Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/9

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY



JULY, 1915



THE DAWN OF MODERN CHEMISTRY.
By Professor JOHN MAXSON STILLMAN
STANFORD UNIVERSITY

THE period of the history of chemistry which I have chosen to designate as the dawn of modern chemistry begins practically in the early sixteenth century and extends well toward the latter part of the eighteenth century. Not that the chemistry of that period shows any very clear relation to the present state of chemical science, but because at about the middle of the sixteenth century there was inaugurated an era of activity in chemical thought and experimentation, which has continued with steadily increasing velocity and productiveness to the present time. The period referred to does not by any means mark the beginnings of chemical arts or theories, for the beginnings of the technical arts of chemistry may be traced back as far as recorded history. The earliest records of Egyptian or Babylonian origin show that the arts of metallurgy, the making of bronzes and other alloys, have been practised, and uninterruptedly so, since at least some 3,500 years before the Christian era. So also the manufacture of glass and pottery, the coloring of glass and pottery, the manufacture of colors for dyeing and painting, are of great antiquity. It is worthy of note also that these technical arts of chemistry possessed since very ancient times a kind of literature of their own in the form of recipes and directions for the various processes of the special art. Such manuscripts were doubtless not meant for public information, but for the use of the artisan alone, and were transmitted from the master to the apprentice or successor for his own use. The earliest original manuscript of this character known to exist is a manuscript on papyrus written in the Greek language which was discovered in an Egyptian tomb at Thebes, and is now preserved at Leyden. It dates from the third century of our era, and was doubtless a manuscript which escaped the wholesale destruction of alchemical and magical works in a.d. 290 by order of the Emperor Diocletian, issued, as believed, to prevent the danger of the possible making of gold by the alchemists and its resulting influence upon the