The letter of Godefridus Aloysius Kinner to Athanasius Kircher (1666)
Reverend Father in Christ, famous man
Lord and much loved Friend
Greetings from the Lord and best wishes for the new year.
With the turning of the year it is time to renew my old duty and pick up my pen after its long holiday interrupted our trade in letters. Nothing has taken place until now which would seem particularly worth writing about or reason to break into your more serious activities. And moreover my health has so comprehensively deteriorated that I am nearly unable to provide for my necessities. I am continually battling with asthma and a cough, which spread their baleful effects into the nervous system, and markedly impede its functioning and action – and, what is easily the hardest part to bear, without any hope of a remedy though I have tried many things from different doctors in these parts for many a year now.
To other things now. I have at long last got hold of your Mundus Subterraneus which I always set my heart on, and I was delighted to have been able to enjoy it before my death. I have read the book from cover to cover, and found it even better than I had heard or expected, but I hesitate to write more in its praise, lest I seem to thrust out my hand to you for the sake of friendship. You will win small thanks from the chemists, who will hardly be able to swallow the fact that you set so little store, in fact none, by their golden mountains or philosophers’ stone. What will the princes say of it? So many of them have until now taken delight in the sweet charms of that delusion. What would Emperor Ferdinand III of glorious memory have had to say about it? In his sight a certain man named Chaos transmuted a notable quantity of mercury into gold free of all numbers. The emperor himself took the strictest precautions against trickery, and for that very reason raised the craftsman to the status of a Baron and put him in charge of his Mint in Vienna.
But I leave that controversy where it was, for I have always had difficulty seeing why on earth so many men could have been deceived by a hopelessly impossible idea for so many centuries. However, if anyone will look into the study of Judicial Astrology, which was actually recommended for all that time, and which is well known to be worthless, it would seem that the question of gold-making alchemy has now been resolved.
Not long ago our mutual friend D Marcus passed on to me what you had recently written to him. Oh how you thrilled the old boy because you said his Philosophia had actually been read by you. It seems to suit the taste of few others. You will be the occasion of even greater joy if your craft and skill can uncover the interpretation of that arcane book which he gave up to you, and I would dearly like to know myself.
Wonders are being told of this English Society, which was founded not long ago by the king himself. This seems to me to be the right way to penetrate the inner recesses of nature at last, if anyone will follow the trail of their experiments. To my way of thinking it is a joke, not to use stronger words, to hope to coerce nature to one’s dreams and fantasies. Many years ago the most noble and learned Francis Bacon of Verulamium hinted at a similar method of conducting investigations into the secrets of nature which he emphasised in several of his shorter books. He could not sample the fruits of his own advice in his own day for want of private income and lack of public funding. Instead he consoled himself by inventing the scenario of a recently discovered island of Atlantis, in which he imagined a house of Solomon endowed with the knowledge of the whole of nature to explain his ideas to the world. Now it appears that the present king of England has decided to create that house of Solomon in his own kingdom.
It would seem that a number of our people here in Germany have the same goal, calling themselves the Inquirers into Nature, and they now have a number of little books at large. The truth is they seemingly want to fly without wings and their kind of studies will not advance knowledge of the Printer of Nature. But why am I telling you all this, as if the Oedipus could not be aware of it, when you have set up at Rome a ringside view of all the world? Well I have written it anyway to make up for my silence before.
Farewell my dear Kircher and number me among those you love.
Prague 4 January
Your old friend