Brown Bag Lecture: “Epistolary Chymistry, The Philosophical Golden Chicken, and Recipes for the Reform of Medicine”

Brown Bag Lecture icon
Date: March 25, 2014
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by Joel Klein

Between 1619 and 1637 the Wittenberg professor of medicine, Daniel Sennert (1572–1637), exchanged over 200 letters with fellow physician and chymist Michael Döring (d. 1644). These letters have hitherto received almost no attention, but they provide a unique glimpse into the world of 17th-century chymical medicine in the university as well as the forms of early scientific communication. This paper explores Sennert and Döring’s candid discussion of recipes for nearly universal chymical medicaments and the experiments they used to synthesize and test these.

In one such experiment that was especially important throughout Sennert’s career, he fed a living hen silver leaf for an entire month with the express purpose of filling its belly with eggs made from precious metals. When the trial failed, Sennert was disappointed, but he continued to search for metallic medicines that would augment the body’s radical moisture and influence it most deeply at an atomic level.

Sennert’s recipes for similar medicaments were at the center of a proposed chymico-atomical reform of Galenist medicine and a parallel attack on the so-called secretists and empirics who refused to part with their recipes and sought to profit from selling their wares. Within this context Sennert and Döring expressed a particularly Lutheran notion of the public good that involved the open communication of chymical recipes and the abstention from profiteering.


Klein is a Ph.D. candidate in the Indiana University Department of History and Philosophy of Science as well as a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. He spent two years carrying out research in Germany via Fulbright and DAAD grants. His research focuses on the Wittenberg medical professor, Daniel Sennert (1572–1637), whose unique combination of chymistry, medicine, and atomism came to be influential throughout the 17th century. He has also worked on the Chymistry of Isaac Newton Project as an editorial assistant and has re-created several of Newton’s alchemical experiments.

Learn more about Klein’s research (and catch a sneak peek of Sennert’s letters) in his episode of the Beckman Center video series Behind the Beaker.

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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