NEWTON The Epistle of John Pontanus (Isaac Newton's Alchemical Notes - Keynes MS 14).

Isaac Newton, 1643-1727


(Alchemical Notes)

Isaac Newton

Cambridge, Keynes MS. 14, 
King's College Library, Cambridge University

The Epistle of John Pontanus, wherein he
beareth witness of the book of Artephius.
translated out of the 3d & 6t Volumes of Theatrum Chemicum. pag 775 734 & 487.

 I John Pontanus have travelled throhow many Countreys that I
might know some certainty of the Philosopher's stone: & going through
as it were all the world, I found many fals deceivers but no
true Philosophers. Yet continually studying & making many doubts
at length I found the truth. . But when I knew the matter in
generall, I yet erred two hundred times before I could attain
to the true matter with the operation & practise thereof: First
I begun to work with the matter by putrefaction nine months
together & I found nothing. Then I put it into Balneum
Mariae for a certain time, & therein I likewise erred. Afterward
I put it in the fire of calcination for three months space &
I wrought amiss. I tried all kinds of distillations &
sublimations (as the Philosophers Geber, Archelaus, & the rest either say or
seem to say) & I found nothing. In summ I assayed to
perfect the subject of the whole art of Alchimy by all
means possible to be devised, as by Dung, Baths, Ashes & other
fires of divers kinds, which yet are all found in the Philosophers
books, but I found no good in them. Wherefore I studied
three whole years in the books of the Philosophers, & especially in
Hermes alone, whose briefer words do comprehend the whole
stone though he speak obscurely of the Superior & inferior, of
heaven & earth. Therefore our instrument which bringeth the
matter into being in the first second & third work is not the fire of
a bath nor of dung nor of Ashes nor of the other fires which the
Philosophers have put in their books. What fire is it then which perfects
the whole work from beginning to the ending? Surely the Philosophers have
concealed it, but I being moved with pitty will declare it to you
together with the complement of the whole work
 The Philosophers stone therefore is one but it hath many names
& before thou knowst it it will be very difficult: For it is watry, aery,
fiery, earthy, flegmatick cholerick, & melancholy. It is suphureous &
it is likewise argent vive, & it hath many superfluities which by the living
God are turned into the true essence, our fire being the means.
And he that separates any thing from the subject thinking it to be
necessary, he truly knoweth nothing at all in Philosophy: for that which is

superfluous, unclean, filthy, faeculent & in short the whole substance of
the subject is perfected into a fixt spiritual body by means of our
fire. And this the wise men never revealed; & therefore few do
come unto the art thinking that some such superfluous & unclean
thing ought to be separated.
 Now we must tell the properties of our fire, & whether it agree
to our matter after the manner that I have said, to wit that it [i.e. the fire< or >matter]
may be transmuted; when as that fire doth not burn the matter, nor
separateth anything from the matter, nor divideth the pure parts from the
impure as all the Philosophers say, but it turneth the whole subject into purity.
It sublimes not as Geber maketh his sublimations (as also Arnold & others
speaking of sublimations & distillations,) & it finishes in a short time. It
is mineral, equal & continual; it vapours not except it be too much stirred
up; it partaketh of Sulphur; it is taken from els where then from the
matter; it pulleth down all things, it dissolveth & congealeth & it is
artificial to find out; it is a compendious way without any cost, at least
but with small cost: & that fire is with a mean firing, for
with a soft fire the whole work is perfected, & withall it performs
all the due sublimations. They that should read Geber & all the other Philosophers,
though they should live an hundred thousand years could not
comprehend it because this fire is found by deep & profound meditation only
& then it may be gathered out of books & not before.
 The error therefore of this art is not to find the fire which
turns the whole Matter into the true stone of the Philosophers. And therefore
study upon this fire, for if I had found that first I had never erred
two hundred times in my practise upon the matter. Wherefore I
do not mervail if so many & great men have not attained unto the
work. They do err, they have erred, & they will err because the Philosophers
have not put the proper agent, save one who is called Artephius, but he
speaks for himself, & unles I had read Artephius & felt him speak
I had never come to the complement of the work.
 The practise is this: Let it be taken & ground with a physical
contrition as diligently as may be, & let it be set upon the fire, & let the
proportion of the fire be known, to wit that it only stir up the matter, & in a short
time the fire without any other laying on of hands will accomplish the whole
work, for it will corrupt ingender & perfect, & make to appear the three
principal colours black white & red. And by means of our fire the medicine
will be multiplyed, if it be joyned with the crud matter, not only in quantity
but also in vertue.
 With all thy strength therefore search out this fire & thou shalt attain
thy wish becaus it doth the whole work & is the key of the Philosophers, which they

never revealed. But if thou muse well & profoundly upon
these things that have been spoken concerning the properties of
the fire, thou mayst know it; otherwise not. I being moved with
pitty have written these things: but that I may satisfy thee fully,
this fire is not transmuted with the matter because (as I said
above) it is not of the matter. These things therefore I thought
fit to say, & to warn the prudent that they spend not their
moneys unprofitably, but know what they ought to look after. For by
this means they may come to the truth of the art & not otherwise.
                       Of the matter & operation See Artefius p. 3, 12, 13, 14