Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus

, a man of a strange and paradoxical genius, and classed by Brucker among the Theosophists, was born, as is generally supposed (for his birth-place is a disputed matter), at Einfidlen nearZurick, in 1493. His family name, which was Bombastus, he afterwards changed, according to the custom of the age, into Paracelsus. His father, who was a physician, instructed him in that science, but, as it would appear, in nothing else, for he was almost totally ignorant of the learned languages. So earnest was he, however, to penetrate into the mysteries of nature, that, neglecting books, he undertook long and hazardous journeys through Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, Moscovy, and probably several parts of Asia and Africa. He not only visited literary and learned men, but frequented the workshops of mechanics, descended into mines, and thought no place mean or hazardous, if it afforded him an opportunity of increasing his knowledge of nature. He also consulted barber-surgeons, monks, conjurors, old women, quacks of every description, and every person who pretended to be possessed of any secret art, particularly such as were skilled in metallurgy. Being in this manner a self-taught philosopher and physician, he despised the medical writings of the ancients, and boasted that the whole contents of his library would not amount to six folios. He appears indeed to have written more than he ever read. His quackery consisted in certain new and secret medicines procured from metallic substances by the chemical art, which he administered with such wonderful success, that he rose to the summit of popular fame, and even obtained the professorship of medicine at Bail. One of his nostrums he called Azoth, which he said was the philosopher’s stone, the medical panacea, and his disciples extolled it as the tincture of life, given through the divine favour to man in these last days. But while his irregular practice, and arrogant invectives against other physicians, created him many enemies, his rewards were by no means adequate to his vanity and ambition; and he met frequently with mortifications, one of which determined him to leave Basil. A wealthy canon who happened to fall sick at that place, offered him a hundred florins to cure his disease, which Paracelsus easily effected with three pills of opium, one of his most powerful medicines. The canon, restored to health so soon, and apparently by such slight means, | refused to stand to his engagement. Paracelsus brought the matter before the magistrate, who decreed him only the usual fee. Inflamed with violent indignation at the contempt which was thus thrown upon his art, he railed at the canon, the magistrate, and the whole city, and leaving Basil, withdrew into Alsace, whither his medical fame and success followed him. After two years, during which time he practised medicine in the principal families of the country, about the year 1530 he removed into Switzerland, where he conversed with Bullinger and other divines. From this time, he seems for many years to have roved through various parts of Germany and Bohemia. At last, in the year 1541, he died in the hospital of St. Sebastian, in Saltsburg.

Different and even contradictory judgments have been formed by the learned concerning Paracelsus. His admirers and followers have celebrated him as a perfect master of all philosophical and medical mysteries, have called him the medical Luther, and have even been weak enough to believe that he was possessed of the grand secret of converting inferior metals into gold. But others, and particularly some of his contemporaries, have charged his whole medical practice with ignorance, imposture, and impudence. J. Crato, in an epistle to Zwinger, attests, that in Bohemia his medicines, even when they performed an apparent cure, left his patients in such a state, that they soon after died of palsies or epilepsies. Erastus, who was for two years one of his pupils, wrote an entire book to detect his impostures. We have mentioned his want of education, and it is even asserted, that he was so imperfect a master of his vernacular tongue, that he was obliged to have his German writings corrected by another hand. His adversaries also charge him with the most contemptible arrogance, the most vulgar scurrility, the grossest intemperance, and the most detestable impiety. Still it appears, that with all these defects, by the mere help of physical knowledge and the chemical arts, he obtained an uncommon share of medical fame; while to support his credit with the ignorant, he pretended to an intercourse with invisible spirits, and to divine illuminations.

With regard to his system of chemistry, in which his real merit lies, the fundamental doctrines of it resolved every thing into three elements, salt, sulphur, and mercury, and were for a long time received, although in fact | they were borrowed from his predecessor, Basil Valentine. His medical skill consisted principally in the bold administration of some powerful remedies, which had been heretofore thought too dangerous to be used, particularly opium, a drug with which, it is obvious, he would be able in many instances to afford great and speedy relief; but with which also few permanent cures could be effected, and much mischief would necessarily be produced, when it was misapplied. Antimony and mercury were also medicines which he liberally prescribed, and he used various preparations of them of the most active kind. He deserves the praise, however, of having been one of the first to employ mercury for the cure of the venereal disease, and of course he must have been successful in a degree, to which none of his contemporaries, who did not resort to that remedy, could attain. From his total ignorance of anatomy and rational physiology, his inability from want of literature to investigate the doctrines of the ancients, which he nevertheless boldly impugned, and his employment of a barbarous jargon, as well as his infatuated notions of magic, astrology, geomancy, and all the other branches of mystical imposture, he is, as a theorist, beneath contempt. We shall not pretend, therefore, to enter into any detail of the unintelligible jargon and absurd hypotheses which he employed, or to enumerate the immense farrago of treatises, which made their appearance under his name after his death, the notices of which occupy above nine quarto pages in the Bibliotheca of Haller: for the first we are unable to comprehend, and the latter would be a waste of time. The most complete edition is that of Geneva, 1658, 3 vols. folio. 1

1 Brucker. —Haller. Thomson’s Hist, of the Royal Society. —Eloy, —Dict. Hist. de Medicine. Rees’s Cyclopædia.