Alchemy: Ancient and Modern
converted into mercury by the expulsion of one a-particle, and this into thallium by
the expulsion of one ß-particle, yielding gold by the further expulsion of an a-
particle. But, as Professor Soddy remarks in his Science and Life just referred to, “if
man ever achieves this further control over Nature, it is quite certain that the last
thing he would want to do would be to turn lead or mer cury into gold—for the sake
of gold. The energy that would be liberated, if the control of these sub -atomic
processes were as possible as is the control of ordinary chemical changes, such as
combustion, would far exceed in importance and value the gold. Ra ther it would pay
to transmute gold into silver or some base metal.”
In § 101 of the book I suggest that the question of the effect on the world of finance
of the discovery of an inexpensive method of transmuting base metal into gold on a
large scale is one that should appeal to a novelist specially gifted with imagination.
Since the words were first written a work has appeared in which something
approximating to what was suggested has been attempted and very admirably
achieved. My reference is to Mr. H. G. Wells’s novel, The World Set Free, published in
In conclusion I should like to thank the very many reviewers who found so many
good things to say concerning the first edition of this book. For kind assistance in
reading the proofs of this edition my best thanks are due also and are hereby
tendered to my wife, and my good friend Gerald Druce, Esq., M.Sc.
H. S. R.
191, Camden Road, London, N.W. 1.? October, 1921.
The number of books in the English language dealing with the interesting subject of
Alchemy is not sufficiently great to render an apology necessary for adding thereto.
Indeed, at the present time there is an actual need for a further contribution on this
subject. The time is gone when it was regarded as perfectly legitimate to point to
Alchemy as an instance of the aberrations of the human mind. Recent experimental
research has brought about profound modifications in the scientific notions
regarding the chemical elements, and, indeed, in the scientific concept of the
physical universe itself; and a certain resemblance can be traced between these
later views and the theories of bygone Alchemy. The spontaneous change of one
“element” into another has been witnessed, and the recent work of Sir William
Ramsay suggests the possibility of realising the old alchemistic dream—the
transmutation of the “base” metals into gold.
The basic idea permeating all the alchemistic theories appears to have been this: All
the metals (and, indeed, all forms of matter) are one in origin, and are produc ed by
an evolutionary process. The Soul of them all is one and the same; it is only the
Soul that is permanent; the body or outward form, i.e., the mode of manifestation of
the Soul, is transitory, and one form may be transmuted into another. The sim ilarity,
indeed it might be said, the identity, between this view and the modern etheric
theory of matter is at once apparent.