Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/March 1893/The Scheele Monument at Stockholm

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ON the first day of August, 1874, the chemists of Great Britain dedicated a monument to the British discoverer of oxygen. On the same day a large number of American chemists assembled at the beautifully located village of Northumberland at the junction of the two branches of the Susquehanna River, in order also to pay homage to the memory of that remarkable theologian, philosopher, and naturalist, Joseph Priestley, who lived and died in that quiet Pennsylvanian village. In the orations delivered at this occasion of the centennial of the discovery of oxygen, the element which for the following half century became the cornerstone for the structure of a new chemical philosophy, equal justice was done, especially by the late Prof. Sterry Hunt and Prof. Lawrence Smith, to both discoverers of oxygen, Priestley and Scheele. Both men, though of different caliber and station in life and searching in different directions, recognized almost at the same time and independently of each other the nature of oxygen, and to a large extent also the important part which this element plays in the commonest chemical processes and changes of matter. Yet both, skilled and ingenious experimentalists though they were, and Scheele keen and discerning in deduction and application, prepossessed by the doctrine of Stahl, then prevalent and apparently settled, missed the real bearing and ultimate consequence of their discovery, and died defenders of the theory of phlogiston—the very men who furnished the facts and the weapons with which that hypothesis was shattered a few years afterward by Lavoisier, and a new system of chemical philosphy was established.

The memory of these three contemporary representative investigators of the three foremost nations of their time—England, Germany (Scheele was a German by nationality, born in Pomerania, then under Swedish rule), and France—has ever since been honored. Monuments have been erected to Lavoisier in Paris, to Priestley in Birmingham (1874), and to Scheele in Köping (1827). Scheele especially has repeatedly been remembered by his grateful adoptive country, Sweden. In 1790, four years after his death, the Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, of which he had been a member, had a medal struck to his memory. It contained on one side his portrait in relief, and on the other a symbolic representation of the discovery of oxygen, and the inscription, "Ingenio stat sine morte decus" (the beauty of his genius stands immortal). In 1827 the Academy had a second medal struck, with Scheele's portrait, and on the other side the veiled figure of Isis with Hermes lifting the veil, and the inscription, "Naturæ, sacra orgia movit" (he stirred the holy mysteries of Nature). In the same year the Apothecaries' Society of Sweden erected a monument with a relief portrait of Scheele in the Lutheran church in Köping, of which Scheele had been a member.

At the occasion of the centennial of Scheele's death, May 21, 1886, a memorial service was held at Köping, where Prof. Bergstrand, of Stockholm, delivered an oration on the life and lifework of the eminent apothecary and chemist. On this occasion the project was advanced to erect to Scheele a monument at Stockholm similar to the one that had been placed there to Berzelius

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in 1855. The Apothecaries' Society of Stockholm fostered this project in close accord with the learned societies of the country, and with so much success that the requisite funds were soon raised. A committee, with Prof, von Nordenskjöld at its head, took charge of the matter. Prof. I. Börgeson, the eminent Swedish sculptor, undertook the modeling of the statue, and has executed a fine work of art. The statue, which represents the chemist resting on a chair and watching a process of ignition in a crucible, was unveiled on the 9th of December, 1892, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Scheele's birth. It stands in the "Humble Garden," one of the city parks, upon a beautiful floral parterre near the monument of Linné, erected in 1885. The unveiling took place in the presence of King Oscar of Sweden, all the royal princes, the ministers of state, the invited descendants of the Scheele family, and of numerous representatives of the state and city governments, of the universities and the learned societies of the country. Prof, von Nordenskjöld delivered a brief dedication oration, and numerous wreaths of flowers were deposited at the base of the monument as offerings from the institutions and societies represented by delegates. This ceremony being over, a state banquet took place, at which Prof. P. T. Cleve, of Upsala, the biographer of Scheele, delivered a brief oration; and Prof. Retzius, of Stockholm, Prof. Waage, of Christiania, Prof. Curman, of Stockholm, and apothecary William Sebald addressed the assemblage. A large number of congratulatory telegrams and messages from learned societies and eminent scholars from Sweden, and from Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Paris, and other cities were received and read.

In the evening the Apothecaries' Society of Stockholm gave a banquet to about two hundred and fifty invited guests. Apothecary I. Nordin delivered the oration on Scheele as an apothecary and chemist. Prof. Stahre, of the Pharmaceutical Institute of Stockholm, communicated the thanks of the society to the chairman of the Scheele committee, Prof. von Nordenskjöld, as well as to the sculptor, Prof. Börgeson, and presented them with the first copies of a Scheele medal, struck for this occasion in silver and in aluminum. This medal bears a relief portrait of Scheele with this inscription: "Carolo Guilmo Scheele, pharmaceutæ chemico grati cultores Ordo Pharmaceut. Suecia" (the Swedish order of pharmacists, grateful cultivators of their art, to Charles William Scheele, the chemist). On the other side is a representation of Scheele's house and pharmacy in Köping, with the inscription, "Domestici parietes ipsum, non farnam continuerunt" (the walls of his house could not contain his fame).

Besides notices in larger chemical and historical works, brief biographies of Scheele have been published at different times, mostly in Germany, and especially at the occasion of the celebration in 1886,but only a few in England and America. Of the more recent ones are those by Prof. P. T. Cleve in Upsala, and by Prof. F. A. Flückiger in Strasburg,[1] and a brief sketch in Vol. XXXI, pages 839-844, of The Popular Science Monthly.

Scheele's writings, all in German,[2] of which the treatise on Air and Fire, written in 1775, is the most remarkable one, were collected and published in 1793. His contributions to the Academy of Sciences in Stockholm have been issued in an English translation by Thomas Beddoes. Prof, von Nordenskjöld prepared for the recent celebration a complete collection of Scheele's scientific notes and of his letters to eminent contemporaries, which has just been issued in a Swedish and a German edition.[3] This voluminous and splendidly prepared work is an important supplement to all former publications of Scheele's writings and the several historical sketches of his life and labors, and is of paramount value to every student of the history of chemistry. From among the many interesting new facts brought to light in it are: Scheele obtained and recognized oxygen (fire-air) as early as in 1765 in connection with his researches of nitrous acid. Before the year 1771 he obtained oxygen in various ways by heating silver and mercury carbonates, silver and gold oxides, alkaline nitrates, arsenic acid, and black oxide of manganese. He therefore obtained and recognized oxygen several years before Priestley's independent discovery of it. At about the same time he obtained and recognized nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen chloride, ammonia, and nitrogen dioxide gases. He knew before 1772 the color reaction of the blowpipe flame with potassium and sodium compounds, and made use of them, as also the methods of separating iron from manganese by means of acetic acid. He was also familiar with the transformation of insoluble silicates into soluble ones by fusing them with alkalies.

Scheele's letters and laboratory notes just published by Prof, von Nordenskjöld bear evidence of his advanced knowledge in most departments of chemistry, and of the unusually large number of his researches, observations, and exact discernment in his numberless experiments and deductions. The book abounds in novel views and facts relative to the interesting period of the transformation from the phlogiston epoch to the modern doctrines of chemical philosophy and application. It furthermore bears ample evidence of the fundamental influence and part which Scheele's labors and ingenuity have had in preparing and clearing the domain of chemistry for Lavoisier's subsequent theoretical consummation.

  1. Reprinted in vol. iv, pp. 188 and 208, of Pharmaceut. Rundschau, New York.
  2. Although living more than half his life in Sweden, Scheele remained so much a German that his knowledge of the Swedish language was imperfect; his essays addressed to the Academies of Stockholm and Upsala, as well as his correspondence, were all written in German.
  3. Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Nachgelassene Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Herausgegeben von A. E. Nordenskjöld. One large octavo volume, pp. 506, with illustrations and fac simile letters. Stockholm, 1892. This work is published by subscription only, and according to order the German or Swedish edition will be sent postpaid by mail on receipt of five dollars paid by international money order addressed to Dr. E. Svedmark, Geological Survey, Stockholm, Sweden.