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Samuel Norton - The Key of Alchemy


This transcription was originally made by W.A. Ayton in the latter decades of the 19th century, from the original manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Ashmole 1421. Samuel Norton was the great-grandson of the famous 15th century English alchemist Thomas Norton, author of the Ordinall of alchemy.
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To the most virtuous, magnificent & Noble Queen Elizabeth

Queen of England, France & Ireland, defender of the faith.

I read that the Persians both taken with an inestimable love of their Princes, and with a virtuous regard of their duties; endeavoring themselves to shew what affection they bore to their natural lord and King, established a law amongst themselves, That none might presume to salute his person with empty hands. Whereupon every subject intending to salute their Sovereign, did present him with some of the most precious things they had. A custom, no doubt, deserving great commendations, if not a little to be allowed of, as that which haveth unto us two excellent patterns; the honest and dutiful Persian love, toward their Prince, and the good government and virtues of their king; which so deeply stirreth as the love of the people. Encouraged therefore by this Persian example; and being no less carried away with dutiful zeal than any Persian whatsoever, having both, a far more virtuous Princess, and a greater government than the Persians, I am desirous to salute your Majesty, and here most humbly do present you with the most precious jewel I have, nothing mistrusting but that the selfsame causes which moved the Persian king Artaxerxes gratefully to receive the presented handful of water fetched from the river Cyrus; will also stir your Highness no less favorably to accept of this my handfull of water. First for that the will of the giver were equal as also in that it is deprompted from as noble a river as that which took the name of Cyrus; In respect whereof Artaxerxes? caused it to be put in a gold flagon: I mean that this my writing fetched out from the most noble fountain of knowledge the great Secret Elixir of the Ancient learned philosophers by me here presented unto your Majesty. Your Highness respecting the skill by means of my writing; must be by you put into the golden flagon of your understanding. Thirdly, here falleth out a cause whereby I have to find this my travail as acceptably to be received as did the Persian by ten of more labor and study; for the Persian a Lowly espying the king coming, ran speedily down to the river Cyrus, which being near at hand, his labour was not great; But far more easier had it been for me with Hannibal to make a new passage through the Alps, than to have pulled out his friend from the dark enigmata, dissembles and parables of our writers; wherein themselves confess that they envolved it in clouds, eclipsed it in tropes; and obscured it in figures to the end that it alone be known to him and to none others but to suit whom it liked them to accept as scholars and children; between whom it passed from mouth to mouth.

No wonder therefore though it hath and is sought of many and found of so few. In respect whereof Rodagirus compareth our travailes with the labours of Hercules; for as hard a matter is it for us to mortify Mercury, as for Hercules to catch the swift stag in the maiden wood; whither the poets famed did fly; As hard for us to cleanse and rectify our stone, as for Hercules to cleanse Augeus' hall of dung; As hard for us to shed the blood of our green Lion as for Hercules to flay the Lion in Nemea; As hard also for us to obtain by skill of science as for Hercules to conquer Atlas and his Arts. The like for his other labors which are from the philosophers of the Poets alluded wherewith to shadow the Art. Nay, rather as easy to be come by, as saith the proverb as to wrest the club out of Hercules hands.

Although it fortuned well in manner unlooked for, to hit upon the secret bosom book of Riplie whereby the true grounds are discovered of which having by proof found so many to be true it and little doubting of the accomplishment of the rest: - I thought it but a point of dutie to reveal and open the secrets hereof unto your Highness, being both your subject and servant. And so much the rarer because being about Candlemas last in great danger by sickness; of which time, there was not any one living that more grieved me to trench on; then that I could not be a means for reviving again of that which had so long lain dead; in which I had found such great likelihood, sure tokens, and proof of practice, which forced me even sick as I was, to labor right earnestly to finish the translation of Riplie his bosom books. Not that I thought your Highness is unable to understand the Latin, in whom I know both your Greek, with divers other languages, and skill, to have taken deep root, but that a more easy way of unknown name might be described for the better understanding of the art, which books I so provided that it might come to your Majesties hands, not so much for the book itself as for my own several practice which should have been hereunto annexed with a right censure of judgment of proceeding in the rest, for though some there are which I know gave the same works, yet have they failed in proofs, not by the fault of the Author, but by their own follies.

But why seem I here to refer unto your Highness what I would have done? Seeing that sickness is escaped, and health attained; I have in this volume truly set forth, much more than that book contained, or myself at that time either knew or thought on; Which since I have in practice found out, to cease therefore from that which I would have done, and so come to that which now is to be done; I entered further in practice and thought to have proceeded to the end of the work, and then to have revealed it unto your Highness; but being detained therefrom by the advice of a certain friend of mine, learned in the laws; who informed me that my doings would come within the compass of the Statute of multipliers; and wished me to deal not further with your Majesty where thereon advertised, or Your Licence obtained in that behalf; which to achieve I only chose this way; to open to your Highness this art, that there by you might thoroughly discern, that I neither attempted the dealing therewith without sufficient ground, neither with fraud or collusion to abuse any, but that I sought alone that the art might take effect, and being brought to pass, your Majestie might have both the knowledge and assay thereof.

In the working of which, there falleth out a many things very delectable to the eye; for that it passeth throughout for many alterations and changes; as from a body by privation to no body; from a solid and compact substance, to waters and liquors, from hard to soft, from soft to hard, from fixed to flying, from flying to fixed, from gross to pure, from pure to gross and so to pure again, from heat to cold, from cold to heat, from colour to colour, from element to element; from fullness to emptiness, from emptiness to fullness from imperfect to perfect; and there, forever to abide. In which alterations, there is discovered unto us the natural causes of all things vegetative bearing life, and being under the concave orb of the moon; so that the great secrets of philosophy as well in superior as inferior causes shall openly lie bare and uncovered before you; Insomuch that you shall feel your self surfeited with an inestimable knowledge of all things natural, yea, miracles and wonders shall you see; or what is he that will not marvel to see the hard iron become soft water; or the steady fixed steel of nature biding fire, become volatile, or fly away in smoke; or moving quick silver, to abide in steadfast mass; brittle glass to soften [], copper to become medicineable; Gold and Silver to be potable; Tin to remove great sicknesses, and Lead in virtue, exceeding all, to have almost the sweetness of sugar. And last of all, mineral and deadly poisons to become perfect medicine; all which I know will lightly be done, and are not of great difficulty.

If things therefore so contrary in kind be brought to pass, between whom there is such contrarities and disseverance in nature; as from hard to soft; from heavy to light; from brittle to bendy; from unsavory to sweet; from poison to preservative; how much more easily and nearer then may matters goldenish and silvery, between whom there is concord and agreement; in kind be brought to gold and silver; as tin, wherein we find grains of gold; and silver in lead. This I write to disprove the words of such as ignorantly condemn the art for false, and the artists for beguilers and deceivers. Indeed, deceivers are rife. A good way to know the false from the true is this; The deluders always make it a matter of great cost, which true artificers know to be most false, and therefore affirm it to be of little charge and cost, as indeed it is not, such as any man need to undo or hinder himself for. Another infallible rule will I give to know them by; If they be talked withall touching the matter of the stone, they are always in Amalgams with mercury, arsenic, crude gold and silver. If you demand what menstrus is, many can tell that Raymond writes of menstrue, but what it is, they cannot answer you; If you require of them, what ferment is, they may perhaps tell you gold and silver; But if you ask them the manner of solution, there lieth an ignoramus.

Whosoever, therefore is ignorant in any of these things, never trust him in our philosophy. But to remove suspect or sinister dealing in myself, let this my writing suffice, where, from point to point, is most plainly set down the order and manner of every thing, save only of the charge of which there shall in the end appear an estimate; whereby unto your Highness, it may be evident, that the 1000 and 100 which the common imposters spend I speak of for the performance of the art, are not to be consumed therein. Wherefore Guido [Guido Magni de Monte Adropt.v.6, p3,4,6 and 7] and Ripley truely writeth; the one saying that purse's bottoms are not to be turned up; for things of great cost are not needful in our art; the other affirmeth that things of great charge are not here required; and those to be liers which report the art to be of great cost; which alonely is to be accomplished by good grace, reasonable expenses and convenience of time.

It resteth now therefore that I finish up this my rude epistle with two manner of request wherein I first beseech of God; to send your Majesty long life with prosperous reign, to the advancement of his glory, by subduing of your enemies and the comfort of your true subjects. Last of all I most humbly desire your Highness, to accept in good part, the green fruit of this my months travail, which although it be not so exactly produced, framed and penned by me and my writer, as I would wish, and were also requisite, if better leisure had served, yet my hope is that faults and imperfections herein committed, shall be tolerated by your Majestie's accustomed clemency and prudent consideration

Your Majesty's most humble
subject and servant in bonds of loyalty.
Samuel Norton

From St Johnes in Cantabrige [Cambridge] the 20 of July 1577.