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


in Early Science and Medicine
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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.


Early Science and Medicine

A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period

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References

5

 See Jon Eklund, “Of a Spirit in the Water: Some Early Ideas on the Aerial Dimension,” Isis, 67 (1976), 527–50. Jon Eklund, “Chemical Analysis and the Phlogiston Theory” (Dissertation, Yale, 1971), ch. 7. Noel G. Coley, “Physicians and the Chemical Analysis of Mineral Waters in Eighteenth-Century England,” Medical History, 26 (1982), 123–44. Noel G. Coley, “Physicians, Chemists and the Analysis of Mineral Waters: ‘The Most Difficult Part of Chemistry’,” Medical History Supplement, 10 (1990), 56–66.

17

 Paracelsus, “Von den natürlichen Bädern - ca. 1525,” in Sämtliche Werke: Medizinische, naturwissenschaftliche und philosophische Schriften: Frühe Schriften zur Heilmittellehre, ed. Bernhard Aschner (Munich, 1930): 221–6. Georg Agricola, De ortu et causis subterraneorum (Basel, 1546).

19

 Coley, “‘Cures without Care’,” 191–2; Noel G. Coley, “The Preparation and Uses of Artificial Mineral Waters (ca. 1680–1825),” Ambix, 31 (1984), 32–48, on 32. Eklund, “Of a Spirit in the Water,” 531.

22

 Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont, 57–8.

23

 Van Helmont, Supplementum de fontibus spadanis, 652. Of the Fountain of the Spaw, 697–8.

24

 Walter Pagel, “Helmont, Johannes (Joan) Baptista Van” in Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed. C.C. Gillispie, F.L. Holmes, N. Koertge (Detroit, 2008) [hereafter CDSB], vol. 6, 253–9. Steffen Ducheyne, “Helmont, Johannes (Joan) Baptista Van,” CDSB, vol. 21, 277–81. Van Helmont, Supplementum de fontibus spadanis. Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont, 66–7. Crosland, “Slippery Substances.”

25

 J.R. Partington, “Joan Baptista van Helmont,” Annals of Science, 1 (1936), 359–84, 370–5. J.R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (London, 1961), vol. 2, 227–32. Van Helmont“De flatibus” in Ortus medicinae (‘ed. nova’, Amsterdam, 1652), 336. These labels correspond to windy, fatty, dry, sooty, woody, sulfurous, winey, musty, and flammable.

27

 Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont, 24–5, 49–52. William R. Newman and Lawrence Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (2002), 61–6. Antonio Clericuzio, “From van Helmont to Boyle: A Study of the Transmission of Helmontian Chemical and Medical Theories in Seventeenth-Century England,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 26 (1993), 303–34, on 307–8.

28

 Van Helmont, Ortus Medicinae, 86. For van Helmont’s corpuscular notions and the relation between his conceptions of gases, elements, and vapors, see William R. Newman, Gehennical Fire: the Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1994), 112–3.

29

 John A. Norris, “Early Theories of Aqueous Mineral Genesis in the Sixteenth Century,” Ambix, 54 (2007), 69–86, on 85.

30

 Newman and Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire, 60–6.

31

 Van Helmont and van Helmont, Ortus medicinae, 110. English from van Helmont, Chandler, and van Helmont, Van Helmont’s Works, 110.

34

 John A. Norris, “The Mineral Exhalation Theory of Metallogenesis in Pre-Modern Mineral Science,” Ambix, 53 (2006), 43–65, on 57–59.

37

 Becher and Stahl, Physica Subterranea, 80–96.

38

 Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont, 57–8. Smith, The Business of Alchemy, 204–7. Becher and Stahl, Physica subterranea, 102.

39

 Becher and Stahl, Physica subterranea, 80–3, 87–8, 102.

40

 Becher and Stahl, Physica subterranea, 80–92.

43

 Becher and Stahl, Physica subterranea, 145. Frank D. Adams, “Origin and Nature of Ore Deposits an Historical Study,” Geological Society of America Bulletin, 45 (1934), 375–424, 397–400. Oldroyd, “Some Phlogistic Mineralogical Schemes,” 276. Norris, “The Mineral Exhalation Theory.”

44

 Friedrich Hoffmann, “Methodus examinandi aquas salubres,” in Dissertationes physico-medicae curiosae selectiores, ad sanitatem tuendam maxime pertinentes (Leiden, 1703), part 2, 161–205, 182. Friedrich Hoffmann, “De elementis aquarum mineralium,” in Friderici Hoffmanni Opera omnia physico-medica denuo revisa, correcta & aucta (Geneva, 1740), vol. 5, 131–40, 135. Friedrich Hoffmann and Peter Shaw, New Experiments and Observations upon Mineral Waters Directing their Farther Use for the Preservation of Health, and the Cure of Diseases (London, 1731), 31–2. Brownrigg, “An Experimental Enquiry,” 236. WB4, 1.

52

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 5.

53

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 33.

54

 Duclos, Observations, 8.

55

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 58. On Lister and pyrites, see Anna Marie Roos, “Martin Lister (1639–1712) and Fools’ Gold,” Ambix, 51 (2004), 23–41.

56

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 74.

57

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 65.

58

 Lister, De fontibus medicatis, 80.

62

 Boyle, Short Memoirs, 4–5, 7.

63

 Boyle, Short Memoirs, 66.

64

 Boyle, Short Memoirs, 74.

65

 Boyle, Short Memoirs, 99.

66

 Coley, “Preparation and Uses,” 34. Coley, “Physicians, Chemists,” 57.

72

 Rothschuh, “Studien,” 178–80. De Ceglia, I fari di Halle, 309–10. Hoffmann, “De elementis,” 132. Hoffmann and Shaw, New Experiments, 17.

73

 Hoffmann, “Methodus examinandi,” 165–86. Hoffmann, “De elementis,” 131–36.

75

 Hoffmann, “Methodus examinandi,” 176. Hoffmann, “De elementis,” 134.

77

 Hoffmann and Shaw, New Experiments, 30.

80

 WB4, 1. Eklund, “Chemical Analysis,” 275. Brownrigg, “An Experimental Enquiry,” 237.

81

 See Eklund, “Chemical Analysis,” 257–89. Eklund, “Of a Spirit in the Water,” 527–36.

85

 Shaw, An Enquiry into the Contents, 140–1.

86

 Shaw, An Enquiry into the Contents, 142.

88

 Eklund, “Of a Spirit in the Water,” 535–6.

96

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 54–5.

97

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 57.

98

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 80, 88.

99

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 88–9.

100

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 88.

101

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 88–9 (italics original).

102

 Hoffmann, “De fontis,” 236–7. Venel, “Mémoire sur l’analyse des eaux de Selters ou de Seltz,” 93.

Figures

  • From “A Table Shewing the Principal Appearances of the Domestic and Foreign Chalybeate Waters.” Rutty, A Methodical Synopsis of Mineral Waters (1757), inserted between pages 386 and 387. Note the listing of “elastic matter” in the category of the “sensible qualities” of the waters.

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