Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/601

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
595
A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY HOAX

Thölde explained in his preface to one of the early publications that it was from a very old manuscript which he had great difficulty in deciphering and translating from the original Latin script. From the evidence of the books themselves little could be learned. The author claimed to be of German nationality from the region of the Rhine, and to be an inmate of a Benedictine monastery and a brother of that order. They contained no reference to any contemporary persons or events which might serve to locate their exact time.

From allusions to the use of antimony in the making of types for printing, it became evident that the date of the writing was not earlier than the latter half of the fifteenth century, and from several allusions to the application of chemical medicines to the cure of the "Morbus Gallicus" (or "French Disease") which was known to have made its appearance in Europe about the end of that century (1493 is the date usually quoted) it was evident that the writing could not have been earlier than about the close of the fifteenth century. While this internal evidence established the end of the fifteenth century as the earliest possible date no internal evidence indicated that the date of the authorship was necessarily earlier than the date of publication. Though there have apparently always been critics who have disputed the genuineness of the find,[1] yet the general opinion gained credence and authority that Basil Valentine was the assumed name of an unknown writer of the end of the fifteenth century, and that to him, therefore, was to be credited the priority of announcement of a large part of the more prominent facts and theories of chemistry which already existed in print in the works of Paracelsus. It was taken for granted and asserted that Paracelsus had had access to a copy of his works or of some of them, and therefore had appropriated his ideas without acknowledgment. No less an authority than van Helmont (1577-1644) states that Paracelsus lived more than a hundred years after Basil Valentine and had appropriated his knowledge without due credit.[2]

In time also certain legends grew up and became adopted into current literature which seemed to give a greater definiteness to the existence of the assumed author. Gudenus in his history of Erfurt (1675) stated that a monk of that name was a member of the Benedictine order in that city in 1413. Though Gudenus cited no authority for this statement, and the records of the monastery gave no confirmation, and though, for reasons above mentioned, the works of Basil Valentine could not have been written before the end of the century,

  1. Ferguson, "Bibliotheca Chemica," 1906, mentions Stolle, 1731, Kestner, 1740, the author of "Beytrag zur Gesehichte d. Höheren Chemie," 1785. Waite ("The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony," London, 1893) quotes Placcius, 1708, as skeptical of B. Valentine.
  2. Cf. Van Helmont, "Opera Omnia." Francofurti, 1682. "Tria Prima Chym.," p. 386.