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at no great distance below the photosphere, may liquify.or solidify vur so-called perfect gases.
It is now known that the idea that incandescence or whiteness of flame is due only to solid particles is no longer tenable. Frankland has shown that sufficient pressure brightens the faint line of burning hydrogen, and that its spectrum may thus become continuous. Thus all our reasoning as to the solidity of the sun's photosphere is negatived. So we recognize that the fancied limit to rarefaction of gases has been placed too low, and that there may possibly be no limit to atmospheric extension.
In the sun, also, we must consider motions far more rapid than any we experience. The effect of a moving or falling speed of one hundred miles per second is beyond our conception. The temperature and pressure in the sun, their effect on gaseous diffusion, and on the connection between the three states of matter (now known to have no real boundaries), whether any solidity occurs, the existence and extent of combustion, whether it resembles or differs from terrestrial combustion, etc., are all unknown or unfamiliar matters to us.
We know not whence comes the light of the continuous spectrum seen by Prof. Young, whether from a surface or a great depth of matter. We know not whether the intensity of light is due to an intensely glowing surface, or to the aggregate effect of a deep layer of glowing matter.t
These are a few of the difficulties which arise in our study of the solar conditions. We have, it is true, attained some useful knowledge of its superficial indications, yet all our explanations of these are as yet provisional, and our information inexact; and at best we can claim to have made but a step forward toward the solution of that grandest problem of the sciences.
* The Sun, p. 380.
+ The Fuel of the Sun, p. 76.
ART. V.-1. Histoire de la Chimie. Par M. HOEFER.
Par EUSEBE SALVERTE.
2. Des Sciences Occultes.
3. Histoire des Sciences Naturelles au Moyen Age. F. A.
POUCHET. Paris. 1858.
4. History of Chemistry. By Thomas THOMPSON. London,
Of the amount of misapprehension and derision which present achievement is ever ready to bestow upon past preparation, alchemy has always received its full share. We can imagine the glittering butterfly saying, as it hovers over the remains of its chrysalis, “What an unsightly, shapeless thing indeed! I certainly can have no connection with it, much less be its offspring.” So modern chemistry, in the plenitude of its importance and certainty of its methods, disdains descent from groping alchemy. The chemist in his spacious laboratory, aided by all the apparatus suggested by ages of experience, performs his operations, sure to yield him a rich return, smiles to think of the poor alchemist, toiling in his smoky cell, lured by the hope of securing a substance which can transmute base metals into gold. The present is eminently a practical age. The philosopher's stone is sought not in the crucible and retort, but in the feverish marts of trade. No romance clings now to its pursuit. Midas has more followers than ever, notwithstanding the length of his ears. The sands of Pactolos have long since been scraped up, and converted into solid ingots.
This spirit, that would “coin one's heart-blood into drachmas,” is not more justly chargeable to the age characterized by the “ delusion" of alchemy than to the present. That the eearch for the lapis philosophorum' as a means of acquiring wealth, or for the elixir vitæ as the renewer of life, was the main object of the alchemist, is, to say the least, doubtful. We cannot thus explain this enthusiastic and indefatigable pursuit, extending through many centuries, and attracting all the minds of greatest energy, piety and learning, including such men as Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon. Nor was the search for such a stone or substance so chimerical as is often represented. The testimony of Lord Bacon is highly important if not conclusive upon this point, whose marvellous insight and wisdom such a subject could not escape nor deceive. He says:
He says: “The work itself I judge to be possible, for we can conceive that a perfect good concoction or digestion or maturation of metals will produce gold."* A delusion that has embraced centuries, and deceived all the leading minds of those centuries, must be the most remarkable on record. A pursuit which reached its acme in Egypt in a state of civilization not inferior to any the world has erer seen, to which state it contributed as much as even modern chemistry has done to the present, and which has brought us from the dark ages "such discoveries as Greek fire, gunpowder, nitric and sulphuric acids, and the art of distillation, certainly deserves to be ranked as a science. Many writers, struck by the absurd pretensions of some of the votaries of the herinetic art, the imposture of others, and the apparently meaningless jargon of some of their writings, have found subject only for amusement and ridicule in the whole affair, and have thus contributed much to the existing state of misapprehension. Thus they find some of the more enthusiastic devotees of the art claiming for it an origin coeval with man. Tubal-cain,“ an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron,” is numbered by them among its founders. The theory is also found of the propagation of metals by male and female, after the analogy of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Mercury is regarded as the seed of the metal which, deposited in the earth, in a period of 1550 years, produces gold, or in a less time cheaper metal. According to Sandivogius, water is the primitive source of the metals. He says: The first matter of metals is humidity of the air mixed with heat. The generation of metals is this: the four elements, in the first operation of nature, do by the help of the archeus of nature distill into the centre of the earth a ponderous or heavy vapor of water, which is the seed of metals." We read of the seductive amours of the metals under the symbols of Sol and Venus, for instance, meaning simply a union of copper and gold.
* Nat. Hist., Vol. X., p. 160.
If the object of language be to conceal thought, many of those writers succeeded admirably. If they did not possess the philosopher's stone, they certainly possessed the faculty of writing volumes upon it without disclosing the secret. It has also been found that those who claimed to have amassed wealth by the aid of the mystic art, as Jacques Cæur, minister of finance to Charles III., were open to the charge of having debased the gold currency. The same was suspected of kings John, Philip the Fair, and Edward II. of England. Hoefer remarks: “It was in those epochs in which this pretended science most flourished in certain states that the most numerous frauds upon the coinage were discovered."* In other words, these unscrupulous men had recourse to the popular faith in alchemy only to hide their avaricious schemes, and had not the least claim to be ranked among its disciples. To form an opinion of the science from such facts as these is to take a narrow view of the whole subject. The truth lies deeper. It is easy to collect a dish of the beantiful foam, but the first breath of inquiry dispels it to nothingness. To find the pearl which is hidden beneath is a sterner as well as more remunerative task.
All authorities point to Egypt as the birthplace of alchemy, where, under the denomination of the Sacred Art, it achieved its first and grandest triumphs. The invention of the art is ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus (thrice-great), and hence it is called the Hernietic art. He is supposed to have been one of the first kings of the ancient Egyptians and inventors of the useful arts, hence deified and worshipped as Thoth, or the
• Histoire de la Chimie, t. i, p. 417.
Ibex-headed Hermes. He is also represented upon their mon'uments with a human body surmounted by a head of the sacred bird. He afterwards became an object of veneration to the Greeks under the name of Mercury Trismegistus. He was also regarded by the alchemists as the author of the Smaragdine table, which they supposed to have been graven upon a plate of emerald with a point of a diamond, and concealed in the depths of the great pyramid of Gizeh. But Cuvier is of opinion that it was composed as late as the 7th century.* The term sacred art describes its character as possessed and practised only by the priests and initiates of Thebes and Memphis, to whom was confined all the knowledge of the age. Their operations were shrouded in the deepest mystery, and conducted only in profound secrecy, in the recesses of the temples and depths of the pyramids. The initiate pursued his researches in silence and darkness through the colonnades of the temples, with his finger upon his mouth, and pronounced the terrible vow of secrecy under penalty of death.
To increase the mystery with which all the experiments of the alchemists were enveloped, a symbolic language was employed to represent all substances and operations. These symbols are believed to be the origin of the hieroglyphic writings of the Egyptians, some of which came down to us, somewhat altered, as the signs of the seven planets. They were also engraven upon the fronts and painted upon the windows of the religious edifices of the middle ages, remains of which may yet be seen in Westminster Abbey and Nôtre Dame.
In the first outlook upon the science we see it marked by two strikingly opposite characteristics which it retains to the last, viz.--the wonderful value of the facts and discoveries, and the complete worthlessness of the theories.
There can be distinguished three kinds of research—the philosopher's stone, the elixir vitæ, and a sort of spiritual philosopher's stone—the soul of the world. The term philosopher's stone does not apply to a material entity, but on the one hand it emanates from supernatural power and operates under the
* Histoire des Sciences Naturelles, t. 1, p. 371.