The alchemist - by Ben Johnson
Ben Jonson is above all a realist. Comedies such as The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair are transcripts in accurate detail of the daily life of London in the reign of James I. Jonson lived his life in the heart of the city, and knew it to the core; hence the perfection of his local colour. And this same local colour, which renders Jonson's comedies of exceptional interest to the student of those times, is the greatest obstacle in the way of Jonson's popularity.
Not the only one to be sure — his very high intellectual level is another — but still the main hindrance. Most difficult of all his plays in local colour is The Alchemist, for alchemy and its professors no longer figure in the popular eye. If literature is the index of civilization — and I think it should be so treated — then it is the work of the editor to make that index accurately legible.
To this end, care has been taken to present the text exactly as Jonson left it. The atmosphere of the times, especially with regard to alchemy, has been sought after, and an effort has been made to bring that now forgotten belief into such light as shall make this satire upon it intelligible. The editor has had in mind chiefly the requirements of the scholar but has added some fullness of detail in the hope that the work might be equally intelligible to the non-professional student of literature. Specific details about the Text, Notes, and Glossary will be found at the beginning of those divisions.
I am under obligation to many friends and scholars for the help of various kinds for which I can make no adequate acknowledgement. My thanks are especially due to Mr Robert Hoe of New York for permission to collate his copy of the quarto; to the following professors in Yale University: Albert S. Cook for reading the proofs and for many helpful suggestions, William Lyon Phelps for the use of his copies of the folios of 1616 and 1640 and his collation of the British Museum copy of the quarto and for several notes, H. R. Lang for assistance with the Spanish phrases, and C. C. Torrey for aid with alchemical terms from the Arabic; to Mr Andrew Keogh of the Yale University Library for help with the bibliographical matter; to Dr H. Carrington Bolton of Washington for references; and to Mr H. B. Brougham for the preparation of the index. An excellent popular exposition of alchemy is contained in The Story of Alchemy and the Beginnings of Chemistry by M. M. P. Muir . . . N.Y., 1903, whkh has come to me too late to be of use.
Some contents of the books:
A. Editions of the Text...
b. Description and criticism...
B. Date of the Play
a. Sketch of its history...
1. General to 1600.
2. In England to 1600.
3. Seventeenth-century change of aim.
4. Modern developments.
b. The theory of alchemy 20
1. Unity of matter, and theory of essences.
2. The stone.
3. The seven bodies and four spirits.
4. Modern developments.
c. Its abuses and knavery . . . . -30
1. Adaptability to swindling.
(b) Care demanded.
(c) Semi-illegal character.
(d) Credulity of the people, with especial reference to England, 1550-1610.
2. Tricks of the alchemists.
d. Its position in England in 1610 . . . 41
1. Career of Dee and Kelley.
2. The Cosmopolite.
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