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Chymical Experiments

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Characters and Terms

‘As in all Arts and Sciences whatever, there are certain Instruments and Terms of Art necessary to be known, before they can possibly be understood; so in Chymistry there are certain Requisites to every Operation, before it can be performed: And these are,
First, The Characters dispersed in Chymical Authors; especially those most used by Physicians.
Secondly, An Elaboratory; in the erecting of which, Care ought to be taken that there be a good Light, Plenty of Water, and large Chimneys, for the ready Conveyance of obnoxious Fumes.
Thirdly, Instruments and Vessels; and these are of different Sorts and various Figures, according to their several Uses. You will find the Description of those most in use, in the third and fourth Tables.
Fourthly, Furnaces; which are also of different Forms, some for moist, and others for dry Heats: the moist are Balneum Mariae, Balneum Vaporosum, &c. The dry are the Sand-Furnaces, Reverberatories, or open Furnaces for naked Fire, &c. which may be seen at large in Chymical Authors. So I content myself with describing those that are necessary; as in the following Tables.
Fifthly, Lutes.
Sixthly, Degrees of Fire.
Seventhly, Such Terms of Art as you will meet with in Chymical Authors.’

Wilson, George, A compleat course of chymistry… The fourth edition (London, 1721), pp (xv-xvi).

George Wilson, A compleat course of chymistry (London, 1721), plate.

This illustration, from George Wilson’s A compleat course of chymistry (London, 1721), shows us some of the characters used to designate both elements and processes in early eighteenth-century chemistry. Worth’s copy of Oswald Croll’s Bazilica Chymica held a similar plate (included in the page on Paracelsus in this website). Before approaching the laboratory it was absolutely crucial that the chymical student be aware of the sometimes arcane terminology in use.

Given that Georg Wilson was producing a chymical textbook it was even more essential that simple terms were well defined. The popularity of Wilson’s textbook, which was initally printed in 1698 and ran to five editions by 1736, demonstrates that it succeeded at this task. At the very beginning of his text Wilson addresses the issue of terms, giving us the following explanation of the terms used in chymical experiments.

Of such Terms as are used in Chymistry.

Amalgama is to mix Mercury with Gold, Silver, Lead, of Tin, which is to be done thus:

First, melt the Gold, Silver, or Lead &c so that it may but just flow; then heat the Mercury till it begins to fume; and by little and little, pour the Mercury to the melted Metal, and stir them about with a warm Iron Rod, till they are incorporated. If you make the Amalgama so hard as to beat into a Powder, you must take three parts of the hard Metal, to two parts of Mercury: If you would have it so soft as to spread, you must take two or three parts of Mercury, to one part of the hard Metal.
Alchohol is to reduce any substantial Matter into an impalpable Powder; also, very high rectified Spirit of Wine, is call’d Alchohol.
Cement, is to stratify Lamels of Gold with Paste, made of one part of Sal Armoniac, two parts of common Salt, and four parts Tobacco-pipe Clay, or Tobacco-pipes beaten to powder, moisten’d with a sufficient quantity of Urine: This is call’d the Royal Cement.
Coagulate, is by evaporating Liquids, or by mixing Fluids, of different Qualities to cause a more solid Mass.
Circulation, is a Motion given to Liquors, contained in a double Vessel, or circulating Glass, excited by Heat, to ascend and descend.
Cohobate, is to return the Liquor which has been distilled, upon the Matter remaining in the Vessel after the Distillation.
Congeal, is to let a Metal Wax, or Fat, which is melted, to fix or cool, when taken from the Fire.
Detonation, is a Noise that is made, when the Sulphureous Parts of any Mixture  rush forth with Impetuousity; it’s also call’d Fulmination.
Digestion, is some Matter put into a Menstruum, to infuse in a gentle Heat.
Distillation per Ascensum, is when the Fire is to be made under that which is to be distilled.
Distillation per Descensum, is when the Matter which is to be distilled, is placed under the Fire, by which the Spirits are precipitated and forc’d downwards.
Dissolution, is to reduce any hard Body into a Liquor, by the help of a proper Menstruum.
Edulcorate, is to sweeten, or make insipid, some Matter which is impregnated with Salts, by washing it with distilled or Fountain-Water.
Effervescency, is the Ebullition of Liquor, or when two Liquors or a contrary nature are put together, which cause Ebullitions without separating the parts.
Fermentation, is an Ebullition raised by Spirits that endeavour to separate themselves from the Body, but meeting with Earthy Parts that oppose their Passage they swell, and rarefy the Liquor, till they find their way out. In this Separation of Parts, the Spirits divide in such a manner, as to make the Matter of another nature, than it was before.
Filtration, is to purify a Liquor by passing it through a brown Paper; or by laying Stripes of Cotton or Woollen in the Vessel (which contains the foul Water) to the middle of the Stripes, the other Ends hanging over the Vessel, which receives the filtred Liquor.
Fumigation, is to make one thing receive the Fume of another.
Granulation, is to pour a melted Metal through a new Birch-Broom, or Brass or Iron Cullender, into cold Water.
Levigation, is to grind any hard Matter into an impalpable Powder upon a Marble.
Menstruum, is any Liquor capable of dissolving Metals, Minerals, Gums, or any other hard Substance.
Mortification, is to change the outward Form of a Mixture, as Mercury, &c. Also Spirits being mix’d with other things which deprive them of their Strength.
Putrefaction, is the Corruption of any mix’d Body whether by the Air, or other Mixtures, and which always emits a Smell different from the Body before it was corrupted.
Projection, is to put into a hot Crucible, little by little, any Matter. Also to put a small quantity of something, to a greater quantity of a Metal, to meliorate the Metal.
Rectification, is to distill Spirits after their first Distillation, in order to separate from them such Heterogeneous Matters as have risen with them in their first Distillations.
Reverberation, is to make the Flames of the Fire beat upon the Matter which is reverberated.
Revification, is to reduce any Preparation of Mercury into its Form again.
Sublimation, is to elevate any Volatile Matter into the upper part of such Vessels as contain them, by heat of Fire.
Stratification, is to lay two different things, Bed upon Bed, or Lay upon Lay, one over another.
Precipitation, is to make any Matter dissolved, fall to the bottom of the Vessel, by putting something into the Disolution, which is more agreeable to the Menstruum.’

Wilson, George, A compleat course of chymistry… The fourth edition (London, 1721), pp 4-8.

None of the experiments described here should be attempted.

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