Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/572

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densed was drinkable, we might expect that it was but a step to the extraction of the inflammable exhalation. But a long step it proved to be! An attempt at condensation was in fact made at that time with the result that wine upon evaporation became water.

It was not until the fourth century of the Christian era that an adequate distilling apparatus was perfected; and this, although used in the distilling of various substances, seems not to have been employed for the production of alcohol. Not until the writings of Marcus Græcus, in fact (twelfth or thirteenth century),[1] do we get unmistakable evidence of the distillation of alcohol—the distillate obtained being called "aqua ardens."

An explicit account of the process of distillation and a description of the characteristics of the alcohol thus obtained occur in a Latin manuscript published about 1438—but which according to Berthelot contained older excerpts. In this the preparation of alcohol is described as follows:

Take good old wine, any color; distil it over a slow fire (in a still and an alambic closely joined). The product of distillation is called "aqua ardens."

To "aqua ardens" are ascribed the following characteristics which we to-day associate with alcohol.

Moisten a linen cloth in it, and light it. It will produce a great flame; when it has gone out the cloth will remain intact. If you put your finger in this aqua (ardens) and light it, it will burn like a candle without causing injury. If you put a lighted candle in it the candle will not be extinguished.

Thus from the time of Aristotle to the period immediately following that of Marcus Græcus there elapsed an interval of considerably more than a thousand years in which through extended effort, the exhalation of wine was eventually obtained. As time passed methods were devised by which aqua ardens was procured in greater concentration. It should be stated, however, that the word "alcohol" as applying to present-day alcohol was not used until the sixteenth century and further that alcohol in the purity in which it is now obtained is a product of the century just passed.

The second of the early discoveries made in the study of wine was that of its stimulating effect on man. An interpretation of this effect in later years greatly influenced the use of alcohol. Prominent in this interpretation stands the name of Arnaldo de Villaneuva. In his work entitled "The Conservation of Youth" (1309) after speaking of the delicacy of the nature of the spirit of wine, and enumerating the various maladies cured by it, he adds that the spirit of wine should be called "eau de vie,"[2] for it prolongs life.

From the time of Arnaldo de Villaneuva to the present there has been growing a counter belief in the minds of many that the prolongation of life is not one of the characteristics to be associated with "eau

  1. Some give the date of Marcus Græcus in the eighth century.
  2. Eau de vie—The elixir of life.