Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/597

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591
A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY HOAX

BASIL VALENTINE: A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY HOAX
By PROFESSOR JOHN MAXSON STILLMAN

STANFORD UNIVERSITY

ALL who are at all familiar with the early history of chemistry will recall the prominent place given to a writer who wrote under the name of Basil Valentine and in the early history of the sciences was generally assigned to the fifteenth century. His knowledge of chemistry was for that time remarkably advanced, falling chronologically, as it appeared, between the writings of the medieval alchemists, Albertus Magnus, Arnoldus de Villanova, Raimundus Lullus and Roger Bacon, and those of the later authors Paracelsus and Agricola. The histories of chemistry by Ferdinand Hoefer in France 1842-3 and by Hermann Kopp of Germany 1843-7, which have served largely as the basis for later histories of that period, both accepted from earlier sources the works of Basil Valentine as of the latter part of the fifteenth century, though with some evident uncertainty as to this period. Both Kopp and Hoefer mark the work of Basil Valentine as closing the alchemical period, and ascribe to Paracelsus the inauguration of the medical chemical or iatrochemical period.

Examination of the writings of the so-called Basil Valentine and of the writings ascribed to Paracelsus made it apparent that many of the most important facts of chemistry as well as many of the theoretical ideas which Paracelsus announced and made the basis of his revolutionary influence upon chemistry and medicine were contained in the works of Basil Valentine.

Thus to Basilius was awarded the priority of the announcement of many chemical observations and experiments and their applications to the uses of medicine, and to Paracelsus was credited the making of these ideas influential for progress.

Paracelsus was born in 1493 and died in 1541. The chemical literature extant previous to his time and which may claim to be of importance, apart from the slight contributions of the ancients, was comprised in manuscripts or printed books attributed to Gheber, Albertus Magnus, Raimundus Lullus (or Lully), Roger Bacon and Arnoldus de Villanova, though many of these writings are known to be forgeries of much later date than are the genuine writings of these men.

The works of Paracelsus were published, some few during his life time, but most of them from twenty to fifty years after his death. They were collected and published by Huser in Basel in 1589-91,