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Newton the Alchemist$
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William Newman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780691174877

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691174877.001.0001

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Early Modern Alchemical Theory

Early Modern Alchemical Theory

The Cast of Characters

(p.64) Four Early Modern Alchemical Theory
Newton the Alchemist

William R. Newman

Princeton University Press

This chapter argues that Newton's belief that metals are not only produced within the earth but also undergo a process of decay, leading to a cycle of subterranean generation and corruption, finds its origin in the close connection between alchemy and mining that developed in central Europe during the early modern period. Alchemy itself acquired a distinct, hylozoic cast that the aurific art had largely lacked in the European Middle Ages. Despite a common scholarly view that holds alchemy to have been uniformly vitalistic, the early modern emphasis on the cyclical life and death of metals was not a monolithic feature of the discipline across the whole of its history, but rather a gift of the miners and metallurgists who worked in shafts and galleries that exhibited to them the marvels of the underground world. The chapter concludes by describing sources used by Newton, such as his favorite chymical writer, Eirenaeus Philalethes, and the pseudonymous early modern author masked beneath the visage of the fourteenth-century scrivener Nicolas Flamel.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, alchemy, metals, mining, Eirenaeus Philalethes, Nicolas Flamel

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