Helvetius, John Friedrich (1625–1709)
A physician of the Hague, Holland, who in 1667 published
a work concerning a strange adventure in which he claims to
have taken part in a veritable act of metallic transmutation by
alchemy. The book was translated into English and published
in London in 1670 under the title The Golden Cult Which the
World Adores and Desires In Which is Handled the Most Rare and
Incomparable Wonder of Nature, in Transmuting Metals. It is one
of the few exact descriptions of such an experiment.
‘‘On the 27th December, 1666, in the afternoon, a stranger,
in a plain, rustic dress, came to my house at the Hague. His
manner of address was honest, grave authoritative; his stature
was low, with a long face and hair black, his chin smooth. He
seemed like a native of the north of Scotland, and I guessed he
was about 44 years old. After saluting me he requested me most
respectfully to pardon his rude intrusion, but that his love of
the pyrotechnic art made him visit me. Having read some of my
small treatises, particularly that against the sympathetic powder
of Sir Kenelm Digby (see Powder of Sympathy) and observed
therein my doubt of the Hermetic mystery, it caused
him to request this interview. He asked me if I still thought
there was no medicine in Nature which could cure all diseases,
unless the principal parts, as the lungs, liver, etc. were perished,
or the time of death were come. To which I replied I
never met with an adept, or saw such a medicine, though I read
of much of it and often wished for it. Then I asked if he was a
physician. He said he was a founder of brass, yet from his youth
learned many rare things in chemistry, particularly of a
friend—the manner to extract out of metals many medicinal
arcana by the use of fire.
‘‘After discoursing of experiments in metals, he asked me,
would I know the philosophers’ stone if I saw it I answered,
I would not, though I read much of it in Paracelsus, Helmont,
Basil, and others, yet I dare not say I could know the philosophers’
matter. In the interim he drew from his breast pocket a
neat ivory box, and out of it took three ponderous lumps of the
stone, each about the size of a small walnut. They were transparent
and of a pale brimstone color, whereto some scales of
the crucible adhered when this most noble substance was
melted. . . . When I had greedily examined and handled the
stone almost a quarter of an hour, and heard from the owner
many rare secrets of its admirable effects in human and metallic
bodies, also its other wonderful properties, I returned him
this treasure of treasures, truly with a most sorrowful mind, like
those who conquer themselves, yet, as was just, very thankfully
and humbly.
‘‘He asked me for a little piece of gold, and, pulling off his
cloak, opened his vest, under which he had five pieces of gold.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Helvetius, John Friedrich
They were hanging to a green silk ribbon, and were of the size
of breakfast plates. . . . I was in great admiration, and desired
to know where and how he obtained them. He answered, ‘A foreigner,
who dwelt some days in my house, said he was a lover
of this science, and came to reveal it to me. He taught me various
arts—first, of ordinary stones and chrystals, to make rubies,
chrysolites, sapphires, etc., much more valuable than those of
the mine; and how in a quarter of an hour to make oxide of
iron, one dose of which would infallibly cure the pestilential
dysentery, or bloody flux; also how to make a metallic liquor to
cure all kinds of dropsies, most certainly and in four days; as
also a limpid, clear water, sweeter than honey, to which in two
hours of itself, in hot sand, it would extract the tincture of garnets,
corals, glasses, and such like.’ He said more, which I Helvetius
did not observe, my mind being occupied to understand
how a noble juice could be drawn out of minerals to transmute
metals. He told me his said master caused him to bring a glass
of rain-water, and to put some silver leaf into it, which was dissolved
therein within a quarter of an hour, like ice when heated.
‘Presently he drank to me the half, and I pledged him the
other half, which had not so much taste as sweet milk, but
whereby, methought, I became very light-headed. I thereupon
asked if this were a philosophical drink, and wherefore we
drank this potion; but he replied, I ought not to be so curious.’
By the said masters directions, a piece of a leaden pipe being
melted, he took a little sulphureous powder out of his pocket,
put a little of it on the point of a knife into the melted lead, and
after a great blast of the bellows, in a short time he poured it
on the red stones of the kitchen chimney. It proved most excellent
pure gold, which the stranger said brought him into such
trembling amazement that he could hardly speak; but his master
encouraged him saying, ‘Cut for thyself the sixteenth part
of this as a memorial and give the rest away among the poor,’
which the stranger did, distributing this alms, as he affirmed if
my memory fail not, at the Church of Sparenda. ‘At last,’ said
he, ‘the generous foreigner taught me thoroughly this divine
‘‘As soon as his relation was finished, I asked my visitor to
show me the effect of transmutation and so confirm my faith;
but he declined it for that time in such a discreet manner that
I was satisfied, he promising to come again in three weeks, to
show me some curious arts in the fire, provided it were then
lawful without prohibition. At the three weeks end he came,
and invited me abroad for an hour or too. In our walk we discoursed
of Nature’s secrets, but he was very silent on the subject
of the great elixir, gravely asserted that it was only to magnify
the sweet fame and mercy of the most glorious God; that few
men endeavoured to serve Him, and this he expressed as a pastor
or minister of a church; but I recalled his attention, entreating
him to show me the metallic mystery, desiring also that he
would eat, drink, and lodge at my house, which I pressed, but
he was of so fixed a determination that all my endeavours were
frustrated. I could not forbear to tell him that I had a laboratory
ready for an experiment, and that a promised favour was a kind
of debt. ‘Yes, true,’ said he, ‘but I promised to teach thee at my
return, with this proviso, if it were not forbidden.’
‘‘When I perceived that all this was in vain, I earnestly requested
a small crumb of his powder, sufficient to transmute a
few grains of lead to gold, and at last, out of his philosophical
commiseration, he gave me as much as a turnip seed in size,
saying, ‘Receive this small parcel of the greatest treasure of the
world, which truly few kings or princes have ever seen or
known.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘this perhaps will not transmute four
grains of lead,’ whereupon he bid me deliver it back to him,
which, in hopes of a greater parcel, I did, but he, cutting half
off with his nail, flung it into the fire, and gave me the rest
wrapped neatly up in blue paper, saying, ‘It is yet sufficient for
thee.’ I answered him, indeed with a most dejected countenance,
‘Sir, what means this The other being too little, you
give me now less.’
‘‘He told me to put into the crucible half an ounce of lead,
for there ought to be no more lead put in than the medicine
can transmute. I gave him great thanks for my diminished treasure,
concentrated truly in the superlative degree, and put it
charily up into my little box, saying I meant to try it the next
day, nor would I reveal it to any. ‘Not so, not so,’ said he, ‘for
we ought to divulge all things to the children of art which may
tend alone to the honour of God, that so they may live in the
theosophical truth.’ I now made a confession to him, that while
the mass of his medicine was in my hands, I endeavoured to
scrape away a little of it with my nail, and could not forbear; but
scratched off so very little, that, it being picked from my nail,
wrapped in paper, and projected on melted lead, I found no
transmutation, but almost the whole mass sublimed, while the
remainder was a glassy earth.
‘‘At this unexpected account he immediately said, ‘You are
more dexterous to commit theft than to apply the medicine, for
if you had only wrapped up the stolen prey in yellow wax, to
preserve it from the fumes of the lead, it would have sunk to
the bottom, and transmuted it to gold; but having cast it into
the fumes, the violence of the vapour, partly by its sympathetic
alliance, carried the medicine quite away.’ I brought him the
crucible, and he perceived a most beautiful saffron-like tincture
sticking to the sides. He promised to come next morning at
nine o’clock, to show me that this tincture would transmute the
lead into gold. Having taken his leave, I impatiently awaited his
return, but the next day he came not, nor ever since. He sent
an excuse at half-past nine that morning, and promised to
come at three in the afternoon, but I never heard of him since.
‘‘I soon began to doubt the whole matter. Late that night my
wife, who was a most curious student and inquirer after the art,
came soliciting me to make an experiment of the little grain of
the stone, to be assured of the truth. ‘Unless this be done,’ said
she, ‘I shall have no rest or sleep this night.’ She being so earnest,
I commanded a fire to be made, saying to myself, ‘I fear,
I fear indeed, this man hath deluded me.’ My wife wrapped the
said matter in wax, and I cut half an ounce of lead, and put it
into a crucible in the fire. Being melted, my wife put in the
medicine, made into a small pill with the wax, which presently
made a hissing noise, and in a quarter of an hour the mass of
lead was totally transmuted into the best and finest gold, which
amazed us exceedingly. . . . I ran with this aurified lead, being
yet hot, to the goldsmith, who wondered at the fineness, and
after a short trial by the test, said it was the most excellent gold
in the world.
‘‘The next day a rumour of this prodigy went about the
Hague and spread abroad, so that many illustrious and learned
persons gave me their friendly visits for its sake. . . . We went
to Mr. Brectel, a silversmith, who first mixed four parts of silver
with one part of the gold, then he filled it, put aquafortis to it,
dissolved the silver, and let the gold precipitate to the bottom;
the solution being poured off and the calx of gold washed with
water, then reduced and melted, it appeared excellent gold,
and instead of a loss in weight, we found the gold was increased,
and had transmuted a scruple of the silver into gold by its
abounding tincture.
‘‘Doubting whether the silver was now sufficiently separated
from the gold, we mingled it with seven parts of antimony,
which we melted and poured out into a cone, and blew off the
regulus on a test, where we missed eight grains of our gold; but
after we blew away the red of the antimony, or superfluous scoria,
we found nine grains of gold for our eight grains missing,
yet it was pale and silverlike but recovered its full colour afterwards,
so that in the best proof of fire we lost nothing at all of
this gold, but gained, as aforesaid. These tests I repeated four
times and found it still alike, and the silver remaining out of the
aquafortis was of the very best flexible silver that could be, so
that in the total the said medicine or elixir had transmuted six
drams and two scruples of the lead and silver into most pure
Helvetius died at the Hague August 29, 1709.