1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 40

“I would like some more of your pile ointment.”

Phillip bit his lip as he quickly ran his eyes over Casparus. “They still haven’t gone down?” he asked.

Casparus threw up his hands. “Oh, no, it’s not for me. One of my colleagues is in need of some, and as I was dropping by, I offered to get him some.”

And, Phillip thought, naturally I’m expected to drop everything and make up a fresh batch just for his colleague. This kind of interruption was why Phillip preferred not to have a medical practice. At least his fellow alchemists knew to place an order that could be picked up at a later time. Unfortunately, patients, and more especially patrons, expected to be served immediately. “Please, come into my laboratory while I mix up the ointment.”

Casparus followed Philip, his eyes darting around the laboratory as he followed Phillip. “You’re finding the laboratory satisfactory?” he asked.

“Yes,” Phillip answered. What else could he say? Casparus had purchased the lease on the building and presented it to Phillip as a gift. To be fair, Phillip admitted, it was a very good laboratory, by most standards.

“You don’t seem too sure, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz.”

Phillip waved towards the distillation furnace. “While I was in Basel my assistant, Johann Glauber and I developed some designs for superior furnaces.”

Casparus’ brows shot up. “Johann Glauber? Not Johann Rudolf Glauber? The man who discovered Glauber’s Salt?”

Phillip hid a smile as he nodded. Johann had done very well for himself in the years since he served as his laborant. Putting his name to a product was exactly the kind of self-promotion he would have expected of Johann, who had constantly said that Phillip would never amount to anything while he refused to promote himself.

Then Phillip saw the look on Casparus’ face. He wasn’t sure how to interpret it, but there was a hint of prideful ownership in his eyes that worried him. He’d heard horror stories from other alchemists about being treated as little more than a performing animal for a patron, so he leapt into describing his preferred topic of research. “I have recommenced my studies into the invigoration of the Quinta Essentia of the human humor,” he said.

Casparus’ reaction was a bit of a surprise. He listened to all Phillip had to say and even asked intelligent questions. When, a little over an hour later, he waved Casparus goodbye it was with an invitation to make a presentation of his research to a handful of Casparus’ friends.

November 1630

Phillip watched the last of Casparus’ guests leave the room. He was feeling quite kindly towards his patron as he cleaned up the remains of his seminar on the invigoration of the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors. The seminar had been well received, and some of Casparus’ colleagues had even asked intelligent questions. Now, as became the evening’s entertainment, it was time for Phillip to leave, by the tradesmen’s’ entrance of course.

Phillip passed his traveling apothecary’s box to a menial, who swung it up onto his shoulder, and after graciously accepting a small leather drawstring purse from Casparus’ majordomo they left.

It would have been uncouth to have examined the contents of the purse in front of Casparus’ majordomo, even if the man probably already knew what was in it, so Phillip waited until they were a reasonable distance down the street before opening the purse to assess how much his patron considered his time was worth. He was pleasantly surprised to find the contents totaled five thaler, which was about five times what a doctor might charge for a consultation. It seemed his patron had plenty of money he was willing to spend. Phillip walked home thinking about what projects he might be able to persuade Casparus to fund.

December 1630

Phillip was hard at work in his laboratory keeping up with orders for his high purity acids when Casparus walked in with a man in his late thirties.

“Ah, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” he said as he led his companion into the laboratory. “My friend here has voiced an interest in meeting you.”

Phillip quickly checked on the state of the various retorts before approaching Casparus and his friend. He held out a hand to Casparus’ friend. “A pleasure to meet you,” he said.

“I’m Dr. Zacharias Brendel,” Zacharias said. “I’m a professor of Iatrochemistry at the university, and I’ve been hearing a lot about the quality of your acids.”

Phillip positively beamed at the compliment. “Would you care for a demonstration?” he asked. “I make the purest, and the strongest acids you’ll ever see.”

“Yes, thank you,” Zacharias said.

“I’ll leave you to show Professor Brendel anything he wants to see then, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Casparus said.

Phillip had completely forgotten about his patron. He hastily said all that was needed and saw him out before returning to Zacharias, who was staring at the line of retorts on the distillation furnace.

Zacharias pointed to the lineup of retorts. “I see you’re distilling Oil of Vitriol,” he observed.

Phillip looked at the lineup. “There are a couple of retorts of acidum salis being concentrated as well.

“As well?” Zacharias made a more detailed examination of the retorts around the distillery furnace. “So you are.” He shook his head in gentle disbelief. “You say that as if it is normal to concentrate acidum salis while also distilling Oil of Vitriol.”

“Depending on what I need to produce I’ve had Oil of Vitriol, aqua fortis, acidum salis, aqua vitae, and water all on the furnace at the same time,” Phillip said with a touch of smug pride. He’d never met anyone with even half his ability on the distillation furnace.

“You’re a real master of the distillery furnace!” Zacharias said. Suddenly his brows shot up and he stared at Phillip. “Professor Casseri’s last apprentice was supposed to have been a master of laboratory techniques. Was that you? Were you Professor Casseri’s last apprentice?” he asked excitedly.

Phillip nodded warily.

Zacharias clapped his hands on Phillip’s shoulders. “It’s an honor to meet you, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” he said. “I understand you were making some of the best acids the university had ever seen? And now you’re in Jena?”

“That’s right.”

“And already you’re making an impression on the local market for alchemical supplies I hear,” Zacharias said with a smile. “Now I know exactly who you are, I’m no longer surprised at how quickly you have managed to dominate the market for premium quality acids.

“What have you been doing since you left Padua?” Zacharias asked.

Phillip gave him the short version of his adventures, concentrating on his time as a military physician and surgeon and finishing with his being burned out of house and home in England.”

“But what were you doing to bring such an action upon you?” Zacharias asked.

“I’d just read Dr. Harvey’s De Motu Cordis, and I wanted to test his theory for myself,” Phillip said. He related how he’d been seen holding a still beating heart in his hands.

“That was most unfortunate,” Zacharias said. He stared into the distance for a while before speaking again. “I wonder how long a human heart could continue to beat.”

“I’d like to know the answer to that myself,” Philip said, “but I can’t image being permitted to conduct the experiment, not even on a condemned criminal.”

Zacharias released a heartfelt sigh. “There are so many rules that seem to have no other purpose than to limit our ability to understand our world.” He shook his head gently before looking back at Phillip. “And what are you experimenting with now?”

Phillip couldn’t resist an opportunity to talk about his long time interest. “I’m looking for a way to invigorate the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors,” he said, and from there he went on to describe the current state of his investigations.


Zacharias walked away from Phillip’s laboratory in a bit of a quandary. Phillip was known in Jena as Dr. Gribbleflotz, and it had crossed his mind that maybe Phillip wasn’t entitled to the title. Some things were just accepted, such as the idea that people who claimed doctorates had them, unless someone had good reason to doubt it. Zacharias didn’t exactly doubt Phillip’s doctorate, but he did know that Professor Casseri’s last apprentice hadn’t earned his doctorate before his, Professor Casseri’s, death.