Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/859

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SKETCH OF KARL WILHELM SCHEELE.

SKETCH OF KARL WILHELM SCHEELE

THE life of Scheele affords a most conspicuous example in the history of science of a worker who has accomplished great things with the most limited resources. "We stand astonished," said Professor Clève, in his oration at the celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the chemist's death—from, which we have derived most of the materials for this sketch—"that a man who only reached his forty-third year should have been able, during his short life, always tormented by material wants, to have arrived, by means restricted and inconvenient, at results which have had so mighty an influence on chemistry." Dumas, comparing him with Lavoisier and Priestley, has said of him that "brought up in a pharmacy, poor and modest, unknown to every one, and hardly knowing himself, inferior to the former but superior to the latter, vanquishing Nature by the force of patience and genius, he snatched her secrets from her and assured an eternal fame for himself."

Karl Wilhelm Scheele was descended from an old family of German origin, and was born at Stralsund, Sweden, December 9 or 19 (authorities differ), 1742. He gave no particular promise in childhood, but was considered "slow," and only moderately intelligent. He took no part in the sports of his brothers and sisters, but amused himself with making all sorts of little objects, and would appear greatly pleased when any of his devices proved successful. His instruction began early at home, and he was at a later period given the usual course at the gymnasium in Stralsund. He became interested in pharmacy through the influence of two friends of the family; and, when fourteen years of age, he was entered as an apprentice with Banch, a pharmacist of Gothenburg, where he soon found himself at home. A friend suggested to him to study chemistry, and his real vocation was revealed to him by the reading of the works of Neumann. From these he advanced to the works of Lémery, of Stahl, the author of the theory of phlogiston, and of Kunkel, the discoverer of phosphorus. He used to repeat secretly at night the experiments he read about in these books, and thus accustomed himself early to do the works of the masters over again with the most scanty and imperfect materials.

After six years of apprenticeship and two years longer of residence in Gothenburg, Scheele became engaged at Malmö, with the pharmacist Kjellström, who, having himself a taste for experimental chemistry, could sympathize with him. He spent his spare money in buying books upon this science; and it was during his residence here that he made the researches on the Sal acetosellæ that led up to the discovery of oxalic acid. He sent a memoir on this subject to the Academy of Sciences at Stockholm, which Bergman, to whom he intrusted it, withheld, because, he said, it contained nothing new.