restricted access The business of alchemy: science and culture in the Holy Roman Empire (review)
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178 Reviews Persia were not premeditated. His drive to power amongst the Mongol tribes and their neighbours was a product of his youth, a consequence of childhood hardships and misfortune, and was impelled by traditional Mongol values of thirst for power and ineluctible desire for vengeance for insults and injuries suffered. However, his later campaigns against the Chin (Jurghid) and Xi-Xia (Tangut) dynsaties in northern and western China respectively, and against the Khwaram-Shah 'Ala-ad-DTn M u h a m m a d were the product of slights, whether real or imaginary does not really matter, against him or his subjects. The Mongol rise to world dominion was not premeditated but rather was a product of ad hoc responses to piece-meal situations. This is a fascinating book, made comprehensible to the general public by its editor and translator, who is to be congratulated on his choice of text and the 'popularizing' efforts which he has undertaken at much greater expense of time and effort than can normally be expected from translators. John H. Pryor Department of History University of Sydney Smith, Pamela H., The business of alchemy: science and culture in the Holy Roman Empire, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994; cloth; pp. xii, 308; 30 illustrations; R.R.P. US$45.00. Written in the tradition of R. J. W . Evans's Rudolph II and his world (1973) and Bruce Moran's The alchemical world of the German court (1991), Pamela Smith's book clearly and intelligently illuminates the interaction which occurred between the spheres of alchemy, commerce, and the court in the Holy Roman Empire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Smith explores this subject by focusing on the intellectual biography of Johann Joachim Becher (1635-82), an adept of alchemy/chemistry and the material arts. Becher was passionately concerned with both the reform of knowledge and with the introduction of the forms and activities of commercial enterprise into the domain of the landed court. His great plan was to draw the productive knowledge of material things, which involved commerce and the mechanical arts, into the realm of politics and the court: a realm whose practices were based on very different principles from those of the mobile and 'suspect' world of commerce. The capture of productive knowledge to generate income through commerce was Becher's solution to the court's ever Reviews 179 present need to create surplus wealth. Becher stated that he could provide by this means revenue which the 'cameralisten', the treasury officials, could not. He insisted that he had on his side the knowledge of the principles of generation and production by art, and the genius of invention, both of which had the power to create wealth, something which the existing treasury and the sterile words of scholars could not accomplish. He advocated that a new type of financial advisor was needed, a person who had more in common with the hermetic philosopher with his knowledge of practical chymistry and the secrets of generation, than with the Aristotelian philosopher, whose useless words were incapable of producing wealth. Like Samuel Hartlib in England, Becher wanted to draw alchemy into the public arena and, as with Hartlib's plan for the reform of knowledge, an alchemical laboratory was to be the centre-piece of Becher's projected plan for a Kunst-und Werckhaus designed to shelter and train the vagrant population of the Habsburg lands. In order to be able to communicate to his patrons the alien idea of material increase through production and commerce, Becher required a new discourse: one which could penetrate the rhetorical conventions of the court. This discourse he found in the language of alchemy. By employing alchemical images of regeneration and multiplication, by symbolically using the figure of Hermes/Mercurius in his multiple roles of agent of transmutation, regenerator and multiplier of gold, and patron of merchants and trade (the word 'merchant' is in fact derived from Mercurius), Becher was able to make comprehensible to the emperor the world of commercial profit. In his appropriately mercurial role as the great networker and the mediator between praxis and practice, Becher eventually became 'an interpreter of social forms existing outside the...


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