Thomas Vaughan (philosopher)

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Thomas Vaughan

Thomas Vaughan (17 April 1621 − 27 February 1666) was a Welsh philosopher and alchemist, who wrote in English. He is now remembered for his work in the field of natural magic.

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Alchemy ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition

Alchemy was an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practised throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, originating in Greco-Roman Egypt in the first few centuries.

Natural magic in the context of Renaissance magic is that part of the occult which deals with natural forces directly, as opposed to ceremonial magic, in particular goety and theurgy, which deals with the summoning of spirits. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa so uses the term in his 1526 de vanitate. Natural magic so defined thus includes astrology, alchemy, and disciplines that we would today consider fields of natural science, such as astronomy and chemistry or botany.



A Royalist clergyman from Brecon, Wales, Thomas was the twin brother of the poet Henry Vaughan, [1] both being born at Newton, in the parish of St. Briget's, in 1621. [2] He entered Jesus College, Oxford, in 1638, and remained there for a decade during the English Civil War.

Cavalier Royalist supporter during and following the English Civil War

Cavalier was first used by Roundheads as a term of abuse for the wealthier Royalist supporters of King Charles I and his son Charles II of England during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration. It was later adopted by the Royalists themselves. Although it referred originally to political and social attitudes and behaviour, of which clothing was a very small part, it has subsequently become strongly identified with the fashionable clothing of the court at the time. Prince Rupert, commander of much of Charles I's cavalry, is often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier.

Brecon market town in the county of Powys, Wales

Brecon, archaically known as Brecknock, is a market town and community in Powys, mid-Wales. In 1841, it had a population of 5,701. The population in 2001 was 7,901, increasing to 8,250 at the 2011 census. Historically it was the county town of Brecknockshire (Breconshire); although its role as such was eclipsed with the formation of the County of Powys, it remains an important local centre. Brecon is the third-largest town in Powys, after Newtown and Ystradgynlais. It lies north of the Brecon Beacons mountain range, but is just within the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.

Vaughan took part in the Battle of Rowton Heath in 1645. [3] He became rector of the parish of Llansantffraed (St Bridget) Wales and took up medical studies, motivated by the lack of doctors in Wales. But in 1650, Vaughan was evicted from the parish because of his Royalist sympathies.

Battle of Rowton Heath

The Battle of Rowton Heath, also known as the Battle of Rowton Moor, occurred on 24 September 1645 during the English Civil War. Fought by the Parliamentarians, commanded by Sydnam Poyntz, and the Royalists under the personal command of King Charles I, it was a significant defeat for the Royalists, with heavy losses and Charles prevented from relieving the Siege of Chester.

Llansantffraed village in the county of Powys, Wales

Llansantffraed (Llansantffraed-juxta-Usk) is a parish in the community of Talybont-on-Usk in Powys, Wales near Brecon. The benefice of Llansantffraed with Llanrhystud and Llanddeiniol falls within the diocese of St David's in the Church in Wales.

Vaughan later became involved with a plan of Robert Child to form a chemical club, with a laboratory and library, the main aim being to translate and collect chemical works. He married his wife Rebecca in 1651 and spent the next period of his life in London. His wife died in 1658.

Robert Child (1613–1654) was an English physician, agriculturalist and alchemist. A recent view is that his approach to agriculture belongs to the early ideas on political economy.

Vaughan died at the house of Samuel Kem, at Albury, Oxfordshire. [4]

Albury, Oxfordshire village in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

Albury is a village in the civil parish of Tiddington-with-Albury, about 5 miles (8 km) west of Thame in Oxfordshire.


Although he did not practice medicine, Vaughan sought to apply his chemical skills to preparing medicines in the manner recommended by Paracelsus. He corresponded with Samuel Hartlib, who by 1650 was paying attention to Vaughan as author, [5] and established a reputation with his book Anthroposophia Theomagica , a magico-mystical work. Vaughan was the author of tracts published under the pseudonym Eugenius Philalethes, as is now generally agreed.

Paracelsus Swiss physician and alchemist

Paracelsus, born Theophrastus von Hohenheim, was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer of the German Renaissance.

Samuel Hartlib or Hartlieb was a polymath of German origin who settled, married and died in England. He was an active promoter and expert writer in many fields, interested in science, medicine, agriculture, politics, and education. He was a contemporary of Robert Boyle, whom he knew well, and a neighbour of Samuel Pepys in Axe Yard, London, in the early 1660s. He studied briefly at the University of Cambridge upon arriving in England.

Vaughan was unusual amongst alchemists of the time [6] in that he worked closely with his wife Rebecca Vaughan. He was a self-described member of the "Society of Unknown Philosophers", and was responsible for translating into English in 1652 the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, an anonymous Rosicrucian manifesto first published in 1614 in Kassel.

Allen G. Debus has written that a simple explanation of Vaughan's natural philosophy, in its mature form, is as the De occulta of Cornelius Agrippa, in an exposition coming via the views of Michael Sendivogius. [7] As a writer in the school of Sendivogius, Vaughan follows Jacques de Nuisement and Andreas Orthelius. [8] He placed himself in the tradition of the Rosicrucian reformers of education, and of Johannes Trithemius, his teacher Libanius Gallus, and Pelagius of Majorca, teacher of Libanius (of whom the last two are not known to have been real people apart from what Trithemius relates of them). [9] [10]

According to some writers of catalogues of hermetic and alchemical treatises (such as John Ferguson, Denis Ian Duveen, Vinci Verginelli et al.), Thomas Vaughan could be the anonymous author of the treatise Reconditorium ac Reclusorium Opulentiae Sapientiaeque Numinis Mundi Magni, cui deditur in titulum CHYMICA VANNUS... Amstelodami... Anno 1666, i. e. a mysterious masterpiece of the hermetic tradition. [11] .


Vaughan quarrelled in print with Henry More. [12] Their pamphlet war petered out, but More returned to the subject of alchemists in Enthusiasmus Triumphatus (1656). [13] Another critic of Vaughan was John Gaule. [4]

Vaughan fell out with an alchemical collaborator, Edward Bolnest, over money matters and alleged broken promises, and the matter came to litigation after Bolnest had threatened violence. [4] Vaughan was accused as part of this affair of spending "most of his time in the study of Naturall Philosophy and Chimicall Phisick". He is reported as having confessed that he had "long sought and long missed... the philosopher's stone."

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  1. "[Henry's] twin brother was THOMAS VAUGHAN (1621-1666). . ." Vaughan, Henry in Welsh Biography Online, at National Library of Wales
  2. The twins were the sons of Thomas Vaughan of 'Trenewydd', Newton . . . "who m. the heiress of Newton in Llansantffraed" VAUGHAN family, of Tretower Court in Welsh Biography Online, at National Library of Wales.
  3. Garrett A. Sullivan; Alan Stewart (1 February 2012). The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 1001–2. ISBN   978-1-4051-9449-5 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 Donagan, Barbara. "Vaughan, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28148.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (29 April 1983). The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, Or, "The Hunting of the Greene Lyon". CUP Archive. p. 66. ISBN   978-0-521-27381-7 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  6. Peter Levenda The Tantric Alchemist: Thomas Vaughan and the Indian Tantric Tradition(2015)
  7. Allen G. Debus (2004). Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry: Papers from Ambix. Jeremy Mills Publishing. p. 417. ISBN   978-0-9546484-1-1 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  8. William R. Newman (15 February 2003). Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution. University of Chicago Press. p. 213. ISBN   978-0-226-57714-2 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  9. Noel L. Brann (1999). Trithemius and Magical Theology: A Chapter in the Controversy Over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe. SUNY Press. p. 109. ISBN   978-0-7914-3961-6 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  10. Paola Zambelli (2007). White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance. BRILL. p. 77. ISBN   978-90-04-16098-9 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  11. Italian translation by Gerolamo Moggia and Vinci Verginelli, manuscript, 1921–1925, reviewed by Mario Marta and Giovanni Sergio, self-publishing, 2018.
  12. Juliet Cummins (1 May 2003). Milton and the Ends of Time. Cambridge University Press. p. 34. ISBN   978-0-521-81665-6 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  13. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (29 April 1983). The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, Or, "The Hunting of the Greene Lyon". CUP Archive. p. 116. ISBN   978-0-521-27381-7 . Retrieved 7 June 2012.