Historical Reprints STORY OF ALCHEMY AND THE BEGINNINGS OF CHEMISTRY

STORY OF ALCHEMY AND THE BEGINNINGS OF CHEMISTRY

STORY OF ALCHEMY AND THE BEGINNINGS OF CHEMISTRY
Catalog # SKU1170
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name M. M. Pattison Muir
 
$16.95
Quantity

Description

THE STORY OF ALCHEMY
AND THE
BEGINNINGS OF CHEMISTRY
by M. M. PATTISON MUIR, M.A.


The Story of Alchemy and the Beginnings of Chemistry is very interesting in itself. It is also a pregnant example of the contrast between the scientific and the emotional methods of regarding nature; and it admirably illustrates the differences between well-grounded, suggestive, hypotheses, and baseless speculations. I have tried to tell the story so that it may be intelligible to the ordinary reader.

Excerpt:

For thousands of years before men had any accurate and exact knowledge of the changes of material things, they had thought about these changes, regarded them as revelations of spiritual truths, built on them theories of things in heaven and earth (and a good many things in neither), and used them in manufactures, arts, and handicrafts, especially in one very curious manufacture wherein not the thousandth fragment of a grain of the finished article was ever produced.

The accurate and systematic study of the changes which material things undergo is called chemistry; we may, perhaps, describe alchemy as the superficial, and what may be called subjective, examination of these changes, and the speculative systems, and imaginary arts and manufactures, founded on that examination.

We are assured by many old writers that Adam was the first alchemist, and we are told by one of the initiated that Adam was created on the sixth day, being the 15th of March, of the first year of the world; certainly alchemy had a long life, for chemistry did not begin until about the middle of the 18th century.

No branch of science has had so long a period of incubation as chemistry. There must be some extraordinary difficulty in the way of disentangling the steps of those changes wherein substances of one kind are produced from substances totally unlike them. To inquire how those of acute intellects and much learning regarded such occurrences in the times when man's outlook on the world was very different from what it is now, ought to be interesting, and the results of that inquiry must surely be instructive.

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The vagueness of the general conceptions of alchemy, and the attribution of ethical qualities to material things by the alchemists, necessarily led to the employment of a language which is inexact, undescriptive, and unsuggestive to modern ears. The same name was given to different things, and the same thing went under many names. In Chapter IV. I endeavoured to analyse two terms which were constantly used by the alchemists to convey ideas of great importance, the terms Element and Principle. That attempt sufficed, at any rate, to show the vagueness of the ideas which these terms were intended to express, and to make evident the inconsistencies between the meanings given to the words by different alchemical writers.

The story quoted in Chapter III., from Michael Sendivogius, illustrates the difficulty which the alchemists themselves had in understanding what they meant by the term Mercury; yet there is perhaps no word more often used by them than that. Some of them evidently took it to mean the substance then, and now, called mercury; the results of this literal interpretation were disastrous; others thought of mercury as a substance which could be obtained, or, at any rate, might be obtained, by repeatedly distilling ordinary mercury, both alone and when mixed with other substances; others used the word to mean a hypothetical something which was liquid but did not wet things, limpid yet capable of becoming solid, volatile yet able to prevent the volatilisation of other things, and white, yet ready to cause other white things to change their colour; they thought of this something, this soul of mercury, as having properties without itself being tangible, as at once a substance and not a substance, at once a bodily spirit and a spiritual body.

It was impossible to express the alchemical ideas in any language save that of far-fetched allegory. The alchemical writings abound in such allegories. Here are two of them.


Softbound Illustrated, 6.5x8, 200+ pages

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