Advertisement

A Revolution Nobody Noticed? Changes in Early Eighteenth-Century Chymistry

  • Lawrence M. Principe
Part of the Archimedes New Studies In The History And Philosophy Of Science and Technology book series (ARIM, volume 18)

Among historians of science it is often believed that if there is any century in the history of chemistry about which we are well informed it is the eighteenth. After all, the eighteenth century is home to the Chemical Revolution, an event dating from the last quarter of the century and centered, of course, upon the discoveries and ideas of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and his colleagues. Lavoisier’s work has produced a veritable industry of scholarship; indeed, one that extends well beyond strictly historical studies.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Acid Salt Chemical Theory Newtonian Idea 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    Seymour Mauskopf’s epilogue to this volume provides an excellent overview of the rise and reign of the Lavoisier-centered narrative.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert Siegfried, From Elements to Atoms: A History of Chemical Composition, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 92, part 4, 2002, 56–73 (“Stagnation of Chemical Theory: 1675–1750”).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In using the archaically spelt word chymistry, I include both what we call “chemistry” and “alchemy” under a single term used at the time in which the two were not separated. This usage follows the recommendations that both I and William Newman set forth independently and jointly some time ago, see for example, William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, “Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake,” Early Science and Medicine 3, 1998, 32–65, on 59–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    One example of this in regard to the subject of alchemy is Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman, “Some Problems in the Historiography of Alchemy,” 385–434, in Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, eds. Newman and Anthony Grafton, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hélène Metzger, Les doctrines chimiques en France du début du XVIIe à la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Les Presses Universitaires, 1923).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hélène Metzger, Newton, Stahl, Boerhaave et la doctrine chimique (Paris: Librairie Scientifique Albert Blanchard, 1930).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Pierre Brunet, L’introduction des théories de Newton en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Librairie Scientifique Albert Blanchard, 1931).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Henry Guerlac, Newton on the Continent (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Marie Boas [Hall], Robert Boyle and Seventeenth-Century Chemistry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958); A. R. Hall, The Scientific Revolution 1500–1800 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 327–28; Arnold Thackray, Atoms and Powers: An Essay on Newtonian Matter Theory and the Development of Chemistry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), esp. 83–123; Mi Gyung Kim, Affinity, That Elusive Dream (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), e.g. 11–13, 83.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For example, Richard S. Westfall, The Construction of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 68–73. It must of course be noted that there was already in seventeenth-century France a spectrum of “Cartesianisms,” yet Lemery’s system cannot be included among them in any meaningful sense; on the former point see Tad Schmaltz, Radical Cartesianism: The French Reception of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 9–12, and 19.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    The chymical part of Descartes’ work is found predominantly in Principes de la Philosophie (1647). See Bernard Joly, “Descartes et la chimie,” 216–21 (CD) in L’esprit cartésien, eds. B. Bourgeois and J. Havet (Paris: Vrin, 2000).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    On Tachenius, see James L. Partington, A History of Chemistry, 4 vols. (London: Macmillian, 1961), 2:291–96; Heinz-Herbert Take, Otto Tachenius, 1610–1680: Ein Wegbereiter der Chemie zwischen Herford und Venedig (Bielefeld: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 2002).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Otto Tachenius, Hippocrates Chymicus (London, 1677), 87 and 89; Clavis, (London, 1677) 13.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., 18; for more on Tachenius’ sexual metaphors and language, see Principe, “Revealing Analogies: The Descriptive and Deceptive Roles of Sexuality and Gender in Latin Alchemy,” in Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in Western Esotericism, eds. Wouter Hanegraaff and Jeff Kripal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2007).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Marie Boas Hall, “Acid and Alkali in Seventeenth Century Chemistry,” Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences 9, 1956, 13–28, on 15–16; Michel Bougard, La chimie de Nicolas Lemery (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 190–96; Bougard also highlights the role of Pierre Gassendi’s particulate system as a background to Lemery’s thought.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    In 1672, 1677, and 1680; an English edition appeared in 1689. On the link of St. André with Lemery, and supporting arguments that Lemery’s chymical doctrine “n’est pas cartesienne” see Bernard Joly, “L’anti-Newtonianisme dans la chimie française au début du XVIIIe siècle,” Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences 53, 2003, 213–24, esp. 215–16.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    For example, Kim, Affinity, 6, 12, and passim.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    This rejection occurred in the context of a dispute carried out in 1700–01 between Homberg and Johann Bernoulli on the luminescence of mercury enclosed in barometers.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    On the definition of “Cartesian” in this period, see the useful proposals and definitions made in Bernard Marsak, Bernard de Fontenelle: The Idea of Science in the French Enlightenment (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1959), and Tad M. Schmaltz, Radical Cartesianisms: The French Reception of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 9–24. On Louis Lemery, see Bernard Joly, “Quarrels between Etienne-François Geoffroy and Louis Lemery,” 203–14 in Chymists and Chymistry, ed. Lawrence M. Principe (Canton, MA.: Science History Publications/CHF, 2007).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Étienne-François Geoffroy, “Des différents rapports observés en chymie entre differentes substances,” Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences (hereinafter MARS) 20, 1718, 202–12; Guerlac, Newton, 77; William A. Smeaton, “E. F. Geoffroy Was Not a Newtonian Chemist,” Ambix 18, 1971, 212–14; Frederic L. Holmes, “The Communal Context for Etienne-François Geoffroy’s ‘Table des rapports’,” Science in Context 9, 1996, 289–311. It is true, however, that Torbern Bergmann (most notably) applied Newtonian ideas to his own affinity theories later in the century, but such a linkage dating from later in the century cannot be read backwards to Geoffroy and other early versions of affinity.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Jean-Baptiste Sénac, Nouveau cours de chymie, suivant les principes de Newton & de Sthall (Paris, 1723), liii–liv, 26, 74–78. Note that the book was published anonymously, and the attribution to Sénac, otherwise known only as a physician, is open to question.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    John Freind, Praelectiones chymicae (Oxford, 1709); [Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz], Acta eruditorum, 1710, 412–16.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Lawrence M. Principe, “Wilhelm Homberg’s Wanderjahre: Intellectual Formation and Transnational Networks,” paper presented at “Science in Europe, Europe in Science” a conference held at Maastricht, 4–6 November 2004; Principe, “Wilhelm Homberg and the Chymistry of Light,” paper presented at CalTech, 22 February 2004. This material will be published in my forthcoming book, Wilhelm Homberg and the Transmutations of Chymistry at the Académie Royale des Sciences.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    E.g. Richard S. Westfall, “Newton and Alchemy,” 315–35 in Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance, ed. Brian Vickers (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984) and Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 299–308, 527–29.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    John Henry, “Occult Qualities and the Experimental Philosophy: Active Principles in Pre-Newtonian Matter Theory,” History of Science 24, 1986, 355–81; William R. Newman, “Newton,” in New Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York: Scribners, 2007).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    For a similar conclusion using other data, see Joly, “L’anti-Newtonianisme dans la chimie française.”Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    A full treatment of Homberg and his work appears in my forthcoming book, Wilhelm Homberg and the Transmutations of Chymistry; Holmes eloquently argued for the importance of both the Académie and Homberg in his Eighteenth-Century Chemistry as an Investigative Enterprise (Berkeley, CA: Office for History of Science & Technology, University of California at Berkeley, 1989), and “Communal Context.”Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Lawrence M. Principe, “Evidence for Transmutation in Seventeenth Century Alchemy,” 151–64, in Scientific Evidence: Philosophical Theories and Applications, ed. Peter Achinstein (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2005); on the acceptability of chrysopoetic endeavors for intellectuals, see Principe, “D. G. Morhof’s Analysis and Defence of Transmutational Alchemy,” 138–53 in Mapping the World of Learning: The Polyhistor of Daniel Georg Morhof, Wolfenbüttler Forschungen 91 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Lawrence M. Principe, “Wilhelm Homberg: Chymical Corpuscularianism and Chrysopoeia in the Early Eighteenth Century,” 535–56 in Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories, eds. C. Lüthy, J. E. Murdoch, and W. R. Newman (Leiden: Brill, 2001).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Wilhelm Homberg, Voenno-meditsinskoi Akademii, Boerhaave Archive, MS 130, fols. 233r–v; “J’ay… poursuivre tout l’ouvrage de Philalethe.”Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid., fols. 119v–27r.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek Hannover, Leibniz Briefe 420, fols. 3r–v; Leibniz to Homberg, 10 March 1711.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Wellcome Institute Library, MS 2298, “Essai pour développer la science & la practique de l’Oeuvre des Philosophes chimiques,” 5–7, 46–49, 84. Another copy is Université de Bordeaux, MS 23.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Nicolas Lemery, Cours de chymie, 3rd edition (Paris, 1679), 57–60; see also Newman and Principe, “Alchemy vs. Chemistry,” 59–61.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Oeuvres diverses de M. de Fontenelle, 3 vols. (Paris, 1724), 1:1–35 (not paginated), “Sur l’utilité des mathematiques et de la physique,” on sig. Aiiiiv.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ibid., 1:117–20.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Wilhelm Homberg, “Essais de chimie,” MARS 4, 1702, 33–52 on 33; Rémi Franckowiak and Luc Peterschmitt, “La chimie de Homberg: Une vérité certaine dans une physique contestable,” Early Science and Medicine 10, 2005, 65–90; Homberg, MS 130, fol. 112v.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Fontenelle, “Èloge de M. Lemery,” Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Sciences (hereinafter HARS) 17, 1715, 75–76; on the textbook tradition see Metzger, Doctrines; on Lemery see Michel Bougard, Chimie de Lemery.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Bourdelin, Bibliothéque Nationale, MS n. a. fr. 5148, fol. 1v (24 March 1699); “toutes ses experiences ne furent point trouvéez nouvelles. Mr. Hombert les avoit faites la pluspart.”Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Principe, “Chymical Corpuscularianism,” 538.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Michel Chillat(?), Les Souffleurs (Paris, 1695): “Que la Chimie est admirable,” 99–100. On the play see also Didier Kahn, “L’alchimie sur le scène française aux XVIe et XVII siècles,” Chrysopoeia 2, fasc. 1, 1988, 62–96. It is reported by Maupoint, Bibliothéque des théâtres (Paris, 1733), 288, that the play was not performed; even if this report is true, the work was very popular as witnessed by the five printed editions that appeared within 18 months.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Archives de la Bastille, 19 vols. (Paris, 1866–1904), esp. vol. 12 (1881): Règnes de Louis XIV et de Louis XV (1709 à 1772), 1–5, 52–68; Clara de Milt, “Christophle Glaser,” Journal of Chemical Education 19, 1942, 53–60; Arlette Lebigre, 1679–1682, L’Affaire des poisons (Brussels: Complexe, 2001).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, Mémoires, ed. Yves Coirault, 8 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1983–88), 4:459–66; Aus der Briefe der Herzogin Elisabeth Charlotte von Orléans an die Kurfürstin Sophie von Hannover, ed. Eduard Bodemann, 2 vols. (Hannover, 1891), 2:302–303, 307.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Christoph Meinel, “Theory or Practice? The Eighteenth Century Debate on the Scientific Status of Chemistry,” Ambix 30, 1983, 121–32.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Newman and Principe, “Alchemy vs. Chemistry.” See also John C. Powers, “ ‘Ars sine arte’: Nicholas Lemery and the End of Alchemy in Eighteenth-Century France,” Ambix 45, 1998, 163–89.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    An excellent and sensitive study of the subject of fraud in alchemy is Tara E. Nummedal, The Battle for Alchemical Authority in the Holy Roman Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    For analogous comments at the Royal Society, see Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (London, 1667), 37–38; recall that the Royal Society’s most prominent Fellow, Robert Boyle, was simultaneously pursuing traditional chrysopoeia.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Jean-Baptiste Duhamel, Regiae scientiarum academiae historia (Paris, 1698; enlarged edition, 1701).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Fontenelle, “Éloge de M. Lemery,” HARS 17, 1715, 73–82 on 73.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Fontenelle, “Éloge de M. Homberg,” HARS 17, 1715, 82–93 on 87–88.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Wilhelm Homberg, “Observations sur la matiere fecale,” MARS 13, 1711, 39–47.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Fontenelle, “Homberg,” 92. I have recently, after lengthy searching and negotiation, recovered a copy of this long-lost and complete version of Homberg’s Essais; full details are forthcoming in Principe, Wilhelm Homberg.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    NLB, Leibniz Briefe 768, fols. 53r–54v, on fol. 54r; Nicolas Remond to Leibniz, 23 December 1715.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Principe, “Chymical Corpuscularianism.”Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Wilhelm Homberg, “Mémoire touchant la volatilisation des sels fixes des plantes,” MARS 16, 1714, 186–95.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Alice Stroup, “Censure ou querelles savantes: L’Affaire Duclos (1666–1685),” in Règlement, usages et science dans la France de l’absolutisme, eds. Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère and Éric Brian (Paris: Lavoisier Tec et Doc, 2002), 435–52.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Étienne-François Geoffroy, “Des supercheries concernant la pierre philosophale,” MARS 24, 1722, 61–70; Michael Maier, Examen fucorum pseudo-chymicorum detectorum et in gratiam veritatis amantium succincte refutatorum (Frankfurt, 1617); Wolfgang Beck, Michael Maiers Examen Fucorum Pseudo-chymicorum: eine Schrift wider die falschen Alchemisten, Ph.D. 1992, Technische Universität München. Robert Halleux, “L’alchimiste et l’essayeur,” in Die Alchemie in der europaeischen Kultur- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte, ed. Christoph Meinel (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz, 1986). It is to be noted that much of Maier’s work is in turn borrowed from Heinrich Khunrath, Trewhertzige Warnungs-Vermahnung (Magdeburg, 1597).Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Fontenelle, HARS 24, 1722, 37–39.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Louis Lemery, “Nouvel éclarcissement sur la prétendüe production artificielle du fer, publiée par Becher & soûtenüe par M. Geoffroy,” MARS 10, 1708, 371–402. A brief account of this debate is given in Metzger, Doctrines, 407–09; a full account appears in Joly, “Quarrels.”Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Support for Geoffroy’s own interest in chrysopoeia comes from his library, which contained more than seventy books on the topic, including classic works by Philalethes, Valentine, and others, as well as Manget’s huge 1702 compendium of chrysopoetic texts, Bibliotheca chemica curiosa; see Catalogus librorum Stephani-Francisci Geoffroy (Paris, 1731). Moreover, it is interesting to note that Geoffroy does not actually use his 1722 paper to debunk chrysopoeia itself, but rather, as Maier did, simply to point out the likelihood of fraud; it is Fontenelle who uses Geoffroy’s paper as a jumping-off point for a full-scale assault against transmutation itself.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Alice Stroup, “Wilhelm Homberg and the Search for the Constituents of Plants at the 17th-Century Académie Royale des Sciences,” Ambix 26, 1979, 184–202, on 185–86.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Fontenelle, “Homberg,” 85.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Principe, Wilhelm Homberg, chapter 1; “Chymical Corpuscularianism,” 546–47.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Herman Boerhaave, “Sermo academicus de chemia suos errores expurgante,” published in Elementa chemiae, 2 vols. (Paris, 1733), 2:64–77, on 65.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    See John C. Powers, “Chemistry Enters the University: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts,” History of Universities 21, 2006, 77–116.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Wilhelm Homberg, “Maniere d’extraire un sel volatile acide minéral en forme séche,” Histoire et Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences 1666–99, 11 vols. (Paris, 1729–33), 10:202–08 (paper read on 31 December 1692); Principe, Wilhelm Homberg, chapter 3; on Helmont’s water theory see Walter Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), esp. 49–60.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 46–91.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Nicolas Lemery, Cours de chymie (Paris, 1675), 10.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Geoffroy, “Rapports observés.”Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    This fact helps explain the rather minor impact on the content and practice of chemistry made by that theory’s greatest exponent, Robert Boyle; see Principe, “Les liens chymiques entre Boyle et France,” forthcoming in Robert Boyle et la philosophie naturelle, eds. Charles Ramond and Miriam Dennehy (Paris: Vrin, 2007).Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    NLB, Leibniz Briefe 468, fols. 53r–54v; Remond to Leibniz, 23 December 1715; on fol. 54r: “toute la philosophie selon lui etoit dans l’usage de la pincette et ainsi il faisoit peu de cas des anciens et des modernes.”Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Newman and Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire, esp. 92–155.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence M. Principe

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations