[Access article in PDF]
Rudolf Gamper and Thomas Hofmeier. Das Alchemiehandbuch des Appenzeller Wundarztes Ulrich Ruosch. Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, no. 1. Basel: Schwabe, 2002. 158 pp. Ill. Sw. Fr. 48.00, €33.50 (3-7965-1975-X).
History of alchemy is a field not always covered by serious scientists, due to the recent popular interest in metallic transmutation and the development of alchemical medicine. Thus, I am pleased to see a carefully prepared book by two distinguished Swiss scientists editing and interpreting a marvelous and precious colored handwritten booklet, which belonged to Ulrich Ruosch, a locally very famous seventeenth-century physician in the Swiss county of Appenzell. It is the smallest alchemical volume known in Switzerland: measuring only 6 x 8 x 1.6 cm, it contains fifty-two parchment pages mostly showing colored pictures with annotations in typical alchemical crypticism. It deserves—from a twenty-first-century point of view—a careful interpretation, and this has been excellently done by the authors.
Rudolf Gamper and Thomas Hofmeier first describe the handwriting in detail, providing colored illustrations of almost every page. This chapter is followed by a short overview of the history of alchemy, particularly in Switzerland. The main part of the book is devoted to the interpretation of the text and symbols in Ruosch's booklet. Biographical information, some edited sources, and glossaries complete the fascinating volume.
One might argue that this book will be of interest just to people familiar with, and particularly interested in, the history of medicine in Switzerland, but this is definitely not the case. First of all, it offers much information on iatrochemistry in general, and it gives deep insight into alchemical symbolism—in both cases relying on the most relevant historical literature. Furthermore, it is beautifully illustrated and very pleasant to read and look at.
University of Frankfurt/Main