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An alchemist's diary
These interesting short diary entries are found in a manuscript in the British Library, MS Sloane 2222, dated to the middle of the 17th century. Here the alchemist describes in detail his working through an alchemical process. I have transcribed this into modern English. It shows clearly how an alchemist of this period saw and described the work proceeding in his vessel. Here he uses a glass vessel in order that he can observe the process under way. The process took a full year, with most of the activity in the first six months. This diary gives us some insight into how an alchemist of this period was working.

August the 12th [Saturday]. I put my matter into my oval vessel being of a celestial colour, and so continuing it in its chamber hermetically sealed and warmed with our first degree of heat.

August the 16 [Wednesday]. It was swollen on higher about a third of an inch having a pellicula [thin skin] like that which is about an embryo, of a pale colour mixed a little with yellow and red, like the corona about the [moon] against the west. Within that membrane were 17 little ampullae simpering like butter on a small fire, and the membrane head had bright azure veins, here and there like those of a bladder. This membrane seemed to enclose the matter round.

August the 29. The ampullae continued becoming of a bright shining Saturnine colour, and so was the membrane and toward the circumference quite round. It was of a subcitrine color and the whole matter seemed to swim in a little black water round about the membrane between it and the glass oval vessel.

September 8th [Friday]. The matter did magis in superficie nigrescere vel membrane circuente [become more black at the surface around the membrane] the membrane on the one side did pucker like a purse mouth: but still with a shining blackness, swelling, simpering and bubbling more and more, the Subcitrine colour at the circumference, growing now to Saturnine and seemed to make inwardly to his centre or bottom of the matter.

At 40 days and my matter swelling bubbling and blustering, there appeared veins of marvellous diaphaneity that might easily be seen in the dark. At the making my Separation my water was much thinner than common [mercury]; and as brightly shining as the brightest fountain, when the sun gloriously shines upon it, notwithstanding the thinness of my water it did stick to my glass basin, and there came upon his face here and there an unctuous blackness, so that by his unctuosity, his quickness and his sticking to my glass oval thinner and brighter beyond measure then that which is on a looking-glass oval. I am right sure it is animated, and has subtlized the body and has gotten some part thereof. But before I separated my matter, it had an unctuous black superficies in the middle, and toward the circumference it was a brownish black, and the water seemed verily to be of a pale Saturnine colour, but being separated it was most glorious bright, and shining marvellously and the body and soul both spiritualized, which were after separation a white greasy Earth, with marvellous diaphaneity one [ounce] one [dram] which I put into the chamber philosophically sealed up on September the 21.

October 5th [Thursday]. My white greasy Earth had bubbled and swelled, so that it was not terra cum superficies plana [earthy mass with a flat surface], but montibus vallibusque plena [a surface with mountains and valleys] changing its white diaphanous colour into blackish grey. Nothing ascending but working marvellously in itself, at which time I made my heat to be of the middle of the first degree and so continued; Saturn predominating in nostro caelo.

At October the 20 until October the 23. My matter had more and more swollen, being of a bright Saturnine colour very spongeous and palish, sending a bright crystalline dew to the top of the glass oval vessel which did guttatim descendere [descend drop by drop] like a bright thin swelling water.

December the 3rd. I see two or three little round sparkling stars like the eyes of fishes, which sight I had seen many times 3 weeks before, but still they turned to a blackish colour deeper than Saturn, and amongst the rest of the stars there was one exceeding bright like an oriental pearl, my matter still bubbling and swelling like melted pitch and increasing his blackness far deeper then Saturn's coat. Note that all the bubbling and swelling is imperceptible at the present until it have stirred a good deal so that though I could never perceive any motion in my matter yet I could easily perceive it had moved and altered.

January 1st [Monday]. My matter seemed to desiccate and whiten; and from December the 20th, being the 90 day, it continued at its period like the crow's bill, blue as lead, or as I may say black albedine quadam obfuscatâ till the said January 1st: so that it was apparent the waters began to dry and my matter whitened by little and little.

January 11th [Wednesday]. My matter showed more and more drying plainly and white like a fair winters night with stars here and there, whereof one was as big as a good seed pearl, shining as bright as the Sun beams or polished silver, being whitish yellowish and azure and twinkling with marvellous diaphaneity no moisture ascending as before, when it sent up the crystalline dew.

January the 24 [Wednesday]. There appeared a flood of water coming out of my matter side, marvellous bright with a shining white yellowishness bigger then a bean, and dried the next day at night so dry as if it never had been moist, and pale like all the other earth, nor moisture at all ascending the like was on Jan the 27 [Saturday] which appeared in the morning and continued liquid all the day but by little and little it dried and by [Monday] morning it was a solid substance of a bright citrine colour but on [Wednesday] it was dried as dry as the other was, and of a grey colour mixed with azurine like the other with many bright sparks here and there in it.

February 7th [Wednesday]. There came forth a flood of water greater than the former out of my matter which was marvellous bright in colour like the other but at the sides it was more citrine or inclined toward reddish: next day it was much dried being of a bright citrine colour on [Friday] next it was more and more dried on [Monday] it was quite dried.

February the 13th [Tuesday]. There was another flood bright and citrine and whitish and the next morning it was dried up.

February the 26th [Sunday]. There was another little flood but very thick, by reason of much dryness for it would hardly shake, and in the middle of my matter was a red spark like deep red blood. Next morning the flood was dry but the red spark continued with as deep a colour as before but more splendant.

February the 28 [Tuesday]. There came out a flood thicker then before. It was of the like colour with the other and at night it was dried.

On [Wednesday] there came a thicker then that at which I took up my glass and turned it aside a little, so that the river ran upon the Earth and was presently drunk up, the red spark which was seen still remaining.

March the 6. There was a little coagulate as big as a good pearl in colour of [gold] bright and shining.

March the 22 [Thursday]. I took up my glass and turned it and my matter appeared in a manner metalline bright; shining betwixt grey and white and the clouds have left rising and the rivers dried up.

April the 21 [Friday]. My matter was turned into a round Earth as big as a nutmeg and very white, which had so continued a fortnight but now it begins to chink and gape by reason of its dryness.

May the 2nd. It did more and more chink and grow rugged like a great stone continuing his whiteness still;

May the 24th. I took out my inward pot for adding heat. I altered my heat 2 hours before at which my matter was still not without some clouds that were not dried up for lack of heat because for 20 days together I used the 1st degree of heat.

May the 25. I increased my heat more to my proposed purpose.

May the 30. I increased my heat to the period of tertius gradus and my matter fused like wax.

June the 14. It was again within the same degree coagulate very well. Note that in fusion and its coagulation, it was fixed and white.

August the 10 [Tuesday]. I ground my matter and it fell to a grey powder greasy Earth subtle and soft. This I did at this hour and then put it into the 1st degree of heat.

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.
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