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The Aberdeen Agricola: Chemical Principles and Practice in James Anderson's Georgics and Geology

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

Late eighteenth-century industrialists, farmers and physicians who actively employed chemistry are historically hazy figures. This is not only the case for scientific histories, but also for studies that address the socio-economic factors of the Enlightenment. Up until the late twentieth century, historians of chemistry tended to focus on ideas and personalities that nineteenth-century scholars deemed to be important to Antoine Lavoisier’s oxygen theory of combustion – a practice that fell in line with the more ubiquitous ‘Great Man’ approach to history. Such a move privileged the idealized space of the laboratory, thereby ruling out experiments performed in situ in homes, farms, mines, factories, or fields. The result was a historiographical disposition that assigned a causative role to the chemical concepts developed in conjunction with the instruments and methods attributed to laboratory settings: an act that reconfirmed the status of canonized chemists, and implicitly made them central nodes in knowledge networks that honed and dispersed the theoretical framework of chemistry. Although this model was conceptually useful (especially in light of the accessibility of primary sources), it effectively marginalized provincial chemists (among others) by placing them at the end of a long chain of ideas that emanated from a distant expert. Such a one-directional approach treated local chemists as if they were intellectual automatons waiting to be directed by an unseen hand.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Chemical Principle Geological Stratum Chemical Revolution Unseen Hand 
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References

Notes

  1. 1.
    These local contexts are the focus of the essays in Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Ferdinando Abbri, eds., Lavoisier in European Context: Negotiating a New Language for Chemistry (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1995).Google Scholar
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    Save for the works that address the Scottish years of James Watt’s steam engine research.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Although Roebuck established the first sulfuric acid plant in Scotland, nothing of substance has been written about his career as a chemist. Laing was a provincial minister who also held an MD. He used his chemical knowledge to publish on spas, one example being An Account of Peterhead, its Mineral Well, Air and Neighbourhood (London, 1793).Google Scholar
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    Brief accounts of Anderson’s life can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) and The Gentleman’s Magazine 78, 1808, 1051–54.Google Scholar
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    James Anderson, Free Thoughts on the American Contest (Edinburgh, 1776), Enquiry into the Nature of the Corn Laws (Edinburgh, 1777), and Observations on Slavery (Manchester, 1789). The larger context of Scottish agriculture at this time is addressed recently in Neil Davidson, “The Scottish Path to Capitalist Agriculture 3: The Enlightenment as the Theory and Practice of Improvement,” Journal of Agrarian Change, 5, 2005, 1–72.Google Scholar
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    James Anderson, Observations on the Means of Exciting a Spirit of National Industry (Edinburgh, 1777), Miscellaneous Observations on Planting and Training Timber-Trees (Edinburgh, 1777), An Inquiry into the Causes that Have Hitherto Retarded the Advancement of Agriculture in Europe (Edinburgh, 1779), The True Interest of Great Britain Considered: Or a Proposal for Establishing the Northern British Fisheries (London, 1783), An Account of the Present State of the Hebrides and Western Coasts of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1785), Observations on the Effects of the Coal Duty (Edinburgh, 1792), General View of the Agriculture and Rural Economy of the County of Aberdeen (Edinburgh, 1794), A Practical Treatise on Peat Moss; Considered as in its Natural State Fitted for Affording Fuel, or as Susceptible of Being Converted into Mold (Edinburgh, 1794).Google Scholar
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    The Bee, or, Literary Weekly Intelligencer (Edinburgh, 1790–94). Unlike Anderson’s previous ventures, Recreations was published in London (1799–1803).Google Scholar
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    The classic text for Scotland is Archibald Clow and Nan L. Clow, The Chemical Revolution: A Contribution to Social Technology (London: Batchworth Press, 1952).Google Scholar
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    James Anderson, “On Cast Iron,” read 2 August 1784, summarized in Philosophical Transactions of Edinburgh 1, 1788, 26–27.Google Scholar
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    Samuel Parkes, The Chemical Catechism, with Notes, Illustrations, and Experiments, 4th Edition (London, 1810), 222.Google Scholar
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    See James Anderson, “Cursory Hints and Anecdotes of the Late Doctor William Cullen of Edinburgh,” The Bee 1, 1791, 1–10, 45–56, 121–25, and 161–66.Google Scholar
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    Donavan suggested that “principle” was a term in which “properties were treated as causes,” Arthur Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry in the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975), 114. However, Black and Cullen’s use of the word shows that they also saw the word as describing a state of matter that was, nominalistically, the same as an Aristotelian “element” and that could be used for nomenclatural purposes. This second bears a notable philosophical similarity to the use of “matter states” in early quantum mechanics. See R. F. Hendry, “The Physicists, the Chemists and the Pragmatics of Explanation,” Philosophy of Science 71, 2004, 1048–59, esp. 1049.Google Scholar
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    The Aristotelian notion of “element,” that is, a basic substance of matter. Henry Temple Croker, a contemporary of Black, defined “Element” by listing “Water, Air, Oil [inflammable], Salt, Earth” in The Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: In which the Whole Circle of Human Learning is Explained, 3 vols (London, 1764–66), s.v.Google Scholar
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    In the early modern period, “substance”(Latin substantia) generally signified “a separate or distinct thing”; Oxford English Dictionary, def. 2. Though Joseph Black used the words substance and body interchangeably, his lectures infer that he thought that a substance was a measureable piece of matter that existed in two forms: solid (which he often used for bodies) and fluid. Black, Lectures 1767/8, 3 and 8.Google Scholar
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    Black, however, recalibrated parts of the table. See Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry, 218.Google Scholar
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    M. D. Eddy, “Set in Stone: The Medical Language of Mineralogy in Scotland,” in David Knight and M. D. Eddy, eds., Science and Beliefs: From Natural Philosophy to Natural Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 77–94.Google Scholar
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    A. H. Maehle, Drugs on Trial: Experimental Pharmacology and Therapeutic Innovation in the Eighteenth Century (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999).Google Scholar
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    Joseph Black, De Humore Acido a Cibis orto, et Magnesia Alba (Edinburgh, 1754).Google Scholar
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    Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry, 201–21.Google Scholar
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    Fred Page, “Lime in the Early Bleaching Industry of Britain, 1633–1828: Its Prohibition and Repeal,” Annals of Science 60, 2003, 185–200, esp. 187.Google Scholar
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    David MacBride, Experimental Essays on Medical and Philosophical Subjects (London, 1767).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Francis Home, Experiments on Bleaching (Dublin, 1771). Black’s essay was entitled “An explanation of the effect of lime upon alkaline salts, and a method pointed out whereby it may be used with safety and advantage in bleaching.” Black spoke favorably of MacBride’s work in his Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1803), 2, 97.Google Scholar
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    The larger context in which science was fused with Scotland’s nationalistic brand of utilitarianism is addressed in C. W. J. Withers, Geography, Science and National Identity: Scotland Since 1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). See also Jan Golinski, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760–1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), esp. chapter 2.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    James Anderson, Essays Relating to Agriculture and Rural Affairs, 4th ed., 3 vols (London, 1797–98), 1, 408. For the remainder of this essay, I will use this edition of the ‘Essay on Quicklime’. It was also published in earlier editions of the work, but the 4th edition contains several notable footnotes on the new nomenclature that I will address is later sections. The main text remained unchanged in all editions.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Arthur Donovan, “Scottish Responses to the New Chemistry of Lavoisier,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 9, 1979, 237–49 and “The New Nomenclature among the Scots: Addressing Novel Chemical Claims in a Culture under Strain,” in Bensaude-Vincent and Abbri, Lavoisier in European Context, 113–21.Google Scholar
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    Anderson, Agriculture, 393.Google Scholar
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    See Anderson’s chemical definitions in the appendix.Google Scholar
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    There were unsuccessful efforts both in Scotland and England during the 1750s that sought to propose a unit of common weight and this resulted in more disagreement until the introduction of the Imperial system in the 1820s. A. D. C. Simpson and R. D. Connor, “The Mass of the English Troy Pound in the Eighteenth Century,” Annals of Science 61, 2004, 321–49; R. D. Connor and A. D. C. Simpson, Weights and Measures in Scotland: a European Perspective (Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2004).Google Scholar
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    Anderson, Agriculture, 397. Here Anderson uses the word “lime” to represent “quicklime.”Google Scholar
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    Black also did this at times in his lectures (or perhaps the students taking the notes conflated the terms); Black, Lectures 1767/8, 61.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 409.Google Scholar
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  37. 37.
    See Table 1 in the Appendix.Google Scholar
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  39. 39.
    Donald Monro, who lived in London, lists Cullen’s table of salt affinities in “An Account of Some Neutral Salts Made with Vegetable Acids, and with the Salt of Amber,” Philosophical Transactions 57, 1767, 479–516.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry, 122.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    A “Salt” at this time included acids and alkalis and Cullen’s experiments were linked into a much larger European research tradition interested in these substances. In Cullen’s case, he was specifically building on the works of Joan Baptista Van Helmont, John Mayow, Georg Ernst Stahl, Charles DuFay, Paul Malouin, Pierre Macquer, Duhamel du Monceau, Frederick Hoffmann, and William Brownrigg; see Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry, 122–26. For the work of William Cadogan (1711–97) and Hoffmann on this topic, see A. B. Davis and J. B. Eklund, “Magnesia Alba before Black,” Pharmacy in History 14, 1972, 139–46.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Cullen could not decide whether gypsum was a salt, a dilemma repeated by Anderson, who called gypsum is an “earthy salt,” Anderson, Agriculture, 449. Cullen’s student, John Walker, also held that there were “earth acids.” For both Cullen’s and Walker’s thoughts on this matter, see M. D. Eddy “Scottish Chemistry, Classification and the Late Mineralogical Career of the “Ingenious” Professor John Walker (1779–1803),” British Journal for the History of Science 37, 2004, 373–99, esp. 416–17.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    M. D. Eddy, “The Doctrine of Salts and Rev. John Walker’s Analysis of a Scottish Spa,” Ambix 48, 2001, 137–60.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Table 2 in the Appendix gives a chart that contains the different types of earths accepted by Cullen, Black, and Walker. As Anderson stated: “Absorbent earths are all those that unite with acids, of which there are several varieties; calcareous earths being one of these;” Anderson, Agriculture, 575.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    This was most probably because such an approach was more pedagogically expedient, though it also could be that he remained faithful to Cullen’s classification.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Black’s Elements, used “Absorbent” and “Alkaline Earth” synonymously (see 2:23). It is not clear whether this was a recalibration added by the book’s editor, John Robison. Student notes tend to use the term “Absorbent”; however, these notebooks were often compilations and it is sometimes hard to tell exactly when they were written down. Black usually lectured on absorbents in lectures (circa) 60 to 70. For comparison, see Henry Beaufy (transcriber), Manuscript Copy of Lectures in Chemistry Given by Joseph Black, Professor of Medicine and Chemistry, Edinburgh University, 1766–1799 [c. 1771–1775], Volume IV, Aberdeen University Library Special Collections MS 38185.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    John Walker, Schediasma fossilium (Edinburgh, 1781), Classes fossilium (Edinburgh, 1787), and Systema fossilium (c. 1797), Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department, Gen. 1061.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 451.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    This analytical method is treated in more detail in 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), esp. chapter 2; W. R. Albury and D. R. Oldroyd, “From Renaissance Mineral Studies to Historical Geology, in the Light of Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things,” British Journal for the History of Science 10, 1977, 187–215.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 507.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Though acids from this time were not as pure as they are today, the modern equivalents of those above are aquafortis = nitric acid (HNO3) and spirit of salt = hydrochloric acid (HCl). Equivalency tables that convert eighteenth-century substances to modern nomenclature can be found in Jon Eklund, The Incompleat Chymist: Being an Essay on the Eighteenth-Century Chemist in his Laboratory, with a Dictionary of Obsolete Chemical Terms of the Period (Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1975); Torbern Bergman, A Dissertation on Elective Attractions, A. M. Duncan, ed. (London: F. Cass, 1970), appendix 2. The appendix at the end of Volume 2 of Black’s Elements gives conversion tables from Black’s terms to the new nomenclature as it stood ca. 1800.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 508.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    The production of acids during the eighteenth-century is treated briefly in K. Warren, Chemical Foundations: The Alkali Industry in Britain to 1926 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 553.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ibid., 512.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Ibid., 536.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    For industry and agriculture, see Clow and Clow The Chemical Revolution; for pharmacology, see D. L. Cowan, Pharmacopoeias in Britain and America, 1618–1847 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001) and J. R. R. Christie, “William Cullen and the Practice of Chemistry,” in A. Doig, J. P. S. Ferguson, I. A. Milne and R. Passmore, eds., William Cullen and the Eighteenth Century Medical World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 98–109.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Glasgow University Library, MSS Box 7.3.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    William Cullen. Abstract from Dr. Cullen’s Lectures on Agriculture, John Walker (transcriber) (c. 1766), Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, Dc.3.70; Collection of Notes and Extracts Relating to Farming and Husbandry: With Lectures on Vegetation and Agriculture, James Cunningham (transcriber) University of Aberdeen Special Collections, King’s College MS 564/2; it is highly likely that Anderson also sat in on these lectures.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    William Cullen, The Substance of Nine Lectures on Vegetation and Agriculture, Delivered to a Private Audience in the Year 1768 … With a few notes by George Pearson (Edinburgh, 1796). The contents and larger relevance of Cullen’s agriculture lectures is addressed by C. W. J. Withers, “William Cullen’s Agricultural Lectures and Writings and the Development of Agricultural Science in Eighteenth Century Scotland,” Agricultural History Review 37, 1989, 144–56.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Black commented on “good” and “bad” marl as early as the 1760s; Black, Lectures 1767/8, 58. Agricultural topics were also covered by leading chemists like Herman Boerhaave and Pierre Macquer, both of whom were required reading for chemistry course run by Cullen and Black. Boerhaave’s interest in the chemical composition of plants is addressed in Ursula Klein, “Experimental history and Herman Boerhaave’s chemistry of plants,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biomedical Sciences 34, 2003, 533–67.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Black, Elements, 2:93–94.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    The first several of Walker’s mineralogy lectures covered soils. For his attempts to secure the Chair of Agriculture, see C. W. J. Withers, “A neglected Scottish agriculturalist: The “Georgical Lectures” and Agricultural Writings of the Rev. Dr. John Walker (1731–1803),” Agricultural History Review 33, 1985, 132–43.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    A point mentioned throughout Roy Porter, The Making of Geology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    For contemporary accounts of stalactites and caves, see Black’s comments on stalactites in his Lectures 1767/8, 57, and in Elements, 2, 24–28; Walker also addressed caves in his natural history lectures, Lectures on Geology, Including Hydrology, Mineralogy, and Meteorology with an Introduction to Biology, ed. Harold W. Scott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 188.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 414.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Ibid., 417.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Ibid., 407. He also notes that crystals form more easily when the saline liquid is heated, which could possibly be linked to Cullen’s thoughts on the material basis for heat and coldness. See William Cullen, “Of the Cold Produced by Evaporating Fluids, and of Some Other Means of Producing Cold,” Essays and Observations, Physical and Literary 2, 1756, 145–56.Google Scholar
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    Anderson, Agriculture, 422.Google Scholar
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    See Eddy, “Professor John Walker.”Google Scholar
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    These were included in Essays Relating to Agriculture; vol. 1 (1797) contains extended essays entitled “Of Enclosures of Fences,” “On Draining Bogs and Swampy Grounds,” and “On the Proper Method of Levelling High Ridges.” The practices outlined in these works could potentially increase the productivity of land several times over. To this end, Anderson was keen to protect the originality of his innovations (chemical or otherwise). See the anonymous review of the revised 1797 version of his bogs essay in the Scots Magazine 60, 1798, 840–41.Google Scholar
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    Walker’s mineralogy and geology lectures suggest that he held there were a series of floods that happened at different times and created different saline solutions (and hence, different types of cementation). In his introductory comments to his lectures on earths, Black stated that the “materials” of geological strata had been “arranged by water, depositing or arranging them one over another, in succession.” Black, Elements, 2, 11–12.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    By the late eighteenth century, in Scotland at least, this flood was differentiated from the Biblical flood involving Noah. The chemical underpinnings of this predominant rationality are discussed in Rachel Laudan, From Mineralogy to Geology (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987); G. L. Herries Davies, The Earth in Decay: A History of British Geomorphology, 1578–1878 (London: Macdonald and Co., 1969); M. D. Eddy, “Geology, Mineralogy and Time in John Walker’s University of Edinburgh Natural History Lectures,” History of Science 39, 2001, 95–119.Google Scholar
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    Black called chemistry an “art” for his entire career.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 416.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    In later editions of the text he did note that “Chemical Philosophers” offered pneumatic explanations for this phenomenon, but he then stated that it was unnecessary to recount their theories because he felt that it was irrelevant to the focus of his argument; Anderson, Agriculture, 413.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    Andrew Duncan, senior (1744–1828) lectured on medical jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh during the 1790s, and in 1796 the medical faculty created a professorship for the subject.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    The epitome of this view was expressed in Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon, Natural History, General and Particular, William Smellie (trans.) (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1781). Buffon extended the earth’s history beyond several thousand years and his theoretical approach had a particularly bad reputation in Edinburgh. See Black, Elements, 2,15–17.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Anderson explicitly states that he had performed several of experiments on his own. For an example of his own experiments on slaked lime, see Anderson, Agriculture, 410. Crystal formation was witnessed by himself (410) in his own experiments and by professors in the medical school.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    He avers that “within the memory of man,” travellers in Matlock had witnessed the “rapid” growth of calcareous strata; ibid., 417.Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    On this point he notes the “lime-cement employed by the Ancients” in Scotland “appears to be much firmer than that which has been made in modern times,” ibid., 435.Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Although no formal study has been published on the chemical content of the Scots Magazine, a cursory survey of the volumes published between 1750 and 1800 shows that applied chemistry was discussed in almost every issue. Some of these articles mention chemistry only in passing, while others were meant to educate. Even in 1800, lime was still a popular topic; see for example, “A Durable Cement,” Scots Magazine 62, 1800, 176; “Lime as a Manure,” ibid., 399; “[A Patent] for Preparing the Oxygenated Muriates of Limes,” ibid., 424; “[New Patent] for a Cement,” ibid., 714.Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Anderson, Agriculture, 400–03.Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    William Cullen, “Of Vitrescent Earths and Vitrifications… by Cullen,” Glasgow University Library MS Cullen 268/8; “A Chemical Examination of Common Simple Stones & Earths … by William Cullen with Notes [Incomplete] on Alkali Earths and the Earth’s Structure,” Glasgow University Library MS Cullen 264, fol. 1.Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Black, Lectures 1767/8, 56–67.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    John Walker, Adversaria (1766–72), Bound MS, Glasgow University Library MS Murray 27, f. 157.Google Scholar

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© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew D. Eddy
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for the History of Medicine and DiseaseUniversity of DurhamGermany

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