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Full title: A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery, with a Dissertation on theMore Celebrated of the Alchemical Philosophers Being an Attempt towards the Recovery of the Ancient Experiment of Nature
Published in 1850 by Mary Anne Atwood (1817- 1910), "A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery" was one of the first works to systematically expound the now-popular spiritual interpretation of alchemy, and is one of the key works in the nineteenth century alchemical and hermetic canon. The author's father, Thomas South, encouraged his daughter's literary labours and underwrote the cost of publication, however, shortly after publication he decided that she had revealed too much and - apparently with her approval - recalled all copies and burned them.
He was assiduous in hunting down copies, only a small number survived that were kept either by Atwood herself, or by her friends. For a long time it was thought that only a half-dozen or so copies had survived, however a recent in-depth census suggests a total of fifteen copies are held in public and private collections - a figure which is unlikely to rise. The copies which did survive almost invariably ended up in the hands of committed Hermeticists, who in turn explored the book in their own writings and conversations, giving it an influence far beyond its tiny distribution.
It is now generally agreed that Atwood's book - and the ideas expressed therein - lay at the centre of the shift in attitude about alchemy that took place in Hermetic circles from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Later in the nineteenth century A. E. Waite secured one of the copies, and discussed Atwood's ideas in the Introductory essay to his new edition of the "Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers" (1888) and other works, in one case referring to it as "a notable and almost monumental performance." The book was finally reprinted by William Tait of Belfast, in 1918 (a few years after the author's death).
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