History of Chemistry (Thorpe 1909, NY & London)/Volume I

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History of Chemistry, Volume I  (1909) 
by Thomas Edward Thorpe







C.B., LL.D., F.R.S.





From the Earliest Times to the Middle of the

Nineteenth Century




The Knickerbocker Press


Copyright, 1909, by


This series is published in London by

The Rationalist Press Association, Limited


A History of the Sciences has been planned to present for the information of the general public a historic record of the great divisions of the great divisions of science. Each volume is the work of a writer who is accepted as an authority on his own subject-matter. The books are not to be considered as primers, but present thoroughly digested information on the relations borne by each great division of science to the changes in human ideas and to the intellectual development of mankind. The monographs explain how the principal discoveries have been arrived at and the names of the workers to whom such discoveries are due.

The books will comprise each about 200 pages. Each volume will contain from 12 to 16 illustrations, including portraits of the discoverers and explanatory views and diagrams. Each volume contains also a concise but comprehensive bibliography of the subject-matter. The following volumes will be issued during the course of autumn of 1909.

The History of Astronomy.
By George Forbes, M.A., F.R.S., M. Inst. C.E.; author of The Transit of Venus, etc.

The History of Chemistry
Vol. I. circa 2000 B.C. to 1850 A.D. Vol. II. 1850 A.D. to date.
By Sir Edward Thorpe, C.B., LL.D., F.R.S., Director of the Government Laboratories, London; Professor-elect and Director of the Chemical Laboratories of the Imperial College of Science and Technology; author of A Dictionary of Applied Chemistry.

To be followed by:

The History of Geography.
By Dr. John Scott Keltie, F.R.G.S., F.S.S., F.S.A., Hon. Mem. Geographical Societies Paris, Berlin, Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva, etc.; author of Report on Geographical Education, Applied Geography.
The History of Geology.
By Horace B. Woodward, F.R.S., F.G.S., Assistant-Director of Geological Survey of England and Wales; author of The Geology of England and Wales, etc.
The History of Anthropology.
By A.C. Haddon, M.A., Sc.D., F.R.S., Lecturer in Ethnology, Cambridge and London; author of Study of Man, Magic and Fetishism, etc.
The History of Old Testament Criticism.
By Archibald Duff, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Theology in the United College, Bradford; author of Theology and Ethics of the Hebrews, Modern Old Testament Theology, etc.
The History of New Testament Criticism.
By F. C. Conybeare, M.A., late Fellow and Praelector of Univ. Coll., Oxford; Fellow of the British Academy; Doctor of Theology, honoris causa, of Giessen; Officer d’Academie; author of Old Armenian Texts of Revelation, etc.

Further volumes are in plan on the following subjects:

Mathematics and Mechanics.
Molecular Physics, Heat, Life, and Electricity.
Human Physiology, Embryology, and Heredity.
Acoustics, Harmonics, and the Physiology of Hearing, together with Optics Chromatics, and Physiology of Seeing.
Psychology, Analytic, Comparative, and Experimental.
Sociology and Economics.
Comparative Philology.
Criticism, Historical Research, and Legends.
Comparative Mythology and the Science of Religions.

The Criticism of Ecclesiastical Institutions.
Culture, Moral and Intellectual, as Reflected in Imaginative Literature and in the Fine Arts.



The Chemistry of the Ancients


Egypt, the alleged birthplace of chemistry. Origin of the word “chemistry.” Chemical arts known to the ancients. Metallurgy of the ancients. Chemical products of the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

The Chemical Philosophy of the Ancients


Ancient speculations as to the origin and nature of matter. Water the primal principle. Thales of Miletus. Persistency of his doctrine. Its influence on science. Theories of Anaximenes, Herakleitos, and Pherekides. Fire as the primal principle. The conception of four primal principles—fire, air, water, and earth. Deification of these by Empedocles. Plato and Aristotle. The doctrine of the four Elements. Influence of the Peripatetic Philosophy on science. Influence of the Moors in Spain. Atomic conceptions of Anaxagoras, Leukippos, and Demokritos. Germs of the atomic theory.



Influence of the Hellenic mind on the development of chemistry. Origin of the idea of the transmutation of metals. Philosophical foundation for the belief in alchemy. Alchemistic theory of the nature of metals. Origin of the conception of the Philosopher’s Stone. Geber. Association of alchemy with astrology. Rhazes. Avicenna. Chemical processes and substances known to the Arabian chemists. The Western Alchemists. Albertus Magnus. Roger Bacon. Raymond Lully. Arnoldus Villanovanus. Johannes de Rupecissa. George Ripley. Basil Valentine.

The Philosopher’s Stone


Alchemy in the Middle Ages. Association of religion with alchemy by the Christian Church. Alleged nature of the Philosopher’s Stone. Its character described. Its power. The Universal Medicine. The Elixir of Youth. The Alkahest. Opponents of alchemy: Erastius, Conringius, and Kircher. “Hermes of Germany”: Rudolph II. Christian princes who had dealings with alchemists. Fate of certain alchemists. Persistency of alchemy and hermetic societies. Lord Bacon on alchemy.



Theories of the iatro-chemists. Paracelsus. Doctrine of the tria prima. The Paracelsian harmonies. Libavius. Van Helmont. Sylvius. Willis. Services of iatro-chemistry to science. Influence of iatro-chemistry on technology. Agricola. Palissy. Glauber. Chemical products made known by the alchemists.

“The Sceptical Chemist”: The Dawn of Scientific Chemisty


The foundation of the Royal Society and other scientific academies. The appearance of “The Sceptical Chemist”: its attack on the doctrines of the Spagyrists. Boyle: his life and character. His services to learning. Kunkel. Becher. Mayow. Lemery. Homberg. Boerhaave. Stephen Hales.



Becher’s hypothesis of the Terra Pinguis. Its development into the theory of phlogiston. Stahl. Phlogiston, primarily a theory of combustion, becomes a theory of chemistry. Its general acceptance in Europe until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Prominent phlogistians. Pott. Marggraf. Scheele: his discoveries. Duhamel. Macquer. Black: his essay on Magnesia Alba. Recognition of the individuality of carbon-dioxide. Priestley: his life and character. His discoveries in pneumatic chemistry. His observations on the influence of vegetable life on the character of the atmosphere. Cavendish: his life and work. Discovery of composition of water. Influence of phlogistonism on the development of chemistry. Advances made during the period of phlogistonism.

Lavoisier and La Révolution Chimique


Downfall of phlogistonism. Lavoisier: his life and work. His death. Le principe oxygine. Principle of the conservation of matter. Chemistry a science of quantitative relations. Prominent anti-phlogistians. Berthollet. The Statique Chimique. Fourcroy. Vauquelin. Klaproth. Proust.

The Atomic Theory


The atomic hypotheses of the ancients. Newton. Bergmann. Lavoisier. Richter. Stöchiometry. John Dalton: sketch of his life and character. How he was led to his explanation of the laws of chemical combination. The New System of Chemical Philosophy. Reception of his theory by Davy and Wollaston. Berzelius: his life and work. His services to chemistry. First accurate series of atomic weight determinations. Avogadro. Prout’s hypothesis.

The Beginnings of Electro-Chemistry


The Voltaic Pile. Electrolytic decomposition of water by Nicholson and Carlisle. Application of voltaic electricity to the decomposition of the alkalis by Davy. His life and work. Wollaston: his life and work. Electro-chemical system of Berzelius. Dualism. Berzelius reforms chemical notation and nomenclature. Gay Lussac: his life and work. Thénard: his life and work. Faraday and the law of definite electrolytic action.

The Foundations of Organic Chemistry


Nicolas Lémery divides chemistry into its two main branches of inorganic and organic chemistry. State of knowledge of products of organic origin during the early years of the nineteenth century. Animal chemistry. Doctrine of vital force. Wöhler’s synthesis of urea. Organic chemistry is the chemistry of the carbon compounds. Early attempts at organic analysis by Lavoisier, Berzelius, Gay Lussac, and Thénard. Liebig. Discovery of isomerism and allotropy. Cyanogen. Theory of compound radicals. Etherin theory of Dumas and Boullay. Memoir of Liebig and Wöhler on oil of bitter almonds. Benzoyl theory. Investigation of alkarsin by Bunsen. Cacodyl. Discovery of zinc ethyl by Frankland.

The Rise of Physical Chemistry


Relations of chemistry to physics. Relations of heat to chemical phenomena. Improvements in the mercurial thermometer. Newton. Shuckburgh. Brooke Taylor. Cavendish. Black. Discovery of latent heat by Black. Discovery of specific heat. Experiments of Lavoisier and Laplace. Law of Dulong and Petit its value in determining atomic weights. Specific heat of compounds. Neuman. Discovery of isomorphism by Mitscherlich. Foreshadowing of the kinetic theory of gases. Discovery of the law of gaseous diffusion by Graham. Liquefaction of gases. Monge and Clouet. Northmore. Faraday. Value of a knowledge of weights of unit volumes of gases in determining their molecular weights. Methods of vapour-determination by Dumas and Gay Lussac. Dalton and Henry’s law of gaseous solubility. Work of Schröder and Kopp on volume relations of liquids and solids. Connection between the chemical nature of a liquid and its boiling-point.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1925, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 97 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.