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At the foot of his portrait by friend and fellow alchemist van Dyck, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65) is labeled "Astrologus Caroli Regis Magnae Britaniae". While Charles I incontrovertibly lost his head, can the same be said of Digby? If alchemists, according to Malouin (Encyclopédie, "alchimiste" entry) are divided into authentic, false and mad, where does Digby fit in? In the eyes of his contemporaries, he was any or all of the above. Digby himself was a many-sided adventurer and man of science, whose credentials (Oxford scholar, multiple learned treatises, member of Royal Society's first Council) enabled him to penetrate the highest savant circles. And yet, the image of a mad scientist, dressed in a long black robe and high crowned hat while experimenting at Gresham College followed him around. Who or where is the real Digby?

In the style of Diderot, this paper focuses on questions rather than answers, and targets Digby's controversial Discours fait en une célèbre assemblée touchant la guérison des playes par la poudre de sympathie (1658). Questions raised will touch on semantics, perception, motivations, sympathetic medicine and, in a broader context, the fluctuating divide between science and para-science.

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