Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/489

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475
THE DISCOVERY OF THE ELEMENTS.

Of the many definite substances known to chemists before the discovery of hydrogen gas, the following were afterward recognized by Lavoisier and his colleagues as elementary: First, the seven metals known to the ancients, namely, gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead, distinguished respectively by the signs of the sun, moon, and planets; and each- conceived to have some mystic connection with the particular orb or planet of which it bore the sign, and not unfrequently the name. Then three metals which became known at the latter end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century, namely, antimony, discovered by Basil Valentine in 1490; bismuth, mentioned by Agricola, 1530; and zinc, mentioned by Paracelsus, obiit 1541. An elementary character was also assigned to the non-metals carbon and sulphur, which had been known from the earliest times; to phosphorus, discovered by Brandt, of Hamburg, in 1669; and to boracic acid, now known to be a hydrated oxide of boron, first discovered by Homberg in 1702, and still occasionally spoken of as Homberg's sedative salt. The list was further swollen by four metals which, in Lavoisier's time, had been but recently discovered, namely, cobalt and arsenic, identified simultaneously in 1733 by George Brandt, of Stockholm; platinum, discovered in 1741 by Woods, assay-master at Jamaica; and nickel, discovered in 1751 by Cronstedt.

The only other bodies known before 1766, and afterward included in the class of elements, namely, the alkalies and earths, had during the quarter of a century immediately preceding been made the subjects of especial study. The differentiation of potash from soda, both previously known by the common name of alkali, was indicated by Duhamel in 1736, and more completely established by Marggraf in 1758. The differentiation from one another of lime or calcareous earth, silex or vitrefiable earth, alumina or argillaceous earth, and magnesia or bitter earth, was accomplished by the labor of many chemists, more particularly Marggraf, Bergmann, and Scheele; prior to whose researches, silex, alumina, and magnesia, together with their different combinations and commixtures with each other and with lime, were held to be but impure varieties of lime. The nature of the difference between the caustic alkalies and earths and their respective carbonates was made known by Black in 1756; while the real constitution of the alkalies and earths, as metallic oxides, though suspected by Lavoisier, was not established until the beginning of the present century, by Davy and his contemporaries and followers.

The successive recognition of the elementary gases, quickly following Black's remarkable discovery of carbonic-acid gas, began with the identification of hydrogen by Cavendish in 1766. This was succeeded by the discovery of nitrogen by Rutherford in 1772; of chlorine and fluoric acid, the latter now held to be a fluoride of hydrogen, by Scheele in 1774; and of oxygen by Priestley in the same year.

Thus prior to the discovery of the first of the elementary gases, 23