Fiction > Harvard Classics > Ben Jonson > The Alchemist
Ben Jonson (1572–1637).  The Alchemist.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act II
Scene I

  MAM.  Come on, sir. Now you set your foot on shore
In Novo Orbe; 2 here’s the rich Peru:
And there within, sir, are the golden mines,
Great Solomon’s Ophir! He was sailing to’t        4
Three years, but we have reach’d it in ten months.
This is the day wherein, to all my friends,
I will pronounce the happy word, Be rich;
You shall no more deal with the hollow die,
Or the frail card. No more be at charge of keeping
The livery-punk 4 for the young heir, that must
Seal, at all hours, in his shirt: no more,        12
If he deny, ha’ him beaten to’t, as he is
That brings him the commodity. No more
Shall thirst of satin, or the covetous hunger
Of velvet entrails 5 for a rude-spun cloak,        16
To be display’d at Madam Augusta’s, make
The sons of Sword and Hazard fall before
The golden calf, and on their knees, whole nights,
Commit idolatry with wine and trumpets:        20
Or go a feasting after drum and ensign.
No more of this. You shall start up young viceroys.
And unto thee I speak it first, BE RICH.
Where is my Subtle, there? Within, ho!        24
  [FACE, within.]        Sir,
He’ll come to you by and by.
  MAM.        That is his fire-drake, 6
His Lungs, his Zephyrus, he that puffs his coals,        28
Till he firk 7 nature up, in her own centre.
You are not faithful, 8 sir. This night I’ll change
All that is metal in my house to gold:
And, early in the morning, will I send        32
To all the plumbers and the pewterers,
And by their tin and lead up; and to Lothbury
For all the copper.
  SUR.        What, and turn that, too?        36
  MAM.  Yes, and I’ll purchase Devonshire and Cornwall,
And make them perfect Indies! You admire now?
  SUR.  No, faith.
  MAM.  But when you see th’ effects of the Great Med’cine,        40
Of which one part projected on a hundred
Of Mercury, or Venus, or the moon,
Shall turn it to as many of the sun; 9
Nay, to a thousand, so ad infinitum:        44
You will believe me.
  SUR.        Yes, when I see’t, I will.
But if my eyes do cozen me so, and I
Giving them no occasion, sure I’ll have        48
Them out next day.
  MAM.        Ha! Why?
Do you think I fable with you? I assure you,
He that has once the flower of the sun,        52
The perfect ruby, which we call elixir,
Not only can do that, but by its virtue,
Can confer honour, love, respect, long life;
Give safety, valour, yea, and victory,        56
To whom he will. In eight and twenty days,
I’ll make an old man of fourscore, a child.
  SUR.  No doubt; he’s that already.
  MAM.        Nay, I mean,        60
Restore his years, renew him, like an eagle,
To the fifth age; make him get sons and daughters,
Young giants; as our philosophers have done,
The ancient partriarchs, afore the flood,        64
But taking, once a week, on a knife’s point,
The quantity of a grain of mustard of it;
Become stout Marses, and beget young Cupids.
  SUR.  The decay’d vestals of Pickt-hatch 10 would thank you,        68
That keep the fire alive there.
  MAM.        ’Tis the secret
Of nature naturiz’d ’gainst all infections,
Cures all diseases coming of all causes;        72
A month’s grief in a day, a year’s in twelve;
And, of what age soever, in a month:
Past all the doses of your drugging doctors.
I’ll undertake, withal, to fright the plague        76
Out o’ the kingdom in three months.
  SUR.        And I’ll
Be bound, the players shall sing your praises then,
Without their poets. 11        80
  MAM.        Sir, I’ll do’t. Meantime,
I’ll give away so much unto my man,
Shall serve th’ whole city with preservative
Weekly; each house his dose, and at the rate——        84
  SUR.  As he that built the Water-work does with water?
  MAM.  You are incredulous.
  SUR.        Faith, I have a humour,
I would not willingly be gull’d. 12 Your stone        88
Cannot transmute me.
  MAM.        Pertinax Surly,
Will you believe antiquity? Records?
I’ll show you a book where Moses, and his sister,        92
And Solomon have written of the art;
Ay, and a treatise penn’d by Adam——
  SUR.        How!
  MAM.  Of the philosopher’s stone, and in High Dutch.        96
  SUR.  Did Adam write, sir, in High Dutch?
  MAM.        He did;
Which proves it was the primitive tongue.
  SUR.        What paper?        100
  MAM.  On cedar board.
  SUR.        O that, indeed, they say,
Will last ’gainst worms.
  MAM.        ’Tis like your Irish wood,        104
’Gainst cobwebs. I have a piece of Jason’s fleece too,
Which was no other than a book of alchemy,
Writ in large sheepskin, a good fat ram-vellum.
Such was Pythagoras’ thigh, Pandora’s tub,        108
And all that fable of Medea’s charms,
The manner of our work; the bulls, our furnace,
Still breathing fire; our argent-vive, 13 the dragon:
The dragon’s teeth, mercury sublimate,        112
That keeps the whiteness, hardness, and the biting;
And they are gather’d into Jason’s helm,
The alembic, and then sow’d in Mars his field,
And thence sublim’d so often, till they’re fix’d.        116
Both this, th’ Hesperian garden, Cadmus’ story,
Jove’s shower, the boon of Midas, Argus’ eyes,
Boccace his Demogorgon, 14 thousands more,
All abstract riddles of our stone.—How now!        120
Note 1. An outer room in Lovewit’s house. [back]
Note 2. The New World. [back]
Note 3. Most gazed at. [back]
Note 4. Female accomplice in swindling heirs out of property. [back]
Note 5. Lining. [back]
Note 6. Dragon. [back]
Note 7. Stir, rouse. [back]
Note 8. Believing. [back]
Note 9. Turn mercury, copper, or silver into gold. [back]
Note 10. A disreputable locality. [back]
Note 11. The theatres were closed when the plague was prevalent. [back]
Note 12. Fooled. [back]
Note 13. Quick-silver. [back]
Note 14. According to Boccaccio, the ancestor of all the gods. [back]


Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.