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Chymistry in Homberg’s Later Years: Practices, Promises, Poisons, and Prisons

Chymistry in Homberg’s Later Years: Practices, Promises, Poisons, and Prisons

Chapter:
(p.282) 6 Chymistry in Homberg’s Later Years: Practices, Promises, Poisons, and Prisons
Source:
The Transmutations of Chymistry
Author(s):
Lawrence M. Principe
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226700816.003.0007

Chapter 6 completes Homberg’s biography and moves outwards from the Palais Royal laboratory to broader horizons. It examines the networks of correspondence, collaboration, and support that connected Homberg and Philippe to wider worlds both geographical and social. These connections involved the dynamics of early modern scientific exchange and the difficulties of transmitting practical chymical know-how. The chapter engages also with chymistry’s “image problem” and ambiguous reputation due both to its artisanal character and its connections to unsavory practitioners and their potentially illegal practices. These practices and people and the fate of chrysopoeia, are explored through the attempts of the French state to seek out potential transmuters, seen both as threats to social and political order and as possible solutions to the kingdom’s dire financial condition. Many such figures ended up under surveillance or in the Bastille, and archival documents recording these events reveal much about the schizophrenic way in which chymistry was viewed. Homberg himself barely escaped imprisonment when he was implicated in palace gossip and intrigue over the royal succession. Although he was spared imprisonment, the affair—directly traceable to the generally poor reputation of chymists and chymistry—tragically ended his ability to continue his chymical research.

Keywords:   correspondence networks, chrysopoeia, economics, scientific exchange, Bastille, counterfeiting

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