Edmund Dickinson was alchemist and court physician to Charles II and James II.
- One of the letters:
- Royal Society
- Royal Physician
- From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
- The worck of Dickinson.
Edmund Dickinson or Dickenson (1624–1707) was an English royal physician and alchemist, author of a syncretic philosophical system.
He was son of the Rev. William Dickinson, rector of Appleton in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), by his wife Mary, daughter of Edmund Colepepper, and was born on 26 September 1624. He received his primary education at Eton College,
and in 1642 entered Merton College, Oxford, where he was admitted one of the Eton postmasters.
He took the degree of B.A. 22 June 1647, and was elected probationer-fellow of his college, On 27 November 1649 he had the degree of M.A. conferred upon him. Applying himself to the study of medicine, he obtained the degree of M.D. on 3 July 1656.
Dickinson’s long-term interest in transmutational alchemy began in Oxford, where he was visited about 1662 by a French adept known only as Theodore Mundanus.
In 1678 or 1679 Mundanus visited Dickinson again and performed two transmutations before him.
Dickinson’s subsequent enquiries about alchemy addressed to Mundanus (1683) were published in Oxford as Epistola ad Mundanum de quintessentia philosophorum (1686), together with Mundanus’s response (1684), translated from French into Latin. The French text survives in the British Library . This volume achieved much popularity, appearing in three editions.
One of the letters:
University of Oxford; during the short Stay I made there, I was so happy to become acquainted with you, and in that Time was thoroughly sensible of the great Charge and Pains you had been at in improving yourself in Chymistry’. Upon this Gentleman’s second Appearance in England in 1679, finding the Doctor more addicted to this Art, than he imagined one of his great Practice could find Time for, to give him an undeniable Testimony of the vast Esteem he had for him, and to settle and confirm him in the Belief of a Probability of Success in the great Work, he made before him those two Projections, which he owns, in the Space of above forty Years, in which he had been an Adept, never to have shewn to more than three Persons, except the Doctor.
John Evelyn once went to see him and recorded the visit:
I went to see Dr. Dickinson the famous chemist. We had a long conversation about the philosopher’s elixir, which he believed attainable and had seen projection himself by one who went under the name of Mundanus, who sometimes came among the adepts, but was unknown as to his country or abode; of this the doctor has written a treatise in Latin, full of very astonishing relations.
Acquaintance between the Doctor and this Mundanus, is manifest from the Confession of the latter; ‘About twenty Years ago’, says he, ‘in making the Tour of England, I came to the famous
While still a young man he published a book under the title of Delphi Phoenicizantes, Oxford, 1665, in which he attempted to prove that the Greeks borrowed the story of Pythian Apollo from the Hebrew scriptures. Anthony à Wood says that Henry Jacob the Younger, and not Dickinson, was the author of this book; it appeared with a contribution from Zachary Bogan. This was followed by Diatriba de Noae in Italiam Adventu, Oxford, 1655.
Evelyn also associated Dickinson with the Interregnum Oxford group of “virtuosi” that later contributed to the formation of the Royal Society.
Extracted from William Blomberg, An Account of the Life and Writings of Edmund Dickinson, M.D. Physician in Ordinary to King Charles and King James II. London. 1739.
The Occasion of writing which was, a certain Person came to the Doctor’s House, and made before him two Projections, as the Adepts term it; that is, converted or transmuted baser Metal into pure Gold, by a Powder or Stone; the Rumour of this spreading, especially amongst the Searchers after this Arcanum, he wrote this little Treatise in Latin, to which he received an Answer in French from Paris, and having it translated into that more universal Language in which his own appeared, published it with that.
Who this certain Person was, is not known, though, that there was an old personal
On leaving college he began to practise as a physician in a house in High Street, Oxford, where he stayed for nearly two decades. The college made him superior reader of Linacre’s lectures, in succession to Richard Lydall, a post which he held for some years.
He was elected honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in December 1664, but he was treated as somewhat suspect and was not admitted a fellow till 1677. In 1684 he came up to London and settled in St. Martin’s Lane; he took over the house ofThomas Willis (famous doctor). Among his patients here was Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, whom he cured of a hernia.
The alchemist Johann Joachim Becher claims in the dedication of his Tripus hermeticus fatidicus that in 1680 Dickinson, as a court physician, helped Becher and introduced him to the court.
By him the doctor was recommended to the king, Charles II, who appointed him one of his physicians in ordinary and physician to the household (1677). Charles took the doctor into special favour and had a laboratory built in Whitehall Palace. Here the king could retire with George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Dickinson, who exhibited chemical experiments.
Dickinson managed an alchemical laboratory, built under the royal bedchamber and accessible by a private staircase, where he performed experiments in the company of the king and George Villiers, duke of Buckingham. On the accession of James II in 1685, Dickinson was confirmed in his royal appointments, continuing there until James’s deposition in 1688, whereupon he retired from practice.
During this Reign [Charles II], the Doctor [Edmund Dickinson] continued in great Esteem and Favour at Court; and upon the Accession of King James II was confirmed in his Place and King’s Physician; but this Monarch being more addicted to his Devotions than Chymistry, the Doctor had now Leisure to apply himself to Writing; wherefore, in 1686, he published his Epistola ad Mundanum de Quintessentia Philosophorum.
On the accession of James II (1685), Dickinson was confirmed in his office as king’s physician, and held it until the abdication of James (1688).
From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
Dickinson afterwards reiterated to John Evelyn his belief in the philosophers’ stone and metallic transmutation. Robert Boyle chose Dickinson as one of the three executors of his chemical and alchemical papers, a task he attempted in 1692 after Boyle’s death.
Later Dickinson published his notions of alchemy, in Epistola ad T. Mundanum de Quintessentia Philosophorum, Oxford. 1686.
The major work on which he spent his latest years was a system of philosophy, set forth in Physica vetus et vera (1702). which asserted the literal truth of the six days of creation, and presented a broad system of natural philosophy drawn from the Pentateuch and contemporary corpuscularian (atomic theory) theories. with passages from Greek and Latin writers as well as from the Bible. This lengthy work, some of which had to be rewritten after parts of the manuscript were accidentally burnt.
The book attracted attention, and was published inRotterdam (1703), and in Leoburg (1705). Cotton Mather (of Salem witch trial infamy) drew on Dickinson’s thinking in his Biblia Americana.
After suffering from bladder stones for over twenty years, Dickinson died at his house in St Martin’s Lane on 3 April 1707. aged 83 where a large black marble monument with an elaborate inscription was erected on the east wall, following the dictates of his will, made on 11 September 1705.
Troubled with the stone, Dickinson retired from practice and spent the remaining nineteen years of his life in study and in the making of books. He died on 3 April 1707, aged 83,
Dickinson was survived by his daughter, Elizabeth, then wife of Charles John, Baron Blomberg, and his four grandsons.
His youngest grandson, William Nicholas Blomberg (1702?–1750), wrote a rambling biography of Dickinson; and, being in possession of his grandfather’s papers, Besides these Edmund left behind him in manuscript a treatise in the Latin on the ‘Grecian Games,’ published in 1739 a manuscript by Dickinson on the Grecian games as an appendix to the biography’s second edition.
A 17th century allegorical alchemical poem by Edmund Dickinson, transcribed from MS Ferguson 91 in Glasgow University Library.
The worck of Dickinson.
When Phoebus with his rayes bright
Through the Raine takes his flight
His heate is then soe nourishinge
To the Earth and every other thinge
That sapp and roote doth then revive
By Phoebus heate attractive
Drawing by branches of the vine
Water mingled with Earth fine
Containeinge also fier and Ayre
Which liquor on Earth hath noe peere
CHAOS veterum some doe it call
Confused in it the Elements all
Wherefore draw thou a water bright
Contayneng in it the fiers might
And in the residence thou shalt finde
An Earth black as man of Inde
Which into Luna looke thou throwe
Till it be whiter then the snowe
That Earth put in a glasse faire
And put thereto of his water cleere
But close the mouth well of the Glasse
That the Spirit doe not out passe
A dayes space then lett them stand
To be buried in could sand
Then doe it in a bath of lent heate
That faint water it maye out sweate
So weake water thou shalt up still
But fier beneath with Earth will dwell
When all the fainte water is drew
And fier left in the Earth belowe
Then of this water put on more
And do as earst thou didst before
But often times thou must doe this
To gett much store of fier I wisse
So when thy fier is multiplied
Which still belowe in Earth will bide
Then hast thou gott a burning fire
That draw forth at thy owne desier
For Earth with his attractive might
Keepes downe with him the fire bright
First hide the fire the Earth within
And afterward looke thou them twinne
Thus Raymund ment when he did say
Absconde ignem in intimis terrae
Then set thy glass in dry fire
Till the white fumes doe appeare
Receive the same cloudes bright
Which tourne the water greate of might
This water if thou doest not knowe
Some thinge thereof I will the shewe
Of which Philosophers meane
From bowels of the Earth updrawe
By Phoebus might as earst was shewne
Mercury vegetable it is without doubt
That causeth Cropp and roote to sproute
Ignis humidus forsooth it is
The comfort of our life I wis
Mercury vegetable that men of clatter
That reduceth Gold to his first matter
This is the key that all must done
To open the bodies of Sonne and Moone
Also the menstrue vegetative
The metalline body that doth revive
The menstrue resolutive is the thinge
Which the menstruum resolved forth doth bringe
Then rectifie this water of might
And doe in it obryson bright
Which thou that tourne to his first matter
As doth Ice in warme water
And so together thou must convert
That never asunder they shall depart
Then circulate them so thou shall
To heale in man diseases all
For then thou has Electrum right
The first essence of the Sonne bright
This is the Philosophers Sulphur vive
Theire Tinctur, lead, theire Gold of life
Likewise Luna thou maist reduce
To serve the to an other use
If thou hast grace then mayst thou finde
A water of an other kinde
Which faster to the metall doth cleave
Ingendred in the Earth beneath
Reduce him rightly into water
Which of metalls is first matter
Whose partes so divide thou shall
Into Earth and water minerall
That after they may conjoyned be
To cure in metalls leprosy
And for the order of true workenge
In figures is satt downe every thinge
To make white stone and the redd
Elixir vitae to putt away dread
To shew the order I meane truly
For workes in Bookes disordred bee
And keepe this secret I the praye
As thou wilt answear it at doomes day
And keepe it out of wicked hands
Which in no feare of God stands
And keepe it well in safety
To guide thy bretheren eke and thee
The key of all is heere in briefe
Which erst by none was ere so reife
And looke that aye thou live aright
And serve the Lord in Truth and Spight
And dooe good deedes unto the poore
So shalt thou live for ever more.