Who would have thought that a scholarly article published in 2012 about an alchemist who died in 1653 would discuss whether the chicken or the egg came first and the innovative thinking that led to thermostatically controlled ovens?
The 21-page article written by Vera Keller of the UO's Robert D. Clark Honors College does just that, and, more importantly, it provides evidence to show that the alchemist, Sir John Heydon, was the author of an unpublished manuscript stored in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Keller's paper, "The Authority of Practice in the Alchemy of Sir John Heydon (1588-1653)," was one of 20 named as the "best of the archives" of Ambix, an international peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry. Alchemy encompasses a combination of scientific thinking and speculative philosophy that gave rise to modern chemistry.
"It is pretty neat, in that I didn't apply for it, and Ambix is a very long established journal," said Keller, assistant professor of history, of her article's selection. Ambix began publication in 1937.
The article is about the alchemical pursuits of Heydon and a short-list of colleagues whose "approach to science is interesting for the period as they respected and drew upon the work of artisans, combining theory and practice within a very practical context, i.e. the military," Keller said.
Heydon and his brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Gardiner, were close observers of another alchemist, Cornelis Drebbel, an artist and inventor who came up with a self-regulating oven.
Within this tale of Heydon's exploits, Keller points to correspondence and various references that make the case for Heydon penning a work of alchemical theory in the manuscript "A Synopsis of the Universall Entity of Ideas or of ye Systemes of the Maeteriall and Immateriall World."
Keller is now working on her second book, which will focus on Drebbel.
- by Jim Barlow, Public Affairs Communications