George Starkey (1628–1665) was an American physician and alchemist. George Starkey became interested in Alchemy early in life. In the 1640s, he studied medicine at Harvard and then practiced as a physician in Boston. He experimented in alchemy to try to find cures for diseases. In 1650, he went to London to seek a better intellectual environment for his interests. There he found the activity he desired, inspired in part by the work of Robert Boyle. Starkey quickly became allied with the Invisible College, and he partnered with Boyle to produce innovative medical remedies for fever, sweating, and vomiting.
Initially, the members of the Invisible College were enthusiastic about Starkey. He gave to them alchemical manuscripts that he claimed were given to him by an American alchemist named Eirenaeus Philathales. However, Philathales most likely was a pseudonym of Starkey for manuscripts that he wrote himself.
Starkey’s standing with the Invisible College became tarnished. He gained a reputation for not paying his bills and often fell short of the promises he delivered. He was prone to deep depressions and was contentious. Starkey’s debt grew to the point where he was sent to debtor’s prison. He was allowed to conduct his alchemical experiments in his cell.
After his release from prison, Starkey attacked physicians in the Royal College of Medicine in his work Nature’s Explication and Helmont’s Vindication: Being a Short and Sure Way to a Long Life, published in 1657. He criticized physicians for clinging to the backward ideas of the Roman physician Galen and said that popular medicines were worthless and were intended only to make money.
In 1665, the bubonic plague hit London, and many doctors fled. Starkey denounced them as cowards. He also said that the plague was not determined by the cycles of the planets but by internal factors that could be treated chemically. He teamed with a fellow physician George Thomson to dissect the corpse of a plague victim publicly to prove his theory.
Thomson became ill with the plague, and Starkey treated him with medicines. Thomson recovered, but Starkey became infected and died. Thomson went on to dissect the corpse himself.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.