John Dee and the alchemists: Practising and promoting English alchemy in the Holy Roman Empire

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Abstract

This paper investigates John Dee's relationship with two kinds of alchemist: the authorities whose works he read, and the contemporary practitioners with whom he exchanged texts and ideas. Both strands coincide in the reception of works attributed to the famous English alchemist, George Ripley (d. c. 1490). Dee's keen interest in Ripley appears from the number of transcriptions he made of 'Ripleian' writings, including the Bosome book, a manuscript discovered in 1574 and believed to have been written in Ripley's own hand. In 1583, Dee and his associate Edward Kelley left England for East Central Europe, taking with them a proportion of Dee's vast library, including alchemical books-the contents of which would soon pique the interest of continental practitioners. Kelley used Ripley's works, including the Bosome book, not only as sources of practical information, but as a means of furthering his own relationships with colleagues and patrons: transactions that in turn influenced Ripley's posthumous continental reception. The resulting circulation of texts allows us to trace, with unusual precision, the spread of English alchemical ideas in the Holy Roman Empire from the late sixteenth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-508
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Volume43
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science

Keywords

  • Alchemy
  • Edward Kelley
  • George Ripley
  • John Dee
  • Manuscript circulation
  • Prague
  • Rudolf II

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