“Everything in this world must have a beginning. Things have latterly gone so far with scientists in the matter of prejudice, that it is quite a wonder that even so much as this should be conceded to ancient philosophy. The poor, honest primordial elements have long been exiled, and our ambitious men of science run races to determine who shall add one more to the fledgling brood of the sixty-three or more elementary substances.
Meanwhile there rages a war in modern chemistry about terms. We are denied the right to call these substances “chemical elements”, for they are not “primordial principles or self-existing essences out of which the universe was fashioned.”
Such ideas associated with the word element were good enough for the “old Greek philosophy”, but modern science rejects them; for, as Professor Cooke says, “they are the unfortunate terms”, and experimental science will have “nothing to do with any kind of essences except those which it can see, smell, or taste.” It must have those that can be put in the eye, the nose, or the mouth! It leaves others to the metaphysicians.
Therefore, when Van Helmont tells us that, “though a homogeneal part of elementary earth may be artfully (artificially) converted into water”, though he still denies “that same can be done by nature alone; for no natural agent is able to transmute one element into another”, offering as a reason that the elements always remain the same, we must believe him, if not quite an ignoramus, at least an unprogressed disciples of the mouldy “old Greek philosophy”.
Living and dying in blissful ignorance of the future sixty-three substances, what could either he or his old master, Paracelsus, achieve? Nothing, of course, but metaphysical and crazy speculations, clothed in a meaningless jargon common to all mediaeval and ancient alchemists.
Nevertheless, in comparing notes, we find in the latest of all works upon modern chemistry, the following:
“The study of chemistry has revealed a remarkable class of substances, from no one of which a second substance has ever been produced by any chemical process which weighs less than the original substance…by no chemical process whatever can we obtain from iron a substance weighing less than the metal used in its production. In a word, we can extract from iron nothing but iron.”
Moreover, it appears, according to Professor Cooke, that “seventy-five years ago men did not know there was any difference” between elementary and compound substances, for in old times alchemists had never conceived “that weight is the measure of material, and that, as thus measured, no material is ever lost;
but, on the contrary, they imagined that in such experiments as these the substances involved underwent a mysterious transformation….Centuries”, in short, “were wasted in vain attempts to transform the baser metals in gold.””
H. P. Blavatsky