Philalethes (or Philaletha), Eirenaeus (ca.
1660)
The life of this alchemist is wrapped in mystery although a
considerable mass of writing stands to his credit. The name, a
pseudonym, is similar to the one used by Thomas Vaughan,
who wrote as Eugenius Philalethes). Whoever Eirenaeus Philalethes
was, however, he was not Vaughan. Others have striven
to identify him with George Starkey, the doctor and author of
Liquor Alchahest, but Starkey died of the plague in London in
1665, and it is known that Eirenaeus was living for some years
after that date.
Philalethes appears to have been on intimate terms with
Robert Boyle and, although this points to his having spent a
considerable time in England, it is certain that he emigrated to
America. Starkey was born in the Bermudas, and practiced his
medical crafts in the English settlements in America, where, according
to his contemporary biographers, he met Eirenaeus
Philalethes. This meeting may have given rise to the identification
of Starkey as Philalethes, while it is probably Starkey to
whom Philalethes referred when, in a preface to one of his
books, he told of certain of his writings falling ‘‘into the hands
of one who, I conceive, will never return them,’’ for in 1654
Starkey issued a volume with the title, The Marrow of Alchemy by
Eirenaeus Philoponus Philalethes.
It is to prefaces by Philalethes that we must chiefly look for
any information about him. In the thirteenth chapter of his Introitus
Apertus ad Occlusum Regis Palatium (Amsterdam, 1667) he
also made a few autobiographical statements which illuminate
his character and career.
‘‘For we are like Cain, driven from the pleasant society we
formerly had,’’ he wrote, which suggests that he was persecuted.
Elsewhere he heaped scorn on most of the hermetic philosophers
of his day. Elsewhere, again, he criticized the popular
worship of money. ‘‘I disdain, loathe, and detest the idolizing
of silver and gold, by which the pomps and vanities of the world
are celebrated. Ah! filthy, evil, ah! vain nothingness.’’
In his preface to Ripley Revived (London, 1678), he gave
some account of those who wrote on alchemy to whom he felt
himself chiefly indebted. ‘‘For my own part, I have cause to
honour Bernard Trévisan, who is very ingenious, especially in
the letter to Thomas of Boulogne, when I seriously confess I received
the main light in the hidden secret. I do not remember
that ever I learnt anything from Raymond Lully. . . . I know of
none like Ripley, though Flamel be eminent.’’
Lenglet du Fresnoy, in his Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique
(1742), referred to numerous unpublished manuscripts by
Eirenaeus Philalethes, but nothing is known about these today.
Sources
Philalethes, Eirenaeus. Enarratio methodica trium Gebri medicinarum.
N.p., 1678.
———. Introitus apertus ad occlusum Regis Palatium. N.p.,
1667.
———. The Marrow of Alchemy. N.p., 1654.
———. Ripley Reviv’d; or an Exposition upon Sir George Ripley’s
Hermetico-Poetical Works. 5 vols. London T. Ratcliff and N.
Thompson, 1677–78.
———. Tractatus tres (i) Metallorum Metamorphosis; (ii) Brevis
Manuductio ad Rubinum Coelestem; (iii) Fons Chymicae Veritatis.
N.p., 1678; 1694.

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