« PreviousContinue »
that the motive for changing the nomenclature may be found in the same corporation and national spirit,-in a desire to obliterate the remembrance of every thing which did not owe its origin to the associated academicians of France,-in the same combination of innovating phrenzy, and puerile vanity, which produced the new calendar and metrology. We confess our dispofition to question this, at least in the extent to which it is here pushed. No one can deny that the love of system had risen to a very great height in France, at the time of the innovations now alluded to; and it would appear, that as much of the calendar and metrology as is analogous to the nomenclature, owed its origin to this spirit of systematizing and claslifying all the objects of our contemplation. Instead of blaming the new chemical language for its resemblance to the other changes, we are inclined to laugh at the pedantry of its authors, who could overlook the essential distinction between the two cases, foolishly think of giving new names to the ideas of most ordinary recurrence in common life, and attempt suddenly to alter the language and the habits of the vulgar, for the pleasure of an useless uniformity. It cannot be doubted, that political views mingled with this love of system in preparing the change of the calendar; perhaps those views were the chief inducement to its adoption), But it should be remembered, that mere innovation, however sudden, in maters purely speculative, is liable to no one of the manifold objections which are so decisive against all sudden po. litical changes, however specious. And in this most effential particular, the two cases are exactly opposed to each other :-that the new nomenclature was adopted, after a feries of the most beneficial and fundamental changes had been effected upon the whole science of chemistry; while nothing called for the new çalendar, but the most destructive revolution which the violence and folly of mankind ever brought about. The dogmatical spirit, indeed, with which the new nomenclature, and, in general, the new system, was promulgated, had a tendency to obliterate much very valuable information, contained in the writings of the elder chemists: and we conceive, that the present publication, if it served no other end, would be highly important as a collection of things not to be met with in the works of the new school. , Mr Robifon, among the observations to which we are now alluding, introduces a fact, upon the authority of Prolefor Lichtenberg of Gottingen. We give it to our readers as an amusing initance of that universal churlatanerie (the word cannot be translated by a people so destitute of the thing) which renders the French national character the least respektable of any in the civilized world. When the l'arifian cheinitts, it seems, had finished their grand experiment on the compofition of water
they they held a sort of festival, at which Madam Lavoisier, in the habit of a priestess, burnt Stahl's Fundamenta on an altar, while folemn music played a requiem to the departed system. The German Professor remarks, that if Newton had been capable of such a childish triumph over the vortices of Des Cartes, he could never be supposed the man who wrote the Principia ; and Mr Robifon most justly adds, that if Newton or Black had so exulted over Des Cartes and Meyer, their countrymen would have concluded they were out of their senses.
The injustice of Lavoiser's behaviour to Dr Black, has perhaps been somewhat overrated by our author. He attempted, indeed, to conceal the very name of the discoverer of latent heat, in his papers upon that doctrine. This appears to have been his mode of proceeding on all fich occasions. He seems to have thought, that the variation of an experiment, or the farther prosecution of an idea, gave him a right of property in the whole subject. But we can scarcely consider his well-known letter to Dr Black as very irrefragable evidence of duplicity, when we reflect on the unmeaning complimentary style which all Lavoisier's countrymen adopt upon every occasion. Dr Black was perhaps as little entitled to interpret the expreslions of that letter into a profound respect for his original genius, as he would be to infer affection from the ordinary beginning, or submission from the conclusion of the less verbose epistolary effusions of his own countrymen. We must refer our readers, however, to the “Observations' themselves for 2 full statement of the facts upon which Mr Robison's remarks are founded. They certainly throw very considerable difficulties in the way of those who may be inclined to defend the French philosophers *.
The discussions which Mr Robison's notes contain upon various points of modern chemistry, are of inestimable importance to the student of that science. They draw his attention towards the weak parts of that beautiful theory into which the French philosophers have expanded the conclusions fanctioned by experiment; and suggest to him, at every step, the ditlerence B4
• The conduct of Fourcroy, and of one or two other chemical wri. ters, not immediately engaged in the original inquiries which led io the new syitem, has been much more fair towards Dr Black. Fourcroy, in particular, has uniformly mentioned his name with the greatest respect, and has unequivocally admitted his claims to both of the grand discoveries which place him at the head of modern chemists. See Fourcroy's careful enumeration of the important benefits conferied upon the science by the discoverry of fixed air, Elem. of Chemiflry Nat. Hifl. vol. I.; alfo Systeme des Connaissances Chimiques, vol. I. P. 13. ; Ibid. p. 28. 49. He fixes the date of the discovery of fixed
between the unsupported and the unquestionable positions of the system. In point of fairness and ingenuity, these discussions are indeed superior to any with which we are acquainted. The new theory has never yet been treated with so much candour and impartiality. Mr Robison is, in fact, only an adversary to the do&rines which are not warranted by induction, or are in. consistent with known facts; and we shall now offer a' few observations upon those doctrines, not as a specimen of what our author has given, but as a caution to our readers against that implicit confidence in the universal truth of the antiphlogistic theory, which is derived from an unphilosophical carelessness about the facts, and a predetermination to learn the system fyn. thetically.
Lavoisier and his followers maintain, that the light and heat extricated during the combustion of inflammable bodies, come entirely from the oxygenous gas. Now, to pass over the very weighty objections arising from the deflagration of nitrous falts, objections which have only been got rid of by the most gratuitous explana. tions, how does it happen that the union of many inflammable bodies, as sulphur and iron, sulphur and lead, &c. produces an ignition (i. e. an emission of light and heat) as violent as the union of the same inflammable bodies with oxygen? Is it consistent with the most obvious principles of induction, to attribute the light produced in cases of combustion entirely to the oxygenous gas, when the same bodies are found, in cases of union without that gas, to give out such quantities of light ? Light, indeed, attracts oxygen from bodies, and contributes to give it the gaseous form. But the union of light with inflammable bodies is a fact fully as uns questionable, and entitles us as positively to conclude, that part, at least, of the light emitted in combustion comes from them." ..
Besides, various instances may be given of bodies, confessedly incapable of forming any union with oxygen, giving out light, when heated to a certain point. Salts, and earths, and combinations of the two, as glass, are easily 'made red, and even white hot, without any oxydation, or any change whatever of their properties, except the expulsion of moisture, and other volatile ingredients in their composition. Oiher bodies, capable of uniting with oxygen at a high temperature, appear capable of being ignited by a lower degree of heat. Thus, linen cloth, when exposed to a heat somewhat higher than that of boiling water, seems, in the dark, to be covered with a blue lambent flame, and yet, when examined, thews no symptom whatever of oxygenation ; for it is not in the slightest degree decomposed; and there is no instance of such heterogeneous bodies beirig oxydared entire,
air, by Dr Black, in 1755 or 1757 ; and the repetition of his experiments, by Lavoisier, in 1771&1772 ; vol. I. p. 36. From the unfortu. nate circumstance of Dr Black never having published any account of his other great discovery, we cannot expect that his claim to it should be adjusted ivith equal precision. But the same author (vol. I. p. 40.) gives a very clear testimony in favour of our countryman upon this point also. In enumerating the subjects of Lavoisier's chemical mea moirs, he mentions one as having been written by that author, in 1777, on the combination of the matter of heat with evaporable fuids, aid the formation of elastic Avids; and adds, « These ideas, a long mule before diffeminated by Black, were still little known in France, 2... facilitied to Lavoisier the introduction of all his other data.'.
How does it happen, that a body, admitted to be acid, should contain no oxygen? The Prussic acid is this body. And how comes it, that water,' which is so highly oxygenated, has no properties of an acid ? To say, as the followers. of Lavoisier have done, that hydrogen is not an acidifiable base, is exactly to state the difficulty in another form of words.
How is the deflagration of water, in the following experiment, accounted for, upon any principle in the new theory? If sulphuric acid and oxymuriate, either of potash or foda, rendered as dry as possible, are mixed together, a red and suming liquor is formed, having somewhat of a nitrous smell, but containing no nitrous acid or nitrous gas. Let a drop of water be projected upon this liquor while the red colour remains, it inftantly deflagrates, with a slight explosion. This explains the experiment of tritu. rating sulphur with oxymuriates, and of the explosions fometimes found to attend the mixture of sulphuric acid with those salts, when in a moist state. But how is the water first decomposed, and then recompounded? We can find no explanation of this, even in the doctrine of predisposing affinities, invented for the purpose of overcoming all difficulties.
When a certain degree of heat, without light, is applied to many inflammable bodies, they are vaporized, without oxygenation, decomposition, or flame. Apply a lower temperature, with light, and the vapour burns. Yet, what effect should the prefence of light produce, according to the theory of Lavoisier ?
A multitude of other facts might be mentioned, all tending to Thow how unfounded that confidence is which the followers of the new chemistry have reposed in the universality of its powers of explanation. Mr Robison, who states a variety of such facts, acquits Lavoisier of the charge of an unphilosophical readiness to generalize, which has been brought against his followers. But it must be acknowledged, that Lavoisier himself was too fond of a beautiful theory-a system which explained every thing to observe with sufficient strictness the rules of analytical investigations and his fystem of chemistry seems liable, even in the last form which he gave it, to all those judicious and philosophical criticisms which the first sketch of it called forth from Dr Black.
We cannot conclude these very general and desultory reflections, without again expressing our obligations to Mr Robison for the high intellectual treat which this publication has afforded us. If any thing could render the present more acceptable, it would be the addition of an index, or a full table of contents.
Art. 11. Le Malheur et La Pitié : Poëme, en quatre Chants. Par
M. l'Abbé de Lille, -un des Quarante de l'Academie Françoise.
La Pitié : Poëme, en quatre Chants. Par Jacques de Lille.
There is no living author, we believe, whose works have at
tained so extensive and fo durable a celebrity as those of M. de Lille. It is now upwards of twenty years since the poem of, • Les Jardins' began to be read out of France; and, in the course of that time, it has been translated into almost all the languages of Europe, and been made the subject of criticism and imitation from Warsaw to Naples. A reputation that prevails so univer. sally, and is retained so long, muft necessarily be merited ; and it would not only be presumptuous, but absurd, to call in question the reality of thofe excellences, to which the whole European world has borne so unequivocal a testimony. We may be permitted, however, to inquire a little into the peculiar nature of those merits which have met with fo general approbation; and to consider, whether they are not attended with any characteristic defects.
It probably will not appear very flattering to a French writer, or to his French admirers, to say, that he has extended his reputation, chiefly by abandoning his national peculiarities, and added materially to the beauty of his compositions, by accommodating them to the taste of his neighbours. Yet such, it appears to us, is undoubtedly the case with M. de Lille. He has recommended his works to general perusal, by departing, in a good measure, from the common poetical style of his countrymen ; by adopting, freely, the beauties of the surrounding countries, and forming himself upon the model of all that appeared to him to be excellent in the poetry of modern Europe. French poetry, we are i inclined to suspect, never had any very sincere admirers out of France. The general diffusion of the language of that people,