Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/553

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THE GENEALOGY OF CHEMISTRY.

criminal procedure against such irresponsibles, especially those in that period of adolescence when most susceptible to suggestion or to nervous excitations, is not less reprehensible than was the delusion regarding witchcraft in a less enlightened period of our history.

 

THE GENEALOGY OF CHEMISTRY.
By M. E. BERTHELOT.

MODERN science is the child of ancient science—that is, of Grecian science; for it was the Greeks who constituted science under the form which we recognize now. Before the Greeks no really rational science existed, free from mystical and priestly attachments. While astronomy was cultivated in Egypt and Chaldea, it was at first with the object of determining the times of the religious festivals and of keeping agriculture correlated with natural phenomena; and next for the discovery of the mysterious connection which astrology predicated between the positions of the stars and public and private events, under the belief that the life of men and the development of phenomena were determined by the fatality of the sidereal influences which presided at their birth or origin. Geometry and mechanics made considerable advance at Babylon, Thebes, and Memphis, being applied to the measurement of the lands and the construction of buildings, as is attested by the study of the indestructible monuments of ancient Egypt; and the equilibrium of the Chaldean structures of brick, now in ruins, required knowledge of the highest quality, yet more developed, perhaps, than that of the Egyptians. But both peoples always accompanied their work with prayers and magical invocations. The excellence of the processes of ancient times in the treatment of metals, pottery ware, colored glasses, and dyed cloths, with which experimental science is now very busy, is demonstrated by the relics of ancient civilization which we have collected in our museums. The old alchemical manuscripts tell us that these practices were explained in the Book of the Sanctuary of the Temple. The origin of medicine was traced to the temples, and this was not an empty metaphor; for the temples were the repositories of all knowledge in the East, and even to-day all Mussulman instruction gathers round the mosques. But the members of the old priesthood never imagined that it would be possible to separate the double part they were playing of priest and scientific student. They combined scientific practices with prayers and religious rites, the performance of which was deemed indispensable to the success of the processes. The idea of a