Sacred Texts  Grimoires  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 188





Now living in his Tomb, whither he retired disgusted with the Vices and Follies of Mankind, supporting himself with his own


PARACELSUS was born, as he himself writes, in the year 1494, in a village in Switzerland called Hoenheym (q. d. ab alto nido) two miles distant from Zurich. His father was a natural son of a great master of the Teutonic order, and had been brought up to medicine, which he practised accordingly in that obscure corner. He was master of an excellent and copious library, and is said to have become eminent in his art, so that Paracelsus always speaks of him with the highest deference, and calls him laudatissimus medicus in eo vico. Of such a father did Paracelsus receive his first discipline. After a little course of study at home he was committed to the care of Trithemius, the celebrated abbot of Spanheim, who had the character of an adept himself, and wrote of the Cabala, being at that time a reputed magician. Here he chiefly learnt languages and letters; after which he was removed to Sigismund Fugger to learn medicine, surgery, and chymistry; all these masters, especially

p. 189

the last, Paracelsus ever speaks of with great veneration; so that he was not altogether so rude and unpolished as is generally imagined. Thus much we learn from his own writings, and especially the preface to his Lesser Surgery, where he defends himself against his accusers. At twenty years of age he undertook a journey through Germany and Hungary, visiting all the mines of principal note, and contracting an acquaintance with the miners and workmen, by which means he learnt every thing, relative to metals, and the art thereof: in this enquiry he shewed an uncommon assiduity and resolution. He gives us an account of the many dangers he had run from earthquakes, falls of stones, floods of water, cataracts, exhalations, damps, heat, hunger, and thirst; and every where takes occasion to insist on the value of an art acquired on such hard terms. The same inclination carried him as far as Muscovy, where as he was in quest of mines near the frontiers of Tartary he was taken prisoner by that people, and carried before the great Cham; during his captivity there he learnt various secrets, till, upon the Cham's sending an embassy to the Grand Signior, with his own son at the head of it, Paracelsus was sent along with him in quality of companion. On this occasion he came to Constantinople in the twenty-eighth year of his age, and was there taught the secret of the philosopher's stone by a generous Arabian, who made him this noble present, as he calls it, Azoth. This incident we have from Helmont only; for Paracelsus himself, who is ample enough on his other travels, says nothing of his captivity. At his return from Turkey he practised as a surgeon in the Imperial army, and performed many excellent cures therein; indeed, it cannot be denied but that he was excellent in that art, of which his great surgery, printed in folio, will ever be a standing monument. At his return to his native country he assumed the title of utriusque medicinæ doctor, or doctor both of external and internal medicine or surgery; and grew famous in both, performing far beyond what the practice of that time could pretend to; and no wonder, for medicine was then in a poor condition; the practice and the very language was all Galenical and Arabic; nothing was inculcated but Aristotle, Galen, and the Arabs; Hippocrates was not read; nay, there was no edition of his writings, and scarce was he ever mentioned. Their theory

p. 190

consisted in the knowledge of the four degrees, the temperaments, &c. and their whole practice was confined to venesection, purgation, vomiting, clysmata, &c. Now, in this age a new disease had broke out, and spread itself over Europe, viz. the venereal disorder; the common Galenic medicines had here proved altogether ineffectual; bleeding, purging, and cleansing medicines were vain; and the physicians were at their wit's end. Jac Carpus, a celebrated anatomist and surgeon at Bolonge, had alone been master of the cure, which was by mercury administered to raise a salivation; he had attained this secret in his travels through Spain and Italy, and practised it for some years, and with such success and applause, that it is incredible what immense riches this one nostrum brought him (it is said upon good authority, that in one year he cleared six thousand pistoles) he acknowledged himself, that he did not know the end of his own wealth; for the captains, merchants, governors, commanders, &c. who had brought that filthy disease from America, were very well content to give him what sums he pleased to ask to free them from it.--Paracelsus about this time having likewise learnt the properties of mercury, and most likely from Carpus, who undertook the same cure but in a very different manner; for whereas Carpus did all by salivation--Paracelsus making up his preparation in pills attained his ends in a gentler manner. By this he informs us he cured the itch, leprosy, ulcers, Naples disease, and even gout, all which disorders were incurable on the foot of popular practice, and thus was the great basis laid for all his future fame and fortune.

Paracelsus, thus furnished with arts, and arrived at a degree of eminence beyond any of his brothers in the profession, was invited by the curators of the university of Bazil to the chair of professor of medicine and philosophy in that university. The art of printing was now a new thing, the taste for learning and art was warm 1, and the magistracy of Bazil were very industrious

p. 191

in procuring professors of reputation from all parts of the world. They had already got Desid. Erasmus, professor of theology, and J. Oporinus professor of the Greek tongue; and now in 1527 Paracelsus was associated in the 33d year of his age. Upon his first entrance into that province, having to make a public speech before the university, he posted up a very elegant advertisement over the doors inviting every body to his doctrine. At his first lecture he ordered a brass vessel to be brought into the middle of the school, where after he had cast in sulphur and nitre, in a very solemn manner he burnt the books of Galen and Avicenna, alledging that he had held a dispute with them in the gates of hell, and had fairly routed and overcome them. And hence he proclaimed, that the physicians should all follow him; and no longer style themselves Galenists, but Paracelsists.--"Know," says he, "physicians, my cap has more learning in it than all your heads, my beard has more experience than your whole academies: Greeks, Latins, French, Germans, Italians, I will be your king."

While he was here professor he read his book De Tartaro, de Gradibus, and De compsitionibus, in public lectures, to which he added a commentary on the book De Gradibus; all these he afterwards printed at Bazil for the use of his disciples; so that these must be allowed for genuine writings; about the same time he wrote De Calculo, which performance Helmont speaks of with high approbation.

Notwithstanding his being professor in so learned an university he understood but a very little Latin; his long travels, and application to business, and disuse of the language, had very much disqualified him for writing or speaking therein; and his natural warmth rendered him very unfit for teaching at all. Hence, though his auditors and disciples were at first very numerous, yet they very much fell off, and left him preaching to the walls. In the mean time he abandoned himself to drinking at certain seasons; Oporinus, who was always near him, has the good nature to say, he was never sober; but that he tippled on from morning to night, and from night to morning, in a continual round. At length he soon became weary of his professorship, and after three years continuance therein relinquished it, saying, that

p. 192

no language besides the German was proper to reveal the secrets of chymistry in.

After this he again betook himself to an itinerant life, travelling and drinking, and living altogether at inns and taverns, continually flushed with liquor, and yet working many admirable cures in his way. In this manner he passed four years from the 43d to the 47th year of his life, when he died at an inn at Saltzburg, at the sign of the White Horse, on a bench in the chimney-corner. Oporinus relates, that after he had put on any new thing, it never came off his back till he had worn it into rags; he adds, that notwithstanding his excess in point of drinking, he was never addicted to venery.--But there is this reason for it: when he was a child, being neglected by his nurse, a hag gelded him in a place where three ways met, and so made a eunuch of him; accordingly in his writings he omits no opportunity of railing against women.--Such is the life of Paracelsus; such is the immortal man, who sick of life retired into a corner of the world, and there supports himself with his own Quintessence of Life.

In his life time he only published three or four books, but after his death he grew prodigiously voluminous, scarce a year passing but one book or other was published under his name, said to be found in some old wall, ceiling, or the like. All the works published under his name were printed together at Strasburg in the year 1603, in three volumes folio, and again in 1616. J. Oporinus, that excellent professor and printer, before named, who constantly attended Paracelsus for three years as his menial servant, in hopes of learning some of his secrets, who published the works of Vesalius, and is supposed to have put them in that elegant language wherein they now appear: this Oporinus, in an epistle to Monavius, concerning the life of Paracelsus, professes himself surprized to find so many works of his master; for, that in all the time he was with him never wrote a word himself, nor ever took pen in hand, but forced Oporinus to write what he dictated; and Oporinus wondered much how such coherent words and discourse which might even become the wisest persons, should come from the mouth of a drunken man. His work

p. 193

called Archidoxa Medicinæ, as containing the principles and maxims of the art, nine books of which were published at first; and the author in the prolegomena to them, speaks thus:--"I intended to have published my ten books of Archidoxa; but finding mankind unworthy of such a treasure as the tenth, I keep it close, and have firmly resolved never to bring it thence, till you have all abjured ARISTOTLE, AVICEN, and GALEN, and have sworn allegiance to PARACELSUS alone."

However, the book did at length get abroad, though by what means is not known; it is undoubtedly an excellent piece, and may be ranked among the principal productions in the way, of chymistry, that have ever appeared; whether or no it be Paracelsus's we cannot affirm, but there is one thing speaks in its behalf, viz. it contains a great many things which have since been trumped up for great nostrums; and Van Helmont's Lithonthriptic and Alcahest are apparently taken from hence; among the genuine writings of Paracelsus are likewise reckoned, that De Ortu Rerum Naturalium, De Transformatione Rerum Naturalium, and De Vita Rerunt Naturalium. The rest are spurious or very doubtful, particularly his theological works.

The great fame and success of this man, which many attribute to his possessing an universal medicine may be accounted for from other principles. It is certain he was well acquainted with the use and virtue of opium, which the Galenists of those times all rejected as cold in the fourth degree. Oporinus relates that he made up certain little pills of the colour, figure, and size of mouse-turds, which were nothing but opium. These he called by a barbarous sort of name, his laudanum; q. d. laudable medicine; he always carried them with him, and prescribed them in dyssenteries, and all cases attended with intense pains, anxieties, deliriums, and obstinate wakings; but to be alone possessed of the use of so extraordinary and noble a medicament as opium, was sufficient to make him famous.

Another grand remedy with Paracelsus was turbith mineral; this is first mentioned in his Clein Spital Boeck, or Chirurgia Minor, where he gives the preparation. In respect of the philosopher's stone.--Oporinus says, he often wondered to see him one day without a farthing in his pocket, and the next

p. 194

day, full of money; that he took nothing with him when he went abroad. He adds, that he would often borrow money of his companions, the carmen and porters, and pay it again in twenty-four hours with extravagant interest, and yet from what fund nobody but himself knew. In the Theatrum Alchemiæ he mentions a treasure, hid under a certain tree; and from such like grounds they supposed him to possess the art of making gold; but it was hard if such noble nostrums as he possessed would not subsist him without the lapis philosophorum.


190:1 We feel ourselves happy in being able to say, that the taste for learning and arts (notwithstanding the follies of the age) was never more prevalent than in the present time; the year 1801 commences an age of flourishing science, in which even our females seem to wish to bear a part-instance, a lady of quality, who went in her carriage the other day to Foster-lane, Cheapside, and bought a portable blacksmith's forge for her private amusement; her person was strong and athletic, and very fit for the manual practice of handling iron, and working other metallic experiments.

Next: John Rudolph Glauber