Worth’s acquisition of John Friend’s seminal course of lectures at Oxford, Praelectiones chymicae, in quibus omnes fere operationes chymicae ad vera principia et ipsius naturae leges rediguntur, Oxonii habitae (Amsterdam, 1710) demonstrates not only his interest in chemical teaching at the University of Oxford, but also his commitment to a newtonian approach to science. Friend’s text was based on his series of lectures at Oxford and offers us an invaluable insight into chemical teaching and practice at the university in the early eighteenth century.
Despite the presence of Robert Boyle in Oxford in the 1650s there had been no official instruction in chemistry at the University of Oxford until the 1680s when Dr Robert Plot (1640-1696) was appointed as the first Professor of Chemistry. He was appointed in the same year, 1683, as the opening of the chemical laboratory included in Elias Ashmole’s planned museum, which later became known as the Ashmolean Museum. This momentum was not to last: following Plot’s resignation in 1689 there was no incumbent in the post until the election of John Friend (1675-1728) as Professor of Chemistry in 1704.
John Friend, Praelectiones chymicae… (Amsterdam, 1710), titlepage.
Friend’s mechanistic approach is amply demonstrated in his opening preface:
For what is said concerning Attraction, the Force of which is very extensive in this Enquiry, is not bare Speculation, but taken from the very Nature of Things, and the Propension of Bodies, which they are observ’d to have one to another, especially that which Chymical Experiments discover to us.
As therefore I have advanc’d Reasonings, hitherto not understood by Chymical Writers, or at least not made use of by them, so I have sometimes from Experience given a Description of the Things themselves, very different from what we find in them. In which Undertaking, if I should not please those who are bigotted to some particular Sect, and who take for Principles uncertain Notions of Things, which no where exist; yet I hope so far to gain the good Esteem of such, who will not suffer their Judgments to be impos’d upon, as to be look’d on as one who has enter’d upon the true way of promoting this Study…’*
He outlined his method in his first lecture:
As his 9 point plan makes clear, he was keen to present chemistry in a new, geometrical, light:
Freind was keen in his first lecture to identify the right and wrong methods of chymistry: the continuing adherence in some quarters to the tria prima of Paracelsus was castigated, as were the popular chymistry courses on offer (though Freind does not name his targets). Equally he professed himself perplexed by the terms ‘Acid and Alkali, Words which are now in every Body’s Mouth’, urging his readers towards caution in their too-ready acceptance of them as explanatory terms in chemistry
Freind’s own text, initially printed at London in 1709, received popular acclaim – evident in the decision to publish it in the Netherlands. From there, as the translator of the 1712 English edition relates, it became known to the ‘Lipsick Acts’, the Acta Eruditorum printed at Leipzig, a journal which Worth also assiduously collected. It was this development that led Freind to printing not only an English 1712 edition but one which included his remarks on the scholarly comment emanating from Leipzig.
Freind was, on occasion, ready to give qualified praise: in his view Robert Boyle had ‘not so much laid a new foundation of Chymistry, as he has thrown down the old; he has left us plentiful Matter, from whence we may draw out a true Explication of things, but the Explication it self he has but very sparingly touch’d upon.’ Undoubtedly the most striking of the ‘plentiful matter’ left by Boyle was his famous experiment of the air pump, an improved version being illustrated in Worth’s copy of the 1725 collected works of Boyle:
For Boyle’s explanation of this see Experiments on Air.
*All texts from Freind are taken from the 1712 English translation: Chymical Lectures (London, 1712).
Debus, Allen G. (1986), ‘Chemistry and the Universities in the Seventeenth Century’, Academiae Analecta: Klasse der Wetenschappen, 48, 15-33 (30-31).
Debus, Allen G. (2001), Chemistry and Medical Debate: Van Helmont to Boerhaave (Science History Publications).
Guerrini, Anita (2004), ‘Freind, John (1675–1728), physician’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.by