The Chemical Promise
Experiment and Mysticism in the Chemical Philosophy, 1550-1800

Selected Essays of Allen G. Debus

September 2006, 576 pp., illustrated, ISBN 0-88135-296-9, $89.95

The Chemical Promise


“…should be close at hand at every major school and university, and those who have it on their own shelves will be reminded that serious scholarship matched by attractive publication makes for a stimulating encounter.”—AMBIX, November 2008

“…the essays contained in this volume construct a comprehensive history of the complex relationship between early modern alchemy, iatrochemistry, and medicine narrowly conceived, and provide an interesting perspective of the scientific revolution broadly conceived.”—16th Century Journal, XXXIX/3 (2008)

“…A surprisingly cohesive book, The Chemical Promise is a superb essay collection that unites around 30 of Debus’s detailed studies that were orphaned over the years in various journals and books…It is an informative work that complements Debus’s other books and that will undoubtedly remain a helpful resource for those interested in the history of early modern chemistry and medicine.”—Chemical Heritage

“…Debus’s lectures are often introduced by biographical notes, and even his papers never lose the human element. As readers, we can follow a conversation between the pages, between the young scholar Debus and his scholarly mature self. We discover how Debus readdresses, and sometimes even answers, the shrewd questions he formulated about the historiography of alchemy and medicine in his early career. In a sense, Debus has remained part of his own audience, and this personal selection of work across his career contains, if not a Chemical Promise, definitely an invitation to scholars to pursue future research along the jagged lines that enclose alchemy, medicine and early modern society.”—BJHS

“…For scholars interested in this field the volume offers easy access to a considerable number of Allen Debus’s essays and articles, many of which remain essential reading for anyone working in history of early modern medicine and iatrochemistry.” —NUNCIUS

“…Debus provides the reader an excellent portrayal of key developments in medicine, chemistry and pharmacy during the time period 1550—1800. He makes a convincing argument that academic chemistry began within academic medicine. It could be argued that academic pharmacy, though not recognized as such, began in academic chemistry. Paracelsus is the giant in the essays. While his medical philosophy has not endured, excerpt partially in homeopathy, Paracelsus’ call for experimental observation of nature is seen as one of the great moments in the history of medicine, chemistry and science.”—Pharmacy in History

“…not an easy read, but it deserves a place in the science and medical history sections of major libraries. It may also prove a fitting capstone  to the career of a scholar whose contributions to the history of science and medicine are legion…Recommended. Graduate students through professionals.” CHOICE

“…Since tracking down these original sources would be a nontrivial task, it is a great convenience to have all of them collected together in a single and easily accessible book…” Bulletin History of Chemistry

Table of Contents


Chemists, Physicians, and Changing Perspectives on the Scientific Revolution


Myth, Allegory, and Scientific Truth:
An Alchemical Tradition in the Period of the Scientific Revolution

Chemical Medicine in Early Modern Europe

The Chemical Debates of the Seventeenth Century:
The Reaction to Robert Fludd and Jean Baptiste van Helmont

Guintherius, Libavius, and Sennert: The Chemical Compromise in Early Modern Europe

Chemistry, Pharmacy, and Cosmology:
A Renaissance Union

Quantification and Medical Motivation:
Factors in the Interpretation of Early Modern Chemistry

Chemistry in the Universities in the Seventeenth Century

From John Dee to the Royal Society

The Paracelsian Compromise in Elizabethan England

Noah Biggs and the Problem of Medical Reform in England

The Webster-Ward Debate of 1654:
The New Philosophy and the Problem of Educational Reform

John Woodall: Paracelsian Surgeon

Thomas Sherley’s Philosophical Essay (1672)

Edward Jorden and the Fermentation of Metals:
An Iatrochemical Study of Terrestrial Phenomena

Van Helmont and Newton’s Third Law

Scientific Truth and Occult Tradition:
The Medical World of Ebenezer Silby (1751-1799)

Alchemy in an Age of Reason:
The Chemical Philosophers in Early Eighteenth Century France

French Alchemy in the Early Enlightenment

Chemistry and Iatrochemistry in Early Eighteenth Century Portugal:
A Spanish Connection

Paracelsus and the Delayed Scientific Revolution in Spain: A Legacy of Philip II

The Rise and Fall of Chemical Physiology in the Seventeenth Century

Hermann Boerhaave and the Problem of Medical Chemistry in the Early Eighteenth Century

Iatrochemistry and the Chemical Revolution

History of Chemistry: Key to Modern Science