Charnock's Breviary of Alchemy

Back to English alchemical verse .

THE BREVIARY OF
NATURALL PHILOSOPHY.

Compiled by the unlettered Scholar
T H O M A S C H A R N O C K.

Student in the most worthy Scyence of
Astronomy and Philosophy. The first of Ianuary
Anno. Dom. 1557.


Anno. Dom. 1557. The first day of the new yeare
This Treatise was begun as after may appeare.

The Booke Speaketh.

Come hither my Children of this Discipline,
Which in naturall Philosophy have spent so long time;
To ease your painfull Study I am well willed
And by the grace of God it shall be fulfilled;
If he in me (my Author) will shed one drop of grace,
The better he shall finish me and in shorter space.
And if you will know what I am surely,
I am named The Breviary of naturall Philosophy.
Declaring all Vessells and Instruments,
Which in this Science serve our intents.
For moe things belong unto the same,
More then any Author hath written the Name;
Which hath brought many a one in great doubt,
What is the Implements that longeth thereabout;
Wherefore in good order, I will anon declare,
What Instruments for our Arte you neede to prepare.

The Preface of the Author.

Goe forth little Booke in volume but small,
Yet hast thou in thee that is not in them All,
For satisfying the mindes of the Students in this Arte,
Then art thou worth as many Bookes, as will lye in a Cart:
Glad may he be that hath thee in his keeping,
For he may find through diligent seeking,
All things in thee which shall be necessary,
As Vessells and Instruments belonging to Alchimy;
Which would set many a Mans heart on fire,
To have the same knowledge they have so great desire.
And no mervaile though they be glad and faine,
For they have spent many a pound in vain;
In making of Vessells of many divers sorts,
And have brought them out of many strange Ports:
Because the did not well understand,
That all things we need we have in England.
Now think you that this will not save many a Marke,
Unto those that have so wrestled so long in our Warke?
Yes some should spend all the money in their pouch,
If they new but this or half so much.
Wherefore of pitty I will nolonger refraine,
But declare all things their purpose to attaine.
Wherefore if you do not happen upon my Booke,
Either by casualty, Hooke, or by Crooke:
Yet I pray for my Soule when I am dead and rotten,
That of Alchimy Scyence the dore hath let open;
Sufficient for the if thou have any Braine,
Now sharpen thy wits that thou maist it attaine.


The first Chapter.

Now will I declare all things at large,
Of Implements of this Work and what is the charge:
And first with the Potter I will begin,
Which cannot make that which he hath never seene;
Whether that thy Vessels be made to thy minde,
Stand by while he worketh more surety to finde,
And shew him what to do by some sign of similitude,
And if his witts be not dull or rude,
He will understand what thou dost meane,
For I thinke few Potters in the Realme
Have made at any tyme such cunning ware,
As we for our Scyence doth fashion and prepaire;
And when he hath formed them unto thy purpose,
For what occaison thou needest not disclose:
But if he say unto you, Good Master myne,
Tell me for what purpose or what engine
Shall these Vessels serve that thou cause me to make,
For all my life hitherto I dare undertake
I never formed such, nor the like of them;
Yet are they but plaine without wrinkle or hem,
One within another, it is a pretty feate,
The third without them to guide up the heate:
Then say unto him to satisfie his minde,
That ye have a Father which is somewhat blinde,
Who if it please God you will indeavor,
To stil a water his blindnes to diffever:
Which is the Elixir of lyfe as wise men say,
And in this doing God send me my pray;
The will he will say this or the like,
I pray God to send yee that which you seeke,
And thus with the Potter thou hast now done,
Without thou breake thy Pots with the heate of the Sun:
Which if it doe it turns thee to paine,
And there is no way but to make them new againe.
   As soone as with the Potter thou has made an end,
Then with a Joyner thou must Condescend,
Who also must have this Councell and writt,
To make a Tabernacle the Vessell to fitt;
Which wilbe also in greate doubt,
For what purpose it will serve about;
In that he never made nor framed none such,
Although it be made like to a Hutch:
Then tell him a Tale of a roasted Horse,
Unto the which he will have no remorse:
And laugh and say it is a Borrough for a Fox,
Although it be made sure with Keys and locke,
And thus with a Joyner thou hast made an end,
Whithout thou set it on fire as I did mine.
   As for Glassemakers they be scant in this land,
Yet one there is as I doe understand:
And in Sussex is his habitacion,
At Chiddensfold he workes of his Occupation:
To go to him it is necessary and meete,
Or send a servant that is discreete:
And disire him in a most humble wise
to blow thee a Glasse after thy devise;
If were worth many an Arme or a Legg,
The could shape it like to an egge;
To open and to close as close as a haire,
If thou have such a one thou needest not feare.
Yet if though hadst a number in to store,
It is the better, for Store is no fore.


The Second Chapter.

Now LORD of thy grace I beseech thee suffer me,
To finish my pretence in this rude Studie:
For this nor ought else without thy help can be done,
As neither the Conjunction of Sun nor Moone:
Nor yet other Planets can motion themselves an houre,
Without thy providence and thy divine power:
Wherefore in all things that we doe begin,
Let us with prayer call for the helpe of him:
Tha he bring our doings to effect,
Which must be done very Circumspect:
Wherefore if you thinke to obtaine your intent,
Feare God and keepe his Comandment:
And beware of Pride and let it passe,
And never be looking too much in thy Glasse;
Deceive noe man with false measure,
For truly that is ill gotten treasure:
But let thy weights be true and just,
For weight and measure every man must
Unto his Neighbour yeild uprightly,
And so must thou in the worke of Philosophy:
And also feed him which is hungry,
And give him drinke which is thirsty.
Give liberally I say as riches doe arise,
And from thirsty body turn not away thy Eyes.
   What and two poore Men at one tyme come unto thee
And say, Master, for the love of God and our Lady,
Give us your Charity whatsoever you please,
For we have not one peny to do us ease;
And we are now ready to the Sea prest,
Where we must abide thee moneths at the least;
All which tyme to Land we shall not passe,
No although our Ship be made of Glasse,
But all tempest of the Aire we must abide,
And in dangerous roades many tymes to ride;
Bread we shall have none, nor yet other foode,
But only faire water descending from a Cloude:
The Moone shall us burn so in processe of tyme,
That we shalbe as black as men of Inde:
But shortly we shall passe into another Clymate,
Where we shall receive a more purer estate;
For this our Sinns we make our Purgatory,
For the which we shall receive a Spirituall body:
A body I say which if it should be sould,
Truly I say it is worth his weight in Gold:
Son give theis two, one penny in their Journey to drinke,
And thou shalt speede the better truly as I think.


The third Chapter.

Now have I good will largely to write,
Although I can but slenderly indite;
But whether I can or cannot indeede,
With the Chapter of Fire I will proceede:
Which if thou knowest not how to governe and keepe,
Thou wert as good go to bed and sleepe,
As to be combred therewith about,
And therefore I put thee most certainely out of doubt;
For when I studied this Scyence as thou doest now,
I fell to practice by God I vowe:
I was never troubled in all my lyfe beforne,
As intending to my Fire both Midday Eve and Morne:
And all to kepe it at an even stay;
It hath wrought me woe moe then I will say.
Yet one thing of truth I will thee tell,
What a greate mishap unto my Worke befell;
It was upon a Newyeares day at Noone,
My Tabernacle caught fire, it was soone done:
For within an houre it was right well,
And streight of fire I had a smell.
I ran up to my worke right,
And when I cam it was on fire light:
Then was I in such feare that I began to stagger,
As if I had byne wounded to the heart with a dagger;
And can you blame me? no I think not much,
For if I had beene a man any thing rich,
I had rather have given 100 Markes to the Poore,
Rather then that hap should have chanced that houre.
For I was well onward of my Work truly,
God save my Masters lyfe, for when he thought to dye,
He gave me his work and made me his Heire,
Wherefore alwaies he shall have my prayer:
I obteyned his grace the date herefro not to varie,
In the first and second yeare of King Phillip & Queene Mary.
   Yet lewdly I lost it as I have you tould,
And so I began the new and forgot the old,
Yet many a night after I could not sleepe in Bed
For ever that mischance troubled my head,
And feare thereof I would not abide againe;
No though I shoulde reape a double gaine,
Wherefore my charge rose to a greater summe,
As in hyring of a good stoute Groome;
Which might abide to watch and give me attendence,
Yet often tymes he did me displeasaunce,
And would sleepe so long till the Fire went out,
Then would the Knave that whorson Lout,
Cast in Tallow to make the fire burne quicker,
Which when I knew made me more sicker;
And thus was I cumbred with a drunken sott,
That with his hasty fire made my Worke too hott;
And with his sloth againe he set my worke behinde;
For remedy thereof to quiet my Minde,
I thrust him out of dores, and took my selfe the paine,
Although it be troublesome it is the more certaine,
For servants doe not passe how our workes doe frame,
But have more delight to play and to game.
A good servant saith Solomon let him be unto thee,
As tyme owne heart in each degree.
For it is precious a faithfull servant to finde,
Esteeme him above treasure if he be to thy minde;
Not wretchles, but sober, wise, and quiet,
Such a one were even for my dyet:
Thus having warn'd thee of an ill servant sufficient,
But a good servant is for our intent.


The fourth Chapter.

When my Man was gone I began it anewe,
And old troubles then in my minde did renew;
As to break sleepe oftentimes in the night,
For feare that my Worke went not aright;
And oftentimes I was in greate doubt,
Least that in the night, my fire should go out:
Or that it should give to much heate,
The pensiveness thereof made me to breake sleepe;
And also in the day least it should miscary,
It hath made my minde oftentimes to varie;
Wherefore if thou wilt follow my reade,
See thy fire safe when thou goest to Bed:
At Midnight also when thou dost arise,
And in so doing I judge thee to be wise:
Beware that thy Fire do no man harme,
For thou knowest many a mans House and Barne
Have byne set on fire by mischance,
And specially when a Foole hath the governance;
Our Fire is chargeable, and will amount
Above 3 pound a weeke, who hath list to cast account,
Which is chargeable to many a poore man,
And specially to me as I tell can:
And Geber bids poore men be content,
Haec Scientia pauperi & agento non convenit
Sed potius est illis inimica, and bids them beware,
Because their mony they may not well spare;
For thou must have Fires more then one or two,
What they be George Ripley will thee shew;
Above a hundred pounds truly did I spend,
Only in fire ere 9 moneths came to an end;
But indeed I begun when all things were deare,
Both Tallow, Candle, Wood, Coale and Fire:
Which charges to beare sometymes I have sold,
Now a Jewell, and then a ring of Gold:
And when I was within a Moneths reckoning,
Warrs were proclaimed against the French King.
   Then a Gentleman that ought me greate mallice,
Caused me to be prest to goe serve at Callys:
When I saw there was noone other boote,
But that I must goe spight of my heart toote;
In my fury I tooke a Hatchet in my hand,
And brake all my Worke whereas it did stand;
And as for my Potts I knocked them together,
And also my Glasses into many a shiver;
The Crowes head began to appeare as black as Iett
Yet in my fury I did nothing let:
But with my worke made such a furious faire,
That the Quintessence flew forth in the Aire.
Farewell quoth I, and seeing thou art gon,
Surely I will never cast of my Fawcon,
To procure thee againe to put me to hinderance,
Without it be my fortune and caunce,
To speake with my good Master or that I dye;
Master I. S. his name is truly:
Nighe the Citty of Salisbury his dwelling is,
A spirituall man for sooth he is;
For whose prosperity I am bound to pray,
For that he was my Tutor many a day,
And understood as much of Philosophie,
As ever did Arnold or Raymund Lullie:
Gerber, Hermes, Arda, nor yet King Caleb,
Understood no more then my good Master did.
I travelled this Realme Est and West over,
Yet found I not the like betweene the Mount and Dover:
But only a Monke of whome Ile speak anon,
Each of them had accomplished our White Stone:
But yet to the Red Worke they never came neere,
The cause hereafter more plainely shall appeare;
And thus when I had taken all this paines,
And the could not reape the fruit of my gaines:
I thought to my selfe, so to set out this Warke,
That others by fortune may hit right the Marke.


The fifth Chapter.

I am sorry I have nothing to requite my Masters gentleness,
But only this Boke a little short Treatise;
Which I dare say shall as welcome be to him,
As if I had sent him a Couple of Milch Kine:
And heere for his sake I will disclose unto thee,
A greater seacret which by God and the Trinity,
Since that our Lord this wold first began,
Was it not so opened I dare lay my hand,
No, all the Philosophers which were before this day,
Never knew this secret I dare boldly say.
   And now to obteyne thy purpose more rathe
Let thy Fire be as temperate as the Bath of the Bathe.
Oh what a goodly and profitable Instrument,
Is the Bath of the Bathe for our firey intent!
To seeke all the World throughout I should not finde,
For profit and liberty a Fire more fitt to my minde.
Goe or ride where you list for the space of a yeare
Thou needest not care for the mending of thy Fire.
A Monke of Bath which of that house was Pryor,
Tould me in seacret he occupied none other fire,
To whome I gave credit even at the first season,
Beacuse it depended upon very good reason:
He had our Stone, our Medicine, our Elixir and all,
Which when the Abbie was supprest he hid in a wall:
And ten dayes after he went to fetch it out,
And there he found but the stopple of a Clout.
Then he tould me he was in such an Agonie.
That for the losse thereof he though he should be frenzie,
And a Toy tooke him in the head to run such a race,
That many yeare after he had no setling place;
And more he is darke and cannot see,
But hath a Boy to leade him through the Country.
   I hapned to come on a day whereas he was,
And by a word or two that he let passe,
I understood streight he was a Philosopher,
For the which cause I drew to him neare;
And when the Company was all gone,
And none but his Boy and he and I alone,
Master quoth I for the love of God and Charity,
Teach me the seacrets of Naturall Philosophy.
   No Son, quoth he, I know not what thou art,
And shall I reveale to thee such a preciuos Arte?
No man by me shall get such gaines,
No not my Boy which taketh with me such paines,
That disclose it lyes not in my Bands,
For I must surrender it into the Lords hands,
Because I heare not of one that hath the fame;
Which lifts up his minde and is apt for the same,
Which if I could finde I would ere I dye,
Reveale to him that same greate mistery:
Yet one there is about the Citty of Salisbury,
A young man of the age Eight and Twenty,
Charnock is his name of Tennet that Isle,
His praise and Comendacions soundeth many a Mile;
For that Younge man he is toward and apt,
In all the seaven liberall Scyences set none apart:
But of each of them he hath much or litle,
Whereof in out Scyence he may claime a title:
His praise spreads also for his goof indighting,
And of some of his doings I have heard the reciting,
Both of Prose and Meeter, and of Verse also;
And sure I commend him for his first shewe,
I thinke Chaucer at his yeares was not the like,
And Skelton at his yeares was further to seeke;
Wherefore for his knowledge, gravity and witt,
He may well be Crowned Poet Laureat.
   Cease Father quoth I and heare me speake,
For my name is Charnocke upon whome you treate;
But this which you say to me is a greate wonder,
For these quallities and I am far assunder;
I am no such Man as you have made reckoning,
But you shall speake for me when I go a wiving:
Your praise will make me speede, though it be not true,
Nor yet my substance worth an old horse shooe.
   Is your name Charnocke, and the same Man?
Yes Sir quoth I: then stumbled he to give me his hand:
And talked an howre with me in the Philosophers speeche,
And heard that no no question I was to seeche,
My Son quoth he let me have thy prayer,
For this Science I will make thee myne heire;
Boy quoth he lead me into some secret place,
And then departe for a certaine space,
Untill this man and I have talked together:
Which being done, quoth he, now gentle Brother,
Will you with me to morrow be content,
Faithfully to receive the blessed Sacrement,
Upon this Oath that that I shall heere you give,
For ne Gold ne Silver as long as you live,
Neither for love you beare towards your Kinne,
Nor yet to no great Man preferment to wynne:
That you disclose the seacret that I shall you teach,
Neither by writing nor by no swift speech;
But only to him which you be sure
Hath ever searched after the seacrets of Nature?
To him you may reveale the seacrets of this Art,
Under the Covering of Philosophie before this world yee depart.
What answer will you give me: let me heare?
Master quoth I, I grant your desire.
The Son quoth he keepe thys Oath I charge thee well
As thinkest to be saved from the pitt of Hell.
   The next day we went to Church, and after our devocion
A Preist of his Gentleness heard both our Confessions;
Which being done, to Masse streight we went,
And he ministered to us the holy Sacrement;
But he never wist what we meant therein:
For with a contrary reason I did him blinde,
And so home to dinner we went with our hoast,
All which refeccion I paid for the Cost.
When dinner was done I walked in the field,
And when we were in the midds, Boy quoth he go pick a Thsitle
And come not againe before I for whistle.
   Now Master quoth I the Coast from hearers is cleare,
The quoth he my Sonn hearken in thyne Eare;
And within three or foure words he revealed unto me,
Of Minerall prudence the greate Misterie.
Whic when I heard my Spirits were ravished for Joy,
The Grecians were never gladder for the wynning of Troy:
As I was then remembering my good Master thoe,
For even the selfe same secret he did me shew:
Nyne dayes and no more I tarried with him sure,
But Lord in this tyme what secrets of Nature
He opened to me at divers sundry tymes,
As partly I have told thee in my former Rimes:
The rest is not to be written on paine of Damnacion,
Or else in this Boke truly I would make relation;
Now Father quoth I, I will depart you froe,
And for you I wil pray whether forever I goe;
Son quoth he Gods blessing goe with thee and thyne,
And if thou speede well, let me heare of thee againe.


The sixt Chapter.

WHen I was gone a mile or two abroade,
With fervent prayer I praised the Lord:
Giveing him thankes for that prosperous Journy,
Which was more leaver to me then an 100 l. in mony:
Surely quoth I my Master shall know all this,
Or else my Braines shall serve me amisse;
Which if they were so good as the Monke made mencion,
Then would I write to my Master with a better invencion,
O Lord quoth I what a solemne Oath was this given!
Surely in sheetes of Brasse it is worthy to be graven;
For a perpetuall memory ever to remaine
Among the Philosophers, for an Oath certaine:
And when I was two dayes Journey homeward,
To aske him a question to him againe I fared,
Which I had forgotten, and would not for my Land,
But doubt truly I might understand.
   I thought it not much to goe backe with all speede,
To seeke him out, & to the house where I left him I yed,
And there in a Chamber anone I founde him out,
Praying upon his Beades very devout:
Father quoth I a word with you I doe beseech:
Who is that quoth he? my Son Charnocke by his speech:
Yea forsooth quoth I, I am come back to you,
Desiring you heartily to tell me one thing true:
Which is this. Who was in Philosophy yout Tutor,
And of that Seacret to you the Revealer?
Marry quoth he and speake it with harty Joy,
Forsooth it was Ripley the Canon his Boy:
Then I remembered my good Master againe,
Which tould he did it never attaine
Of no manner of Man but of God, he put it in his head,
As he for it was thinking lying in his Bead:
And thus I tarried with him all that night,
And made him good Cheere as I might.
In the morning I tooke my leave of him to depart,
And in the processe of tyme came home with a merry heart;
But that mirth was shortly turn'd to care,
For as I tould you so my Worke did fare.
   Once I set it on fyre which did me much woe,
And after my Man hindered me a Moneth or two;
Yet the Gentleman did me more spight then the rest,
As when he made me from my work to be prest,
Then Bedlam could not hold me I was to frett,
But sowst at my worke with a greate Hatchett;
Rathing my Potts and my Glasses altogether,
I wisse they cost me more or I gott them thither:
The ashes with my stur flew all about,
One Fire I split and the other I put out:
All the Rubish to the dunghill I carried in a Sack,
And the next day I tooke my Coates with the Crosse at the back;
And forth I went to serve a Soldiers rome
And surely quoth I, there shall come the day of Dome;
Before I practise againe to be a Philosopher,
Wherefore have me Commended to my good Master.
And now my students in this Art, my promise I have kept justly,
And that you shall finde true when you understand me truly;
Which before that day never thinke to speede
For a plainer Boke then this never desire to reade:
And true it is also yf you can pick it out,
But it is not for every Cart slave or Loute;
This to understand, no though his witts were fyne,
For it shalbe harde enough for a very good Divine
To Conster our meaning of this worthy Scyence,
But in the study of it he hath taken greate diligence:
Now for my good Master and Me I desire you to pray,
And if God spare me lyfe I will mend this another day.


Finished the 20th of July, 1557. By the unlettered
Schollar THOMAS CHARNOCK, student
in the most worthy Scyence of ASTRONOMY
and PHYLOSOPHY.


If you have problems understanding these alchemical texts, Adam McLean now provides a study course entitled How to read alchemical texts : a guide for the perplexed.