George Ripley (alchemist)

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Sir George Ripley (ca. 1415–1490) was an English author and alchemist.


George Ripley was one of England's most famous alchemists. His alchemical writings attracted attention not only when they were published in the fifteenth century, but also later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His writings were studied by noted figures such as the alchemist John Dee, Robert Boyle (who is considered to be the first modern chemist), and even Isaac Newton. [1]

Ripley studied in Italy for twenty years, becoming a great favourite of Pope Innocent VIII[citation needed]. He returned to England and wrote his work The Compound of Alchymy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher's Stone (Liber Duodecim Portarum) in 1471. [2] The work was dedicated to King Edward IV and highly appreciated by him[citation needed]. The Cantilena Riplaei is one of the very first poetic composition on the subject of alchemy[citation needed]. His twenty-five volume work upon alchemy, of which the Liber Duodecim Portarum was the most important, brought him considerable fame[citation needed]. Most of Ripley's work is attributed to the work of Ramon Lull, although The Compound of Alchemy is attributed largely to the work of a little-known alchemist of the fifteenth century, named Guido de Montanor. [3]

Being particularly rich[citation needed], he gave the general public some cause to believe in his ability to change base metal into gold. For example, Thomas Fuller in his Worthies of England, describes a reputable English gentleman who reported having seen a record in the island of Malta which stated that Ripley gave the enormous sum of one hundred thousand pounds sterling annually to the Knights of that island and of Rhodes to support their war against the Turks.

Ripley is known as the 'Canon of Bridlington'. He spent his later years as an anchorite near Boston (Yorkshire).

The Wheel[edit]

Some scholars claim that the writings of The Compound of Alchemy were meant to be read in light of an alchemical drawing done by Ripley called the Wheel. This drawing is in essence an analogy of the planets of our solar system, of which at the time, earth was considered to be the center. Ripley encoded his alchemical recipes into this drawing, depicting them as the planets which revolved around the earth, or, more specifically, the elements of his work. In alchemy, there is often an analogical connection made between heaven and earth, and this connection is symbolized by the use of the seven planetary symbols: Sol (Sun), Luna (Moon), Mercurius (Mercury), Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These planets correspond respectively to gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, iron, tin and lead. [4]

The Vision of Sir George Ripley[edit]

A commentary upon Ripley's works was written in a series of treatises by the English alchemist Eirenaeus Philalethes. Ripley's Vision, written in the Twelve Gates, became the subject of an exposition by Eirenaeus published in 1677 in London. The English form of the Vision gives a fair sample of the allusive style.

When busie at my Book I was upon a certain Night,
This Vision here exprest appear'd unto my dimmed sight:
A Toad full Ruddy I saw, did drink the juice of Grapes so fast,
Till over-charged with the broth, his Bowels all to-brast:
And after that, from poyson'd Bulk he cast his Venom fell,
For Grief and Pain whereof his Members all began to swell;
With drops of Poysoned sweat approaching thus his secret Den,
His Cave with blasts of fumous Air he all bewhited then:
And from the which in space a Golden Humour did ensue,
Whose falling drops from high did stain the soil with ruddy hue.... (etc.)

Canonical works[edit]

  • George Ripley, Cantilena Riplaei
  • George Ripley, Opera omnia chemica. Kassel, 1649.
  • George Ripley, Liber duodecim portarum, also contained in J.J. Mangetus, Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa (Geneva 1702), Vol. II, pp 275–285.
  • Aeyrenaeus Philalethus, Ripley Reviv'd; or, An Exposition upon Sir George Ripley's Hermetico-Poetical Works (London 1678).

The 'Ripley Scrowle'[edit]

There are approximately 23 copies of the Ripley Scroll in existence.[5] The scrolls range in size, colour and detail but are all variations on a lost 15th century original. Although they are named after George Ripley, there is no evidence that Ripley designed the scrolls himself. They are called Ripley scrolls because some of them include poetry associated with the alchemist. The scrolls' images are symbolic references to the philosophers' stone.[6]

  • London, British Museum, MS Add. 5025, Four scrolls drawn in Lubeck 1588.
  • London, Science Museum, A21950, 18th century.
  • London, Wellcome Institute, 692 & 693, two scrolls 16th century.
  • Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 276, 16th century.
  • ref. also version of Ripley Scrowle by James Standysh, 16th century, B.M. London Add. MS 32621.