Hermetis, Aegyptiorum, et Chemicorum Sapientia ab Hermanni Conringii animadversionibus Vindicata.

Copenhagen: Sumptibus Petri Hauboldi, Reg. Acad. Bibl. 1674.

First and only edition, and one of the few copies having the folding plate illustrating three types of retorts, as well as the four-page dedication to Jean Baptiste Colbert. According to the Wellcome Library catalogue, “this plate is a copy from a MS. of Zosimus (ca. 500 AD) of the earliest known illustration of distilling apparatus.” Borrichius was a prominent Danish professor of philology and natural philosopher. The present work is Borrichius’s answer to Hermann Conring’s De Hermetica Aegyptiorum Medicina (Helmstedt, 1648). “Here [Conring] attacked hermetic knowledge as a whole, which he assured the reader had been so corrupted by time that we hardly know what the original texts meant. As for Paracelsus and his followers, he was adamant. Their work had corrupted all philosophy. Their three principles were useless and their metallic medicines had been plagiarized from earlier physicians such as Arnald of Villanova and Raymond Lull” (Debus, p. 180). In his reply, Borrichius “defended the antiquity and truth of Egyptian knowledge and insisted on an historical Hermes who had discovered how to transmute base metals to gold. The great Greek authorities had studied in Egypt and it was to the glory of Paracelsus that he had rediscovered the truths known to the Egyptian adepts” (ibid.). The first book of Borrichius’s work is devoted to the anatomical and botanical prowess of the ancient Egyptians; the second to a defence of Paracelsian medicine. Borrichius’s book generated great interest in England, receiving a long review by Oldenburg in the Philosophical Transactions (vol. 19 (1675), 296-301). Although several works by Borrichius were reprinted in Magnet’s Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa (Geneva, 1702), this was not among them. Borrichius (1626-90) is perhaps best known today for being the teacher at the Vor Frue Skole in Copenhagen of the brilliant polymath Nicholas Steno. ABPC/RBH lists four copies in the last 35 years (one of which lacked the plate).

The son of Oluf Clusen, a rector, Borrichius went to school in Ribe and entered the University of Copenhagen in 1644 to study medicine under Thomas Bartholin, Olaus Worm, and Simon Pauli. He remained a close friend of Bartholin until the latter’s death in 1680. Borrichius was a teacher at the chief grammar school in Copenhagen for a time, won fame as a physician during the plague epidemic of 1654, and became tutor to the sons of Joachim Gersdorf, the lord high steward (Rigshofmester), in 1655. In 1660 Borrichius was appointed professor ordinarius of philology and professor extraordinarius of botany and chemistry. The posts were supernumerary until vacancies occurred.

“Later in 1660 Borrichius was granted permission by the university to absent himself for two years in order to prepare himself for these posts by study and travel in other countries. He was joined at Hamburg by Gersdorf’s sons. Borrichius’ diary of the tour, and his correspondence with Bartholin, provide an interesting picture of European intellectual life during the period. He visited Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, and Italy. Among those he met were Sylvius, Swammerdam, Boyle, Petit, Redi, and Guy Patin. Borrichius received the M.D. at Angers in 1664. He gathered much information on the Hermetic sciences during the tour, and was greatly impressed by the Italian alchemist Giuseppe Francesco Borri.

“His tour having lasted six years by then, Borrichius was reminded that his university posts could not be kept vacant indefinitely, and he began his journey home from Italy, reaching Copenhagen in 1664. He assumed the posts that he was to hold for nearly thirty years, becoming famous for his polymath erudition and establishing a large and profitable medical practice (he was royal physician to Frederick III and Christian V). He was twice rector magnificus at his university, and in 1686 was appointed counselor to the Supreme Court of Justice and in 1689 to the Royal Chancellery. He never married, and before his death bequeathed his house as a collegium mediceum, to lodge six students.

“Borrichius was famous in his own time as a physician, as a polemicist and defender of Hermeticism, and as a prolific writer on chemical, botanical, and philological topics. His histories of the development of chemistry are among his best-known works. His travels and meetings with other European natural philosophers had not weakened his allegiance to the revived Hermeticism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Borrichius was prepared to concede that there was no healing virtue in words, seals, and images; astral influences, if they really existed, consisted of balsamic exhalations. At the same time, he believed in the existence of the philosophers’ stone. Of all profane sciences, chemistry came closest to the contemplation of divinity in nature, and hence to Scripture. Opposing Athanasius Kircher’s views, and especially those of Hermann Conring, Borrichius defended the genuineness and antiquity attributed to the Emerald Table and the Hermetic writings. He also accepted as authentic the alchemical works ascribed to such authors as Democritus, Albert the Great, Arnald of Villanova, Ramon Lull, and Nicolas Flamel. He opposed Conring’s views that Paracelsian principles had no use in medicine and that chemistry was better employed in perfecting pharmacy than in presuming to correct physiology and pathology” (DSB).

“It was Borch, more than anyone else, who turned the serious young boy [Steno] into a serious young scientist. In some ways, teacher and pupil were a study in contrasts – the expansive, poetic Borch, the intense, analytical Steno – but they shared an insatiable curiosity about nature, and both were true believers in the experimental philosophy. The friendship that grew between them continued after both had left Vor Frue; indeed, it lasted until the end of Steno’s life” (Cutler, p. 26).

“Ferguson states that there ‘were apparently two issues of this book, for I have seen other copies without the dedication and the plate.’ Duveen confirms this, his copy being without the plate and dedication. The Wellcome Library catalogue states that this is the second issue, although on what authority I do not know. This issue is very rare” (The Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library).

Cutler, The Seashell on the Mountaintop, 2003. Debus, Chemistry and Medical Debate: Van Helmont to Boerhaave, 2001.



Small 4to (197 x 147 mm), pp. [xii], 448 [8:index] and folding engraved plate facing p. 156 (light uniform browning throughout). Contemporary vellum. A very good copy in its original state.

Item #3252

Price: $1,750.00

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