MEDICINE AND ALCHEMY
Burdened with many old traditions and beset with the usual abundance of passing fetishes, Elizabethan- Jacobean medicine is a confusion of science, error, and charlatanism. In one and the same period, the great Harvey demonstrated the circulation of the blood, the insane were treated by scourging, and John Dee (abetted by Queen Elizabeth herself) conducted the most notorious of alchemical quests for the "elixir of life." With science already on the first step of the ladder but with medieval notions still prevalent, even enlightened Elizabethans were frequently guilty of the most flagrant inconsistencies of attitude.
In any case, each of these currents of theory and several others, too, are represented, even if only fragmentarily, in Donne's imagery. In fact, when Mary Paton Ramsay sought to identify the medieval doctrines in Donne's medical lore she found strands of neo-Platonism, cabalistic theosophy, alchemy, magic healing, and astrology*--a confusing picture, but a logical result of the fact that Donne had no occasion to subscribe to any one approach and many on which to make use of fragments from various approaches.
In the realm of general medicine, ancient writers, using the analogy of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire, and their origin in the four fundamental qualities, dry, wet, cold, and hot, had developed the theory that basically____________________