The “Subtile Aereal Spirit of Fountains”: Mineral Waters and the History of Pneumatic Chemistry

In: Early Science and Medicine
Victor D. BoantzaUniversity of Minnesota

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Leslie TomoryMcGill University

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The standard history of pneumatic chemistry is dominated by a landmark-discoverers-type narrative stretching from Robert Boyle, through Stephen Hales, Joseph Black, and Joseph Priestley, to Antoine Lavoisier. This article challenges this view by demonstrating the importance of the study of mineral waters – and their “aerial component” – to the evolution of pneumatic chemistry, from around van Helmont to the period before Black (1640s–1750s). Among key figures examined are Joan Baptista van Helmont, Johann Joachim Becher, Robert Boyle, Friedrich Hoffmann, and William Brownrigg.

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