Dissertation Abstract

The Consideration of Quintessence: An edition of a Middle English translation of John of Rupescissa's Liber de Consideratione Quintae Essentiae Omnium Rerum with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary

by

Marguerite A. Halversen
Department of English
Michigan State University

    The Consideration of Quintessence is a fifteenth-century Middle English translation of the Latin alchemical-medical treatise, Liber de Consideratione Quintae Essentiae Omnium Rerum written by John of Rupescissa in the mid-fourteenth century. The work is separated into two sections or books; the first book focuses on alchemical theory based on Aristotelian theories of matter and contains explanations on how to create aqua ardens and quintessence to produce life-renewing and life-sustaining elixirs and medicines; the second book contains remedies for treating such illnesses and health problems as leprosy and skin irritations, asthma, palsy, and melancholy based on the alchemical theories and methods presented in the first book.

    This dissertation provides an edition of the Middle English Consideration of Quintessence with critical apparatus, introduction, notes, glossaries, and a list of herbs and ingredients mentioned in the text. The base manuscript for this edition is University of Glasgow, Hunterian Library, Ferguson 205. It has been compared to a second Middle English version of the text by the same scribe, London, British Library, Sloane 353, with appropriate emendations made in the edition and variants cited in the textual apparatus. Two shorter Middle English versions of this text (London, British Library, Harley 353; and London, British Library, Sloane 73, edited by Frederick J. Furnivall) have also been compared to Ferguson 205. The Middle English translation has been examined against five Latin manuscript versions of the text (Trinity College, Cambridge, 1389; Trinity College, Cambridge, 1407; Trinity College, Cambridge 1411; London, British Library, Sloane 338; and London, British Library, Harley 5399), with variants noted in the explanatory notes.


    The edition also includes several shorter works found in Ferguson 205: The Book of Alexander Concerning Seven Herbs, Seven Planets; Semita Recta by pseudo-Albertus Magnus; The Work of Boniface IX, with the Following White and Red Chapters; Various Recipes; and Sophistications.


    The Introduction includes an historical, technical, and linguistic examination of the manuscript, the text of The Consideration of Quintessence, and, briefly, the other texts in the edition. The technical section focuses on the manuscript's size, general appearance, and scribal hand, and includes a linguistic description and analysis. The historical section provides an overview of the Aristotelian scientific theories that led to alchemical practices and an analysis of how these practices became part of medical treatment, particularly in The Consideration of Quintessence. The linguistic section includes an analysis of the dialect and a tentative localization of the text in Somerset.


    The dissertation concludes with a set of Explanatory Notes on historical, Latin, literary, and biblical references in the texts; a Glossary of scientific and other vocabulary; a Glossary of Proper Nouns; and a list of plants and other ingredients.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES ...............................................................................     ix

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS................................................................     ..x

INTRODUCTION.................................................................................     ..1

    John of Rupescissa: His Life and Work..............................................    ...2

    The History and Development of Alchemy...........................................    . 11

    The Alchemy of The Consideration of Quintessence ......    ...........          46

    The Manuscripts.......................................................                                 55

    Latin Manuscripts................................................                                     59

    Middle English Manuscripts.....................................                                 71

    Previous Editions..................................................                                   77

    Other Texts in Ferguson 205.......................................                             78

    Marginalia in Ferguson 205........................................                             86

    The Language of Ferguson 205........................................                         90

    Editorial Procedures..........................................................                        97

THE TEXTS.............................................................................                 101

    The Consideration of Quintessence......................................................    101

        Book I: The Consideration of Quintessence..................................         101

        Book II: The Book of General Remedies....................................           207

    The Book of Alexander Concerning Seven Herbs, Seven Planets........      255

    The Third Book of the Works of Alchemy: Semita Recta..........                 271

    The Work of Boniface IX, with the Following White and Red Chapters.    321

    Various Recipes............................................................................             333

    Sophistications............................................................................               358

EXPLANATORY NOTES........................................................................     364

GLOSSARY.........................................................................................            412

GLOSSARY OF PROPER NOUNS..........................................................         450

HERBS, FRUITS, AND PLANTS REFERRED TO IN THE TEXTS ..........    455

WORKS CITED...................................................................................             472

 

The following is an extract from the first book of The Consideration of Quintessence. Due to computer program limitation (or the limitation of my knowledge thereof), none of the textual notes are included.

[The Consideration of Quintessence]

[Book I: The Consideration of Quintessence]

    [f. 1r] The furst boke of the consideracion of quynte essence of alle thinges that mowe bee changid fro oone kynde to an other.

    In the name of oure Lord Ihesus Crist, here begynneth the boke of the lyknesse and simulacion of philosophie witnessing the euaungel of oure Lord Ihesus Crist, the whiche he hath yeue and grantid* to holy lyuers.*

    The furst decre* is žat by the vertue the whiche God hath yeue to nature made and to mannys knowlaiche, a man may sodaynely al inprofitablenesse and fleublenesse of olde age in the ouer olde men been lettid fro holy werkes cure and restore ayen. And youthe and strengthe with lustynesse of juuentute may be had ayen and restorid newe but not in the same degre but rather better, the whiche is the gretteste pryuete that is in al kynde.

And how hit shal be made or doo.

Here is the furste canon.

    This is the thing in the whiche alle men haue labourid to siche, a thing y-made the whiche is profitable to the vse of man, the whiche may kepe his corruptible body fro corrupcion and putrefaction and to conserue hit fro wastyng. And yf hit be possible, to kepe a man euerlastyng in life and helthe, ffor that is a thing that alle men desiren, neuer to deye.

    Witnessyng the holy philosophre Saint Paule in the Secunde Epistil Ad Corinthios, the v chapitre, Nam et qui sumus in hoc tabernaculo corporis ingemiscimus grauati, eo ex infirmitatibus eo quod nolumus exspoliari sed corpore vestiri ipso corpore ne moriamur ideo subdit ut sorbeatur, quod mortale est, a uita.* Hec Paulus.*

    Ful fewe philosophres haue come to the laste cause* of knowlache of suche thinges, euidence and cause why men and leches now-a-dayes been sette so ferre in couetise and in desiring of worldly worship žat thay mowe not, ne God wille not, žat thay haue suche grace to come to suche high cunnyng.

    But as oure trewe philosophre Paule seyth in Epistil ad Hebreos, že ix chapitre: "At last euery man is ordeyned [f. 1v] oones to deye."* Ergo, hit were a phantasie to laboure in this deedly life to siche suche a thing the whiche mighte kepe oure deedly body immortal and neuer to deye. For God seyth in Genesi in the thridde chapiter: "Now therefore, lest Adam put fourth his hande and take of the tree of life and ete to lyue for euer, therefore oure Lord put hym oute of lusty paradise to wirke on th'erthe of the whiche he was made. And so he sette hym bifore paradise and ordeyned Cherubyn with a brennyng swerde to kepe the weye of the tree of lyfe."* Ergo, hit were but a fantasie to seye žat God yafe to Adam withoute paradise any thing by the whiche he mighte lyfe for euer, sith oure Lord caste hym oute žat he shuld not touche the tree of life leste he shulde lyue for euer.

    This we seen openly in holy writte, žat God hath sette and ordeyned to euery man a terme of life, the whiche noo man may passe by noo crafte ne witte. As Job seieth: Breues dies hominis sunt, et numerus mensium eius apud te est; constituisti terminos eius, qui preteriri non poterunt.* Ergo, to siche helpe and remedie ouer the tyme that God hath ordeyned to man hit were but vayne.

    Therefore, hit is to siche remedie to conserue and kepe oure bodies fro corrupcion for že tyme and že terme že whiche God hath sette to man to lyue yn, and to make hym hole and hym merueusely to cumforte and restore to the last day of deeth come the whiche oure Lord hath assigned to vs. To saue a man fro al deeth byfore že day of God assigned is not in oure powere, as deeth of thundre or lightenyng, of falles of slaughtre, or of any violence, but to reherche of že deeth bifore že terme alimyted of surfetes and of corrupcion of že body and of defaute of vertue in kynde, as ofte hit falleth.

    Reason sheweth žat the corruptible body desireth to be nourisshed by corruptible thingz and roten, and so refourme že body by a inparfite thing. And so the body is made corruptible by [f. 2r] thingz that been corrupte and faylyng, and the sike to hele by matiers that been vnstedefaste and foule. To make fayre by stynkyng crafte, alle suche been but fantasies and vayne matiers.

    Ergo, the rote of life is to siche a thyng of hymsilf that myght abide euermore incorrupte, the whiche may kepe al thing that is y-put there-ynne fro corrupcion, as flessh in his kinde, vertue, and state, the whiche nourissheth že vertue of life and increcheth and restoreth kynde; and al rawe humour desireth & bryngeth hit to euene qualitees. And al qualite that hath excesse or any manier qualite that is loste, hit restoreth. And hit maketh kynde moystnesse to be plenteuous and hit maketh hete of kynde myghty.

    And trowe wel withouten any falsehede žat noone of the iiij elementz is of suche kynde, ne noo thing that is componyd of any matieres of že iiij elementz, for alle suche been cause of corrupcion. And alle corruptible and sike and fleuble, yf corrupte matiere or like to corrupcion be putte ther-to, hit encrechith hit. And for alle leches, by suche corrupte matieres whiche been componyd of elementz and of matieres there-of and wrought there-with, myght neuer come to že high pryuete that we siche.

    But sum seyen žat al that is bodily in this worlde to že vse of man bee elementz or of elementz. Ergo že rote of life may not in this worlde be founde of man, že whiche may quyke že body vnto že last terme of life y-merked to man of oure Lord God.