« PreviousContinue »
old, cannot be answered without involving ajous terrors,—a sort of perpetual Walpurgis fierce dispute; that it remains without the meeting for witches and fiends. It was for a prospect of a satisfactory answer, notwith-long time the head-quarters of the evil one standing the very great exertions made to de- himself, who, only from time to time, quitted termine it.
it for short foraging incursions into neighborCommittees of the learned in foreign coun- ing regions. In its superstitions there were tries have sat upon it; sections of British As- none of the levities and prettinesses belonging sociations have discussed it; it has elicited to those of other lands; a fine earnest gloom eloquent nonsense in Parisian Institutes ; it dwelt upon them; they took a sombre color has employed the pens of our most energetic from black forests and fir-covered mountains. writers; but still without any certain result Teutonic fairies were elfins who left no graceas to the question itself. The scientific ful traces of a mirthful presence; dark trees world has not agreed in its report upon the waved, and sullen winds groaned above the subject.
shades where they congregated. Here rushWhere doctors differ so resolutely, it can- ed the wild huntsman like a blast of sudden not be proper for the unlearned to decide ; air; there thundered the sports of the redbut it may be not unamusing to some to be bearded emperor with his entranced court of put in possession of the grounds of dispute, to antiquated knights ; aloft in mountain recesstrace their source, and to follow in the steps es grinned the hoarding and mischievous gobof the most curious among the many curious lin; far underground sounded the axe of the results of chemical research. There is here mining gnome. But it was not only a rustic every thing that can make the investigation population of hill and dale that was surroundinteresting. In this history of the decompo-ed by unholy influences; the cities of Germasition of water we find four great scientific ny swarmed with devilish agents, who made names of European celebrity perpetually re- of philosophy and the thirst for knowledge a curring together; we see the struggle of pit for the unwary. The tempter often appowerful minds both for and against truth; peared bodily to such as he thought ripe for we read in that conflict many signs of the his tuition. Sometimes he came before strangely restless period to which it belonged, strong minds like himself in all the dreadful -the great epoch of subversion, when a new majesty of horns and hoofs, but such an exworld was suddenly made and an old one as periment was not often tried. More usually suddenly broken to pieces and forgotten. he looked like a staid citizen of other lands, There is in this history a revolution with its -travelled, grave, and old-fashioned in asantagonist principles of conservatism and de- pect, with a sober-cut beard and a large struction ; its over-zealous innovators, who round hat, for very good reasons fixed immovdemolished one fabric and built up another ably upon his head. He began by testing the 80 hastily that a succeeding generation found philosophy of his entertainers with artful no safety in it without another change; its questions, and, if satisfied, ended by promisbigots, who, to preserve all, lost all; and its ing, but not unconditionally, the red powder wise contemners of extreme opinions, who, and the universal medicine. In spite, howas usual, were silenced by the clamors of ex- ever, of the popular faith which joined in this tremes.
way alchemy with such other black arts as If, as Mr. Babbage has said, chemistry was printing and medicine, in spite of the mysonly exalted into a science by Dalton's theo- tical vagaries by which some of its followers ry of definite proportionals, how little claim countenanced this faith, the adorers of transhad the vast assemblage of ungrouped facts mutation were a devout body. Their most engendered in alchemic fires to such a title, renowned writings are full of pious exclamawhich involves, we are told, so“ orderly and tions and thanksgivings. The venerated methodical an arrangement as to render the Musitanus exhorted young alchemists to the knowledge of the few attainable by the great performance " in the name of God."
The life of such a man was one of incessant Alchemy during the middle ages had, it is labor. A really miserably deficient knowwell known, considerable votaries in every ledge of chemistry kept his faculties upon the part of Europe, but nowhere did these abound utmost stretch in following the numerous rein such numbers of successful discoverers as sults of his pell-mell mixings and separations; in Germany. There was something in the unacquainted with the properties of the subnature of this pursuit especially suitable to stances employed, he was entirely at their the wonder-seeking, wonder-creating charac- mercy; like the mariner, isolated from bis ter of the nation. Germany has always been kind, and launched upon the wide waste of the haunted country of Europe, the capital waters, he was awed into a sense of superior residence of all ugly hobgoblins and mysteri-power. JUNE, 1844.
Secluded in his stifling laboratory, the al- tomed crucibles yielded them a high inchemist revolved his one idea, for the devel- terest. opment of which alone he lived. His silent In spite of these tricks, which tended gradworld became strangely peopled: the imag- ually to bring alchemy into disrepute, and to inations of his nomenclature appeared realiz- degrade its professors to the rank of common ed; he watched the smoke and flame of his fortune-tellers and charmers, a rage for the furnace,- the smoke which told of impurities pursuit of the philosopher's stone continued exhaled, the fire which cleansed, until their on the increase from the twelfth to the sevvery tremor became a sign of hope or terror; enteenth century. There was hardly a sect he hung fondly upon the loaded crucible un- of mystical illuminati which did not worship til he began to recognize in the movements Albertus of Cologne as Albertus Magnus. of fused metals a struggle with intentions and The possession of the universal solvent was passions akin to his own; the agony of his the grand secret of Rosicrucian freemasonry. desire gave him faith; he trembled into be- Neither Paracelsus, nor Van Helmont, nor lief like a dying man; his stake was too Sylvius, the great medicine and mystery-men great to admit of questionings in religion : of the middle ages, taught any thing in oppothe alchemist went to prayers before projec- sition to the sublime art. A dark cloud hung tion. But it is easy to imagine how this over the processes of the laboratory, unexhalf-crazed, half-wise being, a prey to every plained facts accumulated in a frightful manimpulse of fancy, might sometimes torture ner, and were announced in formulæ of himself into a confession of sinful faith; which the mysterious perplexity was still instretched from day to day upon the rack of creasing. But, after this long night, morning hope deferred, he grew pale, his strength was at hand; the time approached when alfailed in vigils and fastings; his mind waxed chemy was to be merged in a simpler chemfeeble by perpetual struggles; his resources istry. A soaring and active mind was needwere all exhausted, and his fire extinct, with-ed to dispel its gloomy vagueness ; such a out the wished result. Then came despair, mind was bestowed upon George Ernst Stahl. and a new frenzy; he began to feel, with Mo- Born at Anspach in 1660, he was brought up ther Sawyer in the play, that,
in the medical profession, and early turned
bis attention to chemical pursuits. Ardent "'Tis all one
even to violence, enterprising and ambitious, To be a witch as to be counted one,"
he found the old ideas of the scientific world
nearly worn out; every thing there was preand received renewed powers from his belief paring for a grand movement. in inferual protection. Often the unhappy himself at its head. man deceived himself by most cunning pro- The chief object of an experimentalist in
He would introduce into the alembic those days was to determine the number and with his right hand, so secretly that his left character of nature's elementary bodies. should not discover it, small portions of pre- This he in general accomplished by setting cious metals, and then feign to find them as out with the original pattern, furnished by the the produce of his own manufacture. Some-old theorists, of earth, air, fire, and water, and times he would join cinnabar with silver in modifying this as he went along according to one fiery ordeal, and thus apparently multi- the character of the country he explored. ply the latter during the process.
Whichever class of bodies he chanced most These experiments were imitated with less frequently to encounter, or with which he singleness of purpose by another class of men. was especially fortunate in experiment, was A species of mock alchemist appeared, cari- defied as elementary, and either earth, or air, catures of the regular practitioners, who per- or fire, or water, degraded in its favor. formed in their characters of juggler far Thus, the alchemists gave their vote for mermore wonderful feats than the philosopher cury, that doubtful metal, so useful in fixing could pretend to do. Herr Dobbler, dealing and subliming processes; thus, the wise old around his inexhaustible supply of flowers, Glauber made a favorite of salt indefinitely, and the Neapolitan priest showing the mira- because all his most successful experiments cle of St. Januarius, are for the moment were made among that class of bodies. Thus greater men than the most expert chemist or the physician Beecher, who had descended mechanic.
into something like geology in his Physica The conjuring alchemist's had numerous Subterranea, elected three imaginary earths, proselytes and dupes. Every subtle found an from whence he concocted all sorts of miner: Epicure Mammon or a Dap er. They may, als and metals. Beecher came before Stahl indeed, be said to have discovered the art of as his pioneer, pointed out the way transmutation; the gold in their false-bot-travel, and suggested many parts of his most
celebrated doctrines. In making out his list (leading chemists of the day. By giving exof elementary bodies, Stahl adopted two of istence to phlogiston alone, Stahl was enaBeecher's catalogue, the third he rejected to bled to explain all the then known processes make room for acid. He had early turned of chemistry, and it is impossible to deny his attention to the phenomena of combustion, him the merit of having arranged with extrasetting out with an idea that, in every com- ordinary ease, as well as simplicity, the bustible body, fire, or an inflammable princi- shapeless, distorted formula of his predecesple, is actually a constituent part of it; that sors. He at least held the light which showthis put in motion and vibrated into a sensi-ed to philosophers the chaos around them; he ble shape, when a body is, in common lan- did service, if only by making darkness visi
So far Stahl was on tolerably ble. The time had arrived when theory, safe ground, and only proposed an hypothe-having some reasonable appearance of truth, sis like one to which some modern philoso- was absolutely necessary. Things were rephers have been inclined: but he did not duced to such a pass, that, without a theory stop here; he was determined to give an ex- to connect chemical facts and to spring seemplanation of all the phenomena connected ingly from them, no more could have been with the heating and consuming processes. assembled. This want Stahl supplied. The combustion of phosphorus yielded an Without the admirable results obtained by acid body. According to Stahl, phosphorus, his followers in the support of his philosophy, then, was a compound of the elements acid it could never have been overturned for the and fire. The metals heated or burnt were true one. The Lavoiserian system owed to converted into certain earthy-looking sub-them all its facts. stances; they were then composed of the el- One of the useful consequences of an exements earth and fire. These calces, as they tensive theory, common to all chemists, was were called, were restored to the metallic the establishment of a serviceable nomenclastate by heating with charcoal. Charcoal, ture. The alchemists named bodies at hazreasoned Stahl, is a body which burns easily; ard, according to certain imaginary virtues it, therefore, contains much inflammable and functions with which they were endowed, principle, and restores calcined metals by and expressed them by complicated symbols. giving it up to them. In this way did Stahl In this nomenclature were included all pringo on to explain by arguments which we cipalities and powers, kings and queens with need not follow in every part, as we do not fountains to bathe in, marriages and divorces, adopt them in any, all the known effects of to be celebrated by red bridegrooms and combustion; and thus was developed that silver brides. It adopted metallic divinities, most famous theory called phlogistic, be- representatives of pagan gods, and even concause the name of phlogiston was given to descended to impress birds and beasts, eagles the universal inflammable principle. Those and lions, the monarchs of the air and of the readers to whom the modern explanation of forest, into its service. the phenomena of burning bodies is familiar, This curious jumble formed altogether not who can point out the action of the air in a bad index to the state of mind induced in converting phosphorus into an acid and the fervent solitary men by a sincere alchemy. metals to earths, who can show that charcoal The contentions with imaginary enemies, the restores metals by depriving them of their visions of beauty and glory, the glimpses of oxygen, will not have failed to remark here a deep hell-all were there typified. In prohow resolutely Stahl ran away from the truth, portion as the objects of pursuit became more how constantly he wrote minus for plus, and evidently attainable and rational, the nomentransposed all the signs of nature in his clature of chemistry assumed a more tranquil methods of interpretation. But the genius character. Alchemical terms for the most of this man should not be estimated by a part disappeared with the study of alchemy. comparison of the philosophical chemistry of The Stahlians, however, were not scientific the
present century with the wild theories of enough to make classes, and at once to define the last, but by a simultaneous view of the the place of a body in these by certain regustate of science before and after the estab- lated terminations, as was done in later days. lishment of his doctrines. Considerable in- They wisely then gave names in general genuity must be allowed to chat hypothesis simply descriptive of certain tangible qualiwhich was able to maintain its ground, not ties, of the manner or of the source of the only in spite, but apparently by means, of production of a substance, and for this purthe immense number of new facts brought to pose found it convenient to retain much of
upon it for nearly half a century after an older nomenclature. its proposal, and which at the end'of that A few specimens will suffice to illustrate period continued to be maintained by some their sage no-system :
In this way, although great inconveniences Stahl and his immediate followers had simmust have been felt from so disjointed a no- ply defined phlogiston to be the principle of menclature, the danger of grafting hypothe- combustion and of levity, the latter property ses upon it was at first avoided. It would being introduced into the definition to explain have been happy for Stahlianism if it had the non-diminution in weight of bodies after continued to shun so great an evil, which ul- combustion in close vessels,—their notions timately, indeed, provoked its downfall. upon the subject were confessedly vague
When the theory of combustion was first their phlogiston could not be retained alone proposed, although many facts were undoubt- -it could not be weighed—no sense took edly wanting, according to modern principles cognizance of it—all its qualities were negaof philosophizing for the establishment of its tive--it was little more than a name.
But truth, yet there were none known which ac- a far more mischievous doctrine than this pritually militated against it. By degrees, how- mary hypothesis of Stahl was now to arise ever, as the field of research expanded, results from it. It became necessary to concede a came forth which were found more difficult certain materiality to phlogiston. There of explanation. Perplexities multiplied as fast were bold chemists who undertook to give it as experiments. Phlogiston was no longer weight, and still bolder experimentalists who the complaisant and serviceable agent by determined the precise amount of that weight. means of which a reason could be assigned Bergman made a place for it in his famous to every chemical phenomenon, but a very tables of elective attraction. The quantity rebel-an intractable mutineer against all es- of phlogiston belonging to every metal was tablished authorities, requiring to be alternate- actually registered in many chemical works. ly coaxed and constrained into dutiful action. Mathematical formula were introduced to exThe writings of the experimentalist became press the affinities and densities made known more hypothetical in proportion as his favor- through the most ingeniously erroneous proite belief was, not shaken, but considerably cesses. It began to appear every where in puzzled; he was now continually called upon the nomenclature of chemistry. In 1722 Dr. to extend his credulity beyond the elementa- Rutherford had discovered the existence of a ry doctrine of phlogiston, which it was found peculiar air, incapable of sustaining combusnecessary, as the science enlarged itself, to tion, and destructive of animal life. As this sustain by the introduction of absurdities was found in vessels where bodies had been sufficiently bitter, no doubt, to the taste of burnt, it received the significant title of phlothe philosopher, but absolutely necessary to gisticated air, on the supposition that phlothe tranquillity of the Stahlian. It is really giston had been imparted to it from the burnpainful to look back upon this epoch of chem-ing body. On the other hand, Priestley, by ical history, and to read all the consequences heating red lead, obtained an air with exactly of obstinate adherence to a merely conven- opposite properties—an air which supported ient hypothesis ; in the wanderings of a mind combustion and animal life. It received the acute as that of Scheele, who stooped to the name of dephlogisticated air, and was conframing of romances which would have found sidered as air purified from phlogiston by the a fit place with the fairy tales of a child's li- absortive action of foreign bodies. brary; in the maintenance until death of lead was gradually reduced to the metallic errors which the ignorant had abjured, by state during the heating process; it had, conthe impetuous Priestley; int he blundering sequently, combined with the phlogiston in experiments of an intelligent Kirwan, which the atmosphere. The last step in this descendseemed made only for the purpose of retaining scale of error was made when philosophiing an unwilling world in a radically false cal chemists seized upon a well-known gas, system.
with very peculiar properties, to worship as
the representative of their darling principle of the year 1780 will shew how far phlogis
It was only in 1766 that the scientific conversation,” but “from "ah actual aversion world became intimately acquainted wtih the to the acquisition of that sort of knowlimportant gas which we now call hydrogen. edge. Constitutionally shy, an unexpected The paper entitled “ Experiments on Facti- intrusion upon his retirement gave him the tious Air," in which its nature was distinctly appearance of sullen haughtiness really formade known, is also valuable as the first im- eign to his nature. He suffered so much portant communication of Mr. Cavendish to annoyance from the usual ceremonies of sothe Royal Society.
ciety, as even, occasionally, violently to reLord Charles Cavendish was an intelligent sent a visit of mere necessity and civility. nobleman, who, for many years, addicted him- Many whimsical stories are related in illustraself with success to scientific pursuits ; but tion of this. On one occasion an eminent his researches bestowed upon the world no banker, with whom Mr. Cavendish dealt, rebenefit so great as the gift he presented to it marked that the sum accumulated in the phiin his son. Henry Cavendish, the honorable losopher's name had increased to a very enorgrandson of two dukes, and during a long mous sum. This gentleman set out for Mr. period one of the richest commoners in Eng- Cavendish's villa to inform him of the circumland, devoted himself to philosophy, urged by stance; admitted to his presence after some a steady passion for the acquisition of truth. delay, he was received with a cold uninterfor this he neglected the natural delights of ested salutation. As soon as his tale was youth, voluntarily relinquished the pleasures told, Cavendish, without making any other belonging to wealth and station, and disapear- remark, inquired if he had no more to say ; ed from society to exist only in the library or then rung the bell, and summarily dismissed the laboratory. Educated at Cambridge, the him. But the vengeance was to come. The severe studies which are necessary for dis- next day every shilling belonging to Mr. Cavtinction, and which render the years passed endish was withdrawn from the bankingthere the most learned portion of an ordinary house of his unfortunate visitor. At another young man's life, were to Cavendish but the time when an admiring foreigner had just first steps in his laboriou scourse; they afford- obtained an introduction to the great English ed him only the elements of knowledge, which chemist at Sir Joseph Banks's soirée, Cavenhe was subsequently to enlarge by original dish fairly ran away, and left him gesticulathought and original research. His talents, ting in the middle of a complimentary adadmirably qualified for severe investigation, dress. were assisted by the singularities of his moral This unhappy disposition for seclusion character in forming what Cuvier enthusi- amounted, at times, almost to insanity; inastically called "the perfect model of a man deed, the general eccentricities of Mr. Cavof science;' they were delivered from all endish were so great, as to warrant a suppotemptation to less exertions by his reserved sition that the severe studies, in which his disposition, and were never hurried into ab- extraordinary faculties were constantly occusurdities by too eager an appetite for worldly pied, had alone preserved him from the wandistinction. He was painfully diffident of his derings of a madman. His reserve increased own powers, and this, not from a too careful with his years; he had long shunned the sostudy of them, as is often the case, but from ciety of his noble connexions, and, in his lata morbid delicacy of taste. From his earliest ter days, he withdrew even from that of his years he had avoided much intercourse with scientific contemporaries; occasionally only the world, not because he thought, with hesat a tnoughtful judge, rather than a listenworthy Parson Brand, in Richardson's story, er at, Royal Society festivities. His villa, at that a knowledge of human nature was best Streatham, became the scene of his scientific learned in books, "the calm result of wise pleasures. There he lived in a perfect solimen's wisdom, uninterrupted by the noise tude. Any of the neighboring inhabitants and vanities that will mingle with personall who chanced occasionally to cross his path