George Starkey

(1628—1665) alchemist, medical practitioner, and writer

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George Starkey was born George Stirk (he changed his surname to Starkey in or around 1650) on 8/9 June 1628 and died in the Great Plague of 1665. He was the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister to the island of Bermuda. He was educated there and (after his father's death) at Harvard College, Massachusetts, where he matriculated in 1643 and received his BA in 1646. He came to London in the autumn of 1650 and quickly acquired acclaim as an alchemical savant in the circle of Samuel Hartlib. At the same time, he developed an alter ego under the pseudonym ‘Eirenaeus Philalethes’, a mysterious North American friend and alchemical adept, to whose works he had sole access, and whose writings Hartlib circulated on his behalf. By the autumn of 1653 Starkey's debts had apparently put him in prison and he was in hiding. Hartlib ceased to be receptive to his promises of success in his alchemical research and Starkey lived in London (and briefly in Bristol), continuing his chemical research and becoming the focus for controversy. Some of this he invited upon himself by proclaiming the benefits of iatrochemical remedies as against the ‘Goosequil Pisse-prophets’ (orthodox physicians). Further controversy was the result of other medical practitioners (Richard Matthew and Lionel Lockyer) manufacturing and marketing remedies on the basis of recipes deduced from Starkey's research (although published under his pseudonym).


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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