Ripley, Sir George - Philalethes exposition of Ripley's Vision
Type of Spiritual Experience
George Ripley [1415?-1490] was one of the most important English spiritual alchemists. Little is known about him, but it is supposed that he was a Canon at the Priory of St Augustine at Bridlington in Yorkshire during the latter part of the 15th century, where he devoted himself to the study of the physical sciences and especially alchemy. To acquire fuller knowledge he travelled in France, Germany and Italy, and lived for some time in Rome, and there in 1477 was made a chamberlain by Pope Innocent VIII. In 1478 he returned to England in possession of the ‘secret of transmutation’. He pursued his alchemical work, and is reputed to have given vast sums to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Rhodes to defend them from the Turks. But his labours becoming irksome to the abbot and other canons, he was released from the order, and joined the Carmelites at Boston, where he died in 1490.
His name is attached to as many as five and twenty different works, most of which remain in manuscript. Whether or not they are all by him may be doubted, and it has been asserted that what is called the 'Vision' is not by him but is the work of an anonymous writer of the following century. Tanner has enumerated his books and manuscript with the libraries of Oxford and elsewhere, where they are preserved.
Ripley adopted an allegorical approach to alchemy, and his most important writings are his Compound of Alchemy in verse which describes the alchemical process as undergoing twelve stages or 'Gates', and his emblematic 'Ripley Scrowle'. The Compound of Alchymy, was one of the most popular on the subject. it circulated widely in manuscript. It was first printed at London :
The title has a woodcut border; there is an ornamental capital E containing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, to whom the book is dedicated, and there is an engraved diagram called Ripley's Wheel. Ashmole reprinted it in the Theatrum Britannicum and added a note upon the author. He also printed several other pieces by Ripley: 'Verses belonging to his Scrowle', 'The Mistery of Alchymists', 'the Preface to his Medulla, which he wrote Ann. Dom. 1476, and dedicated to Geo. Nevell then Archbishop of Yorke', and another 'Shorte Worke'. All of these, like the 'Compound of Alchymy', are in verse.
Philalethes exposition of Ripley's Vision
This interesting exposition of a short poem of Sir George Ripley entitled his 'Vision', which uses symbolic ideas also explored in the Ripley Scrowle, is included in Philalethes, Eirenaeus. Ripley Reviv'd: or, an Exposition upon Sir George Ripley's Hermetico-Poetical Works. Containing the plainest and most excellent Discoveries of the most hidden Secrets of the Ancient Philosophers, that were ever yet published. Written by Eirenæus Philalethes an Englishman, stiling himself Citizen of the World. London, Printed by Tho. Ratcliff and Nat. Thompson, for William Cooper at the Pelican in Little-Britain. 1678.
A description of the experience
The Vision of Sir George Ripley, Canon of Bridlington, Unfolded.
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 soyl with ruddy hue.
And when his Corps the force of vital breath began to lack,
This dying Toad became forthwith like Coal for colour Black:
Thus drowned in his proper veins of poysoned flood;
For term of Eighty days and Four he rotting stood
By Tryal then this Venom to expel I did desire;
For which I did commit his Carkass to a gentle Fire:
Which done, a Wonder to the sight, but more to be rehearst;
The Toad with Colours rare through every side was pierc'd;
And White appear'd when all the sundry hews were past:
Which after being tincted Ruddy, for evermore did last.
Then of the Venom handled thus a Medicine I did make;
Which Venom kills, and saveth such as Venom chance to take:
Glory be to him the granter of such secret ways,
Dominion, and Honour both, with Worship, and with Praise.