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The literary influence of alchemy and hermeticism in the work of most medieval and early modern authors has been overlooked. Stanton Linden now provides the first comprehensive examination of this influence on English literature from the late Middle Ages through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Drawing extensively on alchemical allusions as well as on the practical and theoretical background of the art and its pictorial tradition, Linden demonstrates the pervasiveness of interest in alchemy during this three-hundred-year period. Most writers—including Langland, Gower, Barclay, Eramus, Sidney, Greene, Lyly, and Shakespeare—were familiar with alchemy, and references to it appear in a wide range of genres. Yet the purposes it served in literature from Chaucer through Jonson were narrowly satirical. In literature of the seventeenth century, especially in the poetry of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Milton, the functions of alchemy changed. Focusing on Bacon, Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Milton—in addition to Jonson and Butler—Linden demonstrates the emergence of new attitudes and innovative themes, motifs, images, and ideas. The use of alchemy to suggest spiritual growth and change, purification, regeneration, and millenarian ideas reflected important new emphases in alchemical, medical, and occultist writing. This new tradition did not continue, however, and Butler’s return to satire was contextualized in the antagonism of the Royal Society and religious Latitudinarians to philosophical enthusiasm and the occult. Butler, like Shadwell and Swift, expanded the range of satirical victims to include experimental scientists as well as occult charlatans. The literary uses of alchemy thus reveal the changing intellectual milieus of three centuries.

"This very useful, richly detailed, and profusely illustrated book traces the impact of the alchemical art on English literature over a three-hundred year period, from Chaucer to the Restoration."—Cithara

"A most significant contribution to this rapidly expanding field of research. . . . An impressive scholarly book, one that all scholars of Renaissance literature and the history of ideas will want to keep close at hand as a reference work."—Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"Carefully examines literary representations of alchemists and literary appropriations of alchemical terminology."—Medieval Academy of America

"Provides a full coverage of the subject."—Seventeenth-Century News

"Linden's close readings are illuminating and articulate."—Sixteenth Century Journal

"Charts the relationship between alchemy and English literature from the late fourteenth until the late seventeenth century, providing us with a study of the views of a series of outsiders which goes some way to answering this question. . . . Darke Hieroglyphicks is a learned and informative study which has all the marks of a lifetime's interest in the subject."—Times Literary Supplement

"An excellent book, demanding but clearly written and giving every sign of Linden's long and considered attention to his subject."—Ben Jonson Journal

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Alchemy, Chaucer, English Renaissance, Alchemy in literature


Literature in English, British Isles

Darke Hierogliphicks: Alchemy in English Literature from Chaucer to the Restoration
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