Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry

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Using the previously misunderstood interactions between Robert Boyle, widely known as the father of chemistry, and George Starkey, an alchemist and the most prominent American scientific writer before Benjamin Franklin, as their guide, William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principle reveal the hitherto hidden operations of Starkey's laboratory and argue that many of the principles and practices characteristic of modern chemistry derive from alchemy. By analyzing Starkey's extraordinary laboratory notebooks, the authors show how this American chymist translated the wildly figurative writings of traditional alchemy into quantitative, carefully reasoned laboratory practice - and then encoded his own work in allegorical, secretive treatises under the name of Eirenaeus Philalethes. A common emphasis on quantification, material production, and analysis/synthesis, the authors argue, illustrates a continuity of goals and practices from late medieval alchemy down to and beyond the Chemical Revolution.