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

  MAM.  Good morrow, father.
  SUB.        Gentle son, good morrow,
And to your friend there. What is he is with you?
  MAM.  An heretic, that I did bring along,        4
In hope, sir, to convert him.
  SUB.        Son, I doubt
You’re covetous, that thus you meet your time
I’ the just 2 point, prevent 3 your day at morning.        8
This argues something worthy of a fear
Of importune and carnal appetite.
Take heed you do not cause the blessing leave you,
With your ungovern’d haste. I should be sorry        12
To see my labours, now e’en at perfection,
Got by long watching and large patience,
Not prosper where my love and zeal hath plac’d them.
Which (heaven I call to witness, with your self,        16
To whom I have pour’d my thoughts) in all my ends,
Have look’d no way, but unto public good,
To pious uses, and dear charity
Now grown a prodigy with men. Wherein        20
If you, my son, should now prevaricate,
And to your own particular lusts employ
So great and catholic a bliss, be sure
A curse will follow, yea, and overtake        24
Your subtle and most secret ways.
  MAM.        I know, sir;
You shall not need to fear me; I but come
To ha’ you confute this gentleman.        28
  SUR.        Who is,
Indeed, sir, somewhat costive of belief
Toward your stone; would not be gull’d.
  SUB.        Well, son,        32
All that I can convince him in, is this,
The work is done, bright Sol is in his robe.
We have a med’cine of the triple soul,
The glorified spirit. Thanks be to heaven,        36
And make us worthy of it!—Ulen Spiegel! 4
  FACE.  [Within.]  Anon, sir.
  SUB.        Look well to the register.
And let your heat still lessen by degrees,        40
To the aludels. 5
  FACE.  [Within.]  Yes, sir.
  SUB.        Did you look
O’ the bolt’s head yet?        44
  FACE.  [Within.]  Which? On D, sir?
  SUB.        Ay;
What’s the complexion?
  FACE.  [Within.]  Whitish.        48
  SUB.        Infuse vinegar,
To draw his volatile substance and his tincture:
And let the water in glass E be filt’red,
And put into the gripe’s egg. 6 Lute 7 him well;        52
And leave him clos’d in balneo. 8
  FACE.  [Within.]        I will, sir.
  SUR.  What a brave language here is! next to canting. 9
  SUB.  I have another work you never saw, son,        56
That three days since past the philosopher’s wheel,
In the lent heat of Athanor; 10 and’s become
Sulphur o’ Nature.
  MAM.        But ’tis for me?        60
  SUB.        What need you?
You have enough, in that is, perfect.
  MAM.        O, but——
  SUB.  Why, this is covetise!        64
  MAM.        No, I assure you,
I shall employ it all in pious uses,
Founding of colleges and grammar schools,
Marrying young virgins, building hospitals,        68
And now and then a church.
[Re-enter FACE]

  SUB.        How now!
  FACE.        Sir, please you,
Shall I not change the filter?        72
  SUB.        Marry, yes;
And bring me the complexion of glass B.  [Exit FACE.]
  MAM.  Ha’ you another?
  SUB.        Yes, son; were I assur’d        76
Your piety were firm, we would not want
The means to glorify it: but I hope the best.
I mean to tinct C in sand-heat to-morrow,
And give him imbibition. 11        80
  MAM.        Of white oil?
  SUB.  No, sir, of red. F is come over the helm too,
I thank my maker, in S. Mary’s bath,
And shows lac virginis. Blessed be heaven!        84
I sent you of his fæces there calcin’d:
Out of that calx, I ha’ won the salt of mercury.
  MAM.  By pouring on your rectified water?
  SUB.  Yes, and reverberating in Athanor.        88
[Re-enter FACE]

How now! what colour says it?
  FACE.        The ground black, sir.
  MAM.  That’s your crow’s head?
  SUR.        Your cock’s-comb’s, is it not?        92
  SUB.  No, ’tis not perfect. Would it were the crow!
That work wants something.
  SUR.        [Aside.]  O, I look’d for this,
The hay’s 12 a pitching.        96
  SUB.        Are you sure you loos’d ’em
In their own menstrue? 13
  FACE.        Yes, sir, and then married ’em,
And put ’em in a bolt’s-head nipp’d to digestion,        100
According as you bade me, when I set
The liquor of Mars to circulation
In the same heat.
  SUB.        The process then was right.        104
  FACE.  Yes, by the token, sir, the retort brake,
And what was sav’d was put into the pellican,
And sign’d with Hermes’ seal.
  SUB.        I think ’twas so.        108
We should have a new amalgama.
  SUR.        [Aside.]  O, this ferret
Is rank as any polecat.
  SUB.        But I care not;        112
Let him e’en die; we have enough beside,
In embrion. H has his white shirt on?
  FACE.        Yes, sir,
He’s ripe for inceration, he stands warm,        116
In his ash-fire. I would not you should let
Any die now, if I might counsel, sir,
For luck’s sake to the rest: it is not good.
  MAM.  He says right.        120
  SUR.        [Aside.]  Ah, are you bolted?
  FACE.        Nay, I know’t, sir,
I have seen the ill fortune. What is some three ounces
Of fresh materials?        124
  MAM.        Is’t no more?
  FACE.        No more, sir.
Of gold, t’ amalgam with some six of mercury.
  MAM.  Away, here’s money. What will serve?        128
  FACE.        Ask him, sir.
  MAM.  How much?
  SUB.        Give him nine pound: you may gi’ him ten.
  SUR.  Yes, twenty, and be cozen’d, do.        132
  MAM.        There ’tis.  [Gives FACE the money.]
  SUB.  This needs not; but that you will have it so,
To see conclusions of all: for two
Of our inferior works are at fixation,        136
A third is in ascension. Go your ways.
Ha’ you set the oil of luna in kemia?
  FACE.  Yes, sir.
  SUB.        And the philosopher’s vinegar?        140
  FACE.        Ay.  [Exit.]
  SUR.  We shall have a salad!
  MAM.        When do you make projection?
  SUB.  Son, be not hasty, I exalt our med’cine,        144
By hanging him in balneo vaporoso,
And giving him solution; then congeal him;
And then dissolve him; then again congeal him;
For look, how oft I iterate the work,        148
So many times I add unto his virtue.
As if at first one ounce convert a hundred,
After his second loose, he’ll turn a thousand;
His third solution, ten; his fourth, a hundred;        152
After his fifth, a thousand thousand ounces
Of any imperfect metal, into pure
Silver or gold, in all examinations,
As good as any of the natural mine.        156
Get you your stuff here against afternoon,
Your brass, your pewter, and your andirons.
  MAM.  Not those of iron?
  SUB.        Yes, you may bring them too;        160
We’ll change all metals.
  SUR.        I believe you in that.
  MAM.  Then I may send my spits?
  SUB.        Yes, and your racks.        164
  SUR.  And dripping-pans, and pot-hangers, and hooks?
Shall he not?
  SUB.        If he please.
  SUR.        —To be an ass.        168
  SUB.  How, sir!
  MAM.        This gent’man you must bear withal:
I told you he had no faith.
  SUR.        And little hope, sir;        172
But much less charity, should I gull myself.
  SUB.  Why, what have you observ’d, sir, in our art,
Seems so impossible?
  SUR.        But your whole work, no more.        176
That you should hatch gold in a furnace, sir,
As they do eggs in Egypt!
  SUB.        Sir, do you
Believe that eggs are hatch’d so?        180
  SUR.        If I should?
  SUB.  Why, I think that the greater miracle.
No egg but differs from a chicken more
Than metals in themselves.        184
  SUR.        That cannot be.
The egg’s ordain’d by nature to that end,
And is a chicken in potentia.
  SUB.  The same we say of lead and other metals,        188
Which would be gold if they had time.
  MAM.        And that
Our art doth further.
  SUB.        Ay, for ’twere absurb        192
To think that nature in the earth bred gold
Perfect i’ the instant: something went before.
There must be remote matter.
  SUR.        Ay, what is that?        196
  SUB.  Marry, we say——
  MAM.        Ay, now it heats: stand, father,
Pound him to dust.
  SUB.        It is, of the one part,        200
A humid exhalation, which we call
Material liquida, or the unctuous water;
On th’ other part, a certain crass and viscous
Portion of earth; both which, concorporate,        204
Do make the elementary matter of gold;
Which is not yet propria materia,
But common to all metals and all stones;
For, where it is forsaken of that moisture,        208
And hath more dryness, it becomes a stone:
Where it retains more of the humid fatness,
It turns to sulphur, or to quicksilver,
Who are the parents of all other metals.        212
Nor can this remote matter suddenly
Progress so from extreme unto extreme,
As to grow gold, and leap o’er all the means.
Nature doth first beget th’ imperfect, then        216
Proceeds she to the perfect. Of that airy
And oily water, mercury is engend’red;
Sulphur o’ the fat and earthy part; the one,
Which is the last, supplying the place of male,        220
The other, of the female, in all metals.
Some do believe hermaphrodeity,
That both do act and suffer. But these two
Make the rest ductile, malleable, extensive.        224
And even in gold they are; for we do find
Seeds of them by our fire, and gold in them;
And can produce the species of each metal
More perfect thence, than nature doth in earth.        228
Beside, who doth not see in daily practice
Art can beget bees, hornets, beetles, wasps,
Out of the carcases and dung of creatures;
Yea, scorpions of an herb, being rightly plac’d?        232
And these are living creatures, far more perfect
And excellent that metals.
  MAM.        Well said, father!
Nay, if he take you in hand, sir, with an argument,        236
He’ll bray you in a mortar.
  SUR.        Pray you, sir, stay.
Rather than I’ll be bray’d, sir, I’ll believe
That Alchemy is a pretty kind of game,        240
Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man
With charming.
  SUB.        Sir?
  SUR.        What else are all your terms,        244
Whereon no one o’ your writers ’grees with other?
Of your elixir, your lac virginis,
Your stone, your med’cine, and your chrysosperm,
Your sal, your sulphur, and your mercury,        248
Your oil of height, your tree of life, your blood,
Your marchesite, your tutie, your magnesia,
Your toad, your crow, your dragon, and your panther;
Your sun, your moon, your firmament, your adrop,        252
Your lato, azoch, zernich, chibrit, heautarit,
And then your red man, and your white woman,
With all your broths, your menstrues, and materials
Of piss and egg-shells, women’s terms, man’s blood,        256
Hair o’ the head, burnt clouts, chalk, merds, and clay,
Powder of bones, scalings of iron, glass,
And worlds of other strange ingredients,
Would burst a man to name?        260
  SUB.        And all these nam’d,
Intending but one thing; which art our writers
Us’d to obscure their art.
  MAM.        Sir, so I told him—        264
Because 14 the simple idiot should not learn it,
And make it vulgar.
  SUB.        Was not all the knowledge
Of the Ægyptians writ in mystic symbols?        268
Speak not the scriptures oft in parables?
Are not the choicest fables of the poets,
That where the fountains first springs of wisdom,
Wrapt in perplexed allegories?        272
  MAM.        I urg’d that,
And clear’d to him, that Sisyphus was damn’d
To roll the ceaseless stone, only because
He would have made ours common.  DOL appears [at the door.]—Who is this?        276
  SUB.  ’Sprecious!—What do you mean? Go in, good lady,
Let me entreat you. [DOL retires.]—Where’s this varlet?
[Re-enter FACE]

  FACE.        Sir.
  SUB.  You very knave! do you use me thus?        280
  FACE.        Wherein, sir?
  SUB.  Go in and see, you traitor. Go!  [Exit FACE.]
  MAM.        Who is it, sir?
  SUB.  Nothing, sir; nothing.        284
  MAM.        What’s the matter, good sir?
I have not seen you thus distemp’red: who is’t?
  SUB.  All arts have still had, sir, their adversaries;
But ours the most ignorant.—        288
Re-enter FACE

        What now?
  FACE.  ’Twas not my fault, sir; she would speak with you.
  SUB.  Would she, sir! Follow me.  [Exit.]
  MAM.  [stopping him.]  Stay, Lungs.        292
  FACE.        I dare not, sir.
  MAM.  How! pray thee, stay.
  FACE.        She’s mad, sir, and sent hither—
  MAM.  Stay, man; what is she?        296
  FACE.        A lord’s sister, sir.
He’ll be mad too.—
  MAM.        I warrant thee.—
Why sent hither?        300
  FACE.        Sir, to be cur’d.
  SUB.        [within.]  Why, rascal!
  FACE.        Lo you!—Here, sir!  Exit.
  MAM.  ’Fore God, a Bradamante, a brave piece.        304
  SUR.  Heart, this is a bawdy-house! I’ll be burnt else.
  MAM.  O, by this light, no: do not wrong him. He’s
Too scrupulous that way: it is his vice.
No, he’s a rare physician, do him right,        308
An excellent Paracelsian, and has done
Strange cures with mineral physic. He deals all
With spirits, he; he will not hear a word
Of Galen; or his tedious recipes.—        312
Re-enter FACE

        How now, Lungs!
  FACE.  Softly, sir; speak softly. I meant
To have told your worship all. This must not hear.
  MAM.  No, he will not be gull’d; let him alone.        316
  FACE.  You’re very right, sir; she is a most rare scholar,
And is gone mad with studying Broughton’s 15 works.
If you but name a word touching the Hebrew,
She falls into her fit, and will discourse        320
So learnedly of genealogies,
As you would run mad too, to hear her, sir.
  MAM.  How might one do t’ have conference with her, Lungs?
  FACE.  O, divers have run mad upon the conference:        324
I do not know, sir. I am sent in haste
To fetch a vial.
  SUR.        Be not gull’d, Sir Mammon.
  MAM.  Wherein? Pray ye, be patient.        328
  SUR.        Yes, as you are,
And trust confederate knaves and bawds and whores.
  MAM.  You are too foul, believe it.—Come here, Ulen,
One word.        332
  FACE.        I dare not, in good faith.  [Going.]
  MAM.        Stay, knave.
  FACE.  He is extreme angry that you saw her, sir.
  MAM.  Drink that.  [Gives him money.]  What is she when she’s out of her fit?        336
  FACE.  O, the most affablest creature, sir! so merry!
So pleasant! She’ll mount you up, like quicksilver,
Over the helm; and circulate like oil,
A very vegetal: discourse of state,        340
Of mathematics, bawdry, anything——
  MAM.  Is she no way accessible? no means,
No trick to give a man a taste of her——wit——
Or so?        344
  [SUB. within.]  Ulen!
  FACE.        I’ll come to you again, sir.  [Exit.]
  MAM.  Surly, I did not think one of your breeding
Would traduce personages of worth.        348
  SUR.        Sir Epicure,
Your friend to use; yet still loth to be gull’d:
I do not like your philosophical bawds.
Their stone is lechery enough to pay for,        352
Without this bait.
  MAM.        Heart, you abuse yourself.
I know the lady, and her friends, and means,
The original of this disaster. Her brother        356
Has told me all.
  SUR.        And yet you ne’er saw her
Till now!
  MAM.  O yes, but I forgot. I have, believe it,        360
One o’ the treacherousest memories, I do think,
Of all mankind.
  SUR.        What call you her brother?
  MAM.        My lord——        364
He wi’ not have his name known, now I think on’t.
  SUR.  A very treacherous memory!
  MAM.        On my faith——
  SUR.  Tut, if you ha’ it not about you, pass it,        368
Till we meet next.
  MAM.        Nay, by this hand, ’tis true.
He’s one I honour, and my noble friend;
And I respect his house.        372
  SUR.        Heart! can it be
That a grave sir, a rich, that has no need,
A wise sir, too, at other times, should thus,
With his own oaths, and arguments, make hard means        376
To gull himself? An this be your elixir,
Your lapis mineralis, and your lunary,
Give me your honest trick yet at primero,
Or gleek; 16 and take your lutum sapientis,        380
Your menstruum simplex! I’ll have gold before you,
And with less danger of the quicksilver,
Or the hot sulphur.
[Re-enter FACE]

  FACE.  Here’s one from Captain Face, sir,  [To SURLY.]
Desires you meet him i’ the Temple-church,
Some half-hour hence, and upon earnest business.
Sir, (whispers MAMMON) if you please to quit us now; and come
Again within two hours, you shall have        388
My master busy examining o’ the works;
And I will steal you in unto the party,
That you may see her converse.—Sir, shall I say
You’ll meet the captain’s worship?        392
  SUR.        Sir, I will.—  [Walks aside.]
But, by attorney, and to a second purpose.
Now, I am sure it is a bawdy-house;
I’ll swear it, were the marshal here to thank me:        396
The naming this commander doth confirm it.
Don Face! why, he’s the most authentic dealer
In these commodities, the superintendent
To all the quainter traffickers in town!        400
He is the visitor, and does appoint
Who lies with whom, and at what hour; what price;
Which gown, and in what smock; what fall; 17 what tire. 18
Him will I prove, by a third person, to find        404
The subtleties of this dark labyrinth:
Which if I do discover, dear Sir Mammon,
You’ll give your poor friend leave, though no philosopher,
To laugh: for you that are, ’tis thought, shall weep.        408
  FACE.  Sir, he does pray you’ll not forget.
  SUR.        I will not, sir.
Sir Epicure, I shall leave you.  [Exit.]
  MAM.        I follow you straight.        412
  FACE.  But do so, good sir, to avoid suspicion.
This gent’man has a parlous head.
  MAM.        But wilt thou Ulen,
Be constant to thy promise?        416
  FACE.        As my life, sir.
  MAM.  And wilt thou insinuate what I am, and praise me,
And say I am a noble fellow?
  FACE.        O, what else, sir?        420
And that you’ll make her royal with stone,
An empress; and yourself King of Bantam.
  MAM.  Wilt thou do this?
  FACE.        Will I, sir!        424
  MAM.        Lungs, my Lungs!
I love thee.
  FACE.        Send your stuff, sir, that my master
May busy himself about projection.        428
  MAM.  Thou’st witch’d me, rogue: take, go.  [Gives him money.]
  FACE.        Your jack, and all, sir.
  MAM.  Thou art a villain—I will send my jack,
And the weights too. Slave, I could bite thine ear.        432
Away, thou dost not care for me.
  FACE.        Not I, sir!
  MAM.  Come, I was born to make thee, my good weasel,
Set thee on a bench, and have thee twirl a chain        436
With the best lord’s vermin of ’em all.
  FACE.        Away, sir.
  MAM.  A count, nay, a count palatine——
  FACE.        Good sir, go.        440
  MAM.  Shall not advance thee better: no, nor faster.  [Exit.]
Note 1. The same. [back]
Note 2. Exact. [back]
Note 3. Anticipate. [back]
Note 4. The hero of a well-known German jest-book. [back]
Note 5. A pear-shaped vessel, open at both ends. [back]
Note 6. An egg-shaped vessel. Gripe is griffin. [back]
Note 7. Seal with clay. [back]
Note 8. A dish of warm water. [back]
Note 9. Rogues’ slang. [back]
Note 10. An alchemical furnace. [back]
Note 11. Absorption. [back]
Note 12. A net for catching rabbits. [back]
Note 13. Dissolving fluids. [back]
Note 14. In order that. [back]
Note 15. A learned eccentric of the time. [back]
Note 16. Games at cards. [back]
Note 17. A collar, or a veil. [back]
Note 18. A head-dress. [back]


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