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Chymistry at the Universities

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Lecturing on Chymistry at Early Modern Universities


Boerhaave lecture.

Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

This illustration depicts one of the foremost chemists of the early eighteenth century, Herman Boerhaave, lecturing to students at the University of Leiden. Edward Worth had attended Merton College, Oxford, before travelling to Leiden in the 1690s to  study for his medical degree (graduating at the University of Utrecht in 1701). This peregrinatio academica was not unusual and evidently Worth was keenly interested in chymical teaching at a number of European universities, judging from his collection of textbooks. The fact that Worth did not collect one of the most famous French textbooks, Jean Beguin’s Tyrocinium chymicum (1610), a work which had run to over forty editions, coupled with an analysis of the works he did collect, suggests that his focus was on university teaching in England, the Netherlands and Germany. He collected some of the most important university textbooks of the period, textbooks which shows us what was being taught not only at Oxford, Leiden and Utrecht but also Leipzig, Wittenberg and Halle – to name but the most obvious.

Worth was likewise interested in work emanating from the University of Jena as his copy of Zacharias Brendel Jr’s Chimia in Artis formam redacta (Leiden, 1671) demonstrates. Brendel Jr (1592-1638) was the son of Zacharias Brendel (1553-1617) who, like his son, had been Professor of Medicine at the University of Jena. Worth’s copy of Brendel the younger’s text was edited by Werner Rolfinck (1599-1673), Brendel’s successor at Jena and the first Professor of Chemistry there (1641). As  Debus (1990) relates, Rolfinck had been taught by Daniel Sennert at Wittenberg and had continued from there to study at Leiden, finally taking his doctorate in medicine from the famous Italian University of Padua. The connections between the universities were many: Rolfinck would later teach Georg Wolfgang Wedel whose Specimen experimenti chimici novi, de sale volatili plantarum (Jena, 1682) was collected by Worth. Wedel, in turn, instructed both Friedrich Hoffmann and Georg Ernst Stahl during their student days at Jena. The two would later be renowned as professors at the University of Halle. Likewise, Johannes Bohn, the professor of anatomy at Leipzig, was a graduate of Jena.


Debus, Allen G. (1986), ‘Chemistry and the Universities in the Seventeenth Century’, Academiae Analecta: Klasse der Wetenschappen, 48, 15-33 (30-31).

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