Contents Index

"Historical View of the Progress of Chemistry"
from Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812)

in The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, ed. John Davy (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1839), IV, [1]-42.

Historical View of the Progress of Chemistry.

Most of the substances belonging to our globe are constantly undergoing alterations in sensible qualities, and one variety of matter becomes as it were transmuted into another.

Such changes, whether natural or artificial, whether slowly or rapidly performed, are called chemical; thus the gradual and almost imperceptible decay of the leaves and branches of a fallen tree exposed to the atmosphere, and the rapid combustion of wood in our fires, are both chemical operations.

The object of Chemical Philosophy is to ascertain the causes of all phenomena of this kind, and to discover the laws by which they are governed.

The ends of this branch of knowledge are the application of natural substances to new uses, for increasing the comforts and enjoyments of man, and the demonstration {2} of the order, harmony, and intelligent design of the system of the earth.

The foundations of chemical philosophy are, observation, experiment, and analogy. By observation, facts are distinctly and minutely impressed on the mind. By analogy, similar facts are connected. By experiment, new facts are discovered; and, in the progression of knowledge, observation, guided by analogy, leads to experiment, and analogy confirmed by experiment, becomes scientific truth.

To give an instance. -- Whoever will consider with attention the slender green vegetable filaments (Conferva rivularis) which in the summer exist in almost all streams, likes, or pools, under the different circumstances of shade and sunshine, will discover globules of air upon the filaments exposed under water to the sun, but no air on the filaments that are shaded. He will find that the effect is owing to the presence of light. This is an observation; but it gives no information respecting the nature of the air. Let a wine glass filled with water be inverted over the conferva, the air will collect in the upper part of the glass, and when the glass is filled with air, it may be closed by the hand, placed in its usual position, and an inflamed taper introduced into it; the taper will burn with more brilliancy than in the atmosphere. This is an experiment. If the phenomena are reasoned upon, and the question is put, whether all vegetables of this kind, in fresh or in salt water, do not produce such air under like circumstance, the inquirer is guided by analogy: and when this is determined to be the case by new trials, a general scientific truth is established -- That all confervae in the sunshine produce a species of air that supports flame in a superior degree; which has been shown to be the case by various minute investigations.

{3} These principles of research, and combinations of methods, have been little applied, except in late times. A transient view of the progress of chemical philosophy will prove that the most brilliant discoveries, and the happiest theoretical arrangements belonging to it are of very recent origin; and a few historical details of the science will form, perhaps, no improper introduction to the elements of this branch of knowledge.

The only processes which can be called chemical, known to the civilized nations antiquity, belonged to certain arts, such as metallurgy, dyeing, and the manufacture of glass or porcelain; but these processes appear to have been independent of each other, pursued in the workshop alone, and unconnected with general knowledge.

The only processes which can be called chemical, known to the civilized nations of antiquity, belonged to certain arts, such as metallurgy, dyeing, and the manufacture of glass or porcelain; but these processes appear to have been independent of each other, pursued in the workshop alone, and unconnected with general knowledge.

In the early mythological systems of the Egyptian priests, and the Brahmins of Hindostan, some views respecting the chemical changes of the elements seem to have developed, which passed, under new modifications, into the theories of the Greeks; but as the most refined doctrines of this enlightened people, concerning natural causes, in their best times, were little more than a collection of vague speculations, rather poetical than philosophical, it cannot well be supposed that in earlier ages, and amongst nations less advanced in cultivation, there were any traces of genuine science.

The inhabitants of Lower Egypt, where the overflowing of the Nile covered a sandy desert with vegetation and life, might easily adopt the notion, that water, in different modifications, produced all the varieties of inanimate and organized matter; and this dogma characterized the earliest school of Greece.

{4} To generalize upon the great forms or powers of nature, as elements, requires only very superficial observation; and hence the theories seem to have originated, which have been attributed to Anaximander, and others of the early Greek philosophers, concerning air, earth, water, and fire.

As geometry and the mathematical sciences became improved, mechanical solutions of the changes of bodies were natural consequences, such as the atomic philosophy of the Ionian sect, and the five regular solids assumed by the Pythagoreans as the materials of the universe.

In the beginning of the Macedonian dynasty, the school of Aristotle gave a transient attention to the objects of natural science, but the great founder attempted too many subjects to be able to offer correct views of any one series. And his erroneous practice, that of advancing general principles, and applying them to particular instances, so fatal to truth in all sciences, more particularly opposed itself to the progress of one founded upon a minute examination of obscure and hidden properties of natural bodies.1

Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle, did not, it appears, adopt the sublime, though purely speculative doctrine of his master, the identity of matter, and its {5} diversity of form;2 -- for he says, in the beginning of his book concerning fossils, 'stones are produced from earth, metals from water.'3 How such a notion as the last could have been formed, it is difficult to discover; yet, Theophrastus is perhaps the best observer amongst the ancients, whose works are in our possession, and the theories of this distinguished teacher, who is said to have had a class of 2000 pupils, cannot be considered as an unfavourable specimen of the theoretical physics of the age.

In all pursuits which required only the native powers of the intellect, or the refinements of taste, the Greeks were pre-eminent; their literature, their works of art, offer models which have never been excelled. They possessed, as if instinctively, the perception of every thing beautiful, grand, and decorous. As philosophers, they failed not from a want of genius, or even of application, but merely because they pursued a false path, -- because they reasoned more upon an imaginary system of nature, than upon the visible and tangible universe.

It will be in vain to look in the annals of Rome for science, that did not exist in Greece. The conquerors became the pupils of the conquered; and the Romans did little more than clothe the systems of their masters in a new dress, and adapt them to a new people.

The grand, but unequal poem of Lucretius, contains the abstract of the opinions of Epicurus, compared with those of other celebrated teachers. The Natural History of Pliny, is a collection from all sources, but principally from Theophrastus and Aristotle. The details {6} from his own observation are more interesting when they relate to artificial, than when they refer to natural operations; the speculative notions are of the rudest kind. The earlier philosophical work of the Romans, as if indicative of the youth of the people, is marked by power and genius, by boldness and incorrectness; the later, as if it belonged to their old age, by garrulity, copious and amusing anecdote, superstitious notions, and vulgar prejudices.

Some of the historians of this science,4 in their zeal for the honour of its antiquity, have indeed endeavoured to find instances of an acquaintance with some doctrines of practical chemistry, at least, amongst the ancients. -- Thus Democritus is quoted by Laertius as having employed himself in processes for imitating gems, and for softening and working ivory. Caligula is said to have made experiments with the view of extracting gold from orpiment. -- Dioscorides, who is supposed to have been physician to the celebrated Cleopatra, has described the process of subliming mercury from its ores. -- Even Cleopatra herself, on the evidence of such circumstances, might be considered as an experimenter, because in the madness of profusion, she dissolved a pearl in vinegar, and made a nauseous draught of a {7} costly and beautiful substance; but it is idle to relate such circumstances as indications of science. If chemical operations had been known to any extent, beyond their mere relations to the arts, some mention of them might have been expected in the medical writings of those times; but not even distillation is noticed in the works of Hippocrates or Galen; and the same Dioscorides who has just been alluded to, and who probably possessed whatever knowledge was at that time extant in Egypt, recommends the use of a fleece of wool or a sponge, for collecting the products from boiling or burning substances.5

The origin of chemistry, as a science of experiment, cannot be dated farther back than the seventh or eighth century of the Christian era, and it seems to have been coeval with the short period in which cultivation and improvements were promoted by the Arabians.

The early Mahometans endeavoured to destroy all the records of the former progress of the human mind; and, as if to make compensation for this barbarian spirit, the same people were destined, in a more advanced period, to rekindle the light of letters, and to become the inventors and cultivators of a new science.

The early nomenclature of chemistry demonstrates how much it owes to the Arabians. -- The words alcohol, alkahest, aludel, alembic, alkali, require no comment.

The first Arabian systematic works on chemistry are said to have been composed by Geber in the reigns of the caliphs Almainon and Almanzor. The preparation of medicines seems to have been the primary object in this study; and Rhases, Avicenna, and Avenzoar, who {8} have described various chemical operations in their works, were the celebrated physicians of the age.

Amongst a people of conquerors, disposed to sensuality and luxury even from the spirit of their religion, and romantic and magnificent in their views of power, it was not to be expected that any new knowledge should be followed in a rational and philosophical manner; and the early chemical discoveries led to the pursuit of alchemy, the objects of which were to produce a substance capable of converting all other metals into gold: and an universal remedy calculated indefinitely to prolong the period of human life.

Reasonings upon the nature of the metals, and the composition of the philosopher's stone, form a principal part of the treatises ascribed to Geber;6 and the disciples of the school of Bagdat seem to have been the first professed alchemists.

It required strong motives to induce men to pursue the tedious and disgusting processes of the furnace; but labourers could hardly be wanting, when prospects so brilliant and magnificent were offered to them; the means of procuring unbounded wealth; of forming a paradise on earth; and of enjoying an immortality depending on their own powers.

{9} The processes supposed to relate to the transmutation of metals, and the elixir of life, were probably first made known to the Europeans during the time of the crusades; and many of the warriors who, animated with visionary plans of conquest, fought the battles of their religion on the plains of Palestine, seemed to have returned to their native countries under the influence of a new delusion.

The public spirit in the West, was calculated to assist the progress of all pursuits that carried with them an air of mysticism. Warm with the ardour of an extended and exalted religion, men were much more disposed to believe than to reason; -- the love of knowledge and power is instinctive in the human mind; in darkness it desires light, and follows it with enthusiasm even when appearing merely in delusive glimmerings.

The records of the middle ages contain a great variety of anecdotes relating to the transmutation of metals, and the views or pretensions of persons considered as adepts in alchemy; these early periods constitute what may be regarded as the heroic or fabulous ages of chemistry. Some of the alchemists were low imposters, whose object was to delude the credulous and the ignorant; others seemed to have deceived themselves with vain hopes; but all followed the pursuit as a secret and mysterious study. The processes were communicated only to chosen disciples, and being veiled in the most enigmatic and obscure language, their importance was enhanced by the concealment. In all times men are governed more by what they desire or fear, than by what they know; and in this age it was peculiarly easy to deceive, but difficult to enlighten, the public mind; truths were discovered, but they were blended with the false and marvellous; and another era was required to {10} separate them from absurdities, and to demonstrate their importance and uses.

Arnald of Villa Nova, who is said to have died in 1250, was one of the earliest European inquirers who attended to chemical operations. In the edition of the works ascribed to him, published at Leyden in 1509,7 there are several treatises on alchemical subjects, which shew that he firmly believed in the transmutation of metals; the same opinions are attributed to him and to Geber; and he seems to have followed the study with no other views than those of preparing medicines, and attempting the composition of the philosopher's stone.

Raymund Lully of Majorca is said to have been a disciple of Arnald, and applied himself much more than his instructor to philosophy; but the works on general science, ascribed to him, are more abundant in abstract metaphysical propositions, than in facts; he followed, in his physical views, the plan of Aristotle, and our opinion of his chemical talents cannot be very exalted, if the alchemical treatises bearing his name be regarded as genuine documents.

Arnald and Lully are both celebrated by the vindicators of alchemy, as having been certainly possessed of the secret of transmutation. Arnald is said to have converted iron into gold at Rome; and it is pretended that Lully performed a similar operation before Edward I. in London, of which gold nobles were said to have been made.8

That the delusions of alchemy were ardently pursued at this time may be learned from a reference to the public acts of these periods. Pope John XXII, who was raised to the pontificate in the year 1316, {11} openly condemned the alchemists as imposters, and the bull begins by stating, that "they promise what they do not perform;" and in England an act of Parliament was passed in the fifth year of the reign of Henry IV prohibiting the attempts at transmutation, and making them felonious.9

Even in these times, however, there were some few efforts to form scientific views. In the beginning of the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon of Oxford applied himself to experiment, and his works offer proofs of talents, industry, and sagacity. He was a man of a truly philosophical turn, desirous of investigating nature, and of extending the resources of art, and his inquiries offered some very extraordinary combinations; but neither his labours, nor those of Albert of Cologne, his contemporary, who appears to have been a genius of a kindred character, had any considerable influence on the improvement of their age. The wonders performed by the experimental art were attributed by the vulgar to magic; and at a time when knowledge belonged only to the cloister, any new philosophy was of course regarded even by the learned with a jealous eye.

It would be a labour of little profit to dwell upon the works of the professed alchemists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of Richard and Ripley in England, Isac in Holland, Pico of Mirandula and Koffsky, in Poland. The works attributed to these persons are of similar stamp,10 and contain nothing which can either instruct {12} or amuse an intelligent reader. Basil Valentine of Erfurt deserves to be separated from the rest of the inquirers of this age, on account of the novelty and variety of his experiments on metallic preparations, particularly antimony: in his Currus triumphalis Antimonii he has described a number of the combinations of this metal. He used the mineral acids for solutions, and seems to have been one of the first persons who observed the production of ether from alcohol. He flourished about the year 1413.

Cornelius Agrippa, who was born at Cologne in 1486, openly professed magic, and endeavoured to connect together judicial astrology, the hermetic art, and metaphysical philosophy; and he was followed by Paracelsus, in Switzerland, and Digby, Kelly, and Dee, in England.

The first Arabian alchemists seem to have adopted the idea, that the elements were under the dominion of spiritual beings, who might be submitted to human power; and the notions of fairies and of genii, which have been depicted with so much vividness of fancy and liveliness of description in the Thousand and One Nights, seems to have been connected with the pursuit of the science of transmutation, and the production of the elixir of life. The speculative ideas of the Arabians were more or less adopted by their European disciples. The Rosicrucian philosophy, in which gnomes, sylphs, salamanders, and nymphs were the spiritual agents, supposed capable of being governed or enslaved by man, seem to have originated with the alchemists of this period; and Agrippa, Paracelsus, and their followers, above-mentioned, all professed to believe in supernatural powers, in an art above experiment, in a system of knowledge not derived from the senses. It {13} would be a tedious and useless task, to describe all the absurdities in the opinions and practices of this school. Paracelsus alone deserves particular notice, from the circumstance of his being the first public lecturer on chemistry in Europe, and from the more important circumstance of his application of mercurial preparations to the cure of diseases. The magistrates of Basle established a professor's chair for their countryman, but he soon quitted an occupation in which regularity was necessary, and spent his days in wandering from place to place, searching for, and revealing secrets. He pretended to confer immortality, by his medicines, and yet died at the age of 49, at Saltsburg, in the year 1541.11

The enthusiasm of this man supplied his want of genius. He formed a number of new preparations of the metals, which were studied and applied by his disciples; his exaggerated censure of the methods of the ancients, and of the systems of his day, had an effect in diminishing their popularity; one error was expelled by another; and it is a great step towards improvement, that men should know they have been in delusion.

Van Helmont, of Brussels, born in 1588,12 was formed in the school of Alchemy, and his mind was tinctured with its prejudices: but his views concerning nature and the elements were distinguished by much more philosophical acuteness, and more sagacity, than those of any former writer. He is the first person who seems to have had any idea respecting elastic fluids, different from the air of the atmosphere; and he has distinctly mentioned three of these substances, to which he applied the term gases: namely, aqueous gas or steam, unctuous {14} or inflammable gas, and gas from wood or carbonic acid gas. Van Helmont developed some accurate views respecting the permanent elasticity of air, and the operation of heat upon it; and a sketch of a curious instrument very similar to the differential thermometer, is to be found in his works.13

Van Helmont has used a term not so applicable or intelligible as gas, namely, Blas; which he supposed to be an influence derived from the heavenly bodies, of a most subtile and etherial nature; and on the idea of its operations in our terrestrial system, he has endeavoured to found the vindication of astrology.14

At this period there was no taste in the public mind to restrain vain imaginations. There were no severe critics to correct the wanderings of genius. The systems of logic, adopted in the schools, were founded rather upon the analogies of words than upon the relations of things; and they were more calculated to conceal error, than to discover truth. Till the revival of literature in Europe, there was no attempt at philosophical discussion in any of the sciences; the diffusion of letters gradually brought the opinions of men to the standard of nature and truth; failures in the experimental arts produced caution, and the detection of imposture created rational scepticism.

The delusions of Alchemy were exposed by Guibert, Gassendi, and Kepler. Libavius answered Guibert in a tone which demonstrated the weakness of his cause. This person, who died in 1616, was the last active experimentalist who believed that transmutation has actually been performed; and in the beginning of the {15} 17th century the processes of rational chemistry were pursued by a number of enlightened persons in different parts of Europe.

A metallurgical school had before this time been founded in Germany. George Agricola published, in 1542, his twelve books, de Re Metallica, or, on the methods of extracting and purifying the useful metals; and he was followed by Lazarus Ercken, Assay-Master General of the Empire of Germany, whose works, brought forward in 1574, contain a number of useful practices detailed in a simple and perspicuous manner.

Lord Bacon happily described the Alchemists as similar to those husbandmen who is searching for a treasure supposed to be hidden in their land, by turning up and pulverising the soil, rendered it fertile; in seeking for brilliant impossibilities, they sometimes discovered useful realities; and in speaking of the chemistry of his time, he says, a new philosophy has arisen from the furnaces, which has confronted all the reasonings of the ancients. This illustrious man himself pointed out many important objects of chemical inquiry; but he was a still greater benefactor to the science, by his development of the general system for improving natural knowledge. Till his time there had been no distinct views concerning the art of experiment and observation. Lord Bacon demonstrated how little could be effected by the unassisted human powers, and the weakness of the strongest intellect even without artificial resources. He directed the attention of inquirers to instruments for assisting the senses, and for examining bodies under new relations. He taught that Man was but the servant and interpreter of Nature; capable of discovering truth in no other way but by observing and imitating her operations; that facts were to be collected {16} and not speculations formed; and that the materials for the foundations of true systems of knowledge were to be discovered, not in the books of the ancients, not in metaphysical theories, not in the fancies of men, but in the visible and tangible external world.

Though Van Helmont had formed some just notions respecting the properties of air, yet his views were blended with obscure and vague speculations; and it is to the disciples of Galileo that the true knowledge of the mechanical qualities and agencies of elastic fluids is owing. After Torricelli and Pascal had shewn the pressure and weight of the atmosphere, the investigation of its effects in chemical operations became an obvious problem.

John Rey is generally quoted as the first person who shewed by experiments that air is fixed in bodies during calcination; but it appears from the work of this acute and learned man that he reasoned upon the processes of others, rather than upon his own observations.

He quotes Fachsius, Libavius, Cesalpin, and Cardan, as having ascertained the increase of weight of lead during its conversion into a calx,15 and he mentions an experiment of Hammerus Poppius, who found that antimony calcined by a burning-glass, notwithstanding the loss of vapours, yet was heavier after the process.

Rey ridicules the various notions of the Alchemists on the cause of this phenomenon; and ascribes it to the union of air with the metal; he supposes that air is miscible with other bodies besides metals, and states distinctly that it may be expelled from water.

The observations of John Rey seem to have excited {17} no attention amongst his contemporaries. The philosophical spirit was only beginning to animate chemistry, and the labourers in this science, occupied by their own peculiar processes, were little disposed to listen to the reasonings of an inquirer in general science; yet, though the most active of the forms of matter were neglected in the processes of the operative chemists of this day, and consequently no just views formed by them, still they discovered a number of important facts respecting the combinations and agencies of solid and fluid bodies. Glauber at Amsterdam, about 1640, made known several neutral salts, and several compounds of metallic and vegetable substances. Kunckel in Saxony and Sweden, pursued technical chemistry with very great success, and was the first person who made any philosophical experiments upon phosphorus, which was accidentally discovered by Brandt in 1669.16 Barner in Poland, and Glaser in France, published elementary books on the science, and Borrichius in Denmark, Bohn at Leipzic, and Hoffman at Halle, pursued specific scientific investigations with much zeal and success; and Hoffman was the first person who attempted the philosophical analysis of mineral waters.

About the middle of this century likewise mathematical and physical investigations were pursued in every part of the civilized world with an enthusiasm before unknown. The new mode of improving knowledge by collecting facts, associated together a number of labourers in the same pursuit. It was felt that the whole of nature was yet to be investigated, that there were distinct subjects connected with utility and glory, sufficient to employ all inquirers, yet tending to the common end of promoting the progress of the human mind. {18} Learned bodies were formed in Italy, England, and France, for the purpose of the interchange of opinions, the combination of labour and division of expense in performing new experiments, and the accumulation and diffusion of knowledge.

The Academy del Cimento was established in 1651, under the patronage of the Duke of Tuscany; the Royal Society of London, in 1660; the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris, in 1666. And a number of celebrated men, who have been the great luminaries of the different departments of science, were brought together or formed in these noble establishments. The ardour of scientific investigation was excited and kept alive by sympathy: taste was improved by discussion, and by a comparison of opinions. The conviction that useful discoveries would be appreciated and rewarded, was a constant stimulus to industry, and every field of inquiry was open for the free and unbiased exercise of the powers of genius.

Boyle, Hooke, and Slare, were the principal early chemical investigators attached to the Royal Society of London. Homberg, Geoffroy, and the two Lemerys, a few years later, distinguished themselves in France.

Otto de Guericke of Magdeburgh invented the air-pump; and this instrument, improved by Boyle and Hooke, was made an important apparatus for investigating the properties of air. Boyle17 and Hooke,18 from their experiments, concluded that air was absolutely necessary to combustion and respiration, and that one part of it only was employed in these processes. And Hooke formed the sagacious conclusion, that this principle is the same as the substance fixed in nitre, and {19} that combustion is a chemical process, the solution of the burning body in elastic fluid, or its union with this matter.

Mayow of Oxford, in 1674, published his treatises on the nitro-aerial spirit, in which he advanced opinions similar to those of Boyle and Hooke, and supported them by a number of original and curious experiments;19 but his work, though marked by strong ingenuity, abounds in vague hypotheses. He attempted to apply the imperfect chemistry of his day to physiology; his failure was complete, but it was the failure of a man of genius.

Boyle was one of the most active experimenters, and certainly the greatest chemist of his age. He introduced the use of tests or re-agents, active substances for detecting the presence of other bodies: he overturned the ideas which at that time were prevalent, that the results of operations by fire were the real elements of things, and he ascertained a number of important facts respecting inflammable bodies, acids, alkalies, and the phenomena of combination; but neither he nor any of his contemporaries endeavoured to account for the changes of bodies by any fixed principles. The solutions of the phenomena were attempted either on rude mechanical notions, or by occult qualities, or peculiar subtile spirits or ethers supposed to exist in the different bodies. -- And it is to the same great genius who developed the laws that regulate the motions of the heavenly bodies, that chemistry owes the first distinct philosophical elucidations of the powers which produce the changes and {20} apparent transmutations of the substances belonging to the earth.

Sugar dissolves in water, alkalies unite with acids, metals dissolve in acids. Is not this, says Newton, on account of an attraction between their particles? Copper dissolved in aquafortis is thrown down by iron. Is not this because the particles of the iron have a stronger attraction for the particles of the acid, than those of copper: and do not different bodies attract each other with different degrees of force ?20

A few years after Newton had brought forward these sagacious views, the elder Geoffroy endeavoured to ascertain the relative attractive powers of bodies for each other, and to arrange them in an order in which these forces, which he named affinities, were expressed.21

Chemistry had scarcely begun to assume the form of a science, when the attention of the most powerful minds were directed to other objects of research; -- the same great man who bestowed on it its first accurate principles, in some measure impeded its immediate progress, by his more important discoveries in optics, mechanics, and astronomy.

These objects of the Newtonian philosophy were calculated by their grandeur, their simplicity, and their importance, to become the study of the men of most distinguished talents; the effect that they occasioned on the scientific mind may be compared to that which the new sensations of vision produce on the blind receiving sight; -- they awakened the highest interest, the most enthusiastic admiration, and for nearly half a century, absorbed the attention of the most eminent philosophers of Britain and France.

{21} Germany still continued the great school of practical chemistry, and at this period it gained an ascendancy of no mean character over the rest of Europe in the philosophy of the science. Beccher, who was born at Spires in 1645, after having studied with minute attention, the operations of metallurgy, and the phenomena of the mineral kingdom, formed the bold idea of explaining the whole system of the earth by the mutual agency and changes of a few elements. And by supposing the existence of a vitrifiable, a metallic, and an inflammable earth, he attempted to account for the various productions of rocks, crystalline bodies, and metallic veins, assuming a continued interchange of principles between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the solid surface of the globe, and considering the operations of nature as all capable of being imitated by art.

The Physica subterranea, and the Oedipus chemicus of this author, are very extraordinary productions. They display the efforts of a vigorous mind, the conceptions of a most fertile imagination, but the conclusions are too rapidly formed; there is a want of logical precision in his reasonings; the objects he attempted were grand, but his means of execution comparatively feeble. He endeavoured to raise a perfect and lasting edifice upon foundations too weak, from materials too scanty, and not sufficiently solid; and the work, though magnificent in design, was rude, unfinished, and feeble, and rapidly fell into decay.

Beccher added very little to the collection of chemical experiments, but he improved the instruments of research, simplified the manipulations, and by the novelty and boldness of his speculations, excited inquiry amongst his disciples.

His most distinguished follower was George Ernest {22} Stahl, born in 1660, who soon attained a reputation superior to that of his master, and developed doctrines which for nearly a century constituted the theory of chemistry of the whole of Europe.

Albertus Magnus had advanced the idea that the metals were earthy substances impregnated with a certain inflammable principle. Beccher supported the idea of this principle, not only as the cause of metallization, but likewise of combustibility; and Stahl endeavoured, by a number of ingenious and elaborate experiments, to prove the existence of phlogiston, as it was called, and to explain its agencies in the phenomena of nature and art.

Glauber, about fifty years before Stahl began his labours, had discovered the combination of fossil alkali and sulphuric acid, which still bears his name. And Stahl, in operating upon this body, thought he had discovered the proof, that the inflammability not only of metals, but likewise of all other substances, was owing to the same principle. Charcoal is entirely dissipated or consumed in combustion, therefore, says this philosopher, it must be phlogiston nearly pure; by heating charcoal with metallic earths, they become metals; therefore they are compounds of metallic earths and phlogiston: by heating Glauber's salt, which consists of sulphuric acid and fossil alkali, with charcoal, a compound of sulphur and alkali is obtained; therefore sulphur is an acid combined with phlogiston. Stahl entirely neglected the chemical influence of air on these phenomena; and though Boyle had proved that phosphorus and sulphur would not burn without air, and had stated that sulphur was contained in sulphuric acid, and not the acid in sulphur, yet the ideas of the Prussian school were received without controversy. {23} Similar opinions were adopted in France by Homberg and Geoffroy, who assumed them without reference to the views of the Prussian philosopher, and opposed them to the more correct and sagacious views of the English school of chemistry.

Though misled in his general notions, few men have done more than Stahl for the progress of chemical science. His processes were, many of them, of the most beautiful and satisfactory kind: he discovered a number of properties of the caustic alkalies and metallic calces, and the nature of sulphureous acid; he reasoned upon all the operations of chemistry in which gaseous bodies were not concerned, with admirable precision. He gave an axiomatic form to the science, banishing from it vague details, circumlocutions and enigmatic descriptions, in which even Beccher had too much indulged; he laboured in the spirit of the Baconian. school, multiplying instances, and cautiously making inductions, and appealing in all cases to experiments which, though not of the most refined kind, were more perfect than any which preceded them.

Dr. Hales, about 1724, resumed the investigations commenced with so much success by Boyle, Hooke, and Mayow; and endeavoured to ascertain the chemical relations of air to other substances, and to ascertain by statical experiments the cases in nature, in which it is absorbed or emitted. He obtained a number of important and curious results; but, misled by the notion of one elementary principle constituting elastic matter, and modified in its properties by the effluvia of solid or fluid bodies, he formed few inferences connected with the refined philosophy of the subject: he disengaged, however, elastic fluids from a number of substances, and drew the conclusion that air was a {24} chemical element in many compound bodies, and that flame resulted from the action and re-action of aerial and sulphurous particles.22

In 1756 Dr. Black published his admirable researches on calcareous, magnesian, and alkaline substances, by which he proved the existence of a gaseous body, perfectly distinct from the air of the atmosphere. He shewed that quick-lime differed from marble and chalk by containing this substance, and that it was a weak acid, capable of being expelled from alkaline and earthy substances by strong acids.23

Ideas so new and important as those of the British philosopher, were not received without opposition; several German inquirers endeavoured to controvert them. Meyer attempted to shew that limestones became caustic, not by the emission of elastic matter, but by combining with a peculiar substance in the fire; but the loss of weight was perfectly inconsistent with this view: and Bergman at Upsal, Macbride in Ireland, Keir at Birmingham, and Cavendish in London, demonstrated the correctness of the opinions of Black; and a few years were sufficient to establish his theory upon immutable foundations.

The knowledge of one elastic fluid different from air, immediately led to the inquiry whether there might not be others. The processes of fermentation which had been observed by the ancient chemists, and those by which Hales had disengaged and collected elastic substances, were now regarded under a novel point of view; and the consequence was, that a number of new bodies, possessed of very extraordinary properties, were discovered.

{25} Mr. Cavendish, about 1765, invented an apparatus for examining elastic fluids confined by water, which has been since called the hydro-pneumatic apparatus. He discovered inflammable air, and described its properties; he ascertained the relative weights of fixed air, inflammable air, and common air, and made a number of beautiful and accurate experiments on the properties of these elastic substances.

Dr. Priestley, in 1771, entered the same interesting path of inquiry; and principally by repeating the processes of Hales, added a number of most important facts to this department of chemical philosophy. He discovered nitrous air, nitrous oxide, and dephlogisticated air; and by substituting mercury for water in the pneumatic apparatus, ascertained the existence of several aëriform substances, which are rapidly absorbable by water, muriatic acid air, sulphurous acid air, and ammonia.

Whilst a new branch of the science was making this rapid progress in Britain, the chemistry of solid and fluid substances was pursued with considerable zeal and success in France and Germany; and Macquer, Rouelle, Margraff, and Pott, added considerably to the knowledge of fossile bodies, and the properties of the metals. Bergman, in Sweden, developed refined ideas on the powers of chemical attraction, and reasoned in a happy spirit of generalization on many of the new phenomena of the science; and in the same country, Scheele, independently of Priestley, discovered several of the same aëriform substances: he ascertained the composition of the atmosphere; he brought to light fluoric acid, prussic acid, and the substance which has been improperly called oximuriatic gas.

Black, Cavendish, Priestley, and Scheele, were {26} undoubtedly the greatest chemical discoverers of the eighteenth century; and their merits are distinct, peculiar, and of the most exalted kind. Black made a smaller number of original experiments than either of the other philosophers; but being the first labourer in this new department of the science, he had greater difficulties to overcome. His methods are distinguished for their simplicity; his reasonings are admirable for their precision; and his modest, clear, and unaffected manner, is well calculated to impress upon the mind a conviction of the accuracy of his processes, and the truth and candour of his narrations.

Cavendish was possessed of a minute knowledge of most of the departments of Natural Philosophy: he carried into his chemical researches a delicacy and precision, which have never been exceeded: possessing depth and extent of mathematical knowledge, he reasoned with the caution of a geometer upon the results of his experiments: and it may be said of him, what, perhaps, can scarcely be said of any other person, that whatever he accomplished, was perfect at the moment of its production. His processes were all of a finished nature; executed by the hand of a master, they required no correction, the accuracy and beauty of his earliest labours even, have remained unimpaired amidst the progress of discovery, and their merits have been illustrated by discussion, and exalted by time.

Dr. Priestley began his career of discovery without any general knowledge of chemistry, and with a very imperfect apparatus. His characteristics were ardent zeal and the most unwearied industry. He exposed all the substances he could procure to chemical agencies, and brought forward his results as they occurred, without attempting logical method or scientific arrangement. His hypotheses were usually founded upon a few loose {27} analogies; but he changed them with facility; and being framed without much effort, they were relinquished with little regret. He possessed in the highest degree ingenuousness and the love of truth. His manipulations, though never very refined, were always simple, and often ingenious. Chemistry owes to him some of her most important instruments of research, and many of her most useful combinations; and no single person ever discovered so many new and curious substances.

Scheele possessed in the highest degree the faculty of invention; all his labours were instituted with an object in view, and after happy or bold analogies. He owed little to fortune or accidental circumstances: born in an obscure situation, occupied in the duties of an irksome employment, nothing could damp the ardour of his mind or chill the fire of his genius: with very small means he accomplished very great things. No difficulties deterred him from submitting his ideas to the test of experiment. Occasionally misled in his views, in consequence of the imperfection of his apparatus, or the infant state of the inquiry, he never hesitated to give up his opinions the moment they were contradicted by facts. He was eminently endowed with that candour which is characteristic of great minds, and which induces them to rejoice as well in the detection of their own errors, as in the discovery of truth. His papers are admirable models of the manner in which experimental research ought to be pursued; and they contain details on some of the most important and brilliant phenomena of chemical philosophy.

The discovery of the gases, of a new class of bodies, more active than any others in most of the phenomena of nature and art, could not fail to modify the whole {28} theory of chemistry. The ancient doctrines were revised; new modifications of them were formed by some philosophers; whilst others discarded entirely all the former hypotheses, and endeavoured to establish new generalizations.

The idea of a peculiar principle of inflammability was so firmly established in the chemical schools, that even the knowledge of the composition of the atmosphere for a long while was not supposed to interfere with it; and the part of the atmosphere which is absorbed by bodies in burning, was conceived to owe its powers to its attraction for phlogiston.

All the modern chemists who made experiments upon combustion, found that bodies increased in weight by burning, and that there was no loss of ponderable matter. It was necessary therefore to suppose, contrary to the ideas of Stahl, that phlogiston was not emitted in combustion, but that it remained in the inflammable body after absorbing gaseous matter from the air. But what is phlogiston? was a question constantly agitated. Inflammable air had been obtained during the dissolution of certain metals, and during the distillation of a number of combustible bodies. This light and subtile matter, therefore, was fixed upon as the principle of inflammability; and Cavendish, Kirwan, Priestly, and Fontana, were the illustrious advocates of this very ingenious hypothesis.

In 1774, Bayen24 shewed that mercury converted into a calx or earth, by the absorption of air, could be revived without the addition of any inflammable substance; and hence he concluded, that there was no necessity for supposing the existence of any peculiar principle of inflammability, in accounting for the calcination {29} of metals. The subject, nearly about the same time, was taken up by Lavoisier, who had been for some time engaged in repeating the experiments of the British philosophers. Bayen formed no opinion respecting the nature of the air produced from the calx of mercury. Lavoisier, in 1775, shewed that it was an air which supported flame and respiration better than common air, which he afterwards named oxygen; the same substance that Priestley and Scheele had produced from other metallic substances the year before, and had particularly described.25

Lavoisier discovered that the same air is produced during the revivification of metallic calces by charcoal, as that which is emitted during the calcination of limestone; hence he concluded, that this elastic fluid is composed of oxygen and charcoal; and from his experiments on nitrous acid and oil of vitriol, he concluded that this gas entered into the composition of these substances.

Dr. Black had demonstrated by a series of beautiful experiments, that when gases are condensed, or when fluids are converted into solids, heat is produced. In combustion gaseous matter usually assumes the solid or the fluid form. Oxygen gas, said Lavoisier, seems to be compounded of the matter of heat, and a basis. In the act of burning, this basis is united to the combustible body, and the heat is evolved. There is no necessity, said this acute philosopher, to suppose any phlogiston, any peculiar principle of inflammability; for all the phenomena may be accounted for without this imaginary existence.

{30} Lavoisier must be regarded as one of the most sagacious of the chemical philosophers of the last century; indeed, except Cavendish, there is no other inquirer who can be compared to him for precision of logic, extent of view, and sagacity of induction. His discoveries were few, but he reasoned with extraordinary correctness upon the labours of others. He introduced weight and measure, and strict accuracy of manipulation into all chemical processes. His mind was unbiased by prejudice; his combinations were of the most philosophical nature: and in his investigations upon ponderable substances, he has entered the true path of experiment with cautious steps, following just analogies, and measuring hypotheses by their simple relations to facts.

The doctrine of Lavoisier, soon after it was framed, received some important confirmations from the two grand discoveries of Mr. Cavendish, respecting the composition of water, and nitric acid; and the elaborate and beautiful investigations of Berthollet respecting the nature of ammonia; in which phenomena, before anomalous, were shewn to depend upon combinations of aëriform matter.

The notion of phlogiston was, however, defended for nearly twenty years, by some philosophers in Germany, Sweden, Britain, and Ireland. Mr. Cavendish in 1784, drew a parallel between the hypothesis, that all inflammable bodies contain inflammable air, and the doctrine in which they are considered as simple substances, in a paper equally remarkable for the precision of the views displayed in it, and for the accuracy and minuteness of the experiments it contains. To this great man, the assumption of M. Lavoisier, of the matter of heat, appeared more hypothetical {31} than that of a principle of inflammability. He states, that the phenomena may be explained on either doctrine; but he prefers the earlier view, as accounting, in a happier manner, for some of the operations of nature.

De Morveau, Berthollet, and Fourcroy, in France, and William Higgins and Dr. Hope, in Britain, were the first advocates for the antiphlogistic chemistry. Sooner or later, that doctrine which is an expression of facts, must prevail over that which is an expression of opinion. The most important part of the theory of Lavoisier was merely an arrangement of the facts relating to the combinations of oxygen: the principle of reasoning which the French school professed to adopt was, that every body which was not yet decompounded, should be considered as simple; and though mistakes were made with respect to the results of experiments on the nature of bodies, yet this logical and truly philosophical principle was not violated; and the systematic manner in which it was enforced, was of the greatest use in promoting the progress of the science.

Till 1786, there had been no attempt to reform the nomenclature of chemistry; the names applied by discoverers to the substances which they made known, were still employed. Some of these names, which originated amongst the alchymists, were of the most barbarous kind; few of them were sufficiently definite or precise, and most of them were founded upon loose analogies, or upon false theoretical views.

It was felt by many philosophers, particularly by the illustrious Bergman, that an improvement in chemical nomenclature was necessary, and in 1787, Messrs. Lavoisier, Morveau, Berthollet, and Fourcroy, presented to the world a plan for an almost entire change in the {32} denomination of chemical substances, founded upon the idea of calling simple bodies by some names characteristic of their most striking qualities, and of naming compound bodies from the elements which composed them.

The new nomenclature was speedily adopted in France; under some modification it was received in Germany; and after much discussion and opposition, it became the language of a new and rising generation of chemists in England. It materially assisted the diffusion of the antiphlogistic doctrine, and even facilitated the general acquisition of the science; and many of its details were contrived with much address, and were worthy of its celebrated authors: but a very slight reference to the philosophical principles of language will evince that its foundations were imperfect, and that the plan adopted was not calculated for a progressive branch of knowledge.

Simplicity and precision ought to be the characteristics of a scientific nomenclature: words should signify things, or the analogies of things, and not opinions. If all the elements were certainly known, the principle adopted by Lavoisier would have possessed an admirable application; but a substance in one age supposed to be simple, in another is proved to be compound; and vice versa. A theoretical nomenclature is liable to continued alterations; oxigenated muriatic acid is as improper a name as dephlogisticated marine acid. Every school believes itself in the right; and if every school assumes to itself the liberty of altering the names of chemical substances, in consequence of new ideas of their composition, or decomposition, there can be no permanency in the language of the science, it must always be confused and uncertain. Bodies which are similar to each other should always be classed together; {33} and there is a presumption that their composition is analogous. Metals, earths, alkalies, are appropriate names for the bodies they represent, and independent of all speculative views; whereas oxides, sulphurets, and muriates, are terms founded upon opinions of the composition of bodies, some of which have been already found erroneous. The least dangerous mode of giving a systematic form to a language, seems to be, to signify the analogies of substances by some common sign affixed to the beginning or the termination of the word. Thus, as the metals have been distinguished by a termination in um, as aurum, so their calciform or oxidated state, might have been denoted by a termination in a, as aura; and no progress, however great, in the science, could render it necessary that such a mode of appellation should be changed. Moreover, the principle of a composite nomenclature must always be very limited. It is scarcely possible to represent bodies consisting of five or six elements in this way, and yet it is in such difficult cases that a name implying a chemical truth, would be most useful.

The new doctrines of chemistry, before 1795, were embraced by almost all the active experimental inquirers in Europe; and the adoption of a precise mode of reasoning, and more refined forms of experiment, led not only to the discovery of new substances, but likewise to a more accurate acquaintance with the properties and composition of bodies that had long been known.

New investigations were instituted with respect to all the productions of nature, and the immense variety of substances in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdom, submitted to chemical experiments.

The analysis of mineral bodies first attempted by {34} Pott in experiments principally on their igneous fusion, and afterwards refined by the application of acid and alkaline menstrua, by Margraff, Bergman, Bayen, and Achard, received still greater improvements from the labours of Klaproth, Vauquelin, and Hatchett. Hoffman, in the beginning of the 18th century, pointed out magnesia as a peculiar substance.26 Margraaf, about fifty years later,27 distinguished accurately between the silicious, calcareous, and aluminous earths. Scheele, in 1774, discovered barytes. Klaproth,28 in 1788, made known zircone. Dr. Hope,29 strontites in 1791. Gadolin, ittria30 in 1794; and Vauquelin, glucine in 1798.

Seven metals only had been accurately known to the ancients, gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, tin, and iron. Zinc, bismuth, arsenic, and antimony, though mentioned by the Greek and Roman authors, yet were employed only in certain combinations, and the production of them in the form of reguli or pure metals, was owing to the Alchemists.

Cobalt had been used to tinge glass in Saxony in the sixteenth century; but the metal was unknown till the time of Brandt, and this celebrated Swedish chemist discovered it in 1733. Nickel31 was procured by Cronstedt in 1751. The properties of manganese, which was announced as a peculiar metal by Kaim32 in 1770, were minutely investigated by Scheele and Bergman a few years after. Molybdic acid was discovered by {35} Scheele in 1778, and a metal procured from it by Hielm in 1782, the same year that tellurium was made known by Müller. Scheele discovered tungstic acid in 1781; and soon after a metal was extracted from it by Messrs. D'Elhuyars. Klaproth discovered uranium in 1789.33 The first description of the properties of the oxide of titanium was given by Gregor in 1791.34 Vauquelin made known chromium in 1797;35 Hatchett, columbium in 1801;36 and shortly after, the same substance was noticed by Ekeberg, and named by him tantalium. Cerium was discovered in 1804, by Hissinger and Berzelius. Platina had been brought into Europe and examined by Lewis in 1749; and in 1803, Descotils, Fourcroy, and Vauquelin announced a new metallic substance in it; but the complete investigation of the properties of this extraordinary body was reserved for Messrs. Tennant and Wollaston, who in 1803 and 1804 discovered in it no less than four new metallic substances, besides the body which exists in it in the largest proportion, namely, iridium, osmium, palladium, and rhodium.

The attempts made to analyze vegetable substances previous to 1720, merely produced their resolution into the supposed elements of the chemists of those days, namely, salts, earths, phlegm, and sulphur. Boerhaave and Newmann attempted an examination by fluid menstrua, which was pursued with some success by Rouelle, Macquer and Lewis. Scheele, between 1770 and 1780, pointed out several new vegetable acids. Fourcroy, Vauquelin, Deyeux, Seguin, Proust, Jacquin, and {36} Hermbstadt, between 1780 and 1790, in various interesting series of experiments, distinguished between different secondary elements of vegetable matter, particularly extract, tannin, gums, and resinous substances; and investigations of this kind have been pursued with great success by Hatchett, Pearson, Shroeder, Chenevix, Gehlen, Thomson, Thenard, Chevreul, Kind, Brande, Bostock, and Duncan. The chemistry of animal substances has received great elucidations from several of the same inquirers; and Berzelius has examined most of their results, and has added several new ones, in a comprehensive work expressly devoted to the subject, published in 1808.

The solid masses fell from above, connected with the appearance of meteors, had been advanced as early as 500 years before the Christian aera, by Anaxagoras; and the same idea had been brought forward in a vague manner by other inquirers amongst the Greeks and Romans, and was revived in modern times; but till 1802 it was regarded by the greater number of philosophers as a mere vulgar error, when Mr. Howard, by an accurate examination of the testimonies connected with events of this kind, and by a minute analysis of the substances said to have fallen in different parts of the globe, proved the authenticity of the circumstance, and shewed that these meteoric productions differed from any substances belonging to our earth; and since that period a number of these phenomena have occurred, and have been minutely recorded.

The philosophy of heat, the foundations of which were laid between 1757 and 1785, by Black, Wilcke, Crawford, Irvine, and Lavoisier, since that period has received some new and very important additions, from the inquiries of Pictet, Rumford, Herschel, Leslie, Dalton, {37} and Gay Lussac. The circumstances under which bodies absorb and communicate heat, have been minutely investigated; and the important discoveries of the different physical and chemical powers of the different solar rays, and of a property analogous to polarity in light, bear immediate relation to the most refined doctrines of corpuscular science, and promise to connect, by close analogies, the chemical and mechanical laws of matter. At the time when the antiphlogistic theory was established, electricity had little or no relation to chemistry. The grand results of Franklin, respecting the cause of lightning, had led many philosophers to conjecture, that certain chemical changes in the atmosphere might be connected with electrical phenomena; -- and electrical discharges had been employed by Cavendish, Priestley, and Vanmarum, for decomposing and igniting bodies; but it was not till the era of the wonderful discovery of Volta, in 1800, of a new electrical apparatus, that any great progress was made in chemical investigations by means of electrical combinations.

Nothing tends so much to the advancement of knowledge as the application of a new instrument. The native intellectual powers of men in different times, are not so much the causes of the different success of their labours, as the peculiar nature of the means and artificial {38} resources in their possession. Independent of vessels of glass, there could have been no accurate manipulations in common chemistry; the air-pump was necessary for the investigation of the properties of gaseous matter; and without the Voltaic apparatus, there was no possibility of examining the relations of electrical polarities to chemical attractions.

By researches, the commencement of which is owing to Messrs. Nicholson and Carlisle, in 1800, which were continued by Cruickshank, Henry, Wollaston, Children, Pepys, Pfaff, Desormes, Biot, Thenard, Hissinger, and Berzelius, it appeared that various compound bodies were capable of decomposition by electricity; and experiments, which it was my good fortune to institute, proved that several substances which had never been separated into any other forms of matter in the common processes of experiment, were susceptible of analysis by electrical powers: in consequence of these circumstances, the fixed alkalies and several of the earths have been shewn to be metals combined with oxygen; various new agents have been furnished to chemistry, and many novel results obtained by their application, which at the same time that they have strengthened some of the doctrines of the school of Lavoisier, have overturned others, and have proved that the generalizations of the antiphlogistic philosophers were far from having anticipated the whole progress of discovery.

Certain bodies which attract each other chemically, and combine when their particles have freedom of motion, when brought into contact still preserving their aggregation, exhibit what may be called electrical polarities; and by certain combinations these polarities may be highly exalted; and in this case they become subservient decompositions; and by means {39} of electrical arrangements the constituent parts of bodies are separated in an uniform order, and in define proportions.

Bodies combine with a force, which in many cases is correspondent to their power of exhibiting electrical polarity by contact; and heat, or heat and light, are produced in proportion to the energy of their combination. Vivid inflammation occurs in a number of cases in which gaseous matter is not fixed; and this phenomenon happens in various instances without the interference of free or combined oxygen.

Experiments made by Richter and Morveau had shewn that, when there is an interchange of elements between two neutral salts, there is never an excess of acid or basis; and the same law seems to apply generally to double decompositions. When one body combines with another in more than one proportion, the second proportion appears to be some multiple or divisor of the first; and this circumstance, observed and ingeniously illustrated by Mr. Dalton, led him to adopt the atomic hypothesis of chemical changes, which had been ably defended by Mr. Higgins in 1789, namely, that the chemical elements consist of certain indestructible particles which unite one and one, or one and two, or in some definite numbers.

Whether matter consists of indivisible corpuscles, or physical points endowed with attraction and repulsion, still the same conclusions may be formed concerning the powers by which they act, and the quantities in which they combine; and the powers seem capable of being measured by their electrical relations, and the quantities on which they act of being expressed by numbers.

In combination certain bodies form regular solids; {40} and all the varieties of crystalline aggregates have been resolved by the genius of Haüy into a few primary forms. The laws of crystallization, of definite proportions, and of the electrical polarities of bodies, seem to be intimately related; and the complete illustration of their connection probably will constitute the mature age of chemistry.

To dwell more minutely upon the particular merits of the chemical philosophers of the present age, will be a grateful labour for some future historian of chemistry; but for a contemporary writer, it would be indelicate to assume the right of arbitrator, even where praise only can be bestowed. The just fame of those who have enlightened the science by new and accurate experiments, cannot fail to be universally acknowledged; and concerning the publication of novel facts there can be but one judgment; for facts are independent of fashion, taste, and caprice, and are subject to no code of criticism; they are more useful perhaps even when they contradict, than when they support received doctrines, for our theories are only imperfect approximations to the real knowledge of things; and in physical research, doubt is usually of excellent effect, for it is a principal motive for new labours, and tends continually to the development of truth.

The slight sketch that has been given of the progress of chemistry, has necessarily been limited to the philosophical details of discovery. To point out in historical order the manner in which the truths of the science have been applied to the arts of life, or the benefits derived by society from them, would occupy many volumes. From the first discovery of the production of metals from rude ores, to the knowledge of the bleaching liquor, chemistry has been continually subservient {41} to cultivation and improvement. In the manufacture of porcelain and glass, in the arts of dyeing and tanning, it has added to the elegancies, refinement, and comforts of life; in its application to medicine it has removed the most formidable of diseases; and in leading to the discovery of gunpowder, it has changed the institutions of society, and rendered war more independent of brutal strength, less personal, and less barbarous.

It is indeed a double source of interest in this science, that whilst it is connected with the grand operations of nature, it is likewise subservient to the common processes as well as the most refined arts of life. New laws cannot be discovered in it, without increasing our admiration of the system of the universe; and no new substances can be made known which are not sooner or later subservient to some purpose of utility.

When the great progress made in chemistry within the last few years is considered, and the number of able labourers who are at present actively employed in cultivating the science, it is impossible not to augur well concerning its rapid advancement and future applications. The most important truths belonging to it are capable of extremely simple numerical expressions, which may be acquired with facility by students; and the apparatus for pursuing original researches is daily improved, the use of it rendered more easy, and the acquisition less expensive.

Complexity almost always belongs to the early epochs of every science; and the grandest results are usually obtained by the most simple means. A great part of the phenomena of chemistry may be already submitted to calculation; and there is great reason to believe, that at no very distant period the whole science will be {42} capable of elucidation by mathematical principles. The relations of the common metals to the bases of the alkalies and earths, and the gradations of resemblance between the bases of the earths and acids, point out as probably a similarity in the constitution of all inflammable bodies; and there are not wanting experiments, which render their possible decomposition far from a chimerical idea. It is contrary to the usual order of things, that events so harmonious as those of the system of the earth, should depend on such diversified agents, as are supposed to exist in our artificial arrangements; and there is no reason to anticipate a great reduction in the number of the undecompounded bodies, and to expect that the analogies of nature will be found conformable to the refined operations of art. The more the phenomena of the universe are studied, the more distinct their connection appears, the more simple their causes, the more magnificent their design, and the more wonderful the wisdom and power of their Author.


1. [These remarks are to be considered as applicable to the ancient dialectic method, opposed to the experimental and inductive method of the moderns, -- or that of the school of Aristotle in contradistinction to that of Bacon, -- not the science which is effective and fruitful of works, -- the knowledge which is power; but that which deals more in words than in facts, and gives skill chiefly in disputation, -- "Sapientiam istam, quam à Graecis potissimum hausimus, pueritiam quandam scientiæ videri, atque habere quod proprium est puerorum; ut ad garriendum prompta, ad generandum invalida et immatura sit. Controversiarum enim ferax, operum effæta est." -- Bacon's Preface to his Instauratio Magna.]

2. Epeidè dè he phusis dichõs, tò te héidos kaì hé húle. Aristotelis Natural. Auscult. Lib. ii. 495, fol. Par. 1654.

3. Hudatos mèn tà melleuòmena kathàter árguros kaì chrusos, kaì talla. Ges dè líthos te kaì hòsa líthon perittótera. Theophrasti de Lapidibus. Lug. Bat. 1613.

4. Many of the alchemical writers derive alchemy from Tubal Cain; others from Hermes Trismegistus, the Mercury of the Greeks. The first writing specifically on a chemical subject, is a manuscript supposed to be of the fifth century, by Zosimus, on the art of making gold and silver; which was in the king's library at Paris. Suidas, who wrote in the ninth or tenth century, mentions Diocletian as having burnt the books of the Egyptians concerning the chemistry of silver and gold: "peri chumeías arguron kaì chrusou." Lexicon, Tom. i. p. 595.
For a minute investigation of the claims of the ancient to chemical knowledge, the reader may consult Borrichius de Ortu et Progress. Chæm. Bergman. Opuscula, vol. iv. de primordiis Chæm. and Lenglet Dufrenoy, Histoire de la Philosophie hermetique.

5. Di[o]scoridis, liber 1. de picino oleo, p. 52.

6. The library of the British Museum contains several works bearing the name of Geber: amongst them are De Alchemia argentea, Speculum Alchemiae, et de Inventione perfectionis: but they appear to be compilations formed by alchemists of the 15th and 16th centuries. Arsenic, mercury, and sulphur, are considered in them as elements of the metals; distillation is distinctly described. Alcohol, corrosive sublimate, and different saline combinations of iron, tin, copper, and lead are mentioned in them; but they abound in obscure descriptions of mysterious processes, and contain an account of some impracticable experiments. -- The Liber Fornacum is the most intelligible part of the works ascribed to Geber; it contains a description of several metallurgical operations, and of the common apparatus of the assayer.

7. Opera Arnaldi de Villa Nova, fol. 1509.

8. Bergman. Opuscula, tom. iv. p. 126.

9. Lord Coke calls this act the shortest he ever met with, 5 H. IV. Statutes at Large, vol. i. p. 457. "None from henceforth shall use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, he shall incur the pain of felony."

10. Amongst them are Ricardi Angli Libellus, peri chemeias; Opus Saturni Johan. Isac; Compounde of Alchemy by George Ripley.

11. Dictionnaire Historique, par Moréeri, tom. viii. p. 64.

12. Ibid. tom. v. p. 570.

13. Johan. Baptist. Van Helmont, Opera Omnia, 4to. p. 61. article Aer. [Vide pl. i. fig. 3.]

14. Ibid. page 114.

15. Sur la Recherche de la cause par laquelle Estain et le Plomb augmentent de poids quand on les calcine. A Bazas, 1630.

16. Homberg, Mem. Acad. Paris, tom. x. page 58.

17. Boyle's Works, vol. iv. page 90.

18. Hooke's Micrographia, page 45, 104, 105.

19. Tract. p. 28. He has particularly assigned the cause of the calcination of metals, "Quippe vix concipi potest unde augmentum illud antimonii nisi a particulis nitro aereis igneisque inter calcinadum fixis procedat."

20. Newton's Works, 4to, tom. iv. page 242.

21. Mémoires de l'Academie, 1718, page 156.

22. Hales' Statical Essays, 2d edit. 8vo. vol. i. page 315.

23. Essays and Observations, Physical and Literary, vol. ii, page 159.

24. Journal de Physique, 1774, p. 288.

25. In the Journal de Physique for 1789, Preliminary Discourse, De la Metherie has given an admirable view of the progress of the investigation concerning the gases. See p. 24, &c.

26. Hoffman. Opera, tom. iv. p. 479.

27. Opuscules, tom. ii. p. 137.

28. Annales de Chimie, tom. i. p. 183.

29. Edinburgh Trans. vol. iv. p. 44.

30. Crell's Annals, 1796.

31. Bergman Opuscules, tom. ii. p. 22.

32. De Metallis dubiis, p. 48.

33. Journal de Physique, 1789, p. 39.

34. Annales de Chimie, xii, p. 147.

35. Ibid. xxv. 21.

36. Phil. Trans. 1802.