A brief history of alchemy; or, My Alchemical Romance

First performed in 1610 by the King’s Men, the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is a satire centred around three con artists who use subterfuge, guile and wit to relieve targets of their belongings. Jonson makes no attempt to conceal his low opinion of alchemy and its practitioners, with the titular alchemist an obvious fraud and this makes it a useful springboard into thinking about alchemy in its historical context. The Templeman Special Collections and Archives holds a copy of Jonson’s First Folio from 1616 in its pre-1700 collection which contains the play and so in order to demonstrate how the Maddison collection could be useful for study and research beyond the history of science, we are going to use The Alchemist as a framing device for this week’s blog post.

Title page from 'The Alchemist' by Ben Jonson in Jonson's First Folio of 1616.

Jo says we are not allowed to have favourites because it makes the other books sad. The Jonson Folio (Q C 616 Jon) is Philip’s favourite. Don’t tell Jo. Or the other books.

‘Alchemy is a pretty kind of game, / Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man / With charming.’ (2.3.180-182, The Alchemist)

To the uninitiated, alchemy can seem a vague art form that seems to cover a range of random topics. Whilst researching for this post we read about people trying to turn base metals into gold or silver, about some trying to create a source of eternal life and others searching for ways to raise the dead. Alchemy has spanned a large number of fields in its history from supernatural and spiritualism to medicine and early chemistry but what many fail to realise is that alchemy was in fact an early science intent on answering many of the same questions we strive to answer today. It was only in the 1700s that a strong distinction between ‘alchemy’ and ‘chemistry’ was established; prior to this time that the study of both subjects was much more fluid.

A pictorial diagram of the four base elements in a cross. Each element is represented by a creature. Clockwise from top: fire (ignis) is an angel; earth (terra) by a bear; water (aqua) by a dragon-looking creature; air (aer) is a long-necked bird.

The dragon-demon-sea monster thing is our spirit animal.

 

Alchemy has a long history, dating back to  antiquity and it is possible to track its early modern evolution through the Maddison Collection in the form of dedicated volumes, notes and annotations, and handwritten recipes.The roots of Western alchemy are founded in the classical idea of the basic elements – fire, water, wind and earth – and it is primarily this Eurocentric alchemy which is covered in the Maddison Collection. Variant forms of alchemy have been practiced across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, China, and India. It is the various cultural and religious influences which make each strain of alchemy unique.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

These aforementioned roots of alchemy are derived from the classical world and continued to evolve through the ages in Western Society by adopting and discarding knowledge from various influences. However, the core of alchemy always reflected its origins through its continued use of classical mythology as a communicative device. In multiple volumes within the collection the reader is able to see various illustrations utilised to express a concept or recipe in relation to alchemy, but to those unversed in identifying these alchemical signs these illustrations appear to be merely depictions of ancient myths and folklore.

Colour illustration of a peacock in the vase of Hermes

This peacock is serving all kinds of fabulous perfection.

‘Nature doth first beget the imperfect, then/ Proceeds she to the perfect.’ (2.3.158-9, The Alchemist)

There were alchemists working across Europe through the medieval period into the early modern. The collection’s earliest works on alchemy come from Agrippa, a German polymath, legal scholar, physician and theologian,who was an important alchemist in the early sixteenth century. He is an interesting man to study, as during his career he turned away from the occult and focused much more his theological work, rejecting magic in his later life.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.

 

Paracelsus is another influential figure in alchemical circles, also well represented. A respected physician, alchemist and astrologer during the German renaissance, Paracelsus is known as the father of toxicology, as well as being one of the first medical professors to use chemical and minerals in medicine. John Dee, Robert Boyle and Elias Ashmole were also important names in the history of alchemy and all of these alchemists have works related to them within the Maddison collection.

 

Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.

Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.

 

It is unsurprising that Boyle engaged in alchemy alongside his more conventional scientific research. Many regarded alchemists as great experimentalists, who engaged in complicated experiments, which they then documented and amended. Cleopatra the Alchemist was a Greek Egyptian alchemist from the 3rd century whom focused on practical alchemy and is considered to be the inventor of the Alembic, an early tool for analytical chemistry. She along with other alchemists such as Mary the Jewess focused on a school of alchemy which utilised complex apparatus for distillation and sublimation, important techniques still in use in the chemistry lab today. Cleopatra the Alchemist’s biggest claim to fame is as one of only four female alchemists who were supposedly able to produce the Philosopher’s Stone.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

‘I am the lord of the philosopher’s stone.’ (4.1.156, The Alchemist)

Twenty-first century readers may be more aware of alchemy than they realise. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone placed alchemy front and centre in contemporary culture. Other references in popular culture include manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist and fantasy video games, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, amongst countless more. F. Sherwood Taylor points out the misconception of alchemists as ‘magicians or wizards’ that is common to these modern representations, writing that ‘as far as we know the alchemists sought to accomplish their work by discovering and utilizing the laws of nature […] never […] by “magical processes”’ (p.1, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry, F. Sherwood Taylor). The Philosopher’s Stone was one of the primary goals of alchemy. Supposedly the catalyst needed to turn base metals such as mercury, tin or iron into the noble metals, gold and silver, it was also theorised to cure illnesses and extend lifespan. Alchemists disagreed on just about every aspect of the stone; from what it symbolised to how it was created. What all alchemists did agree upon was that the Philosopher’s Stone was a tangible possibility and someone had managed to make and use it in the past. During our research we discovered a series of images related to transmutation that may be related to the Philosopher’s Stone. You can see those, with added captions, as part of the Adventures series here

Image of A New Light of Alchymie book

J K Rowling’s Half Blood Prince anyone?

‘If all you boast of your great art be true; / Sure, willing poverty lives most in you.’

(1-2, Epigrams VI, “To Alchemists”, Jonson)

The fortunes of alchemy and its practitioners waxed and waned through the centuries. Renaissance alchemist and thinker, John Dee is a prime example. A key adviser to Elizabeth I, after James I succeeded the throne Dee was accused of being a ‘Conjurer, or Caller, or Invocator of Divels, or damned Spirites’ and died impoverished.

John Dee books in the Maddison Collection

Maddison Collection and it’s not Boyle! What a shock!

Most other alchemists did not suffer quite so dramatic a reversal of fortunes, but the legality of alchemy was dubious and throughout history it was often concealed in coded language or symbolic imagery. Renaissance legal scholar, Sir Edward Coke, wrote on its illegal status in The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1644), citing the 1404 Act Against Multiplication, which forbade ‘multiplication […] That is, to change other metals into very Gold or Silver’ (Institutes, p.74). Robert Boyle campaigned to overturn this law and it was repealed in 1689.

As the eighteenth century wore on and the scientific method took hold, alchemy became increasingly discredited and chemists, wanting to distance themselves from alchemists, succeeded in separating the disciplines.The decline of alchemy in Europe was in conjunction with the rise of modern science, which placed a high significance on quantitative experimentation and which regarded the “ancient wisdom” so highly prized in alchemy as redundant and useless.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Did alchemy work? Mostly not, but it was the forerunner to modern chemistry. Advancements in technology have now made some alchemical feats possible. For instance, it is now possible to turn lead into gold. It takes a chemist who knows what he is doing and a lot of time, energy and money, but changing lead to gold has been done. The method of doing so is nothing like what is recommended in the various alchemy books within the collection but the once scoffed at dream is now a possibility.

The Alchemist may treat its subject matter as a joke and its practitioners as charlatans but the tangible contribution of alchemy to scientific knowledge should not be undersold. As  Sherwood Taylor notes, ‘the hopeless pursuit of the practical transmutation of metals was responsible for almost the whole of the development of chemical technique before the middle of the seventeenth century, and further led to the discovery of many important materials.’ (x, F. Sherwood Taylor) They may not have attained everlasting life or succeeded in transmuting lead to gold, but the alchemists did pave the way for their successors to develop modern scientific theory.

Tune in for the next blog post where we will be investigating the man behind the Maddison collection, R. E. W. Maddison!

 

Further reading

On Alchemy

John Read, Prelude to Chemistry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1939) [Maddison 23B1]

J. S. Thompson, The Lure and Romance of Alchemy (London: George G. Harrap & Company Ltd., 1932) [Maddison 24A14]

Sherwood Taylor,The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1951) [Maddison 24A7]

Arthur Edward Waite, The Secret Tradition of Alchemy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1926) [Maddison 24B20]

On John Dee

Charlotte Fell Smith, John Dee (1527-1608) (London: Constable, 1909) [Maddison 13C8]

Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) [Maddison 13C7]

Past exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, 2016: ‘Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee’

On The Alchemist

Ben Jonson, The workes of Beniamin Jonson (London: W. Stansby, 1616) [Q C 616.JON]

Previously in Philip and Janee’s blog posts:

The honourable Robert Boyle; or, reaching Boyle-ing point? 

Introduction; or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison Collection?

The Honourable Robert Boyle; or, Reaching Boyle-ing Point

Hello again! Welcome to the second post in the series of our foray into the Maddison Collection. This past week has seen temperatures skyrocket but we have been staying cool in the basement of the Templeman Library, researching and caring for the treasures of the collection. Read on as we turn up the heat on this week’s topic, The Honourable Robert Boyle F.R.S.

For the record, all puns are the fault of Philip and Jo. Janee relinquishes all responsibility for them.

For the record, all puns are the fault of Philip and Jo. Janee relinquishes all responsibility for them.

One of the first things we noticed when we began working on the Maddison Collection was the sheer volume of texts on Robert Boyle. He is perhaps the collection’s best represented topic. By the time we got to the fourth shelf, of the first bay we were working on, we discovered why Maddison had collected such an immense number of books focusing on Boyle: he had written his own book on the topic, one of the first full biographies on Robert Boyle! A little more research unveiled that Maddison had in fact also written around twenty articles on Boyle, as well as a second book on the subject and had been gathering material for over twenty-five years (Maddison, The life of the Honourable Robert Boyle, viii).

There are plenty of copies. Bring your friends.

There are plenty of copies. Bring your friends.

Boyle is often considered to be the ‘Father of Chemistry’ and is most well-known for the scientific principle named after him. Boyle’s Law states that the pressure of a given quantity of gas varies inversely with its volume at constant temperature. To this day we are taught about Boyle’s Law in science classes, and so it was a surprise to find that between the mid eighteenth- and early twentieth-century there was very little academic scholarship conducted on Boyle. As Maddison notes in the Preface to his book, Thomas Birch’s volumes on Boyle, written in the eighteenth century, have ‘served as the basis of all subsequent accounts of Robert Boyle, wherever they have been published, right down to the present day’ (Maddison, viii).

We should not make too many Boyle jokes, it might get too steamy.

We should not make too many Boyle jokes, it might get too steamy.

It was only after the Second World War that there was a major shift in Boyle scholarship. One such scholar, Marie Boas was particularly well known for her research during this time period, publishing two books and a series of articles about Boyle. Boas’ work provides a detailed analysis of Boyle’s aims and achievements and both of her books can be found within the Maddison collection.

A watched pot never Boyle-s.

A watched pot never Boyle-s.

While Boas focused on Boyle’s academic achievements, Maddison had an all-encompassing interest in Boyle. Within Maddison’s biography he dedicates sections to discussing Boyle’s appearance, life and family, alongside his published writings and contributions to the scientific community. When looking through the collection it becomes clear that Maddison was able to discuss these things in depth due to his extensive research. Amongst books authored by Boyle and covering his interests, there are boxes of letter facsimiles copied from the Royal Society’s collection, an extensive, handmade Boyle family tree, and even a book that may have come from Boyle’s personal library.

Factoid: Maddison made his own miniature sundials and barometers.

Factoid: Maddison made his own miniature sundials and barometers.

The originals can be found largely in the Boyle Papers held by the Royal Society.

The originals can be found largely in the Boyle Papers held by the Royal Society.

It seems pertinent at this point to provide some brief biographical information about Boyle. More can of course be found in R. E. W. Maddison’s The Life of the honourable Robert Boyle.

Here’s your Boy-le.

Here’s your Boy-le.

Robert Boyle was born in Ireland on January 25th 1627 to one of the wealthiest families in Britain and died on December 31st 1691 in London, England. He never married, nor had any children, but he did have a number of siblings.

This was really hard to roll up again.

This was really hard to roll up again.

Of particular importance was his older sister, Katherine Jones, Viscountess of Ranelagh, with whom he lived from 1668 until her death in 1691.  Lady Ranelagh is fascinating, as her interests were similar to Boyle’s. In fact, she is thought to have encouraged him to work on questions of ethics and they would consult each other on chemistry and alchemical problems.

Lady Katherine Jones née Boyle, Viscountess of Ranelagh

Lady Katherine Jones née Boyle, Viscountess of Ranelagh.

Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society, although he never served as its president. The Maddison collection contains many books on the Society’s history and a significant number of holdings of ‘The Notes and Records of the Royal Society’.

The Maddison Collection a.k.a The Notes and Records of the Boyle Society.

The Maddison Collection a.k.a The Notes and Records of the Boyle Society.

Boyle’s interests were far-reaching and varied. Whilst he is best known as a natural philosopher (mainly in chemistry), he diversified and covered hydrostatics, physics, medicine, earth science, natural history, Christian devotional and ethical essays, theological tracts on biblical passages and alchemy. He sponsored religious missions and the translation of the Scriptures into several languages. His most notable works include Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660), The Sceptical Chymist (1661), New Experiments Physico-Mechanical (1682) and The Christian Virtuosos (1690). This vast array of pursuits is marvellously reflected within the Maddison Collection.

RIP Robert Boyle, you will be mist.

RIP Robert Boyle, you will be mist.

Within the collection there are copies of Boyle’s most famous works, as listed above, as well as complete volumes containing some of his lesser known texts. Maddison collected books covering religious philosophy, chemistry and natural sciences, medicine, as well as alchemy and witchcraft, amongst other things. Maddison himself held a BSc in chemistry and a PhD in photochemistry and electrochemistry, but his collection shows that he, like Boyle, was capable of straddling the boundaries between disciplines. This variety results in the Maddison Collection being able to connect with subject matters beyond that of History of Science.

I guess you could say Maddison was a real fan Boy-le.

I guess you could say Maddison was a real fan Boy-le.

As a brief example, Boyle’s interest in medicine may be of interest to those studying the history of medicine or medical students joining Kent’s forthcoming medical school and wishing to know more about their predecessors. Maddison writes of Boyle’s ‘sickly constitution’ (Maddison, 219) and suggests that this prompted ‘[h]is interest in medico-chemistry [which] was further stimulated by the desire to alleviate pain and suffering of others, with the result that he was an ardent collector of recipes and seeker of new or improved remedies.’ (221)

We’re deffo going to try these.

We’re deffo going to try these.

There are ample books which could be of use to those studying early modern philosophy, history, medicine and herbalism. Others can be studied to learn more about the geography of the time, as well as the obvious link to early Chemistry and Physics. There is a strong collection of books written before 1700 within Maddison’s collection and a surprisingly large volume of books that would be of interest to religious studies scholars.

While we don’t have the time to explore all of these niches with the collection, we are able to focus on some of our personal favourites and so following in the footsteps of Maddison and Boyle, next week we will be exploring the world of alchemy. Stay tuned to learn about making your own personal philosopher’s stone!

Further Reading

Thomas Birch (1744), The life of the Honourable Robert Boyle (A. Millar), Maddison Collection (1C30)

Marie Boas (1958), Robert Boyle & Seventeenth Century Chemistry (Cambridge University Press), Maddison Collection (1C32)

Marie Boas (1962), The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 (Collins), Maddison Collection (19A31)

Robert Boyle (1680), The Sceptical Chymist (Henry Hall) Maddison Collection (1C1)

Mr. D*** (1688), Traittez des Barometres, Thermometres, et Notiometres ou Hygrometres (Henry Wetstein), Maddison Collection (2A5)

R. E. W. Maddison (1969), The Life of the Honourable Robert Boyle F.R.S (Taylor & Francis Ltd.), Maddison Collection (1D15)

Previously in Janee and Philip’s blog posts:

Introduction: or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison Collection?

Adventures of our 2018 interns part two

Welcome back to our series of blog posts summarising some of the more eye-catching, fascinating and curious items found in our Maddison Collection, which is being carefully looked-after and researched this summer by our fantastic interns Philip and Janee.

Today, let’s take a look at one of the older items in the Maddison Collection: 1D1, which is a series of small astrological books bound together:

Starry fish in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Starry fish in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Lunar charts in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Lunar charts in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

More hand-painted lunar charts in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

More hand-painted lunar charts in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Drawing of a heliocentric universe in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Drawing of a heliocentric universe in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Illustrations of Roman gods in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Illustrations of Roman gods in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Even more hand-painted lunar charts in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Even more hand-painted lunar charts in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Manuscript annotations in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Manuscript annotations in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

A dog on a ship in 'Nouicijs adolescetib': ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib' by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

A dog on a ship in ‘Nouicijs adolescetib’: ad astronomica remp: capessenda aditu impenetratib’ by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482, Venice (Maddison Collection, 1D1)

Like what you see here? Books from the Maddison Collection can be requested through LibrarySearch (for internal University of Kent members only) or by contacting us (for everyone).

This blog post is part two of an ongoing summer series exploring our Maddison Collection; more in depth posts will be coming soon. For part one, please see here!

Adventures of our 2018 interns part four

Welcome again to our series of posts exploring the Maddison Collection, brought to you by our summer interns Philip and Janee!

Today, we’re going to take a look at a particularly curious story about the philosopher’s stone… (No, not the Harry Potter one.) (But inspiration has to come from somewhere, right?!…)

Our edition of this book is in Latin, so our rough translations of this come from the Archive.org version of the text in English, which is held in California. The text describes how to make base metals, but there’s a particularly curious story about how to extract elements…:

Step one: The King sits on his throne ignoring requests from his sons and servants to share power.  From ' Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step one: The King sits on his throne ignoring requests from his sons and servants to share power.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step two: the son, incited by the servants, kills the King. Step three: the son catches the King's blood on his robes. From ' Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step two: the son, incited by the servants, kills the King.
Step three: the son catches the King’s blood on his robes.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step four: dig a grave in the furnace room. Step five: the son throws his father, the King, into the grave - but oh no! He falls in too!  From ' Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step four: dig a grave in the furnace room.
Step five: the son throws his father, the King, into the grave – but oh no! He falls in too!
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step six: the son tries to escape but is prevented from doing so. Step seven: the son and King's ashes putrefy. From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step six: the son tries to escape but is prevented from doing so.
Step seven: the son and King’s ashes putrefy.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step eight: The putrified ashes are inspected.  Step nine: the bones are taken from the tomb. From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step eight: The putrified ashes are inspected.
Step nine: the bones are taken from the tomb.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step ten: [Complex instructions for turning  bones into purified water, involving subjecting some to heat until they turn black and repeating this until water is acquired]  From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step ten: [Complex instructions for turning bones into purified water, involving subjecting some to heat until they turn black and repeating this until water is acquired]
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step eleven: an angel is sent, and the servants pray for the return of their King.  Step twelve: a second angel places the bones on the earth until they are all thickened. From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step eleven: an angel is sent, and the servants pray for the return of their King.
Step twelve: a second angel places the bones on the earth until they are all thickened.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step thirteen: the  King rises from his tomb! From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step thirteen: the King rises from his tomb!
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step fourteen: the newly humbled King decides to share his power with his sons and servants. The end.  From 'Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide' by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Step fourteen: the newly humbled King decides to share his power with his sons and servants. The end.
From ‘Pretiosa margarita : novella de thesauro, ac pretiosissimo philosophorum lapide’ by Giano Lacinio, 1546, Venice. (Maddison Collection 2B7, F10528400)

Like what you see here? Books from the Maddison Collection can be requested through LibrarySearch (for internal University of Kent members only) or by contacting us (for everyone).

This blog post is part three of an ongoing summer series exploring our Maddison Collection; more in depth posts will be coming soon. See here for part one, here for part two and here for part three!

Introduction: or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison collection?

A big hello and welcome from Philip and Janée to the first in our series of blog posts. We are the interns working in the University of Kent’s Special Collections and Archives and are spending this scorching summer holed up in the cool, dark basement underneath the main library, poring over the books within the Maddison collection. This collection is one in need of a little love and we are privileged to be able to work with it thanks to the support of the Work Study programme at the University of Kent. This is a scheme championed by the University’s Development Office to provide opportunities for students to gain work experience alongside their studies.

Who are we?

Selfie of interns with rare books in background

We prefer the job title ‘book gremlins’

I am Philip, a recent graduate in English Literature from the University of Kent. My research interests are early modern literature and drama, eco-criticism and queer theory and somewhat surprisingly, I have been able to use the Maddison collection to indulge all three.

My name is Janee and I am a second year undergraduate at the University of Kent. Whilst I am currently studying Asian Studies and Classical and Archaeological Studies, I have a previous academic background in Biology and Chemistry. My research interests are diverse and still developing, so watch this space for future developments!

What is the Maddison collection?

Anatomical drawing of man

Mysteries of man and Maddison (4A10)

Consisting of books and documents gathered through a lifetime of study, the Maddison collection focuses on the history of science and was deposited in the library by Dr Robert E. W. Maddison, with more content following after his death in 1993. The collection includes rare printings of early modern and enlightenment texts, with scientists Joseph Priestley and Robert Boyle, (on whom Maddison wrote an authoritative biography which can be found in the collection) being particularly well represented.

Title page of Maddison's biography of Robert Boyle

Here’s your boy Robert Boyle!

What are we doing and why are we doing it?

Illustration of curiosity shop from Museum Wormarium

The Maddison collection: Like an attic, but more organised

We are entering this internship with two overarching, but linked, goals. The first is the more straightforward of the two; undertaking collections care work to aid in the maintenance and welfare of the collection. Our second goal is to make the collection more accessible. Over the past week and a half both of us have fallen in love with this collection and we are keen to see it put to further use. As we sort through the materials, we will be looking to make connections between this collection and others in the library’s care in order to expand the possible uses for it. There are a plethora of documents and books that could be useful for dissertations, academic articles and essays. We hope that our work to make these connections and improve public awareness will be useful to future scholars of all levels and will develop potential links and ideas for teaching across a broad range of subjects at the university. Our work will culminate in a pop-up display to be shown in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room at the end of August.

Marmalade recipe

We are 100% making this. Will report back.

What are the challenges of this work?

The care of these books is a challenge, but a fun one. The state that the books are in varies wildly. Whilst some are in excellent condition, others require a little more attention and careful handling such as the texts from sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This challenge, however, pales in comparison to the linguistic difficulties we have encountered on a daily basis.

Title page from 'Emblemata Nova'

98% sure this is Latin, aka Philip wishes he could read this

Many of the books in the collection are not in English which presents a major stumbling block for us in its exploration. Besides English, Latin is the most common language found within the collection, but French is also very well represented, as is German. While both of us are able to read the French texts to a high enough standard to understand their subject matter, neither of us feels confident enough to offer anything more than a brief summary as to the content of these texts. The less said about our Latin and German skills, the better. Philip’s most common refrain is “I really need to learn Latin.” As a result of this, making this collection accessible to a wider audience is proved more complex than we originally thought. Our lack of ability to read some of the texts means that we cannot write about them with authority in these blog posts, nor can we make strong links that could be beneficial with the wider content of the special collections. This language barrier could also impede those visiting the archives, unless they are confident enough in the aforementioned languages. As one of our main goals is to promote the public outreach of this collection we are struggling to find a way to overcome this obstacle as many may find these books to be limited in their usefulness at this time.

Stay tuned for more

Row of books in the Maddison collection

5 of too many

You can find more of the treasures we unearth in the Adventures of our 2018 interns blog series posted by Senior Library Assistant Joanna every Friday. Also each week we will be taking a deep dive into a topic related to the Maddison collection, starting next week with Robert Boyle. As the summer goes on, we hope to introduce more and more of this collection to you, so stay tuned for more updates!