George Ripley (alchemist)

Sir George Ripley was a famous 15th century English alchemist, second only to Roger Bacon.

Ripley studied for twenty years in Italy where he became a great favourite of Pope Innocent VIII. He returned to England in the year of 1477 and wrote his famous work "The Compound of Alchymy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher's Stone", dedicated to King Edward IV and highly appreciated by him. His twenty-five volume work upon Alchemy, of which the Liber Duodecem Portarum was the most important, brought him considerable fame.

Being particularly rich, he gave the general public some cause to believe in his ability to change base metal into gold. For example, 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 was at some time 'Canon of Bridlington'. He spent his elder years as an anchorite near Boston (Yorkshire).

The Vision of Sir George Ripley

A commentary upon Ripley's works was written in a series of treatises by the English alchemist AEyrenaeus Philalethes. Ripley's Vision, written in the Twelve Gates, became the subject of a very famous exposition by AEyrenaeus 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

  • 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'

  • London, British Museum, MS Add. 5025, Four scrolls drawn in Lubeck 1588.
  • ref. also version of Ripley Scrowle by James Standysh, 16th cent., B.M. London Add. MS 32621.


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