The earliest authentic works extant on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher Saint Albertus Magnus: both believed in the possibility of transmuting inferior metals into gold. Albertus Magnus, also, though his science might have been crude and defective, based it upon the instinctive recognition of the psychic links between man and nature, that he was not an alien in the universe but an integral and natural part of it, something which has been lost in modern science.
Lovecraft mentions the "Albert Magnus" in an edition of his writings translated and published in 1651 by Peter Jamm being in the library of Joseph Curwen. We don't know if this edition is really a true translation of the works of Albertus Magnus or one of the many grimoires created by self-claimed mystics and alchemists. While the man did write many treatises, there were a huge number of fakes. Some of these fakes attributed to Albertus Magnus include: the "Book of Secretes" published in London, circa 1560 and "Egyptian Secrets" printed anonymously in the United States with no publisher's mark or publication date. He was said to be an adept in magical arts, expecially alchemy, weather manipulation, and creating androids capable of speech. He was a prolific writer though it is uncertain if any of his works have actually survived. Like many 'magicians' of the period, his supposed works were translated and revised out of recognition.
Actually he was no "magician" at all. From the viewpoint of the Catholic Church he was Saint Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), also called Albert the Great, a German scholastic theologian and scholar. He was born Albrecht von Bollstadt or de Groot in Lauingen. He entered the Dominican order in 1223, taught in Cologne and Paris, served as bishop of Ratisbon (now Regensburg) from 1260 to 1262. Afterwards he was an ecclesiatical administrator, preacher, and educator (most noted for being the teacher of Thomas Aquainus). Albertus Magnus brought Greek and Arabian science and philosophy to Europe and is known for his attempts to reconcile Christian theology with the teachings of Aristotle (see note on Ramonf Lully). He engaged in biological research and reported at length his findings and speculation in various fields of science. His chief works are the "Summa Creaturis" ("Treatise about Mankind"), which deals mainly with man and his immortal soul, and "Summa Theologiae" ("Treatise on Theology"), an unfinished account of God as the cause and goal of all creatures. While some called men of science 'magicians' and 'alchemists,' Albertus Magnus was respected for his work despite forays into alchemy (thought to be integral to chemistry). In fact he was respected widely and Pope Pius XI declared him a Saint and a doctor of the Church in 1932; his feast day is November 15.
He did write, according to Colin Wilson in The Occult, that: "The Alchemist shall live in loneliness, remote from men. He must be silent and discreet...' He must also choose 'the right hour for his operations'--that is, when the heavenly bodies are propitious." And Albertus also explained at length how various precious stones can be used for medical and moral purposes: the amethyst increases concentration; the emerald induces chasitity; the agate strengthens the teeth and drives away phantoms and snakes. Among herbs, betony produces the power of prophecy, and verbena is a love charm. Feverwort could cure fever; liverwort, diseases of the liver. Another widespread belief he helpd was that if a man received injury from any physical object--a knife, hatchet, stone, etc.--the object should also be treated for the injury it had caused: a hatchet with which a butcher cut himself was covered with the same salve as his wound and hung behind the door; when the butcher experienced pains one day, it was found the hatchet had fallen on the floor. All this sounds absurd but, at the time, to dismiss it would be a smistake. For the oddest thing is that such remedies often worked. They still do. It was this kind of thing which created the Christian Scientist sect. And is giving rise to a science of self healing today.
Like many writers, Lovecraft knew the facts and knew that his audience didn't and that they prefered the illusions to reality. he was happy to oblige them. But among friends he was more honest. Willis Conover, in his LOVECRAFT AT LAST, recounts a letter from Lovecraft concerning Albertus Magnus: "So far as Albert Magnus goes, there was such a person, but he never wrote such a thing as 'Egyptian Secrets.' The latter must have been merely one of the cheap occult compilations (like the 'Seventh Book of Moses' et cetera) which borrow impressive-sounding names to delude the public and attract attention. The real Albert Magnus (Albrecht von Bollstadt or de Groot) was an ecclesiatic and philosopher of the thirteenth century, whose sublte speculations and knowledge of physical science caused ignorant people to regard him as a magician or devil-worshipper, and to associate his name with all sorts of things he never did and all sorts of books he never wrote. He was born in Swabia-at Lauingen on the Danube-in 1193, and was educated at Padua in Italy. He joined the Dominican Friars in 1222, and was made Provincial of the order in 1254. He taught at Cologne, and had the famous ecclesiastical philosopher Thomas Aquinas as a pupil. He was made Bishop of Regensburg in 1259, but resigned three years later. Only four years ago, in 1932, the Catholic Church made him a saint. His works were first printed in Lyons and Leyden in 1651, by the Dominican friar Pierre Jammy. They amount to twenty-one large volumes, but some of these are probably spurious. The genuine ones relate wholly to philosophy and physical science, in which he was a follower of Aristotle. He founded a distinct school of philosophy, call the 'Albertists'. What gave Albert his reputation for magic and alchemy was proboably-aside from this philosophical speculations-his unusual scientific experiments. The Middle Ages, as the case of Roger Bacon shows, feared and distrusted experimental science, and tended to regard experimenters as wizards and diabolists. Enemies accused him of black magic, and circulated all manner of legends concerning him. In his old age he fell into a sort of dotage, and may have made eccentric utterances and demonstrations which bore out the popular legendry.
"The most famous story about Magnus is that of his dinner to King William of Holland in 1240, in the garden of his monastery. It was midwinter, and the King was astonished at being asked to dine outdoors. But when the party adjourned to the garden, they found it full of flowers and greenery, and gay with singing birds. This naturally sounded like magic to the Middle Ages, but the truth is that the garden was probably a greenhouse, roofed over with some tranparent substance and powerfully heated. However, the anecdote (if true) shows that Albertus liked to astonish people.
"The habit of calling Albertus an alchemist probably arose from a passage in his 'De Rebus Metalliis et Mineralibus,' where he speaks of testing the gold which an alchemist claimed to have made, and of finding it very infusible. This alchemical reputation grew to such an extent that Michael Maier (alchemist and author of 'Musaeum Chemicum') declared that he had actually found the 'Philosopher Stone' and had given the secret to his pupil Thomas Aquinas.
"All of which shows that Al was quite a boy thorugh he never wrote some of the miscellaneous fanatastic junk attributed to him-either the book you mention, or the better-known 'De Secretis Mulierum.' As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, and supernatural themes, in all truth they don't amount to much. That is why it's more fun to invent mythical works like the Necronomicon and Book of Eibon."
Conover sent Lovecraft the first pages of the Albertus Magnus 'Egyptian Secrets:'
ALBERTUS MAGNUS being the approved, verified, sympathetic and natural EGYPTIAN SECRETS or WHITE AND BLACK ART FOR MAN AND BEAST The book of nature and the hidden secrets and mysteries of life unveiled; being the Forbidden Knowledge of Ancient Philosophers By that celebrated Student, Philosopher, Chemist, Naturalist, Psychomist, Astrologer, Alchemist, Metallurgist, Sorcerer, Explanator of the Mysteries of Wizards and Witchcraft; together with recondite Views of numerous numerous Arts and Science--Obscure, Plain, Practical, Etc., Etc., TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN TO THE KIND READER
I HEREWITH commit to the perusal of the reader a collection of approved remedies-sympathetic as well as natural-rememdies, sufficient in number as may be deemed needful for household pruposes. Knowing, from experience, how many an honest citizen hath been robed fo his entire estate through the machinations of bad and malicious people, having his live stock destroyed and the usefulness of his cows tampered with; and still further, how many a man hath been tortured and tantalized at night, from early childhood, by wicked people of that ilk; so much so that they could hardly bear ti any longer, had it not been for the timely aid rendered them by exorcising these rabbles, if this be even done by calling upon the Bedgoblin or "Puck." Moreover, may such troubled people were made unhappy in their wedlock, and robbed of all their children. Besides all this, I know of a place, of which the minister of the Gospel who officiates there assures me, that the influence of but one wicked female residing there has caused the ruin of the entire village, since there is hardly man or beast existing in the place which had not been tampered with and attacked by that wicked person. But, through the grace of God, every one of these people have been rescued by the means of the Bedgoblin, as set forth in the second article of this little book.
Whenever said remedy is to be applied, in case the house of him whom it is intended to assist is called aloud three times with devotion, and by adding both his christian and all his other names, the usefullness threof will be readily enough perceived, the matrimonial peace will be re-established, the children will revcover, the cows will again become useful, no matter how much reduced in body they have been; but a few weeks will elapse, and the cows will show as much sound flesh as they ever possessed heretofore. Thus it happens that this collection contains a number of curious performances of magic, every one of which is worth far more than the reader pays for this entire book. For purpose of rendering a great service to mankind, this book was issued in order to bridle and check the doings of the Devil.
Lovecraft responds: "'Egyptian Secrets' must be a quaint old volume none the less interesting because of the spurious authorship. It is probably a product of the eighteenth century, and is perhaps akin to Hohman's 'Long Lost Friend,' so famous in the annals of Pennsylvania 'hexerei'. Thanks endlessly for the generous extract, which is infinely entertaining."
Read the Francis Barrett sketch in The Magus HERE
("The Evil Clergyman," "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward")