On the Antiquity of the Chemical Art

James Mactear
On the Antiquity of the Chemical

Project Gutenberg's On the Antiquity of the Chemical Art, by James
Mactear This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and
with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away
or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: On the Antiquity of the Chemical Art
Author: James Mactear
Release Date: February 11, 2006 [EBook #17753]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

Produced by Louise Hope, R. Cedron and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

[Transcriber's Note: Typographical errors are listed at the end of the
file. Misspelled Greek names were treated as errors; others are noted
but not changed.]

* * * * *
President's Opening Address to Chemical Section.

On the Antiquity of the Chemical Art. By JAMES MACTEAR, F.C.S.,
F.C.I., Member of the International Jury, Paris, 1878, and Medalist of
the Society of Arts.
[Read before the Section, December 8th, 1879.]
The study of the History of Chemistry as an art, or as a science, is one
which possesses peculiar fascination for its votaries. It has been the
subject of deep research and much discussion, much has been written
upon the subject, and many theories have been broached to account for
its origin. We have had laid before us by Professor Ferguson, in his
papers on this subject of Chemical History, very clearly and fully the
generally-accepted position as regards the origin of the science, and in
the last of these papers, entitled "Eleven Centuries of Chemistry," he
deals with the subject in a most complete manner, tracing back through
its various mutations the development of the science to the time of
Geber, in or about the year A.D. 778.
Of Geber, as a chemist, Professor Ferguson writes, "He was the
first--because, although he himself speaks of the ancients, meaning
thereby his forerunners, nothing is known of these older chemists."
Rodwell, in his "Birth of Chemistry," after a careful examination of the
question, comes to the conclusion that, "in spite of all that has been
written on the subject, there is no good evidence to prove that alchemy
and chemistry did not originate in Arabia not long prior to the eighth

century, A.D.," bringing us again to the times of Geber.
He is not alone in this opinion, and it seems to be generally accepted
that chemistry originated in the Arabian schools about this period.
In dealing with the question of the antiquity of chemical art, it has been
too much the habit to look at the question with a view of discovering
when and who it was that first brought forth, fully clothed as a science,
the art of chemistry.
Let us look at the definition of the science given by Boerhæve, about
1732. He describes chemistry as "an art which teaches the manner of
performing certain physical operations, whereby bodies cognizable to
the senses, or capable of being rendered cognizable, and of being
contained in vessels, are so changed by means of proper instruments as
to produce certain determinate effects, and at the same time discover
the causes thereof, for the service of the various arts."
Now, it is amply evident that, long before the various known facts
could be collected and welded into one compact whole as a science,
there must have existed great store of intellectual wealth, as well as
mere hereditary practical knowledge of the various chemical facts.
I do not think it will be disputed that, until comparatively recent times,
technical knowledge has constantly been in advance of theory, and that
it is not too much to conclude that, no matter where we first find actual
records of our science, its natal day must have long before dawned.
Even in our day, when theoretical science, as applied to chemistry, has
made such immense strides, how often do we find that it is only now
that theory comes in to explain facts, known as such long previous, and
those engaged in practical chemical work know how much technical
knowledge is still unwritten, and what may even be called traditionary.
I purpose taking up the subject from this point of view, and attempting,
with what little ability I can, to follow back to a still more remote
period than that of Geber and the Arabian school of philosophers the
traces of what has often been called the divine art.

An aspect of the question that has often presented itself to me is this,
that the history of what we call our world extends
Continue reading on your phone by scaning this QR Code

 / 22
Tip: The current page has been bookmarked automatically. If you wish to continue reading later, just open the Dertz Homepage, and click on the 'continue reading' link at the bottom of the page.