that luminous fabric of Wisdom which we shall endeavour practically, and for the discovery's sake, to depict. For since Ontology is despaired of by modern metaphysics, and reason is unable in this life to substantiate its own inference although clearly perceiving the Antecedent necessity, it cannot pass into an absolute consciousness of the same;—if, therefore, the sublime capability, above referred to, yet subsists in man and is really educible, it must be under the guidance of another Method and by the revelation of another Law. What was the Experiment which led our fathers into experience and self-knowledge in the Divine Antecedent of all life? This we desire to learn; and, for the sake of the liberal and sincere lovers of truth, {xviii} now offer the guidance by which we have ourselves been led along, pleasurably satisfaction, to explore the mystic laboratory of creative Light; opening a way also by which they may be enabled fully to co-operate follow Art into the living sanctuary of Nature.

If some particulars should seem the early introduction, as it is indeed difficult to unfold things so far out of the way of ordinary thought, we hope not to be judged rashly, but after a fair consideration of the whole. In tracing the Hermetic tradition through many venerable sources, it has been our endeavour, as plainly and practically as the nature of the matter would permit, to explain the occult ground, and, by the help of theory supporting evidence, to persuade the studious that the Art of Alchemy, as it was anciently practised in the East, in the Egyptian temples, amongst the Hebrews and Early Greek Nations, and bv the Mystics of the Middle Ages, was a true Art and that the Stone of Philosophers is not a chimera, as it has been represented in the world to be; but the wonderful offspring of a Vital Experiment into Nature, the true foundation of Ancient Wisdom and her supernatural fruit.

What, if our subject be the world's ridicule; and its professors rank with the ignorant as insane or impostors? In choosing it popularity was not the motive; but we have written for the {xix} Truth's sake and for the liberal inquirer, from whom alone we may anticipate either credit or favour; and if we succeed only in drawing a very few discerning intellects aside from the broad stream of popular dereliction, by the light of Ancient Widsom into its faith, the undertaking will not prove ungrateful, or have been concluded in vain.

“I will not sweare to make you give credence,
But a phylosopher maie here find an evidence
Of the trewth; and for men that be lay
I skill not greatly what they say.”


Previous | Top | A Suggestive Inquiry Into the Hermetic Mystery | Next