Alchemy Revisited by the Mid-Eighteenth Century Chemists in France: An Unpublished Manuscript by Pierre-Joseph Macquer

In: Nuncius

As early as the middle of the seventeenth-century burning mirrors and glasses were used for chemical operations such as calcination of antimony. Later, concave mirrors and convex lenses of about one metre in diameter, able to reach temperatures from 1400 to 2000°C at their focus, allowed a decisive progress in the knowledge of the nature of metals. This breakthrough led the mid-eighteenth century chemists, especially Rouelle and Macquer, to reconsider the Philosophers’ Stone and the alchemical dream of recomposing gold and silver. Macquer’s personal thoughts on the Philosophers’ Stone are reproduced here in full. Moreover, the behaviour of gold and ferruginous earths exposed at the focus of Tschirnhaus’ lens led Macquer to a hypothesis about the nature of solar rays that came surprisingly close to Homberg’s Principle Sulphur at the beginning of the century.

  • 17

    “July 1704, […] Gold after a little boyling up into Bubbles, flyes out into little round Gold spherules, & leaves hairs behind it. Gold and others metals smoak much,” Simms and Hinkley, “David Gregory” (cit. note 16), Appendix p. 188.

  • 19

    “19 May 1704, M. Geoffrey [sic] writes from France, that by a Large lens the Sun’beams reduces Gold to a transparent Sky coloured Stone or Glass,” Simms and Hinkley, “David Gregory,” (cit. note 16), Appendix p. 188.

  • 23

    Wilhem Homberg, “Observations faites par le moyen du verre ardent,” MARS, 1702 (1743), 141-149.

  • 24

    Principe, “Wilhem Homberg et la chimie de la lumière”, Methodos, 2008, 8:15.

  • 29

    Fontenelle, “Eloge de M. Homberg,” HARS, 1715, 82-93, p. 90.

  • 32

    Homberg, “Observations faites par le moyen du verre ardent,” MARS, 1702 (1743), 141-149. Journal des sçavans, 1705, 559-564.

  • 33

    Fontenelle, “Sur des experiences faites à un Miroir ardent convexe,” HARS, 1702 (1743), 34-38, p. 36.

  • 37

    Geoffroy, “Eclaircissemens sur la production artificielle du fer & sur la composition des autres métaux,” MARS, 1707, 176-188. This memoir was read at the sessions of May 21 and 25 1707, Académie des sciences, PV, Vol. 26: 1707, fols 192 recto and 197 recto-206 recto.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 39

    Geoffroy, “Expériences sur les métaux faites avec le verre ardent du Palais Royal,” MARS, 1709, 162-176. The reading took a part of four consecutive sessions: May 8, 11, 15 and 18, Académie des sciences, PV, Vol. 28: 1709, fol. 165 recto; fols. 171recto-183 recto.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 72

    For the year 1772, these notes are held in the Macquer fund of the BNF, Ms Fr 9132, fols. 261 recto-289 verso. For the month August 1773, these notes are held in the archives of the Académie des sciences, Dossier Lavoisier, 1389 bis.

  • 75

    Lavoisier, “Détail des expériences exécutées au moyen du grand verre ardent,” Id., Œuvres, 6 vols., Vol. 3 (Paris : Imprimerie impériale, 1865), pp. 284-348. However this text is deceptive since the work was communal and the “I” that sometimes appears in these notes is the writer’s one and not always Lavoisier’s.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 81

    BNF, Ms Fr 9132, fol. 271 recto-verso. The Duke of Chaulnes’s presence shows the publicity of the experiments. The manuscript is in Macquer’s handwriting, thus it was he who performed the complementary experiments.

  • 101

    BNF, Ms fr 9132, Macquer, “Nouvelle suite d’expériences aux foyers des grands verres ardens de Tschirnhaus par Mrs Cadet, Brisson, Lavoisier et moi Macquer,” fol. 195 verso.

  • 104

    Lehman, “Pierre-Joseph Macquer, Chemistry in the French Enlightenment,” Osiris, forthcoming 2013-2014.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 125 91 1
Full Text Views 151 40 0
PDF Downloads 9 4 0