FRENCH, John. The Art of Distillation, or A Treatise of the choisest Spagyricall Preparations performed by way of Distillation…Together with The Description of the chiefest Furnaces and Vessels used by Ancient and Modern Chymists: Also A Discourse of divers Spagyrical Experiments, and Curiositis, and of the Anatomy of Gold and Silver, with the chiefest Preparations, and Curiosities thereof, and Vertues of them all.

London, printed by Richard Cotes…sold by Thomas William…, 1651.






FIRST EDITION. 4to, pp. (xxiv), 199, (xvii), A4 *44 B-2E4. Roman and italic letter. Title in red and black, small woodcut vignette of an alembic, t-p framed within a floral fretwork. Large headpieces, capital spaces with decorated initials, fretwork, and several remarkable illustrations in various sizes (full page, half page, three-quarter page and smaller). Rebacked, title on red morocco label on gilt spine, boards covered in nearly contemporary leather binding, signs of restoration, blind-tooled rectangular decoration at centre with fleurons stemming from outer corners. Boards worn at corners somewhat rubbed and repaired, just a few little wormholes. Autographs of two early owners on recto of f.e.p. and t-p top corner, water stain slightly affecting head of t-p and second leaf, occasional offsetting. Occasional spotting and browning throughout. A nice and complete copy.


John French (1616-1657) holder of degrees from Oxford University (BA 1637, MA 1640), was a Paracelsian physician who practised his profession with the Parliamentary army during the Civil War. The Art of Distillation is a detailed handbook of knowledge and practice at the time, illustrated with numerous woodcuts showing the tools, the procedures and all the relevant passages which concern the spagryrical art, that is, a medical-alchemical practice based on the legacy of the great controversial Renaissance German physician Thoephrastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus. French’s work appears to be, partially, a translation of an earlier (1500) text by Hyeronimus Brunschwig. Besides espousing Paracelsian iatrochemistry, French’s works often reveal a strong mystical and millenarian emphasis, along with a bias against the “tyranny” of Aristotle and Galen. French was also a notable translator of alchemical and medical works.


ESTC 006108922; Ferguson I, p. 292 (citing 1667 edition); Wing F2169. Not in the Mellon Collection, which has only the second edition (1653).