De secretis naturae siue Quinta essentia libro duo. […] His accesserunt Alberti Magni […] De mineralibus et rebus metallici libri quinque.

Venice, apud Petrum Schoeffer, 1542.


8vo. 2 works in 1, pp. 324 (x). Italic letter, with Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to verso of last, 7 half-page and 1 full-page woodcuts of alchemical instruments, woodcut initials. Slight mark to lower blank margin of couple of ll., very light yellowing. A very good, well-margined copy in contemporary vellum, yapp edges, raised bands, title inked to spine, slightly later autographs of the aristocrat Zenone Algarotti and Giovanni Fantorti to t-p, another crossed-out and illegible.

A very good copy of this important collection of alchemical texts, with mention of fossils (‘stones which bear images of animals’). Born in the Kingdom of Majorca, Llull (or Raymond Lully or Raimundus Lullus, c.1232-c.1315) was a Franciscan tertiary, philosopher, and author of numerous works on theology, philosophy, astronomy and computation in Catalan, Latin and Arabic. Although his theories were firmly rooted in the principles of logic and reason and quite critical of alchemy, over 100 esoteric works, known as ‘Pseudo-Llull’, circulated under his name during the late medieval and early modern period. In particular, in the C14, Pseudo-Llull’s important ‘Testamentum’ was often found accompanied by or blended with a work on ‘quinta essentia’—the fundamental substance of the universe—by the French alchemist Johannes de Rupescissa (Jean de Roquetaillade, 1310-70). ‘De secretis’ is the most influential output of this syncretic tradition, and one of the most successful alchemical texts of the C16. Based on Rupescissa’s ‘De quinta essentia’ with the addition of a lengthy examination of the alchemy of transmutation (DeVun, ‘Prophecy’, 98), it begins with a discussion of quintessence and how to extract it from plants, stones, metals and even wine, gold and blood, through procedures illustrated in the accompanying woodcuts. It then proceeds to analyse the applications of quintessence to treat bodily ailments, including melancholy, demonic possession, seizures, tertian and pestilential fever, gout and podagra. This theory ‘became widely diffused in the C15 and C16 because of a proliferation of manuscripts and printed editions […] A number of early modern physicians and alchemists pointed to Llull as the originator of quintessence alchemy, an innovation that they believed had been plagiarized by Rupescissa, since his career post-dated that of the historical Llull’ (DeVun, ‘Prophecy’, 98). This collection ends with Albertus Magnus’s influential ‘De mineralibus et rebus metallici’. Albertus Magnus (1200-80) was a German friar, later canonised, who was conversant in the natural sciences, philosophy and astrology. After his death, several works on the secrets of nature were attributed to him. ‘De mineralibus’ is one of the earliest books on mineralogy (Netzley, ‘Env. Lit.’, 56). It discusses the composition, nature, weight and colour of precious and non-precious stones, including fossils and stones with ancient remnants of Oriental carved figures, ordering them alphabetically. The second part is devoted to the nature, virtues, taste and colour of metals, including mercury, lead, silver and copper, and a discussion of alchemical transmutation. A scarce, important collection.

Ferguson, Bib. Chemica, II, 54; Thorndike II, 57; Duveen 369; Wellcome I, 3898; Durling 2873; Ferguson, Books of Secrets, II, 51, 57; Palau 143836. L. DeVun, Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time (Ithaca, NY, 2009); P.D. Netzley, Environmental Literature (1999).


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