OF THE ALCAHEST OR UNIVERSAL MENSTRUUM
Upon carefully considering what is above delivered, it should seem as if all chemical solutions, except a few which are merely mechanical, are the effect of a latent attraction and repulsion between the parts of solvent and solvent; and consequently, that the whole action depends upon a certain relation between these two. And hence it follows, from the known rules of the art, that there is no one body, either natural or artificial, which can universally dissolve all the rest. And farther, it seems impossible to assign any one physical manner, wherein the solution of all sorts of bodies should be performed indifferently.
But after the elder Helmont publishing his writings, chemists had a notion of a certain secret menstruum, of which Paracelsus was said to be master; and which after this usual manner of coining names, he called the alcahest: and this, if ever known to any man, as Helmont solemnly affirms it was, must be esteemed the most valuable discovery ever yet made in chemistry; or any other art; as being of greater consequence, and more to be desired than the philosopher’s stone; as, by means of this alcahest, the most effectual remedies, and the greatest opulency might easily be procured.
This was the judicious opinion of Mr. Boyle who in vain employed the greatest pains and skills to find it out; but yet, in his judgement, he scarce seems to have believed there ever was such a thing. Many eminent chemists have wrote largely upon this menstruum.,after Helmont as of a thing they knew.
Imposters have made their advantage of it, and tricked those out of their money who were eager to learn the secret; whilst the prudent have remained in doubt, without speaking definitively about it. This has determined me ti give a faithful historical narration of the matter as it stands, so far as I can learn its history from the writings of those who have treated upon the subject; in order at least to discover the sentiments of such among them, who declare they have possessed and used it. But I find , that all the later authors have only copied from Helmontupon the subject. As to what Paracelsus says of the alcahest, no one could have hence thought of such a thing, if Helmont had not intimated that a mystery was concealed under so quaint a term. And as I myself so not possess the secret, all that I can possibly do is only, by a strict examination and exact comparison of these writers, clearly to explain the matter,so far as I could discover it in them; for if they knew such a thing, and designed that a careful reader should find it in their writings, I cannot think of a better way than this for coming at it.
Whoever, therefore, would undertake the task of preparing such a menstruum, should know upon what materials, with what instruments, and in what way to operate, that his labour may not be lost. But here it is of the last consequence to prevent being imposed upon by the tricks of strolling alchemists; who, with their importunate pretenses , and insinuating address, promise they know not what. These vagabond alchemists may be easily detected by anyone who understands the doctrine of Paracelsus and Helmont; which has often been of great assistance to me, when I had such noisy, ignorant pretenders to deal with. Let us therefore examine the matter with care.
The word alcahest is mentioned by no writer, not even among the chemists, before Paracelsus; who, so far as I can find, mentions it only in the following passage, viz. “The Liquor alcahest has a great effect upon the liver, so as to fortify and invigorate it, prevent the dropsy, and all diseases which happen to that part. Its process is, to resolve it, after it is coagulated, and then coagulate into a transmuted form; as its process of coagulating and resolving shows. Then if it conquers its like, it becomes a medicine exceeding all others for the liver: and though the liver were consumed, this liquor serves instead of the whole liver, as well as if that part had not been consumed. Wherefore, all those who practice physic, should know how to prepare the alcahest, in order to cure numerous distempers arising from the liver.” Paracelsus, therefore, has here only used the word twice, and does not use it in any other place; as I have found by carefully examining all his works. Whence no one would have had any farther thoughts upon this subject, if it were not for Helmont’s subsequent interpretation.
The origin also of this new term, coined by Paracelsus, has been enquired into: and, as his manner was to disguise the words he used, by transposing the letters thereof, some have imagined he here practiced the same art; and thus sometimes also, by joining the initial letters of words, such as were unheard of before: so when he means to mention tartar, as a remedy to open the spleen, he calls it sutratar. Again, when he directs saffron, (which on account of its yellow color, being called aroma philosophorum), in diseases of the kidneys, he calls itaroph: and hence some have thought, that alcahest signified the same alkali est, as if its basis were an alkali, saturated with a proper acid. Others have imagined , it was called alcahest from Saltz-geist , or the spirit of salt; as supposing the alcahest the same as the Circulatum, and prepared from sea-salt, coagulated, resolved, and again coagulated into a transmuted form. There are others who suspect it is called alcahest in allusion to algeist, that is, perfect spirit, made by coagulation, resolution and a second coagulation; which agrees with the opinion of Faber, who takes it for a pure mercurial or metallic spirit, so united to its proper body, as thence to become one inseparable and indestructible substance.
But, as we can find no certainty from the etymology, let us pass on to the synonymous words; and try if any light can be gained by comparing them together.
Paracelsus has given us no synonyma that I can find to the alcahest, but Helmont a considerable number: and indeed , we have no assistance in this affair but from Helmont, who professes the alcahest was given him. Helmont, therefore, first calls it simply water, and says, he “ knew a water which he did not think proper to discover, by means whereof all vegetables might be transmuted into a liquor, capable of being distilled without leaving any faeces behind. He declares, he put equal quantities of a certain water and charcoal into a glass, which he hermetically sealed and set to digest in a bath heat” In this passage he calls the menstruum a thicker water; and says that , in the first chapter of the second book of the Maccabees, mention is made of a thick water, which is perpetual fire, and perhaps not unlike this water. In another place, he calls it a dissolving water; and says, the liquor alcahest is an immutable, dissolving water. He comes nearer to the purpose, when he calls it by a compound word, ignis-aqua, fire-water. Where, giving a allegorical account how he came by his knowledge; he pretends he received a phial, in which was the single term ignis-aqua, a perfectly simple, singular, undeniable, immutable, and immortal word. He also calls it a latex, or clear water, reduced to the minutest possible atoms. He frequently calls it a liquor. He asserts that by applying the liquor alcahest of Paracelsus, all bodies may be readily converted into water; and that, by the infernal fire which is the liquor alcahest of Paracelsus, it may be known how much of another luminary a vegetable possess. He also calls it a dissolving liquor. All which seems to intimate that this secret may exist in a most liquid form, like water.
In another place, he uses ignis Gehennae, or infernal fire, as synonymous ; saying expressly, by the infernal fire, which is the liquor of Paracelsus. And again, in another place, native sand resists both art and nature, and can by no means be resolved, except by the artificial infernal fire alone; which artificial fire converts sand to salt. If Helmont therefore follows Paracelsus in the use of this word, we may hence discover what the word alcahestis; because Paracelsus has wrote expressly of this infernal fire. But more of this, when we come to treat the alcahest itself.
Next, Helmont says, it is the highest and most successful of all salts; having obtained the utmost degree of purity and subtlety possible in nature. And hence he seems to call it the ens primum of salts, the sal circulatum, the sal circulatum of Paracelsus. And hence the circulatum majus, the sal circulatum, the sal ciirculatus, and the sal circulatus Paracelsi of which he treats in his book de renovatione & restauratione. Could we therefore here depend upon the sincerity and fidelity of Helmont, we might, from these synonymous words, and the writings of Paracelsus, attempt to discover this wonderful menstruum.
But before we enter upon the work, we must consider the origin of alcahest; and this we are told, is no where to be found spontaneous in nature: because, as Helmont says, nature has it not; and expressly asserts, that a part of earth may be homogeneously reduced to water by art; at the same time strongly denying it can ever be done by nature alone; nature having no agent capable of reducing true earth to salt and water. Nor can it be produce, except by chemistry alone; which alone hath found a clear water, that cannot be transmuted, and is reduced to the minutest particles possible in nature; though not by the vulgar chemistry, but by the labour of knowledge; and this as its ultimate masterpiece,as he expressly declares,repeating the word, “thus at length, thus at length, I say, chemistry prepares an universal solvent as its ultimate effort.” And again, there is not in all chemistry a more difficult process than that of preparing the alcahest.; nor a more operose thing in all chemistry; it being not attainable by reading or meditation; but by plenitude of science doubly confirmed, is a knowledge of this operation to be acquired: whence it is very seldom given to anyone. This liquor, therefore, being of a most tedious preparation, cannot be compassed by the human understanding, though a person is skilled in the art; unless the Most High should, by a special gift, put him in possession of it; as chosen for the purpose by a particular privilege, to enjoy it: God alone being the dispenser of it, for reasons known to the adept.
From the origin of the alcahest, here delivered by the author, it is plain how weakly they err, who fancy they can make it with ease: such pretenders at once betray their ignorance, and falsify their own tumid pretensions. Nor let them think to screen themselves, by pretending there are many alcahests: for Helmont flatly contradicts them, by affirming, that as, in all nature, there is only one fire; so likewise there is but one only liquor which dissolves all solids into their first matter, without suffering any change itself, or diminution of its virtues; as the adepts well know, and attest.
And by means of this doctrine it, that I have, with safety to myself, been able to keep off numerous pretenders of science; sanguine in hopes, and abounding in promises, but often proven deceitful, faithless imposters: for, after asking them a question or two, I soon found, by their answers, how little they understood of the subject they so varnished over with words.
Let us next consider the stupendous effects ascribed to this wonderful secret. And first, as a menstruum, it is said to effect an effectual power in dissolving all the known sensible bodies, of what kind soever; even gold and mercury, upon which no other substance can intimately act. For thus says Helmont: “ Our mechanical art has shown me, that every substance, as stones, flint, sand, gems, marcasite, clay, earth, brick, glass, lime , sulphur etc, may be transmuted into an actual salt, equal in weight to the body which affords it: and I know how to reduce plants, flesh, fish, bones and everything of the like kind into their three pure principles.
But metals on account of the equal commixture of their seed, are very difficultly reduced to salt; so likewise is sand: for sand , or original earth, resists both nature and art; and will not quit its primitive constancy by the power of either: and it is only by means of the artificial, infernal fire, that sands turn to salt, and at length to water. Again the alcahest of Paracelsus transmutes all the natural bodies by subtilizing them. And elsewhere, all bodies are easily reduced to water, by means of Paracelsus liquor alcahest; even such as otherwise cannot be resolved into their three principles: and, by its means, all vegetables, even charcoal made of oak, are changed into a liquor, that leaves no faeces behind, upon distillation: for one and the same liquor alcahest , perfectlly reduces all the tangible bodies of the whole universe, into their original life. And thus it likewise acts upon all poisons. It dissolves all things, except itself, as hot water dissolves snow: even oil, and spirit of wine; cedar wood; all the kinds of elixir proprietatis; the ludus of Paracelsus; mercury; and even gold itself, which cannot otherwise be reduced into its component principles by any solvent whatever; as it is much easier to make gold than to destroy it, according to the unanimous consent of philosophers.
Let us next consider the manner wherein the alkahest exerts its efficacy upon the subjects. Its power, we find is always increased by fire; though only a small degree thereof is required in digesting, distillating or cohobating: for, a coal of oak and the alcahest being put together, in equal quantities, and the containing glass hermetically sealed; the solution was performed in three days time, by digesting in a bath heat. the sal circulatum by bare digestion, wonderfully changes all oil, and spirit of wine. The alcahest being put to an equal weight of cedar wood reduces to chips; and the glass Hermetically sealed; the whole substance of the wood was, with warm digestion, for a week, changed to a milky liquor.
Sometimes, also the business of digestion is performed by a single distillation; for the liquor alkahest being once distilled from the common mercury, leaves it behind, coagulated and reducible to powder; but neither increases nor diminishes its weight: and this it does in a quarter of an hour. But in other cases, cohobation is required before the desired effect can be obtained; for, bodies turned into salt of equal weight respectively , are sometimes to be cohobated with the sal circulatum of Paracelsus, before they deposit all their fixity: especially metals, and principally gold, by reason of the perfectly equable commixture of their seed. But otherwise, a single distillation of the alcahest, from the ludus or cevilla of Paracelsus; being a stone found at the bottom of the Scheld near Antwerp; will in two hours convert the whole stone into salt of the same weight. Nor do i find any other way of applying this universal solvent; nor, that a greater force of fire is required: it may therefore dissolve all bodies by the means of a gentle agitation of its own parts, occasioned by fire; for the alcahest may be distilled with the second degree of heat of a sand furnace and does not rise with the tepid warmth of a bath.
There has been nothing in all nature, hitherto observed or related, more surprising than the physical changes these authors attribute to the action of this menstruum; as it at once changes the whole body of the subject into a different mass, without the least alteration of weight in the operation. the mass after being thus changed, seems always to appear either in a fluid or saline form, though with some differences; for quicksilver by the action of alcahest, becomes a fixed powder , that may be ground, and resists a blast heat and the power of lead upon the test. And almost all other bodies are by it turned into equal weight of salt. Oak charcoal is immediately changed by it, into two transparent liquors , different in color and gravity. Cedar wood is changed into a milky liquor, of the same weight, and afterwards into kinds of oil, which by the bare digestion turned to a pure salt , miscible with water. The ludus of Paracelsus, in two hours time, by a single gentle distillation, is totally converted into a salt of equal weight, which runs per deliquiem in the air and affords a fluid without any faeces. From all which it is plain that this solution, though it differs at the first, yet at length always reduces bodies to the form of a salt, soluble in water, except quicksilver; which on account of its great purity and simplicity, cannot be turned into salt: whence it radically resists all the possible separations of art or nature and therefore, is perfectly indestructible. These bodies, therefore, when turned to an equal quantity of salt by the alcahest, still retain their peculiar virtues depending upon their seminal powers; which consequently are peculiar and incommunicable. This remarkable property is described where he says,” the alcahest of Paracelsus transmutes all the bodies in nature, by subtilizing them: for, when bodies are subtilized as high as possible, they at length change to another substance, but retain their seminal properties: and by means of the universal solvent all things are brought back to their ens primum and retain their native virtues; whence great and unlimited powers may be obtained, and plainer still,; this liquor only can dissolve all solids into their matter, without any diminution or alteration in itself”. Whence he recommends “the knowledge of that homogeneous and immutable menstruum, which dissolves its subjects into their first liquid matter; whereby the internal essences of things and their properties, may be seen.”
By this means, therefore, all these bodies turn to a saline, volatile substance, containing the presiding spirit of each subject, respectively ; which saline matter may be intimately mixed with all the animal fluids, and circulate with them thro’ all the vessels thereof, so as every where in its passage to exert its peculiar virtues upon the body. Whence, such substances have been called potable; and thus, for example, by potable gold, the adepts understood gold reduced to such a saline body ; tho’ they have only boasted themselves possessed thereof, either thro’ vain-glory, or the spirit of delusion. Gold dissolved by acids, is no more than a liquor containing unaltered particles of that metal; but the aurum potabile of the philosophers, is of equal weight with the gold employed, without the admixture of any menstruum, and, only the pure, first matter, or ens primum of the gold itself .
The most extraordinary thing belonging to the alcahest, is its being capable of dissolving bodies, without mixing itself among them; but, remaining perfectly separate from all their particles, without increasing or diminishing the weight of the substance dissolved as plainly appears hence, that oak-coal was, with a bath-heat, dissolved by it into two distinct liquors of different colors and properties, and thus came over by distillation, leaving the solvent liquor behind, of the same weight as at first: for, he found no body, whereto the alcahest would unite, being itself a pure, subtile substance, reduced to the smallest possible particles; and, therefore incapable of all fermentation and admixture ; so that it produces its effect by a bare external action, and not concreting with the body it changes: as, the purest fire acts upon its objects, or, as hot water dissolves ice. For this liquor leaves no part of itself mix’d with the body dissolved.
Hence, the alcahest appears to have two extraordinary properties, with respect to all other menstruums; viz.(1) That it does not act by attraction, or repulsion, but entirely by a certain mechanical force; contrary to all other of the known menstruums, unless perhaps, we except fire. (2.) That it constantly preserves all the native virtues of the bodies it dissolves; and yet, when it resolves poisons it deprives them of their virulence, or noxious quality, and endows them with the highest medicinal virtues, by reducing them into their first matter; which is extremely difficult to understand.
When the alcahest has thus reduced all bodies into their saline and volatile ens primum so as to retain their respective native virtues ; if the subjects be farther urged, by the action of the same solvent, they lose their saline nature, and all their proper seminal virtue : whence, all these different subjects are reduced to the same indolent, scentless, insipid, simple, elementary water: so that, by applying this solvent too long, the former excellent productions are destroyed. From hence, at the same time, it appears that water must thus be the ultimate manner of all tangible bodies; the alcahest itself being unable to act any farther upon this water : which, however, being again impregnated with what seed soever, may thus pass into any new kind of body.
The author expresses himself thus : ‘ All bodies, we see, are transmutable into an actual salt, equal in weight to the original subject ; which salt being several times cohobated with the sal circulatum of Paracelsus, loses all its fixedness, and transmutes into a liquor, which at length becomes insipid water, equi-ponderant to the salt that afforded it. Native sand turns to salt and at length to water, by means of the artificial, infernal fire, and by no other. I know a water, by means whereof all vegetables are changed into a distillable liquor, without leaving any faeces at the bottom of the glass and this distilled liquor is totally reduced, with alkalies, into insipid, elementary water. Oak-coal converted into two liquors by the alcahest, rises by distillation, with the admixture of a little chalk, nearly of its original weight; and has all the properties of rain water: and, thus all things become so volatile, as to rise with a bath heat; leaving the alcahest behind at the bottom.
It appears extremely strange, that this menstruum, which has such wonderful effects upon all sorts of bodies, should never be in the least diminished, altered, or impaired by them : in which respect, it truly resembles fire ; whereto it may, therefore, justly be compared. Thus the author clearly says, that, it acts upon all sublunary bodies, without being acted upon . And when it had so wonderfully dissolved the oak-coal, it remained at the bottom, still of the same weight and virtue. Accordingly, no transmutation of the alcahest is to be expected ; because there is no other body it can join or ferment with : whence, it never dies. With its utmost action, therefore, it reduces all tangible bodies into a middle life; without suffering any change, or diminution of its virtues. It is, therefore, immutable and immortal. It is the only substance not altered by action. It acts, therefore, without suffering reaction, or being itself weakened. For,it is an homogeneous, and immutable dissolvent. And remains numerically the same in weight and virtue ; as well after being a thousand times employed, as after being but once used.
It is farther to be observed of this menstruum, that it has a wonderful degree of fixedness, or volatility, in the fire : for, after it has rendered all bodies, even those of the most fixed kind, so volatile as that they may be distilled over with a bath-heat; yet itself does not rise with them, but remains fixed at the bottom. At the same time, the alcahest is so volatile, as with the second degree of heat in a sand furnace, to rise by distillation, along with the bodies it had dissolved. Whence, it may be drawn off from common mercury, thus fixed, and coagulated. And from hence, we have the exact limitation of the small degree of heat, wherein the full power of the alcahest is exerted upon all the bodies in nature.
We must farther observe, that tho’ the alcahest be inseparable by all other bodies, and ought never to be impaired; yet there is one substance in nature, wherewith it may unite. This plainly appears from considering the following passage of the author . ‘ Chemistry is anxious to find a body of so great purity, as not to be dissipated or corrupted ; and at length the art was astonished upon discovering an aqueous liquor, which being reduced to the minutest atoms possible in nature, would not unite with any ferment; whence, its transmutation was despaired of, as not finding a body more noble than itself, wherewith to join : but, the labour of philosophy made an anomalous thing in nature, which without mixing with any ferment, rose different from itself. This serpent biting itself, recovered from the poison; and was, thence, immortal.’
Whence, we see, that here was a certain conjunction of two things, however different they might be. This appears more plainly, and distinctly where he says, that one and the same liquor alcahest, perfectly reduces all the tangible bodies of the universe, into their first life, without suffering any change itself, or loss of virtue ; being only subdued and changed by its equal. In another place he comes nearer to the point, where he says, that, mercury, freed from its original sulphur cleaving to its innermost part, is immutable in the fire, and immediately consumes all other seeds, except its equal,
Thus, I have given a faithful account of the alcahest, upon the credit of Helmont ; and do not remember, that I have any where else read of such a thing , which is not spoke of by the ancient philosophers, physicians, or other chemists, tho’ it be the most desirable particular in all physics. It will, therefore, be expected I should say somewhat of the matter it is to be made from. And, I must own that I have tried an incredible variety of experiments to this purpose; and have sometimes repented of and detested the labour.
Paracelsus had a liquor procured, by a most tedious process of circulation, from sea-salt, wherein nature has placed the utmost perfection. This salt, he, by incredible industry, reduced to a perpetual oil, and calls it the Ens primum of salts : the oil of salt, the liquor of salt, the water of salt, the Iesser circulatum, and the less circulatum . The preparation of the sal circulatumum is troublesome, tho’ clearly described excepting that one cannot say what kind of spirit of wine is here directed, to separate the impure from the pure. This preparation perfectly corresponds with what Helmont says; viz. that ‘the salts of bodies, several times cohobated with the sal circulatum of Paracelsus, turn to water.’ And, hence, he ascribes the virtues of the alcahest to the Ens primum of salts. He farther declares that all poisons are destroyed by the sal circulatum . Hence, he calls it the highest and most successful of all salts; which being brought to the utmost degree of purity, and subtlety, pervades all bodies, and readily dissolves them itself remaining unchanged in the action . This sal circulatum has a wonderful effect upon oil and spirit of wine; and reduces bodies into the liquor whereof they were concreted. He also says, that the Iudus may be prepared with it .
But, Paracelsus had another solvent, much more powerful, and much more difficult to be obtained, than the circulatum minus whence he has called it the circulatum majus . He appositely terms it the matter of mercurial salt : and thence, likewise calls it the living fire.
Now, he acknowledges that the highest fire, and celestial life, lie hid in common mercury: and says, the quintessence of mercury is celestial fire, if dissolved with its parent, or the secret of salt. When, therefore, these two are intimately combined by a true union, and brought to a high degree of purity, subtlety, and volatility, they seem to make that wonderful mercurial water, which he describes in his chapter of the specific solvent; where, he says, ‘ that gold dies therein, so as no longer to remain gold: whereas, in other solutions of that metal, it is only minutely divided, and still remains true gold; being always easily recoverable, in its pristine form, upon reduction.’By this means, therefore, there is a perfect union made of water with water: for, here are two kinds of water employed; viz. the common water contained in the salt, and the metallic water contained in the mercury, tho’ they both are supposed to have the same origin.
All this seems to have been understood in our sense by Helmont; as appears by the following passage.’ The internal mercury of metals, purified from all its metallic sulphur, remains every way indissolubly united; so as radically to suffer no division, either by nature or art. Nor, should I ever have learnt the nature of water, had it not been for the correction of Mercury’s wand; whereby I find the nature of mercury adequate to that of water: for mercury contains no earth; but is constantly produced by water.’Again,’ if I had not, with all the ancient alchemists, seen that quick silver eluded all the skill of artists; so as either totally to evaporate in the fire, or totally to resist the utmost violence thereof; and in both cases, remain unchanged,or identically the same primitive, homogeneous substance, I should say that the art was false which, on the contrary, I find to be true: so that, what is above, resembles what is below; and, vice versa. And, hence, it is perfectly impossible, either by art or nature, to find a diversity of parts in the homogeneous substance of mercury; even the alcahest itself cannot do it: for mercury is more simple than gold, and more identically, and more equably composed: whence, mercury is nearly as indestructible as the elements themselves; so that all sublunary things are too weak to subdue, penetrate, change, or contaminate pure mercury ; which remains untouched in the air, in fire, and in corrosive liquors : for it is not touched, much less penetrated by any dissolvent ; and, therefore, there is nothing in nature, like to this pure mercury, by many degrees.
It is hence like, and nearly approaches to the Ens primum of metals. And exists actually simple, and not as a constituent part of bodies. And for all these reasons, we know that it only can be subdued and changed by its equal alone. Because this anomalous production in nature, rises without any different ferment mixing with it; but biting itself, it recovers from the poison, and afterwards proves immortal.
And, this is all the history I can give of the alcahest of Paracelsus, and Helmont faithfully extracted from their own writings: whence, it is easy to see, that this menstruum is not to be sought for in human urine, or any productions thereof; nor, in tartar, or any of its preparations : though a substitute may hence be had for the principal. Nor can phosphorus be ever employed for this purpose; as being repugnant to the properties above laid down.
Glauber was mistaken, when he thought the alcahest in the fixed alkali of nitre : and, Zwelfer, when he sought it in the strong spirit of vinegar, distilled from verdigrease. Rolsinkius had no just notion of the thing, when he supposed it to consist of the fixed alkali of tartar for its basis, joined to an acid of the mineral, vegetable, or animal tribe : for, salt of tartar with the vinegar of antimony, makes only the tartar of vitriol ; with vinegar, from wine, a tartarus tartarisatus ; and, with acid whey, only a better sort of the same : nor does the addition of sal-ammoniac much alter the matter. But, no one seems to have better understood the meaning of Paracelsus and Helmont in describing the alcahest, than Petrus Johannes Faber, in his manuscript upon alchemy, sent to the duke of Holsace, and published in the German Ephemerides; where there is a remarkable confirmation of my opinion, to the following purpose. The liquor alcahest is a pure mercurial, metallic spirit, so closely connected to its own natural body, that these two become one inseparable, indestructible substance, destroying all things, and turning them into their first matter. It is a true philosophical mercury, chosen from the mineral kingdom, and joined with its own pure body; whereby it becomes an inseparable, milky, butyraceous liquor ; which penetrates and dissolves all things: it is of two kinds, simple, and compound , the simple is made of a pure metallic acid, and a pure metallic salt, rendered volatile with its own spirit. It is very difficult to prepare: but the compound sort is, still, much more difficult; being made of a mineral acid, and the pure saline matter of animals and vegetables. The liquor alcahest, or the pure, philosophical mercury, is an incorruptible, and unalterable fire of nature, that reduces all things into their first matter. The industrious Becker is nearly of the same opinion, where, in his book de Subterraneis he says, he discovered in sea-salt, a certain arsenical, and mercurifying power; which, when separated pure, would be the alcahest ; tho’ a very different thing from the philosophical mercury : and, hence, he takes mercury, for a sulphureous metallic substance, which of itself would be solid ; but that, it receives all its fluidity from the arsenical sulphur of common salt. This is a subtile insinuation, and I wish that he had given it fuller. His argument runs thus: the purest quicksilver being dissolved in spirit of nitre, and precipitated with spirit of sea-salt, becomes volatile, and disposed to part with its mercury easily ; consequently, sea-salt may convert the purest metals from their own fixed nature, into true mercury.
It may here be expected I should declare my sentiments, whether any chemist was ever in possession of the alcahest. I answer frankly, that Helmont complains the phial of it, once given to him, was taken from him; whence, it is certain, he could not have made many experiments with that liquor: and as for Paracelsus, he does not deliver so many, and such remarkable particulars of his own solvents ; so that, I know not what to say upon the whole matter. Thus much I can truly say, that if any one will treat sea-salt, and mercury, in every chemical way (which I would advise to be done), he will have no cause to repent of his labour.