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Championing Basilius Valentinus and expecting Elias Artista: Theodor Kerckring’s commentary on Currus triumphalis antimonii*

Championing Basilius Valentinus and expecting Elias Artista: Theodor Kerckring’s commentary on Currus triumphalis antimonii*

By Cis van Heertum

Championing Basilius Valentinus and expecting Elias Artista: Theodor Kerckring’s commentary on Currus triumphalis antimonii*

News from the abode of Pluto

Dost thou ask what I saw? It seemed to me that I had entered the very abode of Pluto. Behold, within, his tongue was swollen, being stained with a dark colour and saturated with what appeared to be a poisonous juice. What about his trachea? Like a chimney, everywhere covered with a black soot; the lungs dry and collapsed, almost friable.[1]

The anatomist who produced this modest though graphic contribution to the anti-tobabcco debate in the 17th century was Theodor Kerckring (1638-1693), who dissected the torso of a heavy smoker and reported his findings in his Spicilegium anatomicum, continens observationum anatomicarum rariorum centuriam unam, published in Amsterdam in 1670. His name survives in medical history in ‘Kerckring’s ossicles’ and ‘Kerckring’s valves’, referring to two of his anatomical discoveries. Besides the Spicilegium anatomicum, he produced another anatomical work, on foetal development; his collected anatomical works were published posthumously, in 1717.[2] In circles of Spinoza scholars, Kerckring’s fame also rests on having attended Franciscus van den Enden’s Latin school in Amsterdam in the late 1650s, where Benedictus de Spinoza was his fellow student (in his Spicilegium, p. 178, Kerckring recommended Spinoza’s microscopes). He may have presented Spinoza with a copy of the Spicilegium and one of his other works, as both it and the Commentarius in Currum triumphalem antimonii Basilii Valentini (1671) occur in the inventory of books which was compiled after the philosopher’s death.[3]

Born into a wealthy Lutheran family, Kerckring enrolled as a liberal arts student in Leiden in 1659, but soon turned to studying medicine under Franciscus de le Boe Sylvius (1614-1672), an advocate of iatrochemistry. The medical student left university without obtaining a doctorate, practising medicine in Amsterdam until he left the Dutch Republic in 1675. It is unlikely that he ever ‘officially’ practised medicine, as his name does not occur in the Series nominum doctorum,[4] although some of his case studies show that he actually treated patients, as will appear below. Legend has it that he became a Catholic to marry one of the daughters of his tutor van den Enden (‘Clara Maria vaut une messe’). The couple were married in Amsterdam on 27 February 1671. Antonides van de Goes, another fellow student, wrote a wedding poem in celebration of the couple, dwelling on Clara Maria’s erudition and Kerckring’s passion for alchemy. Kerckring for his part praised his father-in-law as someone who had instilled in him a lasting interest in science; the two shared an interest in alchemy.[5]

In the year Kerckring married Van den Enden’s daughter, he published his Commentarius in Currum triumphalem antimonii by Basilius Valentinus,[6] itself a eulogy on the medicinal properties of the semi metal antimony. Antimony occurs naturally as a sulphide ore, which was most commonly roasted to collect the volatile oxide fume from which pure antimony was refined. At least since the fourteenth century, antimony was administered as a medicine, although its qualities were hotly debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many arguing it was a poison and unfit for internal use. The French physician Guy Patin (1601-1672), for instance, bitterly opposed its use, pointedly claiming that its supporters ‘say that a poison is not a poison in the hand of a good physician. They speak against their own experience because most of them have killed their wives, their children and their friends’.[7] Patin was fighting a losing battle: in the spring of 1666, the medical faculty in Paris finally endorsed the use of antimony, more specifically ‘vin émétique’, which had worked wonders on Louis XIV.

Paracelsus had recommended antimony as a powerful medicine, and generally its supporters were Paracelsists, although in the course of the seventeenth century the traditional medical profession came to accept the products of Paracelsian iatrochemistry for its pharmaceutical value. It was not necessary to embrace the philosophy of Paracelsus in order to derive benefit from the remedies he proposed. [8]

Basilius Valentinus

The Triumphwagen Antimonii was first published in Leipzig in 1604 and was allegedly written by a late medieval Benedictine monk called Basilius Valentinus. Most probably the works attributed to Basilius Valentinus were written by their editor, the Paracelsist Johann Thölde (ca. 1565-ca. 1624). Until the late nineteenth century it was not doubted that Basilius Valentinus was a historical figure, and at any rate a predecessor of Paracelsus, even though Leibniz in his Oedipus Chymicus (1710) had already claimed that Basilius Valentinus was not a historical figure. [9] Needless to say, ‘Basilius Valentinus’ was an astute Paracelsist, and his works were extremely popular in the circles of ‘chymical physicians’, medical practitioners who chose not to rely on traditional Galenic medicine but opted instead for laboratory experiment and the preparation of chemical medicine to heal their patients. The Paracelsian worldview of Basilius Valentinus is suggested by titles such as De microcosmia, von der Welt im Kleinen (1602) and De occulta philosophia (1603), but he also possessed practical knowledge, which he displayed in works like Triumphant chariot of antimony. Kerckring demonstrates with his edition of Currus triumphalis antimonii that he is a disciple of Basilius Valentinus, chemical medicine, and antimony in particular.

A chymical physician in Amsterdam

In the middle of the 1660s Kerckring was already preparing chemical remedies, which apparently earned him a considerable reputation, if the panegyric of his friend Andreas Frisius (1665) is to be believed:

Who cannot but marvel to see you so suddenly admitted to the inner sanctuary of medicine, performing such miraculous works that nobody can understand on which medical Parnassus you were slumbering before rising to become first among physicians. The people worship you; men of eminence revere you, princes try to engage the twenty-five-year old because they see, understand and are told that you, not by some happy coincidence, but by a firm and profound method, perform miracles of medicine far above the ordinary.[10]

There are occasional references in the Triumphant chariot to Kerckring’s laboratory work, all dating to 1665. Elucidating the instructions for a particular preparation of antimony, he turns to the reader: ‘I will not detain you with a tedious Discourse full of ambiguities, but lead you as it were by the hand, shewing you how I instituted this process in the year 1665’ (p. 79).[11] Obviously Kerckring was not an adept who cloaked his words in mysterious language, nor, according to him, was Basilius Valentinus, who seems to have burned with this Affection [to reveal the secrets of antimony], and could not overcome that Inclination of Well-doing to many, by the Obligation (imposed on all Philosophers) of concealing that Secret Mystery of Nature, which by the Author thereof, that is, by Nature naturing with Intellectual Revelation, is communicated only to the Sons of Art worthy and chosen. (p. 150)

Much of this passage is phrased in traditional alchemical vocabulary: alchemists are called ‘Philosophers’ and ‘Sons of the Art’, while the injunction not to divulge the secrets of alchemy is also familiar.

Kerckring was also very candid about his failures, and (financial) losses in the pursuit of alchemical experiment, a topos almost in alchemical literature:

For although I did for several years most diligently read Basilius and other Masters of the Art of Arts,[12] and in Labouring followed them, as exactly as possibly I could, yet I committed so many errors (the remembrance of which fills me with Horror) lost so much Money, and was so often constrained to amend those errors with labour, as I have compassion of all Those, who would enter into the way, incited thereunto by their earnest desire to help their Neighbours: for I have no respect to Others, who aim at nothing but riches, and would make so noble an art subservient to Avarice. (…) I do here candidly professe to thee, studious Reader, had the Manual Operations been as sincerely shewed to me, as I here open them, I should have saved a great Sum of Money; for I often erred … and by that vain endeavour, lost some Thousands of Florens. (p. 64)

As Kerckring came from a wealthy family, he may well have had thousands of guilders to squander without ruining himself. By 1670 his alchemical pursuits appear to have been more successful.The German literary historian Daniel Georg Morhof recorded visiting Kercrking when he was in Amsterdam that year. Kercrking claimed he had made genuine gold and silver out of mercury, showing Morhof four pieces of metal, one of which looked like tin, the other like silver, the third was yellowish, the fourth had the colour of gold.[13]

Kerckring’s motives for publishing an edition of Currus triumphalis antimonii are altogether generous, as is already obvious from the above passage. The chymical physician wanted his fellow-practitioners to be able to use Basilius Valentinus’ manual with maximum profit and avoid the pitfalls he encountered on the way:

I could not choose, but labour a whole year to little purpose, often repeating this Tincture with a vain endeavour, whence I was almost as often weary of Chymistry through desperation: for my Tincture was of no efficacy in Medicine; because a meer Caput-mortuum only, unsavoury and of no value. Hence consider, how little any Process profits, whether set down in Writing, or received from a Friend by word of mouth, unless you set to your hand, and practically learn every particular of the Work fit to be observed in operating. Also see, how liberally I deal with you, in revealing that, the ignorance of which hath put me to great trouble and charge.[14] (p. 69)

At one point Kerckring, the champion of chemical medicine, proudly proclaims: ‘In Shops they now sell Medicaments, chymically prepared (as they say) and those very Persons, who are willing mostly to be esteemed Hippocratick Disciples, scarcely dare condemn Chymistry’ (p. 90).[15] That this was not always so is expressed in an earlier passage, in which Kerckring, traditionally dating the works of Basilius to an earlier age, recalls the disrepute in which iatrochemistry was held:

How much Chymistry was impeached by Calumnies, in the times of Basilius, is manifest by the very many Reliques of Writers, with which some Theologicians, imprudently judging what they understood not, and Politicians (not much more prudent than them) have defamed their own Books. (p. 89)

By the time Kerckring was committing these observations to paper, however, the ‘chemical philosophy’ had gained much ground, and even traditional physicians were careful to distinguish between ‘true and false chemists’, separating sincere iatrochemical practitioners from charlatans. Still, Kerckring attacks the men who bring odium to the profession as if the distinction did not exist:

I do not here speak of those writers, who sharply reprehend certain Vagabond Sophisters, that covering their own wickedness, under the Pretext of a most noble Art, do by a great Name impose great Frauds upon the People. For this kind of men are not only worthy of severe Reprehension, but also of due Punishment. But, what Evil do they deserve, if under their Denomination the Good be abused? Why is the most certain and so salutary and profitable an Art proscribed? Because there are men found, who use not the Art it self, but the Name and Shadow of this Art. (pp. 89-90)

Chymists versus surgeons

Physicians like Kerckring were academically trained – Kerckring did not leave Leiden with a doctor’s degree in medicine,[16] but he had studied under the great De le Boe Sylvius. Surgeons, by contrast, were incorporated in guilds, and were consequently looked (down) upon as craftsmen plying a trade, even though training standards improved in the course of the seventeenth century. In the following passage, Kerckring suggests there existed a certain animosity between chymists and surgeons, an animosity he claims not to share. Perhaps he hoped to persuade the surgeons to empty their unguent boxes and fill them with medical preparations instead:

I not enviously, as many Chymists do, but affectionately deal with Chirurgeons: wishing that they would do in their mind, as according to their faculty they may and ought, endeavour to prepare such helps, for their miserably afflicted patients. (…) But you Chyrurgeon, studious of your own Art, and by Art covetous of Glory, deduce that into thin Plates, and externally apply it to Wounds, and Malignant Fistula’s. So doing, you will be amazed, when you shall see Nature, helped by this Art, to perform more, in a very short time, then you could have hoped for in a longer time, by so many unguents and Plaisters. (p. 139)

It is remarkable that Kerckring, who nowhere mentions contemporaries by name (other than a number of alchemical authors), goes to some length to demonstrate the superiority of chemical preparations compared to surgical applications by discussing the failure of a renowned surgeon to treat a patient satisfactorily:

If Chirurgions would give credit to our Author, with how great care would they prepare this Balsom for themselves, and with how great Fruit, and how frequently might they use the same? For I interposing my Judgment must say, that Basilius here comes far short, in expressing its due Prayses; for it performs more, than he declares of it. One short History, drawn from the Centuries of my Medical Observations [i.e. his Spicilegium], will confirm the truth of what I have said. A certain woman, about forty Years of Age, for seven years together suffered great dolours in her left Breast, which were accompanied with a Tumor and Hardness. Those Chirurgions and Physicians, whom she advised with, did all with one Consent judge her Disease to be a Cancer; and she was also judged to labour with a Cancer, by the Censure of that famous Practitioner, who at Orscotus (a village about the Dukes-Woods) very laudibly and happily practised Chirurgy, and drew to himself a vast number of People: for after he had, for three Months together, in vain endeavoured to heal this Disease, he severely pronounced her Breast was to be cut off, or the Disease could not be extirpated. The Woman, resolving rather to suffer all Dolours of the Disease, then to sustain so cruel and inhuman a Remedy, came to me. I, beholding her Breast, found it wholly inflamed, and twice as bigg as the other, and an abundance of thin Humors flowing to the Wound. I purposed to try all I could do, rather than suffer this miserable woman to perish; and thinking of this Balsom resolved to try, whether That, which in other Diseases had fulfilled the promises of its Author, would fail me here. Therefore, to the Diseased woman waiting my Answer, I said; in eight days time I would resolve her, whether there was any hopes of Cure or no; without Cutting off; and thereupon gave her this Remedy to anoint her Breast therewith: and which is very strange, in the Space of two Days the Matter came to Ripeness, and a just Consistency. Therefore, I then filled with good hope, adjoyned inward and outward remedies, which seemed convenient for the purpose, and in two Moneths Space the Womans Breast was perfectly healed. (pp. 72-73)

The unfortunate woman sought a second opinion from Kerckring in Amsterdam; his reputation as a ‘chymical physician’, which was already considerable in the middle of the 1660s, must have spread as far as Brabant. Although Kerckring does not name the ‘famous Practitioner’ whom he specifies as living in the village of Oirschot near ‘s-Hertogenbosch, it is not difficult to establish his identity and Kerckring’s readers probably knew whom he alluded to. A famous surgeon having to bow to the remedy of a chemical doctor only enhanced the reputation of antimony, which may be why Kerckring repeated the medical anecdote at some length.
The surgeon in question cannot have been any other than Arnold Fey jr. (1633-1679), who like his father before him practised in Oirschot, where he attended the surgical school already founded by Silvester I Lintermans from Sint Truiden in the 1550s. Fey jr. became widely known as a specialist in breast cancer operations, which he would only perform in advanced cases when his patients consented to the treatment in the presence of a magistrate and accepted the outcome. Fey’s most famous patient was Anna of Austria, mother to Louis XIV, though he was unable to treat her due to the advanced stage of her affliction.[17] He left Oirschot after the invasion of the French in 1672.

Elias Artista

In his studies on the chemical philosophy of Paracelsus and the English and French Paracelsians, Allen G. Debus demonstrated that the products of the ‘chemical philosophy’ were adopted by (traditional) physicians even though the Paracelsian worldview was not. In some of his comments, Kerckring reveals that he was not only active in the laboratory but also subscribed to the Paracelsian worldview:

Yet what I think of Characters and Signatures, which the Author saith may be made under a concourse of certain Constellations, I shall not here discover. It sufficeth me, that I can say, that among all Metals and Minerals, there is not any substance known, which contains so much of a Coelestial Spirit, and hath so great Sympathy with the Stars, as Antimony. Weigh this, with all that I have before said of Antimony, but not negligently, and Hasten to the Stone, which is called the Stone of Fire. (p. 141)

Although it was traditionally accepted that metals were engendered through astral influences,[18] Kercrking’s reference to the celestial spirit, the sympathetic relations existing between metals and stars, even his reluctance to speak of ‘Characters and Signatures’, indicate he had an affinity with the Paracelsian worldview.

Kerckring’s commitment to the Paracelsian worldview is further confirmed by his allusions to Elias Artista, always mentioning Paracelsus in the same breath. In Judaism, Elijah precedes the Messiah; by analogy John the Baptist became associated with Elijah in the Christian tradition. The figure of Elijah or Elias thus carried clear messianic overtones, and Paracelsus embroidered on his reputation, describing ‘Elias Artista’ as the harbinger of an imminent ‘golden world’, ushering in a social utopia. Paracelsus’ followers also embraced the figure of Elias Artista, amongst whom Gerhard Dorn and Oswald Crollius, an author explicitly mentioned by Kerckring.[19] Some expected the arrival of a person, others regarded Elias Artista as the symbol of a golden age in which science would reach its summit. In Kerckring’s own time, Johann Rudolph Glauber, a German alchemist practising in Amsterdam, where he died in 1670, espoused the belief in the imminent arrival of Elias Artista. Another physician and practising alchemist, Johannes Fredericus Helvetius, recorded a successful transmutation in his Vitulus areus (Amsterdam, 1667) and called the enigmatic figure who provided him with a fragment of the Philosopher’s Stone with which he performed the transmutation: Elias Artista. That Spinoza was at first tempted to believe the story of the transmutation, visiting Helvetius in The Hague where he was shown the gold and the crucible, is clear from one of his letters to his friend Jarig Jelles, dated 25 March 1667.

There are two distinct passages in which Kerckring alludes to Elias Artista. The first one is prompted by Basilius Valentinus’ condemnation of the criticasters of chemical remedies:

But here, what comes into my mind, and ought in no wise to be passed over in Silence, I think good to mention; viz. that at this Day many are found who exclaim, and rashly pronounce Crucifige, Crucifige, against all those, who prepare Venoms into Medicaments, by which (as they say) many Mortals perish, or, if they escape with Life, live miserably; such are Mercury, Arsenick, &c. and this Clamour is chiefly made by those, who (if it please the GODS) are called Doctors * of Medecine, yet indeed understand not what the difference is, between Venom, and Medicine, but are wholly ignorant how Venom may be prepared, so as to pass into a salutary Medicament; and instead of its malignity, put on a better Nature.

Basilius’ jibe at the Doctors of Medicine draws the following comment from Kerckring:

* Basilius somewhat indulgeth his own Genius, inveighing against False-Physitians, whose ignorance (in his own time) was so very great, as they contemned every sublime Preparation of Medicine, which he himself, and chymists with him did profess; prescribing the same as unprofitable, perilous, and hurtful: against whom, it is not strange, if the Chymists (on the other hand) rose up with some small vehemency, and endeavour courageously, by assistance of their Knowledge and Conscience, to break through that Rout of unskillful Men; but the best Things are not always the most prosperous. Chymists overcame by the Justice of their Cause, but were overcome by Number: yet, having verity and goodness on their side, they fought with so great Confidence, as they were certainly assured that they should bear away the Victory; which our Author here shews, and Paracelsus (prophesying of the Coming of Elias the Artist) did presage, would be. And certainly unto me (seriously considering how greatly Chymists have in these times improved their Knowledge) the Dawning of that Day hath opened itself, since I behold so many Rays of the approaching Sun. (pp. 29-30)

Another, more euphoric passage anticipating the advent of Elias Artista is reminiscent of Glauber’s jubilant announcement, in 1667: ‘Another world will be emerging, where the arts will flourish and vain tittle-tattle will founder; be warned! For the time has come when the long prophesied Elias artista will be here’:[20]

Are not those Times at hand, in which Elias the Artist, the Revealer of greater Mysteries is to come? Of whose coming Paracelsus so clearly prophisied in various places of his Writings? Perhaps it wil be worth our while, for the Solace of the oppressed Disciples of Basilius, to quote certain places, in which he predicts the coming of Elias not then born: which if any One commodiously interpret, as all other Sayings of that man are to be taken, he will find nothing of absurdity in them, unless he resolve to discover his own absurd Stupidity, or wicked Envy. In the Book of Minerals, Chap. 8. Paracelsus thus writes: What is most vile, GOD suffers to be discovered, but what is of greater moment is yet hid from the Vulgar, until the coming of Elias the Artist; others read, until the Art of Elias, when he comes.[21] And again, in his Book of Minerals, Treatise the first. It is indeed true (saith he) that many things lie hid in the Earth, which I, as well as others am ignorant of. For this I know, GOD, in time to come will manifest his Wonders, and bring to light many more of them, then unto this Day have been known by us. Also this is true; there is nothing absconded, which shall not be revealed; therefore there cometh One, whose Magnale[22] lives not yet, who shall reveal many Things.

Therefore be comforted, be comforted, O Lover of Chymistry, and prepare the way of Elias, who brings happy times, and will reveal more Secrets than our Ancestors, by reason of Envy, and the Iniquity of their Days durst discover. Whosoever thou art, conveying this Art, confer some small matters to this felicity; and let us give the World that Medicine, which by reason of evil Humours predominant, it cannot take all at once, by degrees, that it may gradually recover of its Disease, and the times of Elias come (for Arts also, as well as is understood of other things, have their Elias, saith Theophrastus) where it wil be lawful for us to speak freely of those things, and openly to do good to our Neighbours, without persecution of the Impious. Read, understand, and comfort your self with these. (pp. 90-91)

Yet Glauber’s Elias Artista was not a person, but a salt – ‘Glauber’s salt’ to be precise; accordingly he interpreted the name as an anagram for ‘et artis salia’ (a year later he also retracted his earlier prophecy that the arrival of Elias Artista would be accompanied by military intervention). Whether Kerckring, like Glauber, conceived of Elias Artista as a panacea and not a person remains to be seen, but he certainly hoped for a reformation of the world, as did Paracelsus, and the Rosicrucians, for whom Elias Artista was also of great importance.[23] Remarkably, A.P. Wörffel, the translator of Kerkcring’s Currus triumphalis into German claimed in 1724 that Kerckring had dedicated his commentary to the Rosicrucians – the fact that the dedication was rather ‘obscure’was, according to Wörffel, the reason for its omission in the English edition (‘von den Ausländern ohne Version weggelassen werden’, Vorrede, p. 25).[24]

Moreover, Kerckring’s concluding comment in his edition of Basilius Valentinus’ Triumphant chariot of antimony suggests he was an adept of Hermes Trismegistus and the prisca philosophia:

Now farewell O Lover of Chymistry, and if thou hast gained any Light, either from the Interpretation of Basilius, or my Commentaries, enjoy it, and communicate the same to the Sons of the Art, that Philosophy oppressed for so many Years with the intollerable Yoke of Avarice, may at length be revived, and a return be of those time of the Egyptians, in which Trismegistus and so many wise Magi, Philosophized not with empty denominations, but with wonderful works. (p. 159)

In Kerckring’s original edition of 1671:

Vale jam Philochymice, & si quid vel ex interpretatione Basilii, vel ex commentariis meis accepisti lucis eo fruere, & filiis artis communica, ut resuscitetur tot jam saeculis oppressa sub avaritiae intolerabili jugo Philosophia, & redeant illa Aegyptiorum tempora, quibus non terminis inanibus, sed mirabilibus operibus philosophabantur Trismegistus, & tot sapientes Magi. (p. 340)

Alchemists were known as ‘the sons of Hermes’ (in his preface, Kerckring calls Hermes ‘pater chymicorum omnium’, sign. *5v). Kerckring may here allude to the Hermes of the Tabula Smaragdina, the short and enigmatic ‘alchemical creed’:

Sic mundus creatus est. Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabiles, quarum modus est hic.

Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi.[25]

But his allusion to Hermes and other ‘wise Magi’ who lived in ancient Egypt may also indicate that he saw Hermes as the personification of Egyptian wisdom,[26] as he had been traditionally presented since the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino, Francesco Patrizi and, in Kerckring’s own time, by Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland (1586-1648), who translated the Corpus Hermeticum into Dutch, using Patrizi’s edition of the Corpus Hermeticum in his Nova de universis philosophia as a model.[27]

Theodor Kerckring, Spinoza’s fellow student, appears to have been a versatile man: anatomist, chemical physician – perhaps also a Hermetist?




1 Artist’s impression of Leiden’s anatomical theatre (1602), where Kerckring probably attended lecures as a student
2 Title-page of the 1611 ed. of Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii
3 Frontispiece by Romeyn de Hooghe (1671 ed.)
4 Title-page 1671 ed. Commentarius in currum triumphalem
5 Frontispiece by T.G. Beck cut after Romeyn de Hooghe (1724 ed.)
6 Chemical apparatus, Triumphant chariot of antimony (1678), 82
7 Chemical apparatus, Triumphant chariot of antimony (1678), 128
8 Antimony symbolized: ‘The wolf of metals’, devourer of all metals, except gold

* I am grateful to Frank Mertens for reading the article and offering valuable comments and additions.

[1] Quoted from Albert G. Nicholls, ‘Theodore Kerckring and his Spicilegium anatomicum’, in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1940, pp. 480-83: observation XC: ‘The excessive use of tobacco is harmful.’ For the online version see

[2] Anthropogeniae ichnographia sive Conformatio foetus ab ovo usque ad ossificationis principia, Amsterdam, A. Frisius, 1671. The Spicilegium was also published by Frisius, who was a personal friend of Kerckring, see K.O. Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring, Utrecht 1980 (repr.), p. 139.

[3] See Adri Offenberg, ‘Spinoza’s library. The story of a reconstruction’, Quaerendo 3-4 (1973), pp. 309-321; Henri Krop, ‘Oud en nieuw in de bibliotheek van Spinoza’ in Libertas philosophandi. Spinoza als gids voor een vrije wereld, ed. Cis van Heertum, Amsterdam 2008, pp. 83-111. Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring, p. 138, writes that Kerckring joined Van den Enden’s school as a pupil in 1657, enrolling in Leiden on 12 May 1659.

[4] Stadsarchief Amsterdam, 27, 20. I owe this reference to Frank Mertens. For biographical details on Theodor Kerckring, see Frank Mertens, Online documents regarding Franciscus van den Enden; Frank Mertens, ‘Spinoza’s Amsterdamse vriendenkring: studievriendschappen, zakenrelaties en familiebanden’, in Libertas philosophandi. Spinoza als gids voor een vrije wereld, pp. 69-81.

[5] The poem is partially reprinted in Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring, p. 330-331. J. Banga, Geschiedenis van de geneeskunde en van hare beoefenaren in Nederland, Leeuwarden 1868, vol. 2, 564-572; Kerckring on Franciscus van den Enden: ‘qui me liberalibus et philosophicis disciplinis imbuerat, et animum meum inflammato sciendi desiderio’, Opera omnia, Leiden 1717, p. 199. For Van den Enden’s interest in alchemy, see a.o. Olaus Borch’s Itinerarium, quoted by Frank Mertens on

[6] Commentarius in Currum triumphalem antimonii Basilii Valentini, Amsterdam, A. Frisus, 1671, with an engraved title-page by Romeyn de Hooghe, who cut a number of plates for Frisus in the first half of the 1670s, see Piet Verkruijsse & Garrelt Verhoeven, ‘Verbeelding op bestelling. De boekillustratie’, in Romeyn de Hooghe; de verbeelding van de late Gouden Eeuw, ed. Henk van Nierop et al., Zwolle 2008, p. 163 and index on de Hooghe’s works. A page-by-page reprint was published in Amsterdam by H. Wetstein, 1685.

An English translation of Basilius Valentinus’ Currus triumphalis appeared in 1660, reprinted in 1661 (Wing B 2021-22) . In 1678 D. Newman published Kerckring’s annotated edition in a translation by Richard Russell, who omitted the two prefaces of the original but added a new preface in praise of ‘the Learned Kirkringius’. Acknowledging the earlier translation, Russell nevertheless offered a new one, ‘partly because of the aforesaid Annotations’ (Wing B 2023). MS. Sloane 619 contains a synopsis of Kerckring’s Treatise on Antimony, translated into English as well as ‘The particular processes of Antimony, out of Basilius Valentinus, with Dr. Kerkringius his additions to them: and som other observations added’, in Dr Samuel Bellingham’s hand (105 fols). Bellingham (or Belinger) obtained an M.D. degree in Leiden, where he attended lectures by Franciscus De le Boe Sylvius. For Bellingham see also: ‘Correspondence and papers, incl. Leiden lecture notes (lecturers Eifler, F. Sylvius), medical observations, prescriptions and recipes, late C17-early C18. Mainly Latin’, Sloane mss 355, 370, 390, 440, 445, 447, 452, 458, 476, ff.51b-111b, 488, 490, 504, 604-609, 630, ff.158-168, 633, ff.148-218, 642-647, 729.

The first German translation of Kerckring’s annotated edition appeared in 1724, published by A.J. Felsecker in Nuremberg. It contains Kerckring’s prefaces, and an extensive foreword by the translator, who is convinced that ‘nicht nur die Cartesianische, und noch mehr die Spinosistische, sondern auch überhaupt die Mechanistische und Mathematische Philosophie zur wahren und völligen Erkänntniss des inneren Wesen in den natürlichen Dingen weder tüchtig noch hinlänglich seye, oder seyn könne’ (Vorrede, p. 10). The 1724 edition was reprinted in Friedrich Roth-Scholz’s Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum (first ed. 1728, reprinted in 1733) with a preface by Roth-Scholz. All quotations in this article are from the 1678 edition of the Triumphant chariot.

[7] Kerckring, too, claims, that ‘very many Chymical Medecines, are either dead, or (which is more to be deplored) oftentimes the Causes of Death, when not managed by the hand of a skilful Doctor’, p. 78. Even today antimony still raises serious concerns, cf. Ross G. Cooper and Adrian P. Harrison, ‘The exposure to and health effects of antimony’, in Indian Journal of occupational and environmental medicine 13-1 (2009), pp. 3-10. The authors conclude that ‘Antimony has some useful but undoubtedly harmful effects on health and well-being and measures need to be taken to prevent hazardous exposure of the like.’

[8] This and Patin’s observations quoted from Allen G. Debus, The French Paracelsians. The chemical challenge to medical and scientific tradition in Early Modern France, Cambridge 1991, p. 99, 15.

[9] I owe the reference to Leibniz to Frank Mertens. For a recent study on the publication history and authorship of Basilius Valentinus’ work see Triumphwagen des Antimons. Basilius Valentinus, Kerckring, Kirchweger. Text – Kommentare – Studien, ed. Hans Gerhard Lenz, Elberfeld 2004. The triumphant chariot of antimony was edited by L.G. Kelly in the English Renaissance Hermeticism series (3: Basil Valentine his Triumphant Chariot of Antimony). New York & London 1990.

[10] Quoted from Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring, pp. 139-40. Frisius’ praise of Kercrking appeared in F. Licetus, De monstris, Amsterdam, A. Frisius, 1665. For later (adverse) judgements on Kerckring’s medical abilities see Banga, Geschiedenis van de geneeskunde, vol. 2, p. 570. Kercrking is also listed as one of the ‘Ertz-Lüger’ (arch liars), in Johann Anton Söldner’s hilariously invective Keren Happuch [The horn of antimony], Hamburg 1702, p. 121.

[11] Another reference to the year 1665 occurs on p. 75, where he recalls curing a ‘young Maid, aged twenty one years, swollen … with the dropsy’.

[12] Kerckring specifies ‘Beguinus, Hartman, Crollius’, p. 67; ‘Peter of Spain’, p. 96; Rulandus, p. 104. There is an earlier reference to Jean Beguin’s Tyrocinium chymicum, a manual of chemistry offering many pharmaceutical preparations, first published in 1610 (p. 64): ‘I shall not here institute a Tyrocinium of Chemistry’. Hartman is most likely Johann Hartmann, appointed professor of chemistry at Marburg in 1609, who also edited Oswald Crollius’ Basilica chymica. Kerckring probably found Petrus Hispanus’ De quinta essentia omnium rerum (so called in the original Latin edition, 1671) in the Paracelsist Alexander von Suchten’s Antimonii mysteria gemina (ed. J. Thölde), Leipzig 1603, chapter on antimony: ‘Petrus Hispanus in seinem Buch von der Quinta essentia oder fünfftem wesen aller dinge…’, see Udo Benzenhöfer, Johannes’ de Rupescissa Liber de consideratione quintae essentiae omnium rerum deutsch. Studien zur Alchemia medica des 15. bis 17. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 1989, p. 49. Martinus Rulandus sr, physician of Rudolph II, was in favour of Paracelsus’ reforms and the author of a few medical works; he also compiled a Lexicon alchimiae.

[13] Daniel Georg Morhof, De metallorum transmutatione, Hamburg, G. Schulz, 1673, p. 40. Copies were also sold by J. Janssonius van Waesberge in Amsterdam.

[14] One further example: ‘Thou art happy, if thou canst be wise by my Dammage, O Lover of Art. I exactly followed this short Admonition, stirring the Cucurbit twice or thrice a Day, but the Matter was always coagulated like a Stone, and stuck so firmly to the bottom, as it could by no force be removed there: but afterward, being more wary, from the very first I began to stir the Matter with a wooden Spatula five or six times a Day; or oftner; you may imitate the same, if you be wise’ (pp. 68-69).

[15] Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsians, p. 147, writes that ‘If it is difficult to locate any wholesale condemnation of metallic and mineral remedies in this period, it is also hard to find any authors who advocated mineral remedies alone.’ Not surprisinly perhaps in a eulogy on antimony, Kerckring is only concerned with chemical preparations.

[16] Remarkably, Kerckring is described as ‘doctor medicinae’ on the title-pages of Spicilegium, Commentarius and Opera Omnia.

[17] J. Lijten, ‘De medische school van Oirschot’, Campinia 20 (1990), pp. 156-173

[18] Aristotle’s theories of a close affinity between the earth and the firmament and the development of minerals and metals through earthly exhalations fed the later belief in astral influences, see for instance Debus, The French Paracelsians, p. 15, quoting the French anti-Paracelsian Jacobus Aubertus.

[19] For a discussion of the Elias Artista tradition see Walter Pagel, ‘The Paracelsian Elias Artista and the Alchemical Tradition’, in Kreatur und Kosmos. Internationale Beiträge zur Paracelsusforschung, ed. Rosemarie Dilg-Frank, Stuttgart 1981, pp. 6-19; Herbert Breger, ‘Elias Artista – A precursor of the messiah in natural science’, in Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Science between utopia and dystopia, eds. E. Mendelssohn & H. Nowotny, Dordrecht 1984, pp. 49-72.

[20] Quoted from Breger, ‘Elias Artista – A precursor of the messiah in natural science’, p. 63. In this work, Kurtze Erklärung über die höllische Göttin Proserpinam, Glauber linked Elias Artista explicitly with millenarianism: ‘Elias Artista, wan er kompt, vielleicht auch Militarische unbekandte inventiones mit sich bringen, und durch seinen grossen Gewalt und Macht, leichtlich eine Fünfte Monarchiam aufrichten möchten’, p. 56.

[21] Paracelsus, Sämtliche Werke, 1. Abteilung, ed. K. Sudhoff. Munich and Berlin 1930, vol. 2, p. 163: ‘das merer ist noch verborgen, bis auf die zeit der künst Helias, so er komen wird.’

[22] Paracelsus, Sämtliche Werke, 1. Abteilung, vol. 3, p. 46. The Paracelsian ‘magnale’ is the intermediary through which man is linked to heaven, see Walter Pagel, Johan Baptista van Helmont: reformer of science and medicine, Cambridge 1982, p. 94, who also discusses the origins of the notion of ‘magnale’.

[23] For Glauber’s Elias Artista see a.o. Pamela H. Smith, ‘Vital spirits, redemption, artisanship and the new philosophy in early modern Europe’ , esp. pp. 119-122, in Rethinking the scientific revolution, ed. Margaret J. Osler, Cambridge (Mass.) 2000. An anonymous chiliastic pamphlet entitled Helias Artista. Das ist: wolgemeyndtliches Urtheil von der newen Brüderschafft dess Ordens vom Rosencreutz genannt, Frankfurt, Johann Hofmann, 1619, identifies Elias Artista with the Rosicrucian Brotherhood: ‘Ich für mein Person, kan nicht anders gedencken, als dass ihr der rechte Helias Artista seyt, dessen Paracelsus gedencket’, p. 11. The anonymous author hoped to be admitted to the Brotherhood.

[24] Friedrich Roth-Scholz, who included the 1724 edition in his Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum (1728) writes in the second edition, Nuremberg, A.J. Felsecker, 1733, vol. 1, p. 654, that his friend A.P. Wörffel translated the work and preceded it with a ‘learned preface’ (his name was not yet included in the first edition). For Elias Artista and the Rosicrucians see Breger, ‘Elias Artista – A precursor of the messiah in natural science’, pp. 58-61 and Matt Goldish, The Sabbatean prophets, Cambridge (Mass.) 2004, pp. 21-23. Kerckring’s alleged Rosicrucian dedication: ‘die … zwar verborgene, aber aus so vielen Schrifften von langer Zeit her überall bekannte und so genannte Gesellschaft der Rosenkreuzer gerichtete Zuschrifft oder Dedication’ (Vorrede, p. 25). The original dedication reads: ‘illustribus. venerabilibus. sanctissimis. et. fortunatissimis. viris. veram. philosophiam. adeptis. virtutis. cultoribus. fortunae. dominis. mundi. contemptoribus. quorum. vita. in. sanctitate. sanctitas. in. scientia. scientia. in. opere. opus. in. aegrorum. et. pauperum. sublevatione. consistit. (Dedicated to the most eminent, laudable, blessed and fortunate men, keepers of true knowledge, cultivators of virtue, lords of fortune, despisers of the world, whose life consists of holiness, whose holiness consists of science, whose science consists of work, whose work consists of aiding and improving the poor and sick). In the Fama fraternitatis, first published in 1614, the Rosicrucian brothers agree ‘First, That none of them should profess any other thing, than to cure the sick, and that gratis.’ Fritz Bamberger believed the dedication was addressed to the circle of van den Enden and Spinoza, see Spinoza and anti-Spinoza literature, Cincinnatti 2003, p. 41.

The circle around Kerckring’s mentor and father-in-law Franciscus van den Enden was also concerned with (social) reform. In Peter Plockhoy’s A way propounded to make the poor in these and other nations happy (London 1659), a plan for an ideal society was put forth in which health care for the poor was gratis, p. 7, an echo of the Rosicrucian injunction. Added to A way propounded was a translation of Johan Valentin Andreae’s Invitatio fraternitatis Christi ad sacri amoris candidatos (1617), see Frank Mertens, Online documents regarding Franciscus van den Enden,

[25] ‘Thus the world has been created. Hence they were wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore I am Hermes the Thrice Great, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.’ Julius Ruska, Tabula smaragdina. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der hermetischen Literatur, Heidelberg 1926, is still the authoritative text edition and study of the Tabula smaragdina.

[26] Although Glauber referred to ‘ancient Egyptian philosophers’ in the title of his De Elia artista, published three years before Kercrking’s Commentary, he does not mention Hermes and the ancient Egyptian philosophy in the text, so that it is not likely that Kerckring is here referring to Glauber’s work. The full title of Glauber’s work reads: De Elia artista oder wass Elias artista für einer sey, und wass er in der Welt reformiren, oder verbesseren werde, wann er kombt? nemblich : die Wahre spagirische Medicin, der alten ägyptischen Philosophen, welche mehr als tausent Jahr verlohren gewest: und er wiederumb herfür ziehen … : und besseren weg … zu gutter Medicin zugelangen, er mit sich bringen, und solchen der jetzigen verirretten Welt zeigen wirdt, Amsterdam, J. van Waesberge, 1668. The Hermetic Asclepius features an ‘apocalyptic’ passage prophesying ‘a reformation of all good things, and a restitution, most holy and most reverent, of nature itself’, Asclepius 26, see Hermetica, ed. Copenhaver, Cambridge 1992, p. 83.

Paracelsus, incidentally, was celebrated by his followers as the ‘Trismegistus Germanus’, see Carlos Gilly, Marsilio Ficino e il ritorno di Ermete Trismegisto|Marsilio Ficino and the return of Hermes Trismegistus, Florence 2001, p. 303.

[27] For the publication history of the Corpus Hermeticum see Frank van Lamoen, Hermes Trismegistus. Pater philosophorum. Tekstgeschiedenis van het Corpus Hermeticum, Amsterdam 1990. For Beyerland see Frank van Lamoen, ‘Mit dem Auge des Geistes: Hintergründe zu den Übersetzungen des Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland’, in Jacob Böhmes Weg in die Welt, ed. Th. Harmsen, Amsterdam 2007, pp. 133-168.