“The most important English alchemical text.”
-Denis Duveen author of Bibliotheca Alchemica et Chemica:
An Annotated Catalogue of Printed Books on Alchemy, Chemistry and Cognate Subjects.
“The foremost seventeenth-century collection of English alchemical texts is Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum.”
-Lyndy Abraham author of A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge University Press.
Ouroboros Press edition title page printed in red & black.
The Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum is a major collection of English alchemical texts which encapsulate the arcana of the Magnum Opus in poetic form. Originally gathered by Elias Ashmole from several rare medieval manuscripts, the text represents the largest collection of verse concerning the production of the Philosopher’s Stone to be brought together in one volume.
Ashmole’s pride in English literature was amplified through the consideration he gave to the project. In deciding which texts should be included in the book, he details ancient British examples among the Druids & the Bardic Tradition and explains that poesy is much better than mere verse.
Here we find well-known names in the alchemical corpus, among whom are included: Thomas Norton, George Ripley, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Daston, Pearce the Black Monke, Richard Carpenter, Abraham Andrews, Thomas Charnock, William Bloomefield, Edward Kelley, John Dee, Thomas Robinson, William Backhouse, John Gower, John Lydgate, W. Redman, and several anonymous authors. This who’s who of English alchemists is placed in historical context by a Prolegomena by Ashmole, which supports his thesis that England may be proud of its alchemical literary heritage. In addition, Ashmole has provided ample annotations and commentary on each of the texts as supplementary material in the concluding chapter of the book. The text has a new introduction by William Kiesel and a full bibliography of alchemical and bibliographic materials used in researching the text. [Click here for a full list of the contents].
“Ashmole’s introductory matter is a marvelous, sprightly essay on alchemy by the most learned antiquarian of his age.”
-Manly P. Hall author of the Secret Teachings of All Ages.
This complete edition of the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum goes beyond the mere reprinting of the original pages as past facsimiles have done. Using the original errata sheets provided by Ashmole, the entire text has been corrected and reset in a more readable typeface and features clear reproductions of the original engravings produced by Robert Vaughan. In addition, this edition features a more complete version of the Breviary of Natural Philosophy by Thomas Charnock by employing a complete manuscript of the text not available to Ashmole in 1652. This is the most ambitious publishing project embraced by Ouroboros Press in its years of laboring to bring source works of western esotericism to scholars and collectors alike. Over a dozen individuals and institutions worked hard to bring the book into this complete and corrected edition. This is fine esoteric book arts at its best, a volume Elias Ashmole himself would be proud of.
“In scope, these poems encompass all of the aspects of the great work: theory and practice, instructions on furnaces and vessels, or on substances to be avoided, and allegorical accounts intended to convey the most important secrets.”
-Didier Kahn author of Alchemical Poetry in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: A Preliminary Survey and Synthesis Part I — Preliminary Survey, Ambix Volume 57, Number 3, November 2010.
¶ Edition Specifications: Stout Octavo, 6 x 9 inches. 528 pages. Primary Typeface: Williams Caslon Text. Rubricated title page in red and black ink. Illustrated with alchemical engravings, ornamental grotesques, dragons, trees, and fleurons. Includes an 11 x 14 folding plate titled George Ripley’s Wheel.
Robert Vaughan’s Engravings
The Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum features several engraved plates by Robert Vaughan [not to be confused with Thomas Vaughan, author of Lumen de Lumen etc.]. C. H. Josten notes ‘these engravings are probably the earliest engraved reproductions of miniatures from an illuminated manuscript.’ The manuscripts in question are preserved in the British Library. The engravings are certainly among the most beautifully rendered in the alchemical corpus. Heralding from the emblematic tradition, such engravings are by now hallmarks of the famous alchemical books extant. According to Ashmole’s diary, Vaughan actually came to stay with him where the artist ‘wrought and finished all the Cutts’. The images themselves feature several alchemical scenes depicting famous alchemists, work in laboratories, astrological charts, as well as allegorical themes, and the larger images are each surrounded by foliated borders which are also populated with animals, insects, and birds. The book also has a few engraved ornamental grotesques, alchemical dragons, trees, and fleurons scattered throughout the text.
The Folding Plate: John Goddard’s Diagram
In addition to Vaughan’s engravings there is a folding plate by another artist which is to be found in the Compound of Alchemie, or Twelve Gates by George Ripley. This typographical diagram labeled ‘Here followeth the the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small’ was originally rendered by John Goddard. Again in keeping with the original, the folding plate is included in the Ouroboros Press edition with the Latin parts translated into English by Darius Klein.
¶ Colophon: The typeface used on this complete edition of Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Williams Caslon Text designed by William Berkson, is based on an early font cut by William Caslon who in the 18th century made British printers’ dependence on Dutch type a thing of the past. Caslon’s typeface was also popular in America and it was utilized by Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore for the printing of the Declaration of Independence. The Fleurons Garamont ornaments, based on 16th century originals, were designed by Bruce Rogers, the famous American book and type designer. The fine engravings by Robert Vaughan were scanned from a first edition copy of the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum which was originally owned by Isaac Newton.
Wherefore you that love to converse with the Dead, or consult with their Monuments, draw near: perhaps you may find more benefit in them then the Living; There you may meet with the Genii of our Hermetique Philosophers, learne the Language in which they woo’d and courted Dame Nature, and enjoy them more freely, and at Greater Command, (to satisfie your Doubts) than when they were in the Flesh; For, they have Written more then they would Speake; and left their Lines so Rich, as if they had dissolved Gold in their Inke, and clad their Words with the Soveraign Moysture.
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
For more details about this edition visit this website.
Read a review of the TCB in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition.
Peter Stockinger also reviews the TCB on his weblog: Traditional Astrology Weblog.
The Complete and Corrected
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
¶ Trade Cloth Edition: Gilt-stamped cloth over boards in letterpress printed dust jacket. Over thirty alchemical texts in 528 pages. Illustrated, bibliography & table of obscure words. $88.00
Special deluxe bindings in leather and vellum will be executed with traditional bookbinding technique by the studios of Ars Obscura Bookbinding utilizing antique book presses. Strictly limited in number, these will take form in two distinct binding styles as follows:
¶ Deluxe Leather Edition: Full tanned goat with gilt-stamped spine bands and central ‘grotesque’ ornament to boards. Ebony and gilt leather spine label, silk bookmark and hand-marbled endpapers. Limited to 200 copies only. $208.00
¶ Vellum Edition: Full imperial vellum with gilt-stamped spine bands and central ‘grotesque’ ornament to boards. Scarlet leather spine label, silk bookmark, hand-marbled endpapers and silk closure ties. Limited to 35 copies only. $278.00
Pre-publication price with Golden Chain of Homer Broadside included.