This historical document is linked to the Huile de Haarlem article where there are important considerations about this remedy and similar. So please read attentively these considerations as well the general warnings and the disclaimer.
The Oil of Sulphur
Of this most noble liquor, and not vulgar medicine, the noble Helmont writeth thus, in his excellent discourse concerning THE TREE OF LIFE. In the year 1600 a certain man belonging to the camp, whose office was to keep account of the provision of victuals which was made for the army, being charged with a numerous family of small children unable to shift for themselves, himself being then fifty-eight years of age, was very sensible of the great care and burden which lay upon him to provide for them while he lived, and concluded that, should he die, they must be enforced to beg their bread from door to door: whereupon he came (saith Helmont) and desired of me something for the preservation of his life. I then (being a young man) pitied his sad condition, and thus thought with myself: The fume of burning sulphur is, by experience, found powerfully effectual to preserve wines from corruption. Then I, recollecting my thoughts, concluded that the acid liquor of oil, which is made of sulphur vive, set on fire, doth of necessity contain in itself this fume; yea, and the whole odour of the sulphur, inasmuch as it is indeed nothing else but the very sulphureous fume imbibed, or drunk up in its mercurial salt, and so becomes a condensed liquor. Then I thought with myself: Our blood being (to us) no other than, as it were, the very wine of our life, that being preserved, if it prolong not the life, at least it will keep it sound from those many diseases which proceed originally from corruption: by which means the life being sound, and free from diseases, and defended from pains and griefs, might be in some sort spun out into a further length than otherwise. Upon which meditated resolution I gave him a vial glass, with a small quantity of this oil, distilled from sulphur vive burning, and taught him (moreover) how to make it as he should afterwards need it. I advised him of this liquor he should take two drops before each meal in a small draught of beer, and not, ordinarily, to exceed that dose, nor to intermit the use of it, taking for granted that two drops of that oil, contained a large quantity of the fume of sulphur. The man took my advice, and at this day, in the year 1641, he is lusty and in good health, walks the streets at Brussels without complaint, and is likely longer to live; and that which is most remarkable, in this whole space of forty-one years he was not so much as ill, so as to keep his bed; yea, although (when of great age) in the depth of winter, he broke his leg, near to his ankle bone, by a fall upon the ice, yet with the use of the oil he recovered, without the least symptom of a fever; and although in his old age poverty had reduced him to great straits and hardship, and made him feel much want of things necessary for the comfort and conveniency of life, yet he lives, healthy and sound, though spare and lean. The old man's name is John Moss, who waited upon Rithovius, Bishop of Ypres, in his chamber, where the Earls of Horne and Egmondon were beheaded by the Duke of Alva; and he was then twenty-five years of age, so that now he is complete ninety-nine years of age, healthy and lusty, and still continues the use of that liquor daily. Thus far Helmont, which relation, as it is most remarkable, so it gives the philosophical reason of his advice, on which it was grounded. And elsewhere the same author relates how by this liquor he cured many dangerous, deplorable fevers, which by other doctors had been given over for desperate. And in other places he commends it as a peerless remedy to assuage the intolerable thirst which accompanies most fevers.
To which relation and testimony of this most learned doctor and acute philosopher I shall add my own experience.
I find it a rare preservative against corruption, not only in living creatures, but even in dead flesh, beer, wine, ale, etc.; a recoverer of dying beer and wines that are decayed, a cure for beer when sick and roping. Flesh by this means may be preserved so incorruptible as no embalming in the world can go beyond it for the keeping of a dead carcase, nor salting come near its efficacy; as to the conserving meat, or fowls, or fish, which by this means are not only kept from corruption, but made a mumial balsam, which is itself a preservative against corruption of such as shall eat thereof; which being a curious rarity, and too costly to be made a vulgar experiment, I shall pass it over, and come to those cases which are most beneficial and desirable.
It is an excellent cleanser of the teeth: being scoured with it, they will become as white as the purest ivory, and the mouth being washed with oil dropped in water or white wine, so as to make it only of the sharpness of vinegar, it prevents the growing of that yellow scale which usually adheres to the teeth, and is the forerunner of their putrefaction; it prevents their rottenness for the future, and stops it (being begun) from going further, takes away the pain of the teeth, diverts rheums, and is a pure help for the savour of the breath, making it very sweet. In a word, there is not a more desirable thing can be found for such who would have clear or sound teeth, or sweet breath, or to be free from rheums: for which use let the water be made by dropping this oil into it, as sharp as vinegar, as I said before.
Against a tickling cough, or hoarseness, it is a rare remedy, not only taken two or three drops twice a day inwardly, in the usual drink one useth before each meal, but also by gargling the throat with it; and (so used) it is excellent against swelled throats, anginas, strumas, palates of the mouth inflamed, or the uvula of the throat, or the almonds of the ears, which are (usually said then to be) fallen. It is excellent also against the headache, and to divert rheums from the eyes, to wash the temples therewith; likewise to take away tetters, morphew, or scabs, this dropped into water is a pleasant, safe, and effectual remedy.
Besides which outward applications, it is a Lord internally taken, preventing corruption, rooting out the seeds thereof, though never so deeply concealed in the body, and, upon that score, opening inveterate obstructions, eradicating old pains, and preventing otherwise usual relapses into stranguretical, colical, or arthritical pains: it is abstersive, cleansing all excrementitious, settlings in the mesaraic or mesenterial vessels, and so cutting off the original source, and taking away the cause of putrefactive corruption, which is the productive beginner of very many diseases.
On this score it lengthens the life, and frees the body from many pains and ails to which it otherwise would be subject.
It is a pleasant remedy, having only a little sharpness, which to the palate is most grateful; and yet this acidity is contradistinct from that acidity which is the forerunner of putrefaction, which it kills and destroys, as the acidity of the spirit of vitriol is destroyed by the fixed acrimony of its own caput mortuum, or that of vinegar by the touch of ceruse or minium.
“Je Länger Je Lieber” - “Continuously Augmented” - a contemporary expression of an ancient traditional form, the Eye of God is a frontispiece of the text “Seraphinisch Blumen”, Jakob Böhme, XVIII century
Preternatural heat and thirst in fevers are in no way allayed so speedily, and easily, as by this, nor is there anything which for a constant continuance may be more safely and profitably taken. Spirit of salt (such as the noble Helmont speaks of) alone may be joined with this, for its safety and continual use with profit, especially in nephritical distempers, and the heat or sharpness of urine.
Now, as this is so noble a medicine, so there is none in the world more basely adulterated and counterfeited, our wise doctors commending for it (quid pro quo) an adulterated mineral acidity of vitriol, distilled in a retort from vulgar sulphur, which the apostate chemists prepare and sell for, and the knavish apothecaries use and give to their patients, instead of this true spirit, which if sincere is clear as water, ponderous, and exquisitely acid, made of sulphur vive only, set on fire without any other mixture, and the fumes received in a broad glass, fitted for the purpose, vulgarly called a campana or bell, from its shape or likeness.
Most sottish is that maxim of the doctors, that spirit of sulphur and vitriol are of one nature, when experience teacheth that mere acetosity of vitriol (which brings over nothing of its excellent virtue) will dissolve argent vive, which the strongest spirit of sulphur, truly and not sophistically made, will not touch, nor will that recover beer or wines, or preserve them, as this will do: one, therefore, is an unripe esurine acetosity, of little virtue; the other a balsam of antidotary virtue, a preservative against corruption, and, upon that score, nothing can be used more effectually as a preservative against, or a remedy in, contagious fevers, small-pox, measles, or pestilence than this, nor more ridiculously than the other, which being drawn from the vulgar sulphur, that hath an infection of malignity mixed with it (which it took from the arsenical nature of the minerals from which it was melted), adds nothing to the virtue of the crude vitriolate spirits, but only that which was before of little virtue, to become a medicine of more danger and hazard, but not a jot more goodness than it was, when first wandr (sic—JBH) from the vitriol; which being of itself clear and crude, is for to deceive the ignorant (by its colour) tinctured with some root or bark. Thus the credulous world is imposed upon and cheated, while, instead of most noble remedies (in name promised), adulterated trifles are produced, to the disparagement of art, and the scandal and reproach of the professor's medicine.
To discover which abuses and vindicate the art, I have made my preludium, concerning this oil or spirit of sulphur, the virtues of which (if truly and faithfully made) are so eminently remarkable, and almost incredibly efficacious, that I thought it not unworthy my pains in a few lines to communicate to the studious reader both what real benefit is to be expected from the true and what injury is clone to the deluded (at least), if not destroyed, patients by the sophisticate oil of sulphur.
That those who desire this so pleasant, so efficacious, and profitable a remedy may not be abused by the base counterfeit oil of vitriol, corruptly called oil of sulphur, because it has been once distilled from common unwholesome brimstone, and tincted with some bark or root of which the town is full, and all apothecaries’ shops, to the great abuse of art, but much greater of those who make use of it instead of the true, when indeed it hath not one quality like thereto; let the reader be informed that at George Starkey's house, in St. Thomas Apostle's, next door to Black Lion Court; and at Richard Johnson's, at the Globe in Montague Close, in Southwark, the true is to be had, drawn from sulphur vive (set on fire), without any addition but the sulphur itself, which is easily known by its clearness, sharpness, weight, not working on quicksilver, turning bitter like to gall on the filings of silver, preserving wine and beer from corruption, restoring then when decayed, and, in a word, by its quenching feverish heat and thirst, etc. As before hath been rehearsed at large, it may by anyone be distinguished from that which is false and sophisticate. However, at those two places he may be confident of that which is real and true. And likewise at Richard Johnson's house in Montague Close, in Southwark, aforesaid, you may have any chemical salts, oils, and spirits. Besides which oil or spirit of sulphur, several other rare and admirably effectual medicinal secrets for the certain, safe, and speedy cure of most, if not all diseases, as hath been proved by many hundred patients (adjudged rather incurable or desperately dangerous by other doctors), are there to be had, being more than ordinary secrets and preparations of George Starkey, who entitles himself a Philosopher by the Fire.
And in particular that pill, or antidote injuriously challenged as an invention of Richard Matthews, who, in truth, had that preparation (for which he hath since been so famous) from the said George Starkey, the true author thereof, who had it from God, by studious search, without help of book or master; and which preparation he hath since amended and advanced in virtue beyond comparison of that which Mr. Matthews had from him, as hath been, and is daily, confirmed by the experience of able men.
Concerning which antidote, or pill, or rather anodinous elixir, its virtues and advancement, to almost a true universality, by four variations thereof, which the first author of the thing (by long experience) found out, he hath wrote, particularly, and at large, with the way of administering it and how to order the patient, by one and all of these preparations, for his recovery out of any of the most desperately acute, or fixed chronical diseases; which book being now ready for the press, in a few days, God willing, shall sec the light. It is called "A Brief Examination and Censure of Several Medicines, etc."
For the undeceiving of such as have been injuriously and falsely persuaded that only Mr. Richard Matthews and Paul Hobson have that medicine truly prepared, condemning all others as counterfeit, to the disparagement and palpable injury of the first inventor, who counts it unreasonable that he who learned what he had from him should censure himself as a counterfeit, unless he bind himself up to his preparation, which, though it be a true one, yet is the most inferior in virtue of all the author knows, and called by him his "Elixir Diaphoretick Commune." Of which able, judicious practitioners (having once bought his more effectual and higher graduated preparations in the same kind) have so low an esteem (comparatively to these others) that they desire no more thereof. Farewell.
When this treatise and the postscript were written, Mr. Starkey then lived in the place therein specified; but he died, as I have been informed, of the sickness, Anno. Dom. 1665, by venturing to anatomise a corpse dead of the plague, as Mr. Thomson, the chemist, had done before him, and lived many years after; but Mr. Starkey's adventure cost him his life. However, the medicine, truly made and prepared from the mineral sulphur, called sulphur vive, may now be had of very many chemists in and about London; nay, the difficulty in making thereof is not so great but that you may make it yourself if you please, and if you do but wait the time and opportunity to buy the mineral sulphur (not common brimstone), for the mineral is not to be had at all times.
The process and shape for the glass bell, and the manner of making and rectifying this spirit from the mineral sulphur, or sulphur vive, as it comes stone-like out of the earth, may be seen in the chemical works of Hartman and Crollius, called "ROYAL CHYMISTRY," Chara's "Royal Pharmacopæa," Lefehure, Thibault, Lemery, Glaser, Shroder's "Dispensatory," and many others, unto whom I refer you.—W. C. B.
1. The Admirable Efficacy and Almost Incredible Virtue of True Oyl, which is made of Sulphur-Vive, set on fire, and called commonly Oyl of Sulfur per Campanam, George Starkey, 1660.
2. A. Lloyd Moote, Dorothy C. Moote, The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London 2008. Pag. 151 - 155.
3. Nicolas Lefevre