We have already noticed how the commentaries of Avicenna on Aristotle had
been translated into Latin at Toledo during the twelfth century, and how
Michael Scot had completed that work by his version of the books relating
to Natural History. Since the beginning of the thirteenth century,
however, another Arabian author of the first rank had become the object
of much curiosity in Europe. This was the famous Averroës of Cordova,
whose history might fill a volume, so full was it of romantic adventure
and literary interest.[153] He was but lately dead, having closed a long
and laborious life on the 10th of December 1198, at Morocco, where his
body was first laid to rest in the cemetery outside the gate of Tagazout.
Born at Cordova in 1126, his name was closely associated with that of
his native city, so that after three months had elapsed his corpse was
brought thither from Africa, and given honourable and final burial in the
tomb of his fathers at the cemetery of Ibn Abbas.

Two reasons combined to raise the fame of Averroës among the Latins, and
to inspire them with a high curiosity regarding his works. He was known
to have devoted his life to the study and exposition of Aristotle; then,
as for many ages, the idol of the Christian schools. His philosophy was
further understood to embody the strangest and most daring speculations
regarding the origin of the universe and the nature of the soul. For
these he had suffered severely at the hands of the Moslem orthodox. They
had proscribed his works and compelled him to leave his employment and
pass the most precious years of his life in exile.

These common impressions regarding Averroës were in the main correct.
His labours had appeared in three forms; a paraphrase, and a lesser and
greater commentary on the books of Aristotle, and the philosophy which
these writings contained was undoubtedly Manichæan, if not in a measure
Pantheistic. Like that of all the Arabian philosophers, to whose teaching
Averroës gave its final and most characteristic form, this doctrine was
really Greek: the Aristotelic scheme of the universe as it had been
conceived anew by Porphyry of Alexandria. At the foundation lay a mighty
Duality: that of the opposing powers of Good and Evil. With the notion
of exalting Him above the possibility of blame, God, the Centre of the
Universe, about whom all revolves, was declared to be the Absolute
and unconditional Being; while over against Him was set Matter, also
eternal, from which, in its stubborn resistance to the Divine Will, all
evil had arisen. Any direct action of Deity upon matter could not be
thought of; so the interval between them was conceived of as occupied by
several Emanations proceeding from God, among which we may notice those
of the Divine Wisdom and the Divine Power. This Wisdom was said to be
impersonal; one common to all intelligent creatures; the Light that
lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. This Power was regarded
as supreme, seated high above the spheres, and, through the _Primum
Mobile_, entering into touch with matter and deriving its force downward
from one heavenly circle to another till it reaches earth itself.

The origin of created beings was a problem which received much attention
from Averroës. His ideas on this subject will be seen when we come
to speak of the important digression he wrote under the title of
_Quaestiones Nicolai Peripatetici_.[154] In every man he perceived the
existence of a passive intellect or reason, in relation to which the
other Heavenly Intelligence, or Divine Wisdom, presented itself to him as
the Active Reason: that in whose motions Thought was always accompanied
by Power. The one was Impersonal and Eternal, the other individual and
perishable, yet Averroës taught that a close relation subsisted between
them, and a consequent sympathy and attraction, in which the passive
intelligence strove to unite itself with the active and thus achieve
eternity and immortality.[155]

This union was known as the _ittisal_: the supreme object of the wise
man’s desire, and in connection with it emerged for the first time a
distinction between Averroës and his predecessors. Ibn Badja, with
whom he held the closest relation, had proposed a course of moral
discipline as the best way of attaining the _ittisal_: the same ascetic
practice which Ibn Tofail so remarkably illustrated and commended in his
mystical romance _Hay Ibn Yokhdan_. Gazzali on the other hand, who was
the sceptic of these schools, boldly declared that the _ittisal_ was
only to be reached by an intellectual and spiritual confusion attained
in the _zikr_, or whirling dance of the Dervishes. It was left then for
Averroës to vindicate once more the validity of human reason, and this he
did by proclaiming that science, rightly understood, was the true way of
entering into intellectual communion with the Deity. All, however, agreed
in teaching that the soul of man was but an individual and temporary
manifestation of the Divine, from which it had proceeded, and into which
it would again be absorbed.

It is plain that the way to this consummation proposed by Averroës had
much in common with the ancient theories of the Alexandrian Gnosis.
The Albigenses and other sects of the time, especially that called the
Brotherhood of the Holy Ghost, had already done much to familiarise
the West with these essentially Eastern speculations. A taste for such
flights of the mind had been formed, and, as soon as it became known
that a new teacher had arisen to advocate a theory of this kind among
the Moors, Christianity too was alive with curiosity to know what the
doctrine of Averroës might be.

In these circumstances the anathema of the Church proved powerless to
restrain so strong an impulse of the human spirit. The Council of Paris
in 1209 had sounded the first note of warning and of censure. In 1215
Robert de Courçon published a statute in that university by which the
name of _Mauritius Hispanus_, understood by Renan to mean Averroës, was
associated with those of David of Dinant and Almaric of Bena the French
Pantheists of the day, and all men were warned to have nothing to do with
their writings under pain of censure. In spite of these enactments five
years had not passed since the date of the latter proclamation, before
the commentaries of Averroës were rendered into Latin and the secrets of
his remarkable philosophy laid open to the scholastic world.

The credit of this bold and successful enterprise belongs, it would be
hard to say in what proportions, to the Emperor Frederick II. and to
Michael Scot his faithful servant. Frederick had indeed every reason
to feel an interest in the works of Averroës. His mind was naturally
keen and of a speculative cast. He showed little inclination to subject
his curiosity to the restraints of custom or ecclesiastical authority,
and was thus at least as likely as any of the wise and noble of his
day to indulge his passion for what promised to be both original and
curious. We are to remember also that he stood in close relation with the
peculiar religious opinions already noticed, which were then so prevalent
both in south-eastern France and the adjoining parts of Spain. His
brother-in-law, who died so suddenly at Palermo, was Count of Provence,
and, whatever place the unfortunate Alphonso may have held with regard to
the heresy so common in his dominions, we may feel sure that among the
host of Provençal knights who formed his train when he came to Sicily
there must have been some at least who were adherents of the Albigensian
party. No religious opinion ever made so striking a progress among the
wealthy and noble as this, and none was ever commended in a way more
fit to win the sympathy and interest of a youthful monarch inclined to
letters and gallantry. The doctrine of the Albigenses was in fact a late
revival of the _Gnosis_ of Alexandria. It flattered the pride of those
who desired distinction even in their religion. Its representatives and
advocates were no repulsive monks or sour ascetics but men of birth and
breeding, who excelled in manly exercises, and were famous for their
success in the courts of love and in the _gay saber_. It would not have
been wonderful if Frederick himself had become an Albigensian. He is
known to have caught a taste for Provençal poetry if nothing more, and it
is certain that he remained, to the close of his life, and even beyond
it, a grateful and sympathetic figure among those who, after the great
persecution, still represented Albigensian doctrine.[156] Something of
this may have been due to the influence of his wife Constantia, whose
father, Don Pedro of Aragon, had fallen gallantly in 1213 under the walls
of Murel, during an expedition in which he led the Spanish chivalry to
aid the Counts of Toulouse and Foix the champions of the Albigensian

The probability that the Emperor had early felt an interest in Averroës
is confirmed by a curious statement of Gilles de Rome,[157] who tells us
that the sons of the Moorish philosopher received a cordial welcome from
Frederick and lived in honour at his Court. Renan indeed finds reason
to doubt the truth of this statement,[158] yet we may remember that
the chronicler could not in any case have ventured upon it unless the
Emperor’s sympathy for Averroës had been matter of common knowledge.

As to Michael Scot we may feel sure that he was every whit as eager as
his master could be to honour the philosopher’s memory and to gain a
nearer acquaintance with his writings. The manuscript in the Laurentian
library to which we have already referred[159] speaks, it will be
remembered, of a visit paid by Scot to the city of Cordova. It is not
difficult to determine with a high degree of probability the reason
that may have led him thither. Had he lived three hundred years earlier
indeed, the fame of Cordova as a centre of learning might well have
proved a sufficient attraction to account for this journey. In the tenth
century that city shone as the seat of a great Jewish school: one of
those lately transferred to Spain from the eastern cities of Pombeditha
and Sura. The Caliph Hakim, under whose protection this change took
place, gave royal encouragement to the learned men who came to Cordova.
Thousands of students assembled in the great Mosque, and Hakim collected
for their use a magnificent library which was said to contain four
hundred thousand volumes. Al Mansour, however, who succeeded to Hakim’s
throne, fell under the influence of orthodox scruples. He burnt much
of the great library, and the rest perished at the disastrous sack of
Cordova in the following century. The ruin of the Rabbinical academies
was completed a little later by the cruel edict of Abd-el-Mumen, who
expelled the Jews from his realm. The most famous teachers of Cordova and
Lucena then betook themselves to Castile. Alphonso VII. received them
kindly and gave them liberty to settle in his capital. These events took
place before 1150, and from that date the ancient schools which had given
such fame to Cordova and Lucena became one of the chief attractions of

The sole glory which Cordova still retained in the days when Scot visited
it was the memory of departed greatness, and of Averroës, whose fame
must yet have endured as a living tradition in the place of his birth
and burial. We may therefore believe that it was as a pilgrim to the
shrine of that illustrious name that the traveller came hither. As he
wandered amid the countless columns of the great Mosque, or stayed his
steps by the tomb of Ibn Abbas, he must have found a melancholy pleasure
in recalling the mighty past, when these aisles were crowded with eager
students and when, still later, the last scion of the Cordovan schools
had appeared in the person of the Master whose writings were now the
object of so much curiosity. It is quite possible that something of a
practical purpose may have combined with these sentiments to determine
the direction of Scot’s journey. Twenty years had not passed, we must
remember, since the body of Averroës was laid in its last resting-place.
What if those who directed and composed the solemn funeral procession
from Morocco to Cordova had brought with them the books which the
philosopher was engaged in completing at the time of his death? The hope
of a great literary discovery could hardly have been absent from the mind
of Michael Scot as he travelled southward to seek the white walls of the
Moorish city.[160]

There is no reason to think that the story of the spell framed by Scot
at Cordova was literally and historically true; it seems to belong
rather to the department of his legendary fame as a necromancer. Yet,
read as a parable, this conjuration is not without interest and perhaps
importance. It professes to compel the appearance of spirits from the
nether deep, and to command an answer to any question the sage or
student might choose to ask. A slight effort of fancy will find here the
picturesque representation of Scot’s mental and physical state while at
Cordova, and especially under the stress of the illness from which we
are assured he then suffered.[161] What wonder if, in the vertigo of
fever, he felt prisoned with swimming brain in magic circles; or is it
strange that one so intent upon the doctrine of the departed Averroës
should, in the height of his delirium, have planned to force the grave
itself, and summon the dead philosopher to tell the secret of his lost
works? Something of the Greek δεινότης, something terrible, superhuman
almost, we discover in a spirit so fully roused and determined, and if
we have read rightly the mind of Scot, no wonder that he and the Emperor
were fully at one in regard to what they had to do. We have no means of
knowing which of the two first conceived the idea of translating the
works of Averroës: as master and servant they fairly share the fame of
that great enterprise. It was one which demanded, not only means, talent,
and unwearied labour, but high courage as well, considering the suspect
character of that philosophy and the censures under which it already
lay. In the event indeed this proved to be a matter highly creditable to
those who promoted it, but one which carried serious and far-reaching
consequences both for Michael Scot and for the Emperor himself in the
ecclesiastical and political sphere.

When Scot returned to Toledo it was not with the purpose of attempting
single-handed a task for which not only time, but the co-operation of
several scholars, was evidently necessary. There is reason to think that
the Emperors commission conveyed some instruction to this effect; for, as
a matter of fact, we know that at least two other hands were associated
with Scot in the translation of Averroës.

One of these was Gerard of Cremona, not of course the Cremonese who
died in 1187, but the younger scholar of the same name, perhaps a son
or nephew of the elder. He is distinguished as Gherardus _de Sabloneta_
Cremonensis. The Victorine manuscript[162] supplies evidence that he
contributed to the work in which Michael Scot was now engaged.

It is not impossible that Philip of Tripoli may have joined in the new
enterprise. His name does not indeed appear in any of the manuscripts
which contain the Latin Averroës, but we have seen that he was certainly
in Spain about this time and even at work with Gerard of Cremona.[163]
His intimate relation to Michael Scot is also beyond question, and, upon
the whole, it seems reasonable to suppose that the Emperor may have
engaged him to help in the work now going forward.

However this may have been as regards the exact details of time and
persons, we may regard it as a matter now for the first time brought to
light and established, that in the years between 1217 and 1223 there
existed a college of translators in Toledo just such as that which had
done so much excellent work there a century before. In the new school
Frederick II. held the honourable place of patron, as Archbishop Raymon
had done in his day, while Michael Scot and Gerard of Cremona aided each
other in completing the version of Averroës as Dominicus Gundisalvus had
lent his help to form that of Avicenna. This view of the matter should
be found very interesting, not only in itself, but with regard to the
conclusions arrived at by Jourdain, whose discoveries in the literary
history of the twelfth century it so remarkably repeats and extends to
the following age.

This correspondence between the earlier and later schools of Toledo is
even more close and exact than we have yet observed. It appears also in
the fact that a Jewish interpreter was attached to each, and rendered
important service as a member of the college. Under Don Raymon this place
was held by Johannes Avendeath, or Johannes Hispalensis as he is commonly
called, who worked along with the Archdeacon. ‘You have then,’ says
Avendeath, addressing the Archbishop, ‘the book which has been translated
from the Arabic according to your commands: I reading it word by word
into the vernacular (Spanish), and Dominic the Archdeacon rendering my
words one by one into Latin.’[164] The same division of labour seems
to have been followed in the new school which Frederick promoted.
The Emperor drew the attention of these learned men to Averroës, and
signified his desire that a version of this author should be prepared
like that which had been made from Avicenna. Michael Scot and Gerard of
Cremona were responsible, the former probably in a special sense, both
for the general conduct of the undertaking, and, in particular, for the
accuracy of the Latin. Now these scholars also, like their predecessors,
availed themselves of the help of a Jewish interpreter. This was one
Andrew Alphagirus, who seems to have taken the same part that Avendeath
had formerly done, by translating the Arabic of Averroës into current
Spanish, which Scot and his coadjutor then rendered into Latin.

Such at least appear to be the suggestions which offer themselves
naturally to one who peruses the colophon to the copy of the _De
Animalibus ad Caesarem_ preserved in the _Bibliotheca Angelica_ of Rome.
Thus it runs: ‘Here endeth the book of Aristotle concerning animals,
according to the abbreviation of Michael Scot Alphagirus.’ The form of
expression is curious, but may be exactly matched from the versions
produced by the earlier Toledan translators: that is, if we are to
believe Bartolocci. This author, in the first volume of his _Bibliotheca
Rabbinica_, mentions a manuscript of the Fondo Urbinate in the Vatican
which, he says, contains the four books of Avicenna on Physics translated
by ‘Johannes Gundisalvi.’ This name has evidently, like that of ‘Scoti
Alphagiri,’ been formed by composition from those of the two translators,
_Johannes_ Avendeath and Dominicus _Gundisalvi_ who aided each other in
the work.[165]

As to the personality of Alphagirus, the only ground of conjecture seems
to be that supplied by Romanus de Higuera, who, speaking of the learned
men assembled in 1218 at Toledo for the astronomical congress, mentions
that one of them was ‘el Conhesso Alfaquir’ of Toledo.[166] The place,
the date, and the similarity of name, are all in favour of our supposing
these two to be one and the same person. Nay further, as Alfaquir was
of Toledo, and did not need to be summoned thither in 1218, there is no
reason why he should not, as the ‘Alphagirus’ of 1209, have assisted
Michael Scot in producing the _De Animalibus_ for Frederick.

It is from a remark made by Roger Bacon that we know the first name of
the Toledan interpreter to have been Andrew, and that he was a Jew.
Bacon gives us this information in no kindly spirit, but in order to
lead up to the bitter conclusion that Scot’s work was not original,
but borrowed from one whose labours and just fame he had appropriated.
‘Michael Scot,’ he says, ‘was ignorant of languages and science alike.
Almost all that has appeared in his name was taken from a certain Jew
called Andrew.’[167]

A sufficient answer to this serious accusation may be found in what we
already know of the literary fashions of the day, and, in particular,
of the traditional methods of work pursued by the Toledan translators.
It was precisely thus that the Archdeacon Gundisalvus had used the
aid of Avendeath. A little later too, we find the same system adopted
in the translation of the Koran promoted by Peter the Venerable. That
ecclesiastic thus expresses himself in sending a copy of his book to St.
Bernard: ‘I had it translated by one skilled in both tongues; Master
Peter of Toledo; but since he was not as much at home in the Latin, and
did not know it as well as the Arabic, I appointed one to help him …
Brother Peter our Notary.’ To his Koran Peter the Venerable joined a
_Summa Brevis_ of the Christian controversy with the Mohammedans. This
work also came from the pen of Master Peter, and with regard to it he
makes the following remarks: ‘By giving elegance and order to what had
been rudely and confusedly stated by him (_i.e._ by Master Peter) he
(_i.e._ Brother Peter the Notary) has completed an epistle, or rather a
short treatise, which, as I believe, will be very useful to many.’[168]

This correspondence throws a clear light upon the case of Michael Scot in
regard to the charge of plagiarism. Like Master Peter, he was familiar
with both the Latin and the Arabic language. His weak point, however, we
may suppose to have made itself felt with regard to the latter, which he
probably knew better in its colloquial than its literary form, and this
must have been the reason why he availed himself of the aid of a Spanish
Jew to secure the accuracy of his work. Such collaboration seems to have
produced nearly all the previous versions which came from Toledo, and it
is obvious that the honour due to the various contributors who combined
in forming these translations can only be determined by those who have
it in their power to make a careful and unprejudiced valuation of their
individual labours in each case. We may gravely doubt whether this was
what Bacon did before he sat down to pen his sharp censure on Michael
Scot. Certainly such an estimate is now out of the question. We can only
affirm the undoubted fact that the critic was wrong when he said Scot did
not know Arabic. The contrary appears, not only from the probability we
have already drawn from his Sicilian residence, but by actual testimony
of a very honourable kind.[169] Nor must we forget to notice that the
openness with which this copartnery was carried on affords a proof that
no deceit could have been thought of in the matter. Considering the
past history of the Toledan School, it must have been taken for granted
that every version which came from thence under the name of a Christian
scholar owed something to the care of his Moorish scribe.

Even had we not been able to make such an appeal to the use and wont of
the times in vindication of Scot’s method of work, might not a little
consideration of what was natural and inevitable in such a task have
served to explain what Bacon found so objectionable? The scholars from
distant lands who came to Toledo could not, as a rule, afford to spend
much time there, and were anxious to use every moment of their stay to
the best advantage. They naturally therefore secured on their arrival the
services of a Jew or Moor for the purpose of learning Arabic. Needing a
knowledge of that tongue not so much in its colloquial as its literary
dialect, they must have been engaged from the first in the study of a
text rather than in conversing with their teachers. What then could have
been more suitable than that these scholars should begin by attacking
the very books of which they desired to furnish a Latin version? This
method had the merit of gaining two objects at once. The students learned
to read Arabic, following the text as it was translated to them by the
interpreter. Writing in Latin from his vernacular, and polishing as they
wrote, they engaged from the day of their arrival in the very work of
translation which had brought them to Spain. It is plain too that any
modification of this method which the case of Michael Scot might demand
would depend on the knowledge of Arabic he already possessed. It must
therefore have been such as left him more and not less credit in the
result of his labours than that which commonly belonged to the Christian
translators in Toledo.

The whole matter of these versions, and of the fame belonging to Michael
Scot in connection with them, seems to receive some further light
when we compare the Toledan practice with that which distinguished
the most famous schools of painting. It would surely be a strange
freak of criticism which should deny to any of the great masters his
well-earned fame because of the ground on which it was raised, or the
numerous scholars whom it attracted to his studio. Yet we know well what
this relation between the master and his school implied in the palmy
days of pictorial art. There were apprentices who stretched canvas,
mixed colours, and pricked and pounced designs. There were pupils, to
whom, according to their talents and proficiency, varied parts of the
execution were assigned. To the master alone belonged the oversight and
responsibility of the whole. Giving a general design, were it only in a
sketch from his hand, he watched the progress of the work with jealous
eye, and caught the decisive moment to interpose by executing with
his own pencil such parts of the painting as might give a distinctive
character, a _cachet_, to the whole. Not till he was satisfied that the
desired effect had been secured might the picture leave his studio, and
who shall say that he did wrong to sign his name to works produced in
such a way? Thus, at any rate, have the highest reputations in the world
of art risen into their deserved and enduring fame.

Now, as it is certain that the Toledan School pursued similar methods in
their literary labours, right requires that the reputation of its members
should be judged by the same canons of criticism which we apply without
hesitation to pictorial art. His own day unhesitatingly gave Scot the
chief credit in the version of Averroës without inquiring too curiously
what parts had been executed by the Cremonese, or other scholars, and
what share belonged to Andrew the Jew. It may make us the more ready
to accept this verdict and adopt it as our own when we remember the
intellectual qualities of the Emperor for whom this work was done. It is
certainly out of the question to suppose that a reputation in letters,
such as Michael Scot undoubtedly enjoyed at the court of Frederick II.,
could have been gained by any but legitimate and honourable means.

Coming to an examination then of the various versions which came from the
new Toledan School, we find that two of them expressly bear to have been
the work of Scot himself. The first of these is the treatise commencing
‘Maxima cognitio naturae et scientiae.’ It is the commentary of Averroës
on the _De Coelo et Mundo_ of Aristotle,[170] and Scot has prefaced it
by an introduction conceived as follows: ‘To thee, Stephen de Pruvino,
I, Michael Scot, specially commend this work, which I have rendered into
Latin from the sayings of Aristotle. And should Aristotle have delivered
somewhat in an incomplete form concerning the fabric of the world in
this book, thou mayest have what is wanting to complete it from that of
Alpetragius which I have likewise rendered into Latin; and, indeed, it is
one with which thou art well acquainted.’ As we know when the version of
Alpetrongi on the _Sphere_ was produced, this fortunate reference to that
previous work enables us to determine, at least approximately, that of
the _De Coelo et Mundo_, and hence of these translations of Averroës in
general. The year 1217 is the first limit, before which they cannot have
appeared, and 1223 is the last; for by that time Michael Scot had already
left Spain. Between these two dates then, and probably nearer the former
than the latter, must his labours and those of his coadjutors have been
devoted to this important work.

Stephanus de Provino has been happily identified by M. Bourquelot with
a somewhat notable ecclesiastic of the Church of Nôtre Dame du Val de
Provins, whose name occurs in various documents dated between the years
1211 and 1233. Renan conjectures that he may be the same as a certain
Etienne de Rheims, who, it seems, was born at Provins.[171] Perhaps he is
the _Stephanus Francigena_ of Guido Bonatti.[172] Scot’s friendship with
him, to which the dedication of the _De Coelo et Mundo_ bears witness,
was probably begun in their student days at Paris.

The second version bearing the name of Scot is that which commences with
the words: ‘Intendit per subtilitatem demonstrare;’ being the commentary
of Averroës on the _De Anima_ of Aristotle.[173] In the Victorine
manuscript this treatise offers a curious title: ‘Here beginneth the
Commentary of the Book of Aristotle the Philosopher concerning the Soul,
which Averroës commented on in _Greek_, and Michael Scot translated into

In the same manuscript the version of Averroës’s Commentary on the
various books which compose the _Parva Naturalia_ of Aristotle is
ascribed to Gerard of Cremona. Renan observes that this ascription does
not occur in any other copy, and supposes it to have been a mistake. He
seems influenced in this conclusion by the fact that Gerard of Cremona
died in 1187. It is curious to find such an eminent scholar forgetful
of the existence of a younger Cremonese; and he is not alone in this
error, for it has been repeated even of late years. Yet in 1851 Prince
Baldassare Boncompagni had distinguished well between the elder and
younger Gerard of Cremona in an excellent monograph on the subject.[174]
Even had this work not been published, the learned world had already
reason enough to suspect the truth. In a well-known passage of his
_Compendium Studii_,[175] Roger Bacon speaks of Gerard of Cremona
as a contemporary of Michael Scot, Alured of England, William the
Fleming, and Herman the German, adding that those who were still young
had nevertheless known Gerard, who was the eldest of this company of
scholars. Now the _Compendium Studii_ is commonly assigned to the year
1292, but even if we carry this passage back to 1267, when the most of
Bacon’s works were written, it still appears evidently impossible that
any one still young in that year could have seen a man who died in 1187.
Boncompagni, as we have said, explains the difficulty by acquainting
us with the younger Gerard, called _de Sabloneta_ Cremonensis. He was
undoubtedly a contemporary of Michael Scot, and the De Rossi manuscript,
already referred to,[176] shows that he was in Spain about this time.
There is therefore no reason to distrust the testimony of the Victorine
codex when it gives Gerard the honour of having translated Averroës on
the _Parva Naturalia_. In accomplishing this work he vindicated his right
to the place we have already ventured to assign him as a member of the
Toledan College.

The manuscript collections where the _De Coelo et Mundo_, the _De Anima_,
and the _Parva Naturalia_ of Averroës are found in a Latin dress, contain
also versions of several other commentaries by the same author: those
concerning the _De Generatione et Corruptione_, the four books of the
_Meteora_, the _De Substantia Orbis_, and the _Physica_ and _Metaphysica_
of Aristotle.[177] We may safely ascribe them to the Toledo College. They
were translated either by Michael Scot, Gerard of Cremona, or some other
scholar who worked under these masters.

Renan, relying on the authority of Haureau,[178] has shown good
reason to believe that at least the commentaries on the _Physica_ and
_Metaphysica_ in their Latin versions came from the pen of Scot. Albertus
Magnus, in a passage of high censure, delivers himself in the following
terms: ‘Vile opinions are to be found in the book called _Quaestiones
Nicolai Peripatetici_. I have been wont to say that the author of it
was not Nicholas but Michael Scot, who in very deed knew not natural
philosophy, nor rightly understood the books of Aristotle.’[179] The
doctrine thus condemned is undoubtedly that of Averroës on the _Physica_
and _Metaphysica_. A manuscript of the Paris library has a treatise
commencing thus: ‘Haec sunt extracta de libro Nicolai Peripatetici,’ and
it seems that a close correspondence exists between this and a certain
digression in the commentary by Averroës on the twelfth book of the
Metaphysics. This digression, says Renan, often occurs in the manuscripts
as a separate treatise called ‘Sermo de quaestionibus quas accepimus a
Nicolao et nos dicemus in his secundum nostrum posse.’ These words have
been omitted from the printed editions of the Commentaries of Averroës,
and thus the identity of this treatise with the book censured by Albertus
Magnus was not recognised till Haureau discovered it.

The only result then of this sharp criticism is to assure us that the
versions of the _Physica_ and _Metaphysica_ must also be reckoned to the
credit of Michael Scot. For undoubtedly the opinions to which Albert
took such exception were those of Averroës, and not of the translator.
But if so, then what becomes of the censure passed upon Scot? The truth
is that if he was more original than Bacon gave him credit for, on the
other hand he escapes the force of Albert’s blame by proving to have
been less original than the latter critic had supposed. His was indeed a
hard case. He could not form versions from the Arabic but either he was
accused of plagiarism or else held up to the indignation of Christianity
as if he had been the author of the opinions he rendered into Latin.
This steady determination to find fault overreaches itself. We begin to
discover in it the bitter fruit of some _odium philosophicum_, and of
that envy which even a just reputation seldom fails to excite.

Some curiosity may be felt with regard to the doctrine contained in
the _Quaestiones Nicolai Peripatetici_ which gave ground for such
adverse opinions. M. Renan’s _résumé_ of this treatise is clear and
sufficient,[180] and we may reproduce it here, as it will afford a useful
supplement to the account already given of the philosophy of Averroës.
‘As to the origin of the different kinds of being,’ says Averroës,
‘there are two exactly opposite opinions, as well as others occupying
an intermediate position. The one explains the world by a theory of
development, the other by creation. Those who hold the former say that
generation is nothing but the outcome and in a sense the multiplication
of being; the Agent, according to this hypothesis, doing no more than
extricate being from being and make a distinction between them,[181] so
that the Agent, thus conceived, has the function of a mere motive power.
As to those who hold the hypothesis of creation, they say that the Agent
produces being without having any recourse to pre-existent matter. This
is the view taken by our _Motecallemin_, and by the followers of the
Christian religion: for example, by Johannes Christianus (Philopon), who
asserts that the possibility of creation lies in the Agent alone.’

‘The intermediate views may be reduced to two only, though the first of
these admits several subdivisions which show considerable differences.
These opinions agree in affirming that generation is only a change of
substance; that all generation implies a subject; and that everything
begets in its own likeness. The first opinion asserts, however, that
the part of the Agent is to create form, and to impress it upon already
existent matter. Some of those who hold this view, as Ibn Sina,[182] make
an entire separation between matter in generation and the Agent, calling
the latter the _source of form_, while others, among whom we may notice
Themistius and perhaps Alfarabi, maintain that the Agent is in some cases
conjoined with matter, as when fire produces fire, or man begets man; and
in others separate from it, as in the generation of creeping things and
plants, _i.e._ those not produced from seed,[183] which all owe their
being to causes that are unlike themselves.’

‘The third theory is that of Aristotle, who holds that the Agent produces
at once both form and substance, by impressing motion on matter, and
begetting a change therein which rouses its latent powers to action. In
this way of thinking the function of the Agent is only to make active
that which already existed potentially, and to realise a union between
matter and form. Thus all creation is reduced to motion of which heat is
the principle. This heat, shed abroad in the waters and in the earth,
begets both the animals and the plants which are not produced by seed.
Nature puts forth all these both orderly and with perfection, just as if
guided by a controlling mind; though nature itself has no intelligence.
The proportions and productive power which the elements owe to the motion
of the sun and stars are what Plato called by the name of _Ideas_.
According to Aristotle the Agent cannot create forms, for in that case
something would be produced from nothing.

‘It is, in fact, the notion that forms could be created which has led
some philosophers to suppose that forms have a substantive existence of
their own, and that there is a separate source of these. The same error
has infected all the three religions of our day,[184] leading their
divines to assert that nothing can produce something. Starting from
this principle our theologians have supposed the existence of one Agent
producing without intermediary all kinds of creatures; an Agent whose
action proceeds by an infinity of opposite and contradictory acts done
simultaneously. In this way of thinking it is not fire that burns, nor
water that moistens; all proceeds by a direct act of the Creator. Nay
more, when a man throws a stone, these teachers attribute the consequent
motion not to the man but to the universal Agent, and thus deny any true
human activity.

‘There is even a more astounding corollary of this doctrine; for if God
can cause that which is not to enter into being, He can also reduce being
to nothing; destruction, like generation, is God’s work, and Death itself
has been created by Him. But in our way of thinking destruction is like
generation. Each created thing contains in itself its own corruption,
which is present with it potentially. In order to destroy, just as to
create, it is only necessary for the Agent to call this potentiality into
activity. We must in short maintain as co-ordinate principles both the
Agent and these potential powers. Were one of the two wanting, nothing
could exist at all, or else all being would reduce itself to action;
either of which consequences is as absurd as the other.’

We cannot wonder that Albertus Magnus, and all who held the Christian
faith, were alarmed by doctrine of this kind and fiercely opposed it.
The orthodox beliefs of Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans alike were
declared false by this bold writer, whom several expressions which we
have embodied in the above summary show clearly to have been Averroës,
and not Michael Scot. In one passage indeed we seem to discover what may
have suggested the widely spread fable that Frederick II., or Scot, or
some other of their company and party, had produced an atheistic work
called _De Tribus Impostoribus_. The imputation was a false one, yet most
natural were the feelings of prejudice which the publication of this
philosophy aroused against the great Emperor and Michael Scot who had
acted as his agent in the matter.

Pursuing our investigation of the works which came from the Toledan
College we discover that these were not confined to the books of
Aristotle already noticed, but that the translators took a wider range
in their labours. The Venice manuscript of Averroës,[185] besides the
_De Coelo et Mundo_, the _De Anima_, the _Meteora_, the _De Substantia
Orbis_, the _De Generatione et Corruptione_, and the _Parva Naturalia_,
contains several other treatises that deserve attention. Two of these
were compositions of Averroës; the one a commentary on the book of
Proclus, _De Causis_, then commonly ascribed to Aristotle,[186] and the
other an independent work, as it would seem, bearing the following title:
‘Qualiter intellectus naturalis conjungitur Intelligentiae abstractae,’
in short a treatise on the _ittisal_. The volume also contains the
Latin version of a book by the Rabbi Moses Maimonides, entitled ‘De Deo
Benedicto, quod non est Corpus, nec Virtus in Corpore.’[187] Maimonides,
like Averroës, was a native of Cordova, and hence no doubt arose the
interest that was felt in his works by the Toledan translators.

That the Venice manuscript is to be understood as a collection of the
versions which came from that school appears plainly in the dedication
to Stephen of Provins. This is generally prefixed to the _De Coelo et
Mundo_, thus forming an introduction to the versions which follow; but
here it has been placed at the end of the volume, occurring immediately
after the short article _De Vita Aristotelis_ which closes the whole
series. We may see in this fact a certain probability that some at
least of these additional versions may have been the work of Michael
Scot himself. Nor will the five years which he spent at Toledo appear
too scant a space of time for the production of the whole body of the
Latin Averroës and something more, when we remember the ample and able
assistance he enjoyed in the prosecution of his labours as a translator.

There is one other version of which we must speak before leaving the
subject which has engaged our attention so long. The library of St. Omer
contains a manuscript collection of the works of Aristotle in Latin
which was written during the thirteenth century.[188] The fly-leaf at
the commencement of this volume shows the same handwriting as the other
pages, and has proved upon examination to be the last relic of a work
which has unfortunately perished. What that work was may be seen from
the closing words, which are as follows: ‘Here end the _Nova Ethica_ of
Aristotle, which Master Michael Scot translated from the Greek language
into the Latin.’ This colophon opens a curious question. Are we to
consider that the scribe wrote _Greek_ when he should rather have said
_Arabic_? It was by a mistake of such a kind that the writer of the
Victorine manuscript asserted that Averroës had commented on the _De
Anima_ in _Greek_.[189] Taking it in this way the version of the _Nova
Ethica_ would fall into line with the others which Scot and Gerard of
Cremona composed at Toledo. But it deserves notice that none of the
manuscript collections usually considered to contain the work of that
school comprises among its contents the _Nova Ethica_. We know, further,
that a Latin version of the Ethics with the commentary of Averroës was
made from the Arabic by Hermannus Alemannus.[190] This work was completed
on the third of June 1240, and we can hardly suppose that it would have
been entered on if Michael Scot had already accomplished the same task
but twenty years earlier. These facts and considerations make it very
unlikely that the St. Omer fragment represents a version of the Arabic

Assuming then the literal truth of this interesting colophon, we
are confirmed in the conclusion to which an examination of the _De
Partibus Animalium_ in the Florence manuscript has already inclined
our minds.[191] Michael Scot, it must now be held, did not confine
his studies altogether to the Arabian authors, but undertook to form
translations directly from the Greek. These two versions, and especially
that of the _Nova Ethica_, open up a new and striking view of the
scholar’s literary activity. When Aquinas moved Pope Urban to order a new
translation of Aristotle from the original, William of Moerbeka and those
others who presently entered upon this work were tilling no virgin soil,
but a familiar field in which the plough of Scot at least had left deep
furrows. Even the renowned Grostête, Bishop of Lincoln, who executed a
version of the _Ethica_ from the Greek about 1250, was but following in
the path which this earlier master had opened up. Michael Scot here takes
rank with Boëthius and Jacobus de Venetiis, who were among the first to
seek these pure and original sources of Aristotelic doctrine. He appears
as one who not only completed the knowledge of his time with regard to
the Arabian philosophy by translating Averroës, but who gave some help at
least to lay the foundation of a more exact acquaintance with the works
of Aristotle by opening a direct way to the Greek text. We may even see
a sign of this remarkable position in the place of honour given, perhaps
accidentally, to Scot’s version of the _Nova Ethica_ at the opening of
the St. Omer manuscript. He stands between two ages, and lays a hand of
power upon each.

It is hardly necessary to add that in this he shines all the more
brightly when compared with his great detractor. Roger Bacon, secure
in the consciousness of his commanding abilities, attacks with a rare
self-confidence, not Michael Scot alone, but all the scholars of his
time. Not four of them, he says, know Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic.[192]
Those who pretend to translate from these tongues are ignorant even
of Latin, not to speak of the sciences treated of in the books which
they pretend to render intelligible. Busy in penning these diatribes,
Bacon does not seem to have reflected that the best way of reproving
the imperfections of which he complained would have been to shame these
scholars to some purpose by producing better versions on his own account.
But the truth of the matter lies here, that Bacon was no linguist. This
appears plainly from the tale he tells against himself in the _Compendium
Studii_; how a hard word in Aristotle had baffled him till one day
there came some outlandish students to hear him lecture, who laughed at
his perplexity, telling him it was good Spanish for the plant called
Henbane.[193] ‘Hinc illae lachrymae’ then, and a plague on Michael Scot
and all his tribe, who know Spanish so well they will not put a plain
Latin word for the puzzled professor to understand. No wonder that to
Scot rather than to Bacon, for all his genius, that age owed the chief
part of the first translation of Aristotle and a good beginning of the

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The alchemy of the thirteenth century, to the progress of which Michael
Scot contributed not a little, bore a close relation to the opinions
then entertained in another branch of science: that of astronomy. We
have already noticed how chemistry, as practised in Egypt, was largely
influenced by Eastern theories regarding the stars and their power over
earthly elements. That this connection and sympathy was still a matter of
common belief at the time Scot wrote is not only probable but can readily
be established by direct evidence. The treatise ‘Cum studii solertis
indagine,’ already referred to,[142] has a curious passage which bears
directly on the point in question. We find in the preface the following
remarkable statement: ‘For the art of alchemy belongs to the deeper and
more hidden physics, and in particular to that division thereof which …
is called the lower astronomy,’ It is plain then that no chemist could
in those days be considered fully competent for the task he undertook
unless to a knowledge of the customary theories and processes of his art
he added some acquaintance with the mysteries of the heavenly spheres as

To Michael Scot, even before he came to Toledo, the science of astronomy
was already a beaten path. His progress in mathematical studies naturally
led him to this, the highest sphere in which they could be exercised. At
the court of Frederick he had made many an observation and cast many a
horoscope. In the _Liber Introductorius_ and _Liber Particularis_ he had
produced two manuals expounding in a popular way the twin sciences of
astrology and astronomy; publications which no doubt reproduced pretty
exactly the teaching he had given to the Emperor.

In Spain he not only kept up his interest in this subject but lost
no opportunity of improving his past acquirements. He was constantly
on the watch for new astronomical works. He read them, not only as a
student eager to extend his knowledge, but as a translator anxious to
find the opportunity of adding to the resources of other scholars by the
production of some important book in a Latin dress.

As a resident in Toledo, Scot found himself very favourably situated
for such studies. That city was now indeed to become what may be called
the classic ground of Moorish astronomy. A Spanish author would have us
believe that there presently assembled there an incredible number of
astronomers drawn, not only from all parts of Spain, but from France
as well, and especially from Paris. The king himself is said to have
presided over this congress. The works of Ptolemy, with the commentaries
of Montafan and Algazel, were translated into Latin for the use of those
scholars who did not understand Arabic. Discussions were held in the
Alcazar of Galiana upon the various theories of the heavenly bodies and
their movements. These labours, which commenced in 1218, and are said to
have lasted till 1262, resulted in a more exact series of observations
than had hitherto been made. They were published, and became generally
known as the _Tables of Toledo_.[143]

It was in such a direction indeed that the line of true progress lay.
As alchemy rose into a real chemistry rather by the practice of the
laboratory than by the theory of the schools, so it was with regard
to astronomy. The scheme of Ptolemy with its various modifications
necessarily held the field, imperfect and erroneous as it was, till
wider and more exact observations, such as those for which the wise king
of Castile thus provided had, in the course of after ages, furnished
adequate ground for the magical and illuminative speculations of
Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.

Favourable, however, as Scot’s situation in Toledo undoubtedly was, much
of what we are considering lay beyond his reach, being yet in the womb of
the future. The Moorish astronomers, and he doubtless with them, felt far
from satisfied with the Ptolemaic system as expounded in the _Almagest_.
While no one as yet ventured to interfere with its fundamental conception
of the earth as the centre of the universe, every fresh observation, by
bringing into view more of the delicacy and subtlety of the heavenly
movements, made additions and modifications of that theory constantly
necessary. Hence arose a series of Arabian works on the _sphere_, each
superseding that which had preceded it, and reflecting the last results
obtained with the astrolabe. Such a line of progress could not but lead
to the time when the Ptolemaic theory no longer lent itself by any
modification to the full explanation of ascertained facts. Then and then
only arose the new astronomy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
which is thus seen to be vitally connected, even in its highest reach and
most splendid developments with the now forgotten theories of the Moorish

Considering then the epoch at which he lived, and the incomplete material
which existed in his days for a true science of the heavens, Michael Scot
did all that could be reasonably expected of him. He sat at the feet of
those who were then the best authorities on this subject. He used his
opportunities at Toledo to make the last and most subtle theories of the
Moors intelligible to those less fortunate scholars whose attention these
must otherwise have escaped.

His services to astronomy appeared in the Latin version which he made
from a treatise on the _Sphere_ lately composed by Alpetrongi. This
author’s name is said to have been, in its Arabic form, Nured-din el
Patrugi. Munk, in his _Mélanges_, tells us that the latter designation
was derived from a village called Petroches lying a little to the north
of Cordova.[144] The Latins corrupted the name in different ways, so that
among them it became _Avenalpetrandi_, _Alpetrongi_, or _Alpetragius_.
The astronomer who bore it flourished about the year 1190, and is said to
have been a renegade, and a scholar of the celebrated Ibn Tofail, the
author of the curious Sufic romance called _Hay Ibn Yokhdan_.

In the preface to his book on the _Sphere_ Alpetrongi begs to be excused
if he has ventured to differ from the tradition of the ancients in his
theory of the heavenly movements, and especially from Ptolemy the great
master of this science. His apology reminds us that it may be well to
examine more exactly than we have yet done the various advances which had
been made up to this time by the Arabian astronomy.

As early as the ninth century the mathematicians of that nation had
simplified the problems of the circle by discovering the way of
measurement by sine and tangent instead of by the chord. This improvement
is ascribed to Albategni who lived between the years 877 and 929.
Calculation was soon made still easier by the invention of algebra.
The year 820 is given as the age of Mohammed ben Moussa, surnamed Al
Khowaresmi, who had the honour of this important discovery. From the
surname of this mathematician the Latins afterwards formed by corruption
their common noun _Algorisma_ or _Algorithmus_, from which our word
arithmetic is derived.

These improved methods of calculation were soon applied to astronomy.
Al Mamun, whose reign commenced in the year 813, summoned an assembly
of scholars learned in that science. They met in the great Babylonian
plain, having chosen that place as suitable for their observations, and
measured the declination of the ecliptic, which they determined to be
23° 33ʺ. About the same time the secular motion of the heavens began to
attract attention. Albategni corrected the observations of Ptolemy here,
and showed that the retrograde movement amounted to one degree, not in a
century as the Greek philosopher had said, but in a shorter period which
is variously stated as sixty-six or seventy years. Alfargan repeated
this calculation, and amended that relating to the declination of the
ecliptic, which he computed at 23° 35ʺ.

This was the progress and these the data which led the Moorish
astronomers to abandon the earlier and simpler theories of the _sphere_
as inconsistent with ascertained facts. They were aware of motions among
the heavenly bodies not to be explained by the mere supposition that
round the earth as a centre moved the concentric spheres on the axes of
their poles. It is true that even Ptolemy himself had felt something
of this difficulty and had endeavoured to meet it by a theory of
eccentrics and epicycles. As knowledge increased, however, this primitive
explanation was felt to be cumbrous and unsatisfactory. Aboasar[145]
and Azarchel gained fame by boldly striking out in new paths, and later
Moorish astronomers eagerly followed the lead thus given them, each
adding some modification of his own.

Thus then we return to the preface of Alpetrongi prepared to understand
his position when he declares himself obliged to depart from previous
traditions. He proceeds to avow himself a scholar of Azarchel, but
when we examine his work we find that the theory he proposes differs
considerably even from that taught by his immediate master. It was one
which, through the labours of Michael Scot, as translator of Alpetrongi,
exercised no small influence on the study of astronomy among the Latins,
and we may well spend a moment in considering the chief features which it

One of the most important problems which called for solution at the hands
of the Moorish astronomers was that of the recession of the heavenly
bodies, by which, when observed at sufficient intervals of time, they
were seen to fall short of the positions they might have been expected
to reach. This recession, as we have remarked already, had been very
accurately studied, and computed as exactly as the methods of the time
allowed; but a reason for so remarkable a phenomenon was yet to seek.
Alpetrongi boldly declared that the eastward motion was apparent only
and not real. He explained that the source of power lay in the _primum
mobile_ or ninth sphere; that lying outside the sphere of the fixed
stars. From hence the force producing circular motion was derived to the
eighth, and so to the inferior spheres; each handing on a part of the
impulse to that which lay beneath it. In the course of transmission,
however, the prime force became gradually exhausted. Thus, said
Alpetrongi, it happens that each sphere moves rather more slowly than the
one above it, and so the apparent recession is accounted for in a way
which shows it to be relative only and not absolute.

Another matter which exercised the minds of those who studied the
heavens was the difference of elevation which the heavenly bodies showed
according to the seasons of summer and winter. The sun, for example, at
noonday of the summer solstice stood, they saw, at his highest point in
the heavens, while he sank to his lowest on the shortest day of winter.
Between these extremes he held gradually every intermediate position, and
as he was meanwhile supposed to be moving in a circular path round the
earth, his course came to be conceived of as a spiral alternately rising
and declining. How was this spiral motion to be explained?

Each sphere, said Alpetrongi, has its own poles, which differ from those
of the _primum mobile_, and thus each, while following the motion of the
ninth sphere, accomplishes at the same time another revolution about its
own proper poles. From the combination of these two movements arises one
of the nature of a spiral which fully accounts for the seeming deviations
of the heavenly bodies to north or south.[146]

Such were the contributions of this philosopher to the astronomy of
his time. They were the fruit, he assures us, of patient study of the
ancients, and specially of Aristotle and his commentators. He offered
them to his age as a distinct improvement on the cumbrous theories of
Ptolemy, and as an advance even upon that of Azarchel, whom, in the main,
he acknowledges as his master in science. Antiquated and childish as
his explanations may seem to us, we cannot help feeling that he had at
least grasped firmly some of the chief problems of the sky. He stood in
the line of that inquiry and patient progress which have issued in the
marvellous discoveries of later times.

Scot’s version of the _Sphere_ of Alpetrongi has reached us accompanied
by the date of its composition; a distinction which belongs to only one
other among his translations, that of the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_. M.
Jourdain had the merit of being the first who drew attention to this
fortunate circumstance,[147] and he did so by quoting the colophons
of two manuscripts of the _Sphere_ discovered by him in the Paris
library.[148] One of these closes thus: ‘Praised be Jesus Christ who
liveth for ever throughout all time:[149] on the eighteenth day of
August, being Friday, at the third hour, _cum aboleolente_,[150] in
the year one thousand two hundred and fifty-five.’ The other gives the
date thus: ‘The year of the Incarnation of Christ twelve hundred and
seventeen.’ These two epochs coincide exactly, as the apparent difference
arises from the date being expressed in the first manuscript according to
the era of Spain. It is therefore doubly certain that Scot’s version of
the _Sphere_ of Alpetrongi was made in the year 1217.[151]

In completing this translation Michael Scot anticipated by one year only
the great astronomical congress which the King of Castile presently
caused to assemble at Toledo. It may very possibly therefore have been
one of the versions prepared with a view to this great occasion and
designed for the use of the Latin astronomers who might come there.
Certain it is that the author was not less fortunate in this than in
his previous literary ventures. The text was well chosen, the time
of publication opportune, and the _Sphere_ of Alpetrongi as it came
from Scot’s hand had a wide circulation and influenced profoundly the
astronomical beliefs of the day.

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The Moorish schools of Spain were famous, not only for their researches
in natural history, but also for the interest they took in chemistry,
then called alchemy: a name which sufficiently indicates the nation
which chiefly pursued these studies, and the language that recorded
their progress. The practical turn taken by alchemy, as the foundation
of a scientific _materia medica_ in minerals, is shown by the writings
of Rases. This author, who belonged to the ninth and tenth centuries
(860-940), produced a considerable work on medicine in which he devoted
special attention to the diseases of children. Under his name appeared
several alchemical writings, either his own or the productions of the
school which followed his teaching and borrowed his name.

Michael Scot, as we know, had become familiar with the works of Rases
while still in Sicily, and thought so highly of the _De Medicina_ as to
borrow thence for his treatise on physiognomy no fewer than thirty-one
chapters relating to that subject.[106] It is a natural conjecture then
which leads us to find in his acquaintance with this author’s writings
the starting-point of Scot’s interest both in medicine and in alchemy.
Leaving for the present what may hereafter be said of his name and fame
as a physician, let us examine the origin and nature of his work as a
student of the Arabian chemistry. We have reached what would seem to be
the proper moment for such an inquiry. The treatises of Michael Scot on
this subject are not dated indeed, but their form shows them to belong
to the epoch of his work as a translator. They were therefore probably
produced during the period of his residence at Toledo, and as there
is a long interval, otherwise unaccounted for, between 1210, when the
_Abbreviatio Avicenna_ appeared, and the date of his next publication
some seven years later, this blank cannot be better filled than by
supposing that it was during these years he found time for the study of
alchemy, and for the translation or composition of the writings in that
branch of science which still bear his name.

In this, as in almost all his other studies, Michael Scot sat at the
feet of Eastern masters. But the Arabians themselves had derived their
chemical science, at least in its first principles and primitive
processes, from still older peoples. If we are to understand the progress
of human thought in this science we must trace it from the beginning,
following again that beaten track of tradition by which not physiognomy
and alchemy alone, but almost all the secrets of early times, have
reached the modern world.

Primitive chemistry was closely connected with the still older art of
metallurgy, out of which it arose by a natural process of development.
Those who worked with ores soon discovered the secret of alloys, whereby
a considerable quantity of baser metal, such as copper, lead or tin,
could be added to gold or silver, so as greatly to increase the bulk
of the whole without injuring either its appearance or usefulness. The
problem of the crown set before Archimedes, and happily solved by that
philosopher in the bath, shows how dexterously alloys were used by the
Greeks, and what subtle means were necessary for their detection.

M. Berthelot has reminded us[107] that the transmission of receipts
for such processes from early times to our own has been naturally and
inevitably secured by the unbroken continuity of practice in the arts
which gave them birth, and that they thus passed safely from generation
to generation, and even spread from the tribes that originated them
to other and distant peoples. He cites in support of this observation
a papyrus of the third century, preserved at Leyden, which, he says,
contains what are substantially the same directions as those of the
chief mediæval authorities in such matters: the _Mappae Clavicula_ and
the _Compositiones ad Tingenda_.[108] These receipts are not unnaturally
entitled ‘How to make Gold,’ and it is curious to find in them the
veritable starting-point of the dreams which made so many a furnace
smoke, and so many a crucible glow during the course of centuries, in the
vain hope of effecting an actual transmutation of substance.

Thus it was that in the first ages, long before authentic record, in the
dimness of early Egyptian history, or of that still more ancient Pelasgic
civilisation from which the pyramid-builders learned so much, the germs
of this science may already be perceived. Only one source of genuine gold
seems then to have been known: the mines of Ophir. This circumstance,
by making the supplies of precious metal small and uncertain, mightily
encouraged the art which taught men to counterfeit its appearance in
a colourable way. How this was done may be judged of by the receipts
themselves. The _Mappae Clavicula_, for instance, has the following:
‘To make gold. Silver, one pound; copper, half-a-pound; gold, a pound;
melt, etc.’ Here indeed a considerable proportion of the precious metal
itself was required, but there are other receipts which dispense with
any such admixture. It is said, for example, that one hundred parts of
copper and seventeen of zinc joined in a state of fusion with divers
small proportions of magnesia, sal ammoniac, quicklime, and tartar, yield
an alloy which is fine in grain and malleable, which may be polished and
used in damascening just as if it were the pure gold that it has all
the appearance of being. Such then were the receipts which formed the
hereditary riches of the mighty clan of the _Smiths_. It is easy to see
how the famous ‘powder of projection,’ so much sought in later times,
was, in fact, but the transfiguration of one of these formulae.

When, during the early centuries of the Christian era, the traditions of
Greece found a new home in lower Egypt, and especially in Alexandria,
they were profoundly influenced by the still more ancient philosophy of
the East. We have already remarked this in the case of another science,
that of physiognomy, but the same influence may also be traced in the
modification it brought to the notions of primitive chemistry. The
Chaldæans and Persians had long believed that the heavens influenced the
earth, and were capable of producing strange effects in the lower spheres
of being.[109] Their wise men considered that an individual connection
could be established between the stars and the elements, the planets
and the metals. It was in contact with this new doctrine and under its
influence that there arose the hope, soon hardening into a settled
belief, that the rules of art might be sufficient to effect an actual
transmutation of the baser into the nobler metals, of copper into gold,
and of tin or lead into silver.

This opinion must have been immensely heightened, and its authority
reinforced, by the secrecy with which the receipts for alloying metals
were guarded. These were handed down orally from father to son; were not
committed to writing till a comparatively late period, and even then
remained for the most part the cherished treasures of temple guilds. On
the well-known principle of the proverb, ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico’
this secrecy tended to confirm the impression that, however much had been
communicated, more remained untold, to await discovery by the patient
and undaunted chemist. The Therapeutæ or Essenes were among the earliest
representatives of this new tendency, as appears from the testimony
of Josephus,[110] who describes them as not only devoted to ancient
writings, but eager to investigate the properties of minerals. The
chief object of their inquiries, the maintenance of health by medicines
thus derived from the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, is not only an
early instance of the connection between chemistry and pharmacy, but is
remarkable as the probable starting-point of the search for the elixir
of life: that other and nobler dream which so much of the enthusiastic
energy of the mediæval alchemists was spent to realise.

The point of connection between these speculations of Eastern philosophy
and the practice of the primitive chemistry may with probability be
sought in the fire which of necessity played so large a part in the
operations of the metal-worker. Fire bore a highly sacred character in
the philosophy and religion of the East. This element, it soon came
to be thought by those whom Eastern speculation influenced, might be
trusted not only to melt, to calcine and to sublime in the vulgar way,
but to form the long-sought link of sympathy between the stars of heaven,
themselves compact of fire, and the elements of earth, as these were
subjected to its piercing and transforming power. In its due employment
the suspected connection between the higher and lower worlds would become
an accomplished fact. Thus, under the power of the planets, in some
favourable hour and fortunate conjunction, the mighty work would be done:
the philosopher’s stone discovered, the metals transmuted, and the elixir
of life produced.

It is highly curious to find this idea presented in a novel and perhaps
an exaggerated form by a writer of the sixteenth century. This was
Fra Evangelista Quattrami of Gubbio, _semplicista_, or master of the
still-room, to the Cardinal d’Este. He wrote a book entitled, _The
true declaration of all the metaphors, similitudes, and riddles of the
ancient Alchemical Philosophers, as well among the Chaldeans and Arabians
as the Greeks and Latins_.[111] According to this work, the potable
gold; the elixir of life; the quintessence, and the philosopher’s stone
were nothing but fantastic names for the fire itself which was used
in distillation and other chemical operations. In this the Frate may
possibly have touched the true sense of Al Kindi at least, who, in his
commentary on the _Meteora_,[112] speaks of fire as if it were the all in
all of the alchemist.

While the primitive chemical practice followed the progress of the
arts which it served, the new theory of alchemy, with the ever-growing
tradition of fantastic experiments arising out of it, found different and
less direct channels in its descent from ancient to modern times. It has
been customary to speak of the Arabs as if that nation had been the chief
means of transmitting the knowledge of Greek doctrine to our mediæval
scholars, but we now know that there was a previous link in the chain
of intellectual succession. This was supplied by the care and industry
of the Syrian subjects of the early Caliphs, nor did their learned men
play a less important part in the history of chemistry than in that of
the other sciences. Sergius of Resaina, a scholar of the fifth century,
was, it is said, the first Syrian who attempted to translate the Greek
chemists, several of whom mention him by name. The chief development
of this work belongs, however, to the ninth and tenth centuries, and
its glory must ever remain with the great school of Bagdad. Chemical
treatises composed by Democritus and Zosimus[113] were there and then
rendered into Syriac, as may be seen by the manuscripts still preserved
in the British Museum and at Cambridge.

It was not long before the Arabs themselves began to feel powerfully the
intellectual impulse thus communicated to them in the heart of a country
which they had made their own. Khaled ben Yezid ibn Moauia, who died in
the year 708, is said by their historians to have been the first of that
nation who devoted his attention to chemistry. In his case the filiation
of doctrine would seem very plain, as he was the pupil of a Syrian monk
named Mariannos. Djabar, the _Geber_ of Western writers, followed in
the same line of study, and from the ninth century there was a regular
school of Arabian chemists whose labours may be studied in the manuscript
collections of Paris and Leyden.

In the eleventh century appeared a curious phenomenon, in the shape of
a dispute among the Arabians of that day regarding the truth of the
tradition which pronounced the transmutation of metals possible. The
unwearied but still unavailing experiments which had now been carried on
through several ages, produced at last their inevitable effect in the
shape of philosophic doubt, eagerly urged on the one part and as eagerly
repelled on the other. The chemical school was now divided according to
these opposite opinions, and each party in their writings sought to give
weight to what they taught by borrowing in support of their arguments the
names of the mighty dead. In this conflict it was left to the followers
of Rases to sustain the affirmative and to assert the possibility of
transmutation. These were the apologists for the past, and the advocates,
in the name of their great master, of that hope which had inspired
previous research and borne fruit in so many important discoveries.

The defence of the new doubt belonged on the other hand to the school
of Al Kindi. This chemist lived and died during the ninth century. He
was probably the earliest Arabian commentator on Aristotle, and seems to
have paid special attention to the _Meteora_ of that author. The treatise
_De Mineralibus_, so often appended to the _Meteora_ as a supplement,
is ascribed to Al Kindi in the Paris manuscript.[114] It represents the
alchemy of the time.

Between these two contending parties stood the school of Avicenna, which
now occupied an intermediate position and doubted of the doubt. That this
had not always been the opinion of Avicenna himself is plain, however,
from a passage which occurs in his _Sermo de generatione lapidum_, where
the author unhesitatingly pronounces against the theory of transmutation.
‘Those of the chemical craft,’ he says, ‘know well that no change can be
effected in the different species of things, though they can produce the
appearance of them: tinging that which is ruddy with yellow till it looks
like gold, and that which is white with colour at their pleasure till
the same effect is in great measure produced. Nay, they can also remove
the impurity from lead, so that it looks like silver, though it be lead
still, and can endue it with such strange qualities as to deceive men’s
senses, and this by the use of salt and sal ammoniac.’[115] Avicenna was
evidently well acquainted with the secrets of art and held them at their
proper value. Had his followers in the eleventh century done the same
they would have supported the school of Al Kindi instead of taking a less
definite position.

This view of the later Arabian schools and their differences is forced
upon us by the fact, that works are extant under the names of Rases, Al
Kindi, and Avicenna, which evidently belong to the eleventh century,
the period when they first appeared, and could not therefore have been
written by authors who lived at an earlier date. They are plainly the
production of later chemists who followed more or less intelligently the
doctrine of these great masters in alchemy. The artifice involved in this
ascription of authorship is one which has always been common in Eastern

We have a direct interest in observing that Spain was the country where
these developments of the later Arabian chemistry arose, contended and
flourished. Spain, therefore, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
became, by the attraction she offered to European scholars, the country
where these theories first reached the Latin races, and began to find
an entrance among them. M. Berthelot indeed, by a happy citation, has
enabled us to fix, almost with certainty, the very moment of this
important event. Robert Castrensis, the author alluded to, remarks: ‘Your
Latin world has not as yet learned the doctrine of Alchemy.’ These words
are taken from the preface to this author’s version of the _Liber de
Compositione Alchimiae_, and a colophon informs us that the translation
was completed on the 11th of February 1182. We may add that the same
year, corrected, however, in one copy to 1183, was the date of another
of these versions of the Arabian chemistry: that of the treatise called
_Interrogationes Regis Kalid, et responsiones Morieni_.[116] Here then we
stand on the threshold of a new age, and find ourselves in presence of
an intellectual movement which was certainly of the greatest importance,
since in it we may trace the origin of our modern chemistry. The
knowledge of what had already been gained by Greek and Arabian alchemists
was the first step to independent research among the Latins. The closing
years of the twelfth century saw that knowledge at last beginning to
unfold itself in a form intelligible to the Western schools.

As in Bagdad during the ninth century, the palmy period of Syrian
studies, so in Spain three hundred years later, the work was in its
commencement essentially one of interpretation, and the first age of
these labours was distinguished by the number of versions which were
then produced. From 1182, through the whole of the following century,
students laboured in the translation of Moorish books on chemistry. Only
towards the close of this period did a tendency become apparent which
led in the direction of improvement and innovation. The seed already
sown had begun to bear fruit. The material thus derived from Eastern
sources was now treated with a new freedom, enriched by the results of
original experiment, and edited in forms which betray the influence of
scholastic philosophy. The criticism, however, which would determine the
precise point when this change began to be operative, and the extent to
which it proceeded, attempts what is perhaps an impossible and certainly
a difficult task. For it is a remarkable fact that no Arabic texts
have been preserved to us which can be regarded as the originals from
which these earlier Latin versions were made. This want is probably due
to the widespread destruction which overtook the Moorish libraries of
Spain.[117] That such originals did at one time exist, however, is made
certain by the correspondence which the Latin translations show with
those which have come down to us in another language, the Hebrew. The
labours of these Latin translators during a hundred years may be found
in the manifold collections of chemical treatises, containing some
forty or fifty articles apiece, which were arranged and copied out at
the beginning of the fourteenth century. These volumes became, after the
invention of printing, the chief quarry whence were composed the _Ars
Aurifera_; the _Theatrum Chemicum_ of Zetzner, and the _Bibliotheca_ of

We are now in a position to understand, not only the nature and progress
of the work in which Michael Scot took part, but the exact development
which alchemy had reached in his day, and therefore the relation which
his chemical publications bore to the general direction of study in this
department of science. The time and care which our survey of the field
has demanded need not be thought ill spent. It has prepared the way for
a more intelligent appreciation of Scot’s labours as a chemist, and has
furnished us with the means of coming to a true judgment regarding their
authenticity and value.

To put the matter to the proof: we may begin by dismissing altogether
from consideration a treatise which has long been attributed to Scot, and
still appears in the most recent list of his works: the _Quaestio curiosa
de natura Solis et Lunae_. It has probably received more attention
than it deserves since it appeared under Scot’s name in the _Theatrum
Chemicum_.[118] The subject of this treatise is indeed an alchemical
one; for the _sun_ and _moon_ of which it speaks are not these heavenly
bodies themselves, but, by an allegorical use common in the Middle Ages,
and derived from the Eastern theories of sympathy already mentioned,
stand for the nobler metals of gold and silver. A brief examination,
however, shows that Scot could not have been the author. The very
style suggests this conclusion; for it is distinctly scholastic, and
proper therefore to a later age than that which aimed at the direct and
simple reproduction of Eastern texts. It is satisfactory to find that
this criticism, hardly convincing _per se_, is fully borne out by what
occurs in the substance of the work itself. The author quotes from the
_De Mineralibus_ of Albertus. Now Albertus Magnus, by common testimony,
produced this treatise after the year 1240, and we may anticipate what
is afterwards to be told of Michael Scot’s death so far as to say here
that he had then been long in his grave. The _De Natura Solis et Lunæ_
then must be ascribed to some other and later alchemist, who lived in
the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century.
A more careful examination of the treatise than has been necessary for
our purpose might succeed in fixing its date with greater precision, and
might possibly throw some light upon the person of its true author.

Another work ascribed to the pen of Michael Scot, and one which seems
likely to be authentic, is that contained in the Speciale Manuscript.
This volume is one of those collections of alchemical tracts made in the
fourteenth century to which we have already alluded. It belonged to the
library of the Speciale family in Palermo, and has been made the subject
of an interesting monograph by Carini.[119] No. 44 of this manuscript is
entitled _Liber Magistri Miccaelis Scotti in quo continetur Magisterium_.
The term _Magisterium_, or supreme secret of art, would seem to carry
with it a certain reference to Aristotle, ‘Il _Maestro_ di color che
sanno,’ as Dante calls him.[120] Curious as the appearance of such a name
in connection with alchemy may seem to us, it is certain that Aristotle
held a high place in the chemical traditions of the Middle Ages. The
_Meteora_ afforded a text which lent itself readily to large commentaries
by the Arabian chemists. The tract _De Mineralibus_, which we noticed
when speaking of Al Kindi, was one of these commentaries, and it is easy
to see how it became confused with the text which it illustrated so as
in time to be considered the work of Aristotle himself. This, we may
believe, was the ground on which so many alchemical works were afterwards
published under the same mighty name.[121] An interesting example appears
in the Speciale collection itself which contains the following title:
_Liber perfecti Magisterii Aristotelis qui incipit cum studii solertis
indigere_.[122] The treatise _Cum studii_ is also found in the Paris
manuscript,[123] where it is ascribed to Rases. To the school of Rases
then we are inclined to attribute the works on the _Magisterium_, and
among the rest therefore, this treatise in the Speciale Manuscript, which
bears the name of Michael Scot, seemingly because he translated it from
the Arabic. This conclusion is confirmed when we notice the character of
some of the chapter headings as given by Carini; for example: ‘Qualiter
_Venus_ mutatur in _Solem_’; and again, ‘Transformatio _Mercurii_ in
_Lunam_.’ These show beyond all doubt that the doctrine which Michael
Scot published by means of this version was that held by the school of

A curious question here offers itself for our consideration. In the
times of Robert Castrensis alchemy was as yet unknown to the Latins.
Michael Scot, as we shall presently see, described it in one of his works
as meeting with but a poor reception at its first introduction among
them.[124] How then did it come to pass that in a few years the theory
of Rases became so popular in the West, and continued for so many ages
to direct the progress of chemical study among the European nations with
enduring power? We find the explanation of this sudden change in the
fact that human thought has always been subject to the tyranny of ruling
ideas. In our own day the place of direction is filled by a doctrine
of development which is eagerly made use of in every department of
knowledge. In those earlier ages the same place seems to have been held
by a doctrine of _transformation_. This idea ruled the thoughts of men
like an obsession, in whatever direction they turned their minds. We see
it in their superstitions, suggesting the wild tales of were-wolves and
of other animal forms assumed at will by wizard and witch. We find it in
religion, infusing a new meaning into the hyperbolical language of still
earlier times, till, under this direction, there came to be fastened
upon the Church a full-formed doctrine of Transubstantiation.[125] It
is the operation of the same idea then that we are to remark also in
the scientific sphere. As soon as the first shock of their surprise was
over, the Latins greedily embraced a theory of chemical change which
related itself so naturally to the prevailing habit of their minds, and
which promised to show as operative in the mineral kingdom a law already
conceived to hold good in the world of organic life.

The Riccardian Library of Florence possesses another of those volumes
to which we have already referred: a collection of alchemical treatises
formed in the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth
century.[126] Among these appears one called the _Liber Luminis Luminum_.
It is said to have been translated by Michael Scot, and, as there is no
reason to doubt this ascription, we have now the means of determining
with some fulness and accuracy the lines on which the philosopher
proceeded in his chemical researches.

The book opens with a preface somewhat scholastic,[127] and one which,
on this ground as well as on others, is probably to be ascribed to Scot
himself. In this part of the work he informs us that he took as his
basis in the following compilation a text called the _Secreta Naturae_.
To it he added material derived from other sources, which seemed
necessary in order to complete the doctrine of chemistry contained in the
_Secreta_. In this way he endeavoured to present his readers with a full
and practical body of Alchemy according to the teaching of the school to
which he belonged.

In the study of a composite work, such as the _Liber Luminis_ is thus
declared to be, our first problem is naturally to determine and separate
the original text from the additions which have been made to it. Which
then are those parts of the _Liber Luminis_ that represent the _Secreta
Naturae_? Very fortunately the volume where the _Liber Luminis_ is found
contains another treatise that throws considerable light on the matter.
This is the _Liber Dedali Philosophi_. The correspondences between that
book and the _Liber Luminis_ are so many, close, and verbal, that it is
evident both have borrowed from the same source. This source can hardly
have been other than the _Secreta Naturae_, so that a comparison of these
two books such as is attempted in the Appendix[128] should go far to
determine what that hitherto unknown text was.

The question of the chemical doctrine contained in the _Secreta_ is an
interesting one, and we shall return to it, but meanwhile, let us observe
that the _Liber Luminis_ contains hints which seem to carry us further
still, and throw some light upon the source from which the _Secreta_ was
itself derived. One of the authors quoted is a certain ‘Archelaus.’ Now
there was a veritable chemist of this name who lived during the fifth
century. This author wrote a treatise on his art in Greek verse. In later
times his name seems to have become common property, as did so many
others distinguished in alchemy, and to have been freely used by some who
wrote long after his day. Thus the Riccardian manuscript itself contains
no less than three books ascribed to this author: the _Liber Archelai
Philosophi de arte alchimiae_,[129] called also in the margin _Practica
Galieni in Secretis secretorum_;[130] the _Summula_, ‘quam ego Archilaus
transtuli de libro secretorum’;[131] and finally the _Mappa Archilei
nobilis philosophi_.[132]

The fact that these titles mention the _Secreta_ is enough to show us
that in following up the alchemy of the Pseudo-Archelaus, we are on the
right track. As we proceed the traces become still more interesting and
significant. The _Summula_ offers the following curious passage: ‘Et
hoc feci amore Dei et cuidam compatri meo, qui pauper sint [_sic_] et
infortunatus, et postea fortunatus fortuna bona et amore Imperatoris
Emanuelis et Frederici.’[133]

The name Emanuel is found in other alchemical writings. The _De Perfecto
Magisterio_, for example, which has been reprinted by Zetzner, embodies
another work, the _Liber duodecim aquarum_ which is expressly said to be
taken from the ‘Liber Emanuelis.’ Pursuing the matter further still, we
come to the _Liber Aristotelis_ which commences, ‘Cum de sublimiori atque
precipuo.’ The author of this treatise, we find, claims not only the
_Liber duodecim aquarum_ (‘quae qualiter se habeant in libro quem XII.
aquarum vocabulo descripsimus, prudens lector intelligere poterit’), but
also, it would seem, the very one of which we are in search (‘in libro
secretorum a nobis dictum est’). Everything inclines us to the belief
that we here touch the source from which the main part of the _Liber
Luminis_ was drawn, and this conclusion is not a little strengthened when
we observe that the treatise ‘Cum de sublimiori’ is called the _Lumen
Luminum_ in the Riccardian copy.[134]

The _Secreta_, however, was not the only source from which the _Liber
Luminis_ and the _Liber Dedali_ were drawn, and the assertion of the
preface that the former was composed of extracts from many different
philosophers is fully borne out when we examine the substance of the
books themselves. A strain of Greek influence is to be traced, for
example, in the names of Archelaus, Dedalus, Plato, and Hermes, as well
as in the use of _ciatus_ as an equivalent for the word ‘cup,’ and this
reminds us strongly of the _Summula_ with its reference to the Emperor
Manuel. It is not impossible that Scot may have borrowed much from the
Byzantine chemists of the twelfth century. With this notion agrees
the passage of the _Liber Dedali_ where Saracens are spoken of as
foreigners. On the other hand, much had evidently been taken from Arabic
sources, as is plain from the names given to several of the vessels
used in alchemy, such as the _alembic_ and _aludel_. Indeed, Unay and
Melchia, who are quoted in the _Liber Luminis_, must have been Moors,
for the corresponding passage of the _Liber Dedali_ describes them as
from ‘Lamacha of the Saracens.’ Both these texts agree in showing such
familiarity with the process of refining sulphur that one is led to
suppose the _Secreta_, their common original, may have been composed in
Sicily. The _Liber Luminis_ says of one of the alums that it is ‘brought
from Spain:’ an expression agreeing well with the notion of a Sicilian
author, who would naturally speak of Spain as a foreign land.

Leaving, however, these questions of origin and derivation, let us
come to that of the chemical doctrine taught in the book which Michael
Scot compiled, or at least translated. The title of the _Liber Luminis
Luminum_ is a significant one, and has a real relation to the contents
of the work itself.[135] To discover the sense which it must be held to
bear we have only to turn to the passage in which, speaking of alum, the
author says: ‘sicut illuminat pannos, ita illuminat martem ut recipiat
formam lunae. Ut enim lana illuminatur ita et metalla illuminantur.’[136]
A distinction is clearly present in the writer’s mind between the
substance and the form of the metals. He probably held that there existed
but one common metallic substance, which assumed the appearance of
iron, gold, or silver, according to the form which it had received. His
employment of the title _Liber Luminis Luminum_ was meant to indicate
that the purpose of his book was that of teaching the student how metals
might best be purified and improved. Their inferiority, when of the baser
kind, he conceived as an impurity, manifesting itself in the imperfect
forms of lead, iron, tin, and copper. He believed that this being removed
or changed by art, they might be made to shine with the lustre and
indeed possess the only distinctive quality of gold and silver. That we
have rightly read the meaning of this title seems plain from a curious
spelling which may be noticed in the _Liber Dedali_. ‘Illuminantur’ there
appears as ‘aluminantur.’ The chemistry taught in these books did in fact
prescribe the use of alum as a great means of purifying and refining the

The preface of the _Liber Luminis_ closes with a brief summary of the
chapters which compose the work itself. The first of these deals with
the different salts used in this chemistry: common salt; rock salt;
alkali; sal ammoniac; nitre and others. The second treats in like manner
of the various kinds of alum, the third describes the vitriols, and
the fourth the powders or spirits, by which we are to understand those
minerals which are capable of being sublimed or made volatile, such as
sulphur, arsenic, and mercury. Two supplementary chapters, the one on
the preparation of the salts, alums, and vitriols, and the other on
that of the remaining class of chemicals, complete the whole book. This
supplement seems genuinely such, as it is not mentioned in the general
contents, as these appear in the preface. Perhaps we do not err if we
suppose it to have embodied the result of Scot’s own experiments in

It is indeed the practical nature of the alchemical doctrine taught in
the _Liber Luminis_ which strikes us most strongly when we read this
book. A large part of it is taken up with exact descriptions of the
minerals, according to their various forms and the countries from which
they were derived. The rest consists of receipts for their employment
in refining metals. Whatever we may think of the validity and use of
these processes, we cannot fail to notice that they are described in
a perfectly straightforward and simple style. Here are none of the
mysteries, the riddles and ridiculous allegories so common in chemical
works written at a later time. The truth of the matter may probably be
that, in following the doctrine here set forth, Michael Scot and the
alchemists of his time did obtain results which were then so surprising,
as to excuse a certain exaggeration in those who described them. Tests
that could touch and reveal the real nature of the metals under any
change of outward appearance were not then so well known as now. Copper
that had been made to shine like gold, or to assume the appearance of
silver, was practically gold or silver to those who had no means of
discovering that the real nature of the metal itself remained unchanged.
Thus then are to be understood the assertions of the _Liber Luminis_
regarding transmutation. They are plainly made in all good faith, and
depend on the doctrine already mentioned, which held that the differences
between the metals were an affair of the superficial form rather than of
the underlying substance. To change the appearance of one metal to that
of another, was therefore to effect a real transmutation: the only one
conceivable by the philosophers of that time. When the _Liber Luminis_
speaks of giving copper ‘a good colour,’ or preparing iron to ‘receive
the appearance (_formam_) of silver,’ these expressions reveal with frank
sincerity the conceptions of this alchemy and the results it endeavoured
to obtain.

One other alchemical work attributed to the pen of Michael Scot remains
to be noticed; the _De Alchimia_, contained in a manuscript of Corpus
Christi College, Oxford.[137] Tanner in his _Bibliotheca_ has noticed
this work in the following terms: ‘Chymica quaedam ex interpretatione
Michaelis Scoti dedicata Theophilo regi Scotorum. Corpus Christi MS.
125. In eodem codice MS. fol. est haec nota “Explicit tractatus magistri
Michaelis Scoti de aelchali,” huius vero tractatus, a priore diversi, hoc
tantum fol. extat.’ This account is erroneous in several particulars.
‘Scotorum’ should be ‘Saracenorum,’ and ‘de aelchali’ is a misreading of
‘de alkimia,’ as a glance at the manuscript informs us. Nor is it the
case that we have here to deal with two distinct works. The last leaf, to
which Tanner more particularly refers (fol. 119, old numeration), shows
a hand of the fourteenth century, and forms the only remainder of the
original. The rest of the manuscript (fol. 116-118) has been supplied by
a scribe of the fifteenth century, but the whole is perfectly continuous,
as appears plainly when we notice that the first words of the original
(fol. 119 _recto_), ‘et cum siccatus,’ have also been written by the
later scribe at the bottom of page 118 _verso_.

In spite of the highly suspicious dedication, ‘Theophilo Regi
Saracenorum,’ several reasons incline us to regard the _De Alchimia_ as,
in substance at least, a genuine work of Michael Scot. To begin with,
it clearly belongs to a very early period; for, in the opening words of
his preface, the author describes alchemy as a science, noble indeed,
but as yet neglected and contemned by the Latins (‘apud Latinos penitus
denegatam’). In the same sentence we find him referring to the _secreta
naturae_, just as Scot does in the _Liber Luminis_, and declaring his
purpose to furnish the world with a commentary on it in the work he now
attempts (‘secreta naturae intelligentibus revelare’). In the opening
paragraph of the book itself he seems to refer plainly to the _Liber
Luminis_ as a work written by him (‘notitia de salibus vel salium
prout in aliquo libro a me translato dixi’). Nor should we overlook
the distinctly ecclesiastical tone which is to be observed in the _De
Alchimia_. Part of the preface is conceived almost in the form of a
prayer, commencing thus: ‘Creator omnium rerum Deus qui cuncta ex nihilo
condidit,’ and in at least one passage, a well-known text of Scripture is
reproduced (‘et haec est res quae erigit de stercore pauperem et ipsum
regibus equiparat’). This style is a noticeable characteristic of all the
works of Michael Scot.

On the other hand, the _De Alchimia_ shows several doubtful features
which, on the supposition that it came from Scot’s pen, can only have
been due to some interference with the text at a subsequent time. Such is
the dedication to Theophilus, King of the Saracens, which we have already
noticed, and the latter part of the preface shows a turgid passage (‘hic
est puteus Salomonis et fimi acervus, et hic est fons in quo latet anguis
cuius venenum omnia corpora interficit,’ etc.) that strongly recalls the
fancies of the later alchemy.

The body of the work, however, is no doubt genuine, and offers matters
of considerable interest. The first of these is perhaps the distinction
drawn here between the greater and the lesser mystery (magisterium) of
alchemy. The former, it seems, was the transmutation of _Venus_ into the
_Sun_; that is, of copper into gold. The latter comprehended the fixation
of mercury and its transmutation into the _Moon_, or silver.

We soon notice too that the author addresses himself not, as one would
at first expect, to ‘Theophilus,’ but to a certain Brother Elias (‘tibi
Fratri Helya’)—another proof, if any were needed, that the dedication
to the apocryphal King of the Saracens was due to some other and later
hand. ‘Brother Elias,’ however, was far from being a merely imaginary
personage. He was an Italian, born (for accounts vary) either at Bivillo
near Assisi, Cellullae or Ursaria near Cortona, or in Piedmont. In 1211
he joined the Order of St. Francis, then just formed, thus becoming
one of its earliest members. His history as a Franciscan was rather
an eventful one. On the death of St. Francis in 1226 he succeeded the
Founder as General of the Order, but was deposed by the Pope in 1230 on
some suspicion that he favoured schism among his brethren. The Order
re-elected him in 1236, but he was finally removed from office by Gregory
three years later, and profited by the occasion to join himself openly to
the party of the Emperor. For this he suffered excommunication in 1244,
and was not restored to the privileges of the Church till 1253, when
he lay on his death-bed at Cortona. There is no doubt that he had the
reputation of possessing skill in alchemy, as a treatise is extant called
the _Liber Fratris Eliae de Alchimia_.[138] This renown would not tend
to his honour in religion. It seems indeed to invest with a cruel and
pointed meaning the words used by the Pope on the occasion of his first
deposition.[139] He is said to have been sent in early days on an embassy
to the Emperor of the East. Perhaps this may have been the occasion when
he first acquired a taste for those chemical studies which that nation
still pursued. Michael Scot addresses him in the _De Alchimia_ as a pupil
(‘Et ego, Magister Michael Scotus, sum operatus super solem, et docui te,
Fr. Elia, operari et tu mihi saepius retulisti te instabiliter multis
viabus operasse’), while at the same confessing that he was not above
learning some of the secrets of art from the well-known Franciscan.
This relation between two such distinguished men has not hitherto been
noticed, and is certainly a curious point in the history of the times.

The _De Alchimia_ presents several features which distinguish it from
the _Liber Luminis_. One of these is an early passage which refers to
the correspondence between the metals and the planets, and explains
that when the latter are named we must understand that the former are
intended. Near the end of the treatise a description of the _materia
chemica_ occurs, but it would seem as if this had been written to
supplement that given in the _Liber Luminis_, for it deals, not with
salts, alums, vitriols, or volatile substances, but with the different
varieties of what the author calls ‘gummae,’ which, however, are mineral
substances;[140] and with ‘tuchia’ in all its various kinds.

Many words and phrases, however, might be cited to show how the strain
of doctrine observable in the _Liber Luminis_ is continued with scarcely
any change in the _De Alchimia_. We have hardly read a line in the
first receipt before we meet with the expression ‘sanguinem hominis
rufi’ recalling the ‘sanguinem hominis rubei’ of the _Liber Luminis_.
The ‘pulvis bufonis’ indeed is here replaced by another ingredient
derived from the animal kingdom, the ‘sanguis bubonis’; but, reading a
little further, we find the familiar ‘urina taxi’ again recommended
as an almost universal solvent and detergent. Evidently both works
proceeded from one and the same alchemical school. The number of Arabian
chemists[141] cited in the _De Alchimia_ seems to show that if these
books came from a Greek source it was not that of ancient times, but some
Byzantine school that had borrowed much from Eastern alchemists.

To give a substantial idea of the _De Alchimia_ let us translate one of
the formulae which it contains: ‘Medibibaz the Saracen of Africa used to
change lead into gold [in the following manner]. Take lead and melt it
thrice with caustic (‘comburenti’), red arsenic, sublimate of vitriol,
sugar of alum, and with that red tuchia of India which is found on the
shore of the Red Sea, and let the whole be again and again quenched in
the juice of the _Portulaca marina_, the wild cucumber, a solution of
sal ammoniac, and the urine of a young badger. Let all these ingredients
then, when well mixed, be set on the fire, with the addition of some
common salt, and well boiled until they be reduced to one-third of
their original bulk, when you must proceed to distil them with care.
Then take the marchasite of gold, prepared talc, roots of coral, some
carcha-root, which is an herb very like the _Portulaca marina_; alum of
cumae something red and saltish, Roman alum and vitriol, and let the
latter be made red; sugar of alum, Cyprus earth, some of the red Barbary
earth, for that gives a good colour; Cumaean earth of the red sort,
African tuchia, which is a stone of variegated colours and being melted
with copper changeth it into gold; Cumaean salt which is …; pure red
arsenic, the blood of a ruddy man, red tartar, _gumma_ of Barbary, which
is red and worketh wonders in this art; salt of Sardinia which is like ….
Let all these be beaten together in a brazen mortar, then sifted finely
and made into a paste with the above water. Dry this paste, and again
rub it fine on the marble slab. Then take the lead you have prepared as
directed above, and melt it together with the powder, adding some red
alum and some more of the various salts. This alum is found about Aleppo
(‘Alapia’), and in Armenia, and will give your metal a good colour. When
you have so done you shall see the lead changed into the finest gold, as
good as what comes from Arabia. This have I, Michael Scot, often put to
the proof and ever found it to be true.’

If such a receipt is valuable as indicating the chemical practice of
those days, it is no less interesting as it throws light upon the
life and occupations of Scot. He must have set up a complete chemical
laboratory at Toledo, with crucibles for the melting of metals, and
alembics for the distillation of the substances which his art required
him to mix with them. His situation was one very favourable to these
pursuits, not only because Spain was one of those countries where the
doctrine of alchemy made its greatest progress, and attracted most
powerfully the concourse of foreign adepts, but also from the facility
with which the necessary _materia chemica_ could there be procured.
The _sierras_ of that country were full of mineral wealth of all
kinds, especially quicksilver, which was one of the substances most
frequently chosen to become the subject of the transmuter’s art. In
the _Alpujarras_, a mountainous district lying under the soft climate
of Granada, grew plenty of these rare herbs employed in alchemy, as
they were also in the medicine of the Arabians. Ibn Beithar of Malaga
describes them in his botanical thesaurus, and it is said that after the
Moors had lost that fair kingdom their herbalists, even as late as our
own times, made yearly journeys from Africa to gather in these hills
the plants which ancient science taught them to value highly. But the
days of the ‘ultimo sospiro del Moro’ were yet in the far future, and
meanwhile Michael Scot in his laboratory at Toledo could easily command
all these treasures for the purposes of experiment. Nor was it in vain
that he fanned his fires, and watched the metals melt and the menstruum
distil in the process of the lesser or greater mystery. If he never saw
_Venus_ blush into the true substance of _Sol_, or _Mercury_, the fickle
and obstinate, congeal into a veritable _Luna_, his chemical practice,
and the records in which he has embodied it, mark none the less true and
significant a moment in the history of scientific progress.

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