During the Middle Ages, alchemists searched for a way to change base metals, like lead, into gold. They thought that if they could find the right formula, they could, for example, add a certain amount of mercury to lead and produce gold. Even the great Sir Isaac Newton believed it could be done.
The experiments the alchemists carried out were sometimes very elaborate. Some put the metals through a hundred purifying processes and added a great deal of so-called magic as well. Of course, all these efforts came to nothing, but the alchemists were convinced that they would succeed and plodded on until about the seventeenth century.
Although scientific knowledge was acquired during the course of these experiments, the basic idea behind them was not to enrich the minds of men with a store of knowledge but to enrich the alchemists themselves with a store of gold. Dishonest people became interested and decided that it was unnecessary to make real gold - but merely something that looked like it. Soon these people, who were called 'Puffers' were selling false gold to the credulous. Laws and dire penalties were devised to stop them, but they continued to operate on an international scale until the Royal Mints were established. Nothing could then be valued as real gold unless it had the 'hallmark' of the Royal Mint on it.
But there were real scientists among the alchemists. One of them was Roger Bacon, called 'the Admirable Doctor' who lived in the 13th century. He was a great philosopher encyclopedist and alchemist, an Oxford graduate. One of his lectures was misinterpreted and the people who were present there decided that Bacon had discovered the 'Philosopher's Stone', which would not only cure all the diseases but also convert metals such as copper into gold.
The Catholic Church got interested in the works of Roger Bacon. The Pope himself gave him a laboratory in Paris University. Bacon worked very much, made some discoveries, his fame grew on and the Pope, thinking that Bacon didn't want to reveal the secret of the 'Philosopher's Stone' imprisoned him. The scientist spent 20 years during which he had no right to speak to anybody. There he wrote 3 monographs, on alchemistry and philosophy which contributed much to philosophy but didn't help to discover the 'Philosopher's Stone'.
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