Alchemy is Front-Page News, Again in the Science Times
William Blake's Newton (1795). From Wikimedia Commons.
This week alchemy was front page news in the (New York Times) Science Times. Again! If you missed the last time, it was Tuesday, August 1, 2006. I did not have to look that up, since it is the happiest day of my professional life. John Noble Wilford, a senior reporter at the Science Times, attended the International Conference on the History of Alchemy and Chymistry held at CHF in July of 2006. It was the first conference of its kind in nearly 20 years and drew more than 150 historians of chemistry and early science from more than a dozen countries. On the same day, the conference was featured on Marketplace Radio (NPR) in a report by Aries Keck.
So this week, the Science Times reported on research that confirms Isaac Newton’s consuming interest in alchemy. Among the experts quoted in the article was William R. Newman, author of Atoms and Alchemy, and one of the organizers of the 2006 Alchemy Conference at CHF.
Missing from the article was the discovery of a key piece of evidence confirming that Newton was surreptitiously involved in alchemical research. Larry Principe, author The Aspiring Adept and the other organizer of the alchemy conference, is a visiting scholar at CHF who in 2004-5 was involved in receiving and cataloguing a collection of rare books. In that collection he found a paper - in Newton’s handwriting - copied from the papers of Robert Boyle, a contemporary of Newton. When Boyle died, philosopher John Locke (executor of the Boyle estate) let Newton copy the alchemical paper that Principe found 300 years later.
The history of chemistry and early science does not make the news very often, so whenever it does we're very excited.