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This HTML etext of Ben Jonson's "Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists" was created in March 2003 by Anniina Jokinen of Luminarium. The text is unaltered, and this etext also preserves, as much as possible within the constraints of the medium, the layout of the print edition.
    Source text:
    Jonson, Ben. The Works of Ben Jonson.   A New Edition.
    Edited, with a Biographical Memoir, by William Gifford.
    Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1853.  711-713.
This edition is made available to the public for nonprofit purposes only. It is not represented by the publisher as a scholarly edition in the peer-reviewed sense. Unique site content is copyright 2003 Anniina Jokinen. This e-text may not be reproduced or published in any form without express written consent from the copyright holder. For corrections, comments, and queries, please email the publisher.






    Loud  music.    After  which  the  Scene  is  discov-
        ered ;  being a Laboratory or Alchemist's work-
        house :  VULCAN looking to the registers, while
        a CYCLOPE,  tending the fire,  to the cornets be-
        gan to sing.

        Cycl.  Soft, subtile fire, thou soul of art,
                  Now do thy part
        On weaker nature, that through age is lamed.
                  Take but thy time, now she is old,
                  And the sun her friend grown cold,
        She will no more in strife with thee be named.

        Look, but how few confess her now,
                  In cheek or brow !
        From every head, almost, how she is frighted !
                  The very age abhors her so,
                  That it learns to speak and go,
        As if by art alone it could be righted.

    The Song ended, MERCURY appeared, thrusting out 
        his  head,  and  afterward  his  body, at  the  tun-
        nel of  the middle furnace :  which VULCAN espy-
        ing, cried out to the CYCLOPS.

    Vul.  Stay, see ! our Mercury is coming  forth ; 
art  and  all  the  elements  assist !  Call  forth our 
philosophers.  He  will  be  gone.  He will  evapo-
rate.   Dear  Mercury !   help.   He  flies.    He  is 
scaped.  Precious  golden  Mercury,  be fixt :  be 
not  so  volatile !   Will  none  of  the  sons of  art 
appear ?

    In which time MERCURY  having  ran  once or twice
            about the room, takes breath, and speaks.

    Mer.  Now  the  place and goodness of  it  pro-
tect  me.   One  tender-hearted  creature  or other,
save  Mercury, and  free  him.   Ne'er an old  gen-
tlewoman in the house,  that  has  a wrinkle  about 
her to  hide  me in ?   I  could  run  into  a  serving-
woman's pocket now ;  her  glove, any  little  hole. 
Some  merciful  verdingale  among   so  many,  be 
bounteous,  and  undertake me :  I will stand close 
up, any where, to escape  this  polt-footed  philos-
opher, old Smug here of Lemnos, and his smoaky 
family.  Has  he  given  me  time  to  breathe !   O 
the  variety  of   torment  that  I  have  endured  in 
the   reign  of   the  Cyclops,   beyond   the   most 
exquisite  wit  of  tyrants !   The whole  household 
of  them are become Alchemists,  since their trade 
of  armor-making  failed them, only to keep them-
selves  in  fire,  for  this  winter :  for  the  mischief 
a  secret  that  they  know, above  the  consuming 
of coals, and drawing of usquebagh !  howsoever 
they  may  pretend, under the  specious names of 
Geber,  Amold,  Lully,  Bombast  of  Hohenhein, 
to commit  miracles  in  art,  and  treason  against 
nature.  And,  as  if  the  title of  philosopher, that 
creature of  glory,  were  to be  fetched  out of  a 
furnace, abuse the  curious and  credulous  nation 
of  metal-men   through   the   world,  and   make 
Mercury   their   instrument.    I  am   their  crude, 
and  their  sublimate ;  their  precipitate, and  their 
unctuous ;  their  male  and   their  female ;  some-
times   their   hermaphrodite :   what   they  list  to 
style  me.    It  is  I,  that  am  corroded,  and  ex-
alted,  and  sublimed,  and  reduced,  and  fetch'd 
over, and  filtered, and wash'd, and wiped ;  what 
between  their  salts  and   their  sulfurs,  their  oils 
and  their  tartars, their  brines and  their  vinegars, 
you might  take  me out  now a  soused  Mercury, 
now a salted Mercury, now a smoaked and dried
Mercury, now a powdered and pickled Mercury :
never  herring, oyster, or cucumber past  so many 
vexations.  My  whole  life  with  them  hath  been 
an  exercise  of   torture :  one,  two,  three,  four,
and five times an hour  have they made me dance 
the  philosophical  circle,  like  an  ape  through a 
hoop, or a  dog  in a  wheel.  I  am  their  turnspit
indeed :  they  eat  or smell  no roast-meat  but in 
my  name.    I  am  their  bill  of  credit  still,   that 
passes  for  their  victuals  and  house-room.  It is 
through  me,  they  have  got  this  corner  of   the 
Court  to  cozen  in, where they shark  for a  hun-
gry  diet below stairs, and cheat upon your under-
officers, promising  mountains for their meat, and 
all  upon  Mercury's  security.  A  poor  page  of 
the  larder,  they  have  made obstinately  believe,
he  shall  be  physician   for   the  household  next 
summer ;  they  will  give  him  a  quantity  of  the 
quintessence,  shall  serve  him  to  cure  kibes or 
the  mormal o' the shin,  take  away  the  pustules 
in the nose, and  Mercury  is  engaged  for  it.   A 
child  of   the  scullery  steals  all   their  coals  for 
them  too, and  he is  bid  sleep  secure,  he  shall 
find a corner of  the  philosophers' stone  for 't un-
der  his  bolster, one day, and  have  the  proverb 
inverted.   Against  which,  one  day  I  am  to de-
liver  the  buttery  in, so  many  firkins  of  aurum
potabile, as it delivers out bombards of bouge to 
them,  between  this  and  that.    For  the  pantry, 
they  are  at  a  certainty  with  me,  and  keep  a 
tally,  an ingot,  a loaf, or a  wedge of  some  five 
pounds  weight,  which  is  nothing  of  nothing, a 
trifle.    And  so  the   black-guards  are  pleased 
with any  lease of  life, (for some 999,) especially 
those  of   the  boiling-house,   they  are  to  have 
Medea's  kettle  hung  up,  that  they  may  souse 
into it  when  they  will, and  come  out  renewed 
like  so   many   stript  snakes  at   their  pleasure. 
But  these are petty engagements, and, as  I  said
below  the stairs ;  marry above here,  perpetuity 
of  beauty, (do you hear, ladies?)  health,  riches, 
honor ;   a   matter   of   immortality   is   nothing. 
They will calcine you a grave matron,  as it might 
be a mother o' the maids,  and spring up a young 
virgin, out of  her ashes, as  fresh  as  a  Phoenix :
lay  you  an old  courtier on  the coals  like a sau-
sage,  or  a  bloat  herring,  and  after  they  have
broiled him enough,  blow  a  soul  into him  with 
a  pair of  bellows,  till  he start  up  into  his  gal-
liard,  that was made when  Monsieur  was here. 
They  profess  familiarly to melt down all the old 
sinners of  the suburbs once  in a  half-year,  into 
fresh gamesters again ;  get all  the crack'd maid-
enheads, and  cast  them  into  new  ingots :  half 
the  wenches  of  the  town  are  alchemy.    See, 
they   begin  to  muster  again,  and   draw   their 
forces out against me !  the  Genius of  the place 
defend  me !   You  that  are  both  the  Sol  and 
Jupiter  of  this  sphere,  Mercury  invokes  your 
majesty  against   the  sooty  tribe  here ;   for  in 
your favor only, I grow recovered and warm.

    At  which  time VULCAN entering  with  a  troop of
        threadbare ALCHEMISTS,  prepares  them  to the
        first ANTIMASQUE.

    Vul.  Begin  your  charm,  sound  music, circle 
him  in, and take him :  if  he  will  not  obey, bind 

    They  all  danced about MERCURY with  variety  of 
        changes,  whilst  he  defends  himself   with  his 
        Caduceus,  and  after  the  DANCE,  speaks.

    Mer.  It  is  in vain, Vulcan,  to  pitch  your  net 
in  the  sight  of   the  fowl  thus :  I am  no  sleepy 
Mars,   to  be  catch'd   in  your   subtile   toils.   I 
know what your aims are,  sir,  to  tear  the  wings 
from  my  head  and  heels,  lute  me up  in a glass 
with  my  own  seals,  while  you  might  wrest  the 
Caduceus  out of  my  hand, to  the  adultery  and 
spoil  of  nature, and make your accesses by it, to 
her dishonor,  more easy.   Sir, would you believe
it should  be  come to  that  height  of  impudence,
in  mankind,  that  such  a  nest  of  fire-worms  as 
these are, because  their  patron  Mulciber hereto-
fore  has  made  stools  stir, and  statues  dance, a 
dog  of  brass  to bark, and  (which some will say,
was  his  worst  act)  a  woman  to  speak, should 
therefore  with  their  heats call'd  Balnei  Cineris
or  horse-dung,   profess  to  outwork  the  sun  in 
virtue, and  contend  to  the  great  act  of  genera-
tion,  nay  almost  creation ?   It is so, though :  for 
in  yonder  vessels  which  you see in  their labora-
tory,  they   have   inclosed  materials  to  produce 
men, beyond the deeds  of  Deucalion,  or Prome-
theus ;  of  which,  one, they  say, had  the  philos-
ophers'  stone,  and   threw  it  over  his  shoulder, 
the  other  the  fire,  and  lost  it.   And  what  men 
are  they,  they  are  so  busy  about,  think  you ? 
not  common  ordinary  creatures,   but  of   rarity 
and  excellence,  such  as  the  times  wanted, and 
the age  had a  special  deal  of  need of :  such as 
there was  a necessity,  they  should  be  artificial ;
for  nature  could   never  have  thought or dreamt
of  their composition.   I  can  remember  some of
their  titles  to  you, and  the  ingredients ;  do  not 
look  for  Paracelsus' man  among  them,  that  he 
promised you out of  white bread  and Dele-wine, 
for  he never came to light.   But  of  these  let  me 
see ;  the first that occurs ;  a  master of  the  duel, 
a carrier of  the differences.   To  him  went  spirit 
of  ale,  a  good  quantity,  with  the  amalgama of 
sugar   and   nutmegs,   oil    of   oaths,   sulfur  of 
quarrel,  strong waters, valor precipitate, vapored 
o'er  the  helm  with  tobacco,  and   the  rosin  of 
Mars  with  a drachm of  the  business,  for  that's 
the word of  tincture, the business.   Let me alone 
with  the  business.   I  will  carry the  business.  I 
do understand the business.   I do find  an  affront
in  the  business.   Then  another is  a fencer in the
mathematics, or  the town's cunning-man,  a crea-
ture  of  art  too ;   a  supposed  secretary  to  the 
stars ;  but,  indeed, a  kind  of  lying  intelligencer 
from  those  parts.    His   materials,  if   I  be  not 
deceived, were  juice of  almanacs,  extraction of 
ephemerides,  scales  of  the  globe,  filings of  fig-
ures,  dust  of   the  twelve  houses,  conserve  of 
questions,  salt of confederacy, a pound of adven-
ture,  a  grain  of  skill,  and  a  drop  of   truth.   I 
saw  vegetals  too, as  well  as  minerals, put  into 
one  glass  there,   as  adder's-tongue,   title-bane, 
nitre  of  clients,  tartar  of  false  conveyance,  au-
rum palpabile, with a huge deal of  talk, to which 
they added tincture of  conscience,  with the faces 
of  honesty ;  but  for  what  this  was,  I could not 
learn ;  only  I  have  overheard  one of  the artists 
say,  out o' the  corruption  of  a  lawyer  was  the 
best generation of  a broker in suits whether this 
were he or no, I know not.
    Vul.  Thou art a scorner,  Mercury, and out of 
the  pride of  thy  protection  here, makest  it  thy 
study  to revile art, but  it  will  turn  to  thine own 
contumely soon.   Call  forth  the creatures of  the 
first  class, and  let  them move to the harmony of 
our  heat,  till  the  slanderer  have  sealed  up  his 
own lips, to his own torment.
    Mer.  Let them come, let them come,  I would 
not  wish  a   greater   punishment   to   thy  impu-

    Enter the second ANTIMASQUE,  of  imperfect crea-
        tures, with  helms  of  limbecks on  their  heads :
        whose dance ended, MERCURY proceeded.

    Mer.  Art  thou  not  ashamed, Vulcan, to offer,
in  defense  of   thy   power  and  art,  against  the 
excellence  of   the   sun   and   nature,   creatures 
more  imperfect  than  the  very  flies  and  insects 
that  are  her  trespasses  and   scapes ?    Vanish,
with thy insolence,  thou  and  thy  impostors, and 
all  mention  of  you   melt  before  the  majesty of 
this  light,  whose  Mercury  henceforth  I  profess 
to   be,   and    never    again    the   philosophers'. 
Vanish,   I   say,   that   all   who   have  but   their 
senses, may see and judge the difference between 
thy   ridiculous   monsters  and   his  absolute  fea-

    At  which  the whole  scene changed  to a  glorious
        bower, wherein NATURE  was placed, with  PRO-
        METHEUS  at her feet,  and  the twelve Masquers
        standing  about  them.   After  they  had  been  a
        while viewed, PROMETHEUS descended, and  Na-
        ture after him, singing.

Nat.   How young and fresh am I to-night,
           To see't kept day by so much light.
       And twelve my sons stand in their maker's sight ?
           Help, wise Prometheus, something must be done,
           To shew they are the creatures of the Sun ;
                  That each to other
                  Is a brother,
       And Nature here no step-dame, but a mother.

Cho.  Come forth, come forth, prove all the numbers then,
           That make perfection up, and may absolve you men.

Nat.   But shew thy winding ways and arts,
           Thy risings, and thy timely starts,
        Of stealing fire from ladies eyes and hearts.
           Those softer circles are the young man's heaven,
           And there more orbs and planets are than seven,
                  To know whose motion
                  Were a notion
           As worthy of youth's study, as devotion.

Cho.  Come forth, come forth, prove all the time will gain,
           For Nature bids the best, and never bade in vain.


after which this 


Pro.   How many  'mongst these ladies here,
           Wish now they such a mother were !
Nat.             Not one, I fear,
           And read it in their laughters :
           There's more, I guess, would wish to be my daughters.
Pro.   You think they would not be so old,
                        For so much glory.
Nat.             I think that thought so told
                    Is no false piece of story.
           'Tis yet with them but beauty's noon,
           They would not grandames be too soon.
Pro.             Is that your sex's humor ?
           'Tis then since Niobe was chang'd that they have left 
                           that tumor.
Cho.   Move, move again, in forms as heretofore.
Nat.             'Tis form allures.
           Then move, the ladies here are store.
Pro.   Nature is Motion's mother, as she's yours.
Cho.   The spring whence order flows, that all directs,
           And knits the causes with the effects.


Then they dance with the Ladies ; 

Then their last Dance. 



Pro.                What ! have you done
                              So soon ?
               And can you from such beauty part ?
                   You'll do a wonder more than I.
                   I woman with her ills did fly ;
                   But you their good, and them deny.
Cho.          Sure each hath left his heart
               In pawn to come again, or else he durst not start.
Nat.              They are loth to go
                          I know,
               Or sure they are no sons of mine.
                   There is no banquet, boys, like this,
                   If you hope better, you will miss ;
                   Stay here, and take each one a kiss
Cho.              Which if you can refine,
          The  taste  knows  no  such  cates,  nor  yet  the  palate 
                No cause of  tarrying shun,
          They are  not  worth  his  light, go  backward  from  the 



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