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Mercoledì, 06 Febbraio 2019 13:33

Philosophical transactions II

[1]We have seen how the famous Philosophical Transaction review’s issues - that we alchemists can still use to get many operational information - were reports of research and scientific insights that began to be published even before the founding of the Royal Society, and we have seen how these notes, handwritten at first, came from a circle of philosophers-scientists such as Hartlibb and Boyle - who were inspired by Newton along with Starkey - as well as Ashmole and the son of the celebrated alchemist William Oughtred,[2] whom we will discuss in the next issue, given that he was a keen observer of the formation of the philosophical mercury through the dew, theme that Fleischer commented abundantly in one of his texts, to the point to become a commentator of Ougthred’s research.[3]

First of all, when writing about the Royal Society and all other organizations derived from the Philosophical Transactions, we must recognize how they first responded to a genuine need for knowledge and sharing and finally ending up being centers of power, a kind of new bourgeois nobility that through science began to rule the social life of Europe, and that we might see it as part of that process described by Paracelsus prophecy about Elias Artist, and the comments that Van Helmont made about it.[4]

Typical of those times was the word “esquire”, which began to designate someone who was not only a landowner but also distinguished in the field of law or science in general. Robert Fludd wanted to be portrayed giving himself the title of ARMIGER, that means “a person entitled to use a heraldic achievement” therefore wanting to state that he was an esquire, that’s all.

philosopical 2

Meanwhile, I am introducing some of the names of the participants of the Royal Society and to the Philosophical transactions, among those most relevant to our alchemical search, since we will discuss more extensively in the future.

Elias Ashmole, who donated to Oxford his vast and varied collection of antiquities, was considered to be the “first” speculative Freemason, that is the first to take up the legacy of symbols and theories that are the base of the traditional ancient masonry guild. So Ashmole was one of the original founders of the Grand Lodge of England, who based their social intervention - in a difficult political situation - on the rituals of the cathedral builders, but also on those of the simple masons, who thus marked the steps of grade in their art, at the same time conveying knowledge by bringing it closer to everybody’s life of thought and spirit, regardless of any religious or political affiliation. All this using symbols, rituals, psychodrama, degrees, secrecy and philosophical approach to any topic.


Ashmole, as a Windsor Herald, proposed the design for the coat of Arms of the Royal Society, of which he was elected a member in January 1661, a few months after the Society’s foundation.

The drawing shows a shield divided into two, the upper half with the Royal coat of arms on the top lefthand side. A hand coming out from a folded sleeve holds a plumb rule between thumb and index finger descending into the lower half of the arms.

In the banner the legend “Rerum Cognoscere Causas”, from Virgil’s full sentence felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas, which translates “Happy the man who could learn the causes of things”. The other members did not approve it.

We have already mentioned Robert Boyle and in future we will certainly discuss again his relationship with George Starkey.

We promised to reveal the reason of Newton’s gray hair, and here it is: Newton was, certainly an operating alchemist very involved in the study and laboratory testing, but he also had a sharp temper and, above all, hated being questioned about his work: indeed, against his friends’ advice, he continued to experiment on mercury (Hg), not realizing that that word described a completely different substance, and he ended up in getting intoxicated by it.

We will talk again about Isaac Newton because there is still so much more to say about him; meanwhile, we must observe that in that middle measures context, concerned with our common perception of facts regarding for example the table, the chair and the window, his general theory of universal gravitation is - somehow- still valid today. It is good to remember this, even if I, like many others, I have the desire to avoid similar theories concerning the Chief Systems, whatever they are, hermetizing or nobelizing ones, we could not care less; we empiricists avoid those theories, and proceed further.

Theories are, for me, an help to better understand experiences, not the contrary.

A century later a new phenomena occurred on the pages of the philosophical transactions: for the first time women appeared there.

Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780 - 1872) a Scottish science writer divulging science, who also studied mathematics, economy, astronomy and trailed for a while in an area that went from alchemy to modern chemistry, helping Michael Faraday to study the absorption of light by different materials, using as a paradigm the degree of darkening of silver chloride; then, with her writings on the Philosophical Transactions, made possible the discovery of the planet Neptune. Here is the portrait engraved in the Scottish £ 10 bill, compared to the painting from which it was taken.

Her male colleagues were incredulous and astonished admired her for her sweetness and grace, as well as for her fast and sharp multi faceted mind.

“Nothing has afforded me so convincing a proof of the unity of the Deity as these purely mental conceptions of numerical and mathematical science.”

Being the wife of William Somerville FRS^ she moved freely in Victorian scientific circles and was a friend of the Herschels, Faraday, Charles Babbage, Maria Mitchell, Jane Marcet and Ada Byron. Ada, incidentally, was the poet’s beautiful, headstrong daughter, a considerable mathematician in her own right. She had first explored the theories of Babbage concerning his famous “analytical engine”, by adding her own highly original and technical commentary to a review of his work (which she translated from French). Though rightly credited with a share in inventing the modern computer, Ada never risked producing a piece of popular science of the sort Mary Somerville was considering.

As we said, she carried out experiments on magnetism and presented her paper “The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum” to the Royal Society gaining considerable attention; together with the Herschel’s astronomical observations, this was one of the first paper to be read to the Royal Society by a women and then published in its Philosophical Transactions.

She also popularized Newton’s Principia and published On the Connection of the Physical Sciences (1834), Physical Geography (1848), and Molecular and Microscopic Science (1869), receiving honorary memberships to various distinguished European scientific organizations, including eleven Italian academic societies, where he was welcomed triumphantly.

philosopical 4

Maria Mitchell, an American astronomer, was, for the most part, enthusiastically received in London, especially by the kindly John Herschel, though she was “riled” by Whewell’s chauvinist teasing while dining at the Trinity College high table. She was also amazed to be told by Sir George Airy FRS, the British royal astronomer: “In England, there is no public interested in astronomy and we do not need to make science popular.”

Undaunted, Maria pressed on to meet Mary Somerville, the great object of her tour, who now lived in Rome. She was disconcerted to find the Vatican observatory closed to women after dark, a distinct setback for a professional astronomer. (“I was told that Mrs Somerville, the most learned woman in all Europe, had been denied admission – she could not enter an observatory that was at the same time a monastery.”)

She was captivated by Mary Somerville, both by her directness and her fantastic range of interests.

“Mrs Somerville’s conversation was marked by great simplicity, with no tendency towards the essay style. She touched upon the recent discoveries in chemistry, the discovery of gold in California, the nebulae, the comets, the satellites, the planets…” To Maria’s satisfaction, she also “spoke disapprovingly of Dr Whewell’s attempt to prove that our planet was the only one inhabited by reasoning beings…”

Maria later wrote an essay in Mary Somerville’s praise. Like her heroine, Maria identified with the anti-slavery cause and the female suffragist movements. But being a generation younger, Maria Mitchell was far more assertive than Mary Somerville about the vital importance of women actually doing science. In fact, she took the Royal Society’s motto, Nullius in verba (“Take nobody’s word for it”) to have a particular relevance to the value of science for women.

In the next issue we will talk about William Outghred, Robert Fludd, the illustrations of laboratory instruments drawn by Wilson Lowry, the relation between George Starkey, Boyle and Newton. And more.

[1] A page of Newton’s alchemical notes.

[2] See Phil. Trans. of the R.S. British Museum MS Slone 698; “A diary and practice given by Mr. Oughtred to Mr. Thomas Enshaw, from whose MSS. I copied it. June 6th. 1668” pubblished by RAMS digital in Diverse Alchemical Tracts, Some Practical Observations on May Dew.

[3] See in Diverse Alchemical Tracts. “For it is an easy thing to catch and dry up naturally the being of being, the essence and life of everything, the spirit of the world, Microcosmal Mercury, revered by philosophy, Living Spirit, unripe electrum of minerals, and to make therefrom the central salt of philosophers and of metals.” The alchemist Tomas Enshow has been a founder of the Royal Society himself. Fleischer, Die Neu-Auffgehende chymische Sonne, samt ihrem Glantz und Schein, weiset alle Gott-ergebene Sucher, auf den rechten Pfad, subjectum ac primam materiam lapidis philosophorum & omnium rerum zu suchen, zu finden, und zu elaboriren: wie dann das nöthigste aus wahrer philosophorum Schrifften extrahirt beygufügt zu finden / von einem Treu-meindenden Freunde zusammen getragen, und allen Bekümmerten zum Trost heraus gegeben. Franckfurt; Leipzig, [Germany]: bey Johann Friedrich Fleischer, 1750.

[4] On the next issues you’ll find an article about this fundamental topic in alchemy history.

[5] www.coinworld.com

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    How i succeeded in making gold according to the process of mr. Jollivet Castelot - December 1925
    By A. Ballandras

    Dosage of Gold obtained by the second method.

    The residue, which had been obtained by a mixture of:

    • Silver 10 grams
    • Tin 3 grams
    • Arsenic sulphide 3 grams
    • Antimony sulphide 3 grams

    was crushed as much as possible and subdued (read: subjected) to a treatment of pure chloric acid like in the first method. [Here is a reference to a first method - not presented here - the above being the second method presented by Ballandras from a text, the name and size of which is unknown to me.] However, to completely eliminate the silver and the tin employer, I scrupled to begin the indicated treatments, that is to say that the powder which was obtained having been subdued first to the action of azotic acid then washed with distillated water, then subdued to the action of chloric acid, then once more washed with distillated water, and these different operations were begun once more with another portion of pure azotic acid, and another portion of pure chloric acid after having carefully washed the insoluble residue was subdued to the prolonged action of aqua regalis following:

    Chloric acid - 15 parts/ Azotic acid - 4-5 parts.

    It must be noted that this thing happened during the ebullition (bubbling; boiling) The washed residue contained the slighter part of gold, this thing would be found dissolved in the last liquor, which I obtained. After 18 hours of digestion at the temperature of about 25 degrees, I subdued the mixture to ebullition during 3 hours. After refrigeration, I filtered this on wool of glass and I looked to see if parts were not drawn along in suspense. Finding nothing I proceeded with an analysis of the liquor which I obtained. For that month I made two parts strictly equal of the liquor, the first being destined to qualitative analysis, the other quantitative.

    A) Qualitative Analysis: Assay of usual reagents:

    • Chloride of Tin - Rose colored precipitate
    • Pure Soda in solution - Voluminous yellow reddish precipitate
    • Sulfate of Iron - During ebullition, metallic precipitate, greenish black very dense spangles.

    B) Quantitative Analysis:

    The second part of the liquor destined to undergo quantitative analysis was treated by H2S when the most important part of chloric and azotic acids were driven out by a prolonged ebullition.

    This time the liquor was slightly acid and had a weak smell of chlorine. I called H2S into action; about 20 minutes long. The black precipitate which I obtained was received by a filter paper carefully washed first with well distillated water, then with hot water and at last with chloric acid. After drying in the vapor-bath, the precipitate was put in a capsule of porcelain and heated in a mould at about 850 degrees, so as to destroy the sulphides precipitated with gold i.e., the arsenic and the antimony. These were naturally decomposed by the temperature of 850 degrees to which it had been subdued during two hours. The quantity of gold obtained was 0.238 grains. The half of the liquor having served for the dissolution having been turned to good use for the qualitative analysis it followed that the whole quantity of gold contained in the original liquor should be equal to double the quantity obtained. i.e., 0.476 grains of gold per 10 grams of silver employed, yield then was 0.476 grains of gold per gram silver. {I must point out that the obtaining of gold is not a mathematical regularity, that is to say, the purport (proportion) of residue changes according to the conditions of heating.}

    old drugstore

    2) Dry method

    I acted on 22 grains of chemically pure silver supplied by Messrs. Poulenc of Paris and on 3.5 grains of chemically pure orpiment supplied by the Pharmacie Central of Paris. The mixture was heated to about 1600 C in a metal smelting furnace for about ¾ hour. The residue obtained was again melted for an hour with the addition of orpiment, after having been hammered for half an hour and re-melted with the addition of small quantities of orpiment every 10 minutes, it was withdrawn. After cooling and the addition of chemically pure antimony sulphide, it was again put back into the furnace, small quantities of orpiment being thrown in every 5 minutes. The residue obtained had a dark metallic tint, after hammering it became slightly golden.

    Analysis of the Residue

    The residue dissolved in chemically pure 36 degree HNO3 first cold and then hot, gave an abundant pulverulent deposit. This deposit after being washed and treated with HN3 to dissolve the arsenic and antimony salts was completely dissolved in aqua regia. The liquor after being chlorinated and filtered was subjected to the reagents of Platinum and gold.

    Mr. Andre Vandenberghe who was acting as preparator for this experiment, had thought that in accordance with the law of evolution of matter, the transmutation of bodies into gold should be preceded or accompanied by their transmutation into platinum. According to Mendeleiev’s progression, we have Pt - 195.2 and Au - 197.2

    The reactions of gold were quite characteristic; the reactions of platinum also seemed to reveal its presence. The quantity of gold obtained in this experiment was estimated at about one gram. I emit the hypothesis that the arsenic acts as a catalyzer and the sulphur as a ferment in this transmutation.

    Jollivet Castelot, Douai, December 1925

    A recent experiment in transmutation

    By M. Jollivet Castelot

    All my research work on transmutation since 1908 has started from the fact that gold is found in nature associated with antimony and arsenic sulphides as well as with Tellurium which is considered as the mineralizer of gold. I therefore considered it logical to introduce Tellurium into the artificial combination of silver and arsenic and antimony sulphides that I make. The following is an account of one of my recent experiments:bI prepared a mixture composed of 6 grams of chemically pure silver, 1 gram of native orpiment (Arsenic trisulphide A52S3) free from gold, 1 gram of chemically pure antimony sulphide, and 2 grams of chemically pure Tellurium. I added pure silica to the usual fluxes. This mixture was heated in the furnace in the usual way for one hour at a temperature of 1100 C (approximately) [note: parenthesis are not mine AMWH].

    The residue obtained was of a blackish grey color with violet reflections. It weighed 6.420 grains. When subjected to the action of nitric acid, the residue was attacked with difficulty and greenish metallic particles became detached. The solution was then decanted and a greenish-yellow residue remained which was kept at the boiling point in nitric acid for several hours, after decanting off the liquor once again, the residue, which had not changed, was washed, treated with ammonia and then subjected to the action of aqua regia in which it was entirely dissolved after boiling for several hours.

    The solution after being chlorinated and then subjected to the reagents of gold, gave the following:

    • Potassium Ferrocyanide - greenish brown coloration.
    • Tin Protochloride + Tin Bichloride - a yellow bronze coloration and then a metallic deposit of the same shade.
    • Ammonia - coloration and precipitate identical with the preceding one and which became transformed into a yellow deposit of fulminating gold at the end of a few hours.
    • Formol - light yellowish black metallic precipitate.
    • Peroxide of Hydrogen - light very finely divided brownish black precipitate.
    • Oxalic acid - yellowish black precipitate.
    • Ferrous Sulphate - golden yellow metallic precipitate.
    • Caustic Potash - a fairly abundant golden yellow metallic precipitate at the end of a few hours.

    The presence of gold was therefore very distinctly shown and a remarkable feature was that the metal obtained possessed the yellow bronze color of gold telluride and of native silver. I had therefore produced a bronze colored gold in my laboratory by artificial means thanks to the intervention of the Tellurium.

    “A certain amount of gold was certainly lost in this test as in all my previous tests, for it is known that arsenic, antimony and Tellurium entrain gold in their fusion and their volatilization. In order to obviate this disadvantage, I had thought of making the vapors of arsenic and antimony sulphides and of Tellurium act on the silver in fusion in a closed vessel by means of a special device, but I have been forced to give up this scheme for the time being on account of the difficulties met with for the construction of this apparatus, the cost of which would be very high. I consider it certain that if the vapors were allowed to bubble through the melted silver, a much higher yield of gold would be obtained than that I have obtained hitherto by an imperfect and too rapid contact of the bodies in presence; while it is undoubtedly necessary to make them react on one another in the state of vapor in a closed vessel.” Jollivet Castelot, Douai, April 24th, 1926

    The chemical manufacture of gold account of one of my last experiments in the transmutation of silver into gold

    As a sequel to my previous work on the artificial synthesis of gold, I have introduced Tin into these new tests as it is also often associated with gold in nature. The following is a description of this new process, thanks to which the percentage of gold obtained destroys all the objections that are raised with regard to impurities.

    I made an intimate mixture of 6 grams of chemically pure silver of which the purity was tested by a professional chemist, the Head of the laboratory of one of the most important Works of the region. 2 Grams of antimony sulphide, 1 gram of orpiment, and 1 gram of Tin; all these bodies were obtained from the Establishment Poulenc of Paris and were chemically pure. I added the usual fluxes and then heated the whole in a crucible in the furnace to about 1100 C fort2 about 1 hour, twice adding a small quantity of antimony sulphide.

    The residue obtained was treated for a long period in pure 36 degree nitric acid, first cold and then at the boiling point.

    The insoluble residue was next washed with distilled water, treated with ammonia, washed again and finally treated for a long period with boiling aqua regia. The liquor when filtered and subjected to the reagents of gold showed the presence of this metal in the form of deposits3 which maybe estimated at 0.05 grains in all, which is very high considering the 6 grams of silver employed.

    With Oxalic acid, the solution turned violet and gave an abundant black pulverulent precipitate.

    With Hydrogen Peroxide, a very finely divided precipitate of gold.

    With Formic Aldehyde, a brown precipitate of gold.

    With Tin Protochloride, an intense violet pink coloration.

    The addition of Tin to the other bodies has certainly facilitated the reactions of the gold and increased the yield of this metal which can be manufactured artificially by my process.

    It would be easy to show that, given the respective prices of gold and of the other substances that are used in my process to produce it, a profit could be obtained if the process were worked industrially; all the more so as the greater part of the silver employed can be recovered at each test.

    I believe I now hold the key to the regular and even industrial manufacture of gold. But the industrial question is voluntarily put aside from my thoughts, for my only object is the search for pure scientific truth.
    Jolivet Castelot, Douai, April 15th, 1927

    Table of reactions


    • C2H2O4 - Abundant deposit of metallic gold.
    • H2O2 (basic) - Brown precipitate.
    • K4 Fe Cy6 . 3H2O - Green coloration.
    • Na2CO3 (in ebullition) - Brownish precipitate.
    • NH3 - Reddish yellow precipitate (Au); topped by a yellow precipitate (Pt).
    • KOH - Reddish yellow precipitate (Au); topped by a yellow precipitate (Pt).
    • SnCL2.2H2O - Solution colored brown with reactions of platinum salts and deposit of black powder.
    • KI - Solution becomes reddish followed by a discharge of iodine and a brown precipitate (Platinum iodide).

    Extracts from the press

    “It must be admitted that it is extraordinary and incomprehensible that France for the past ten years has refused to take an interest in the experiments of a rich and universally respected scientist who has given proofs of his worth, even after the conclusive experiments carried out by an official chemist, Mr Ballandras of Lyons.”
    Andre Ibels, La Razon, June 8, 1927

    It is unjust, gentlemen, that a scientist of the value of Mr. Jollivet Castelot should be held in suspicion at the very moment when he is losing his sight through overwork. To continue his work, however embarrassing it may be to yours, is a sacred duty.”
    Declaration by Mademoiselle M.L. of Paris. Professor of Engineering at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, Paris, at the Chemical Congress in Paris. October 1927

    “Oh! it is not that Mr. Jollivet Castelot has not attempted to make his invention known in France, on the contrary, he has written leaflets and books and has founded reviews for this purpose... Not only was he not taken seriously, but he was also a butt to the sarcasm and even to the insults of the official scientists in general and of the Nobelist Perrin in particular. The Acedemie des Sciences itself - as usual - refused to record his communication.”
    Andre Ibels, Nouveau Journal de Nice, October 16, 1927

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