Seton, Alexander (17th c.) Scottish alchemist imprisoned and brutally tortured for his knowledge of how to make the Philosopher's Stone. Alexander Seton was probably born to a noble family. Little is known about his early life. For several years, he created a sensation in Europe, at tragic cost to himself. In 1602 Seton began a tour of the Continent, starting in Holland. There he was hosted by a man named Jacob Haussen, a ship pilot whom Seton had rescued in 1601 when Haussen’s ship ran aground off the coast of the village of Seton in Scotland. Seton impressed his host by turning a piece of lead into GOLD and giving it to him. Seton then traveled about Europe, allegedly making more transmutations. His fame spread quickly. His modus operandi was to volunteer to perform the art to convince skeptics or impress learned people and then mysteriously vanish from town. He called himself the Cosmopolite. In Munich Seton fell in love with a woman and eloped with her to Krossen in 1603. There he came to the attention of Christian II, the elector of Saxony, who sent for him and demanded Seton’s secret of transmutation. Seton refused. When persuasion failed, Christian had Seton severely tortured. He was put on the rack, scourged, pierced with pointed irons. and burned with molten lead. Seton still refused to talk. The tortures were stopped at the point of death, and Seton, broken, was cast into solitary confinement in a guarded dungeon. News of Seton’s fate reached MICHAEL SENDIVOGIUS, a wealthy Hermetic student in Moravia. Sendivogius was able to use his money and inluence at court to obtain visits to Seton. They discussed Alchemy, but Seton revealed little specific information. Sendivogius soon was able to bribe his way into living in the same prison, where he confided a plan to help Seton escape in exchange for some of Seton’s secret powder. Seton promised to give him enough to take care of himself and his family for the rest of their lives. One day Sendivogius got all the guards drunk and carried Seton out. They went to Seton’s house to retrieve what was left of his powder, and, joined with Seton’s wife, they fled to safety in Poland. Seton handed over some of his powder, but he disappointed Sendivogius by not revealing the secret for making it. Seton never recovered from his torture, and died in either December 1603 or on New Year’s Day 1604.
- Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Penguin Books, 1957.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.