The Saline Chymistry of Color in Seventeenth-Century English Natural History


in Early Science and Medicine
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Before Newton’s seminal work on the spectrum, seventeenth-century English natural philosophers such as Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Nehemiah Grew and Robert Plot attributed the phenomenon of color in the natural world to salts and saline chymistry. They rejected Aristotelian ideas that color was related to the object’s hot and cold qualities, positing instead that saline principles governed color and color changes in flora, fauna and minerals. In our study, we also characterize to what extent chymistry was a basic analytical tool for seventeenth-century English natural historians.


The Saline Chymistry of Color in Seventeenth-Century English Natural History


in Early Science and Medicine

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References

3

 Bolam“Botanical Works” 225.

4

 Hunter“Early Problems” 201.

5

 Anna Marie Roos“Nehemiah Grew (1641–1712) and the Saline Chymistry of Plants,” Ambix 54 (2007) 51–68; Anna Marie Roos The Salt of the Earth: Natural Philosophy Medicine and Chymistry in England 1650–1750 (Leiden 2007) 98. In the present essay I am significantly broadening and deepening my analysis of early modern chymical analysis of color beyond that of Grew’s work to consider other natural historians.

13

 Todd Stuart Ganson“What’s Wrong with the Aristotelian Theory of Sensible Qualities?,” Phronesis 42 (1997) 263–82on 264.

16

 RoosThe Salt of the Earth12.

17

 Jon Ecklund“Salt,” in The Incompleat Chymist (Washington D.C. 1975).

29

 William Eamon“New Light on Robert Boyle and the Discovery of Colour Indicators,” Ambix 27 (1980) 204–209on 205.

30

 Julian Hoppit ed.“Nehemiah Grew and England’s Economic Development: The means of a most ample increase of the wealth and strength of England 1706–7,” Records of Social and Economic History. New Series47 (Oxford 2012) 1–180 on 39. Cochineal was a red dye derived from alum.

32

 Eamon“New Light” 205–6. For analyses of early modern recipe books see Elaine Leong and Sara Pennell “Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern ‘Medical Marketplace’” in The Medical Marketplace and Its Colonies c. 1450–c. 1850 eds. M. Jenner and P. Wallis (New York 2007) 133–52.

33

 Boyle Colours 260. Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis noted in their edition of Boyle’s works that Boyle referred to Paracelsus’s De mineralibus liber published in volume 2 of his Opera omnia medico-chemico-chirurgica (1658): “though Boyle uses a different edition.” See “Colours and Cold 1664–5” in The Works of Robert Boyle Electronic Edition eds. Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis (London 2003) 4: 130n1. My thanks to Tom Holland for his assistance with the Latin translation.

36

 J.J. MacIntosh and Peter Anstey“Robert Boyle,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyFall ed.(2014) last modified August 18 2014 . Boyle did not go so far as to call these particles atoms in the sense of Gassendi or the Greek Epicureans.

37

 Domenico Bertoloni Meli“The Colour of Blood: Between Sensory Experience and Epistemic Significance,” in Histories of Scientific Observationeds. Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (Chicago 2011) 121. Newman Atoms and Alchemy 184–5 also mentions Boyle’s attribution of color to corpuscular texture as does Tawrin Baker’s essay in this volume.

38

 Bertoloni Meli“Colour of Blood” 121.

39

 BoyleColours 60. On pages 60–1 Boyle continues “And that also such Liquors as we have been speaking of may greatly Discompose the Textures of many Bodies and thereby alter the Disposition of their Superficial parts the great Commotion made in Metalls and several other Bodies by Aqua-fortis Oyl of Vitiol and other Saline Menstruums may easily perswade us and what such Vary’d Situations of Parts may do towards the Diversifying of the manner of their Reflecting the light may be Gues’d in some Measure by […] the Experiments […] as the Producing and Destroying Colours by the means of subtil Saline Liquors by whose Affusion the Parts of other Liquors are manifestly both Agitated and likewise Dispos’d after another manner than they were before such Affusion.”

42

 Eamon“New Light” 206.

43

 Eamon“New Light” 206.

44

 BoyleColours 264–5.

45

 BoyleColours 264–5.

46

 BoyleColours 269–70.

49

 Robert Boyle“An Essay about the Origine and Virtues of Gems (Facsimile of the 1672 edition),”in Contributions to the History of Geology (New York 1972) 7: 7–8. As I do not have consistent access to the Davis/Hunter edition of Boyle’s Works I will use this edition throughout the paper.

50

 Boyle“Gems” 166; 170.

51

 Boyle“Gems” 170.

54

 BoyleColours 219–220; Alan Shapiro “Artists’ Colors and Newton’s Colors” Isis 85 (1994) 600–630 on 614.

56

 Shapiro“Artists’ Colors” 606. Shapiro also discusses the contributions of François d’Aguilon to the discovery of the three primaries in 1613 stating the Jesuit natural philosopher formulated his color theory most clearly. See also John Gage “Colour in History: Relative and Absolute” Art History 1 (1978) 104–30; and Gage “A ‘Locus Classicus’ of Colour Theory: The Fortunes of Apelles” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44 (1981) 1–26. Gage’s invaluable Colour and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction (London 1993) should also be consulted for early modern color theory. See also Charles Parkhurst “Aguilonius’ Optics and Rubens’ Color” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 12 (1961) 35–49; Parkhurst “A Color Theory from Prague: Anselm de Boodt 1609” Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 29 (1971) 3–10.

58

 Jonathan Janson“Vermeer’s Palette,” Essential Vermeerlast modified June 10 2014 .

59

 Janson“Vermeer’s Palette: Smalt,” Essential Vermeerlast modified June 10 2014.

60

 HookeMicrographia71.

61

 HookeMicrographia71.

62

 HookeMicrographia70.

64

 ChapmanEngland’s Leonardo 190.

65

 HookeMicrographia68.

67

 HookeMicrographia69.

68

 HookeMicrographia69.

69

 HookeMicrographia69.

71

 HookeMicrographia69.

72

 HookeMicrographia69.

73

 HookeMicrographia69.

74

 HookeMicrographia70.

75

 John Ray“Extract of a Letter […] Concerning Some Un-Common Observations and Experiments Made with an Acid Juyce to be Found in Ants,” Philosophical Transactions 5 (1670) 2064.

77

 Martin Lister“Some Observations, Touching Colours [...]” Philosophical Transactions 6 (1671) 2132–33.

78

 Lister“Touching Colours” 2133.

79

 Peder Anker“The Economy of Nature in the Botany of Nehemiah Grew (1641–1712),” Archives of Natural History 31 (2004) 191–207on 196.

80

 GrewAnatomy of Plants1.

81

 GrewAnatomy of Plants150.

82

 GrewAnatomy of Plants157.

83

 GrewAnatomy of Plants158.

84

 GrewAnatomy of Plants158.

85

 GrewAnatomy of Plants158.

86

 GrewAnatomy of Plants158.

87

 GrewAnatomy of Plants159. Roos “Nehemiah Grew and Saline Chymistry” 54–5.

88

 GrewAnatomy of Plants159.

90

 GrewAnatomy of Plants160. The Greek is the infinitive “to do geometry” used with English “doth.” It refers to what geometer and land surveyors do or indeed God (or nature) as for Plato according to Plutarch. My thanks to Professor Richard Sharpe for his assistance with the Greek grammar.

91

 A. Rupert Hall“Isaac Newton and the Aerial Nitre,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 52 (1) (January 1998) 51–61; Allen Debus “The Paracelsian Aerial Niter” Isis 55 (1964) 43–61.

92

 Grew Anatomy of Plants158.

94

 Bertoloni Meli“Colour of Blood” 121.

101

 BoyleDiamond 406.

102

 GrewAnatomy of Plants238–54.

103

 GrewAnatomy of Plants271.

104

 GrewAnatomy of Plants271; Roos “Nehemiah Grew and Saline Chymistry” 61.

105

 GrewAnatomy of Plants 276.

106

 Roos“Nehemiah Grew and Saline Chymistry” 63.

107

 GrewAnatomy of Plants 278. The reason for the striping is the tulip bulb becomes infected with Mosaic Virus. It is possible Grew wished to create the striped tulips so prized during the tulip mania in seventeenth-century Netherlands.

108

 GrewAnatomy of Plants 278.

109

GrewAnatomy of Plants 278.

110

 Nehemiah Grew“Some Observations Touching the Nature of Snow,” Philosophical Transactions8 (1673) 5196.

111

 GrewAnatomy of Plants247.

116

 PlotNatural History112. The literature on humoral medicine is vast but for specific consideration of the evolution of ideas about humoral medicine and aging in the early modern era see Cynthia Skenazi Aging Gracefully in the Renaissance: Stories of Later Life from Petrarch to Montaigne (Leiden 2013); Mary Ann Lund also explores connections between aging melancholy and the cold and dry humoral complexion in: Melancholy Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading the Anatomy of Melancholy (Cambridge 2010).

Figures

  • View in gallery
    Robert Hooke’s diagrams of light pulses traveling through vessels with colored particles from the Micrographia (1665), 60–61. Image courtesy of History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries; © The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.

  • View in gallery
    Interactions of salts to produce plant structures, Table LIII, in Nehemiah Grew’s Anatomy of Plants (1682). Image courtesy of History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries; © The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.


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