1902 Encyclopedia > Baron Guyton de Morveau

Baron Guyton de Morveau
French chemist

LOUIS BERNARD, BARON GUYTON DE MORVEAU, (1737-1816), a distinguished French chemist, was born January 4, 1737, at Dijon, in the university of which town his father was professor of civil law. As a boy he evinced a remarkable aptitude for practical mechanics. On leaving college at the age of sixteen he became a law student in the university of Dijon, and after three years he was sent to Paris to acquire a knowledge of practice at the bar. He obtained in his twenty-fourth year the office of advocate-general in the parliament of Dijon, of which he fulfilled the duties till 1782. Before long, piqued by a slighting remark of Dr Chardenon of Dijon, made in reply to a criticism at the close of a lecture on chemistry, De Morveau set himself to acquire a thorough knowledge of that science. With " practice for his master, and melted crucibles and retorts for tutors," as he once observed to Baume, he speedily obtained such a mastery over his subject as to draw from Chardenon the public acknowledgment that he was "born to be an honour to chemistry." In 1772 he published at Dijon the Digres-sions Académiques, in which were set forth his views with respect to phlogiston and the phenomena of crystallization ; and in 1773 he discovered the efficacy of hydrochloric acid gas as an atmospheric disinfectant, He was the means, in 1774, of founding in Dijon courses of public lectures on mineralogy, materia medica, and chemistry, the last of which he himself during thirteen years gratuitously delivered. It would appear that his fellow-citizens were as yet far from holding exalted views with regard to the pre-rogatives of science. Accusing him of "presumptuously disarming the hand of the Supreme Being," they about this time sought to destroy his lightning conductors at the house of the academy, and were restrained from carrying out their intentions only by the assurance of M. Maret, the secretary of that institution, " that the astonishing virtue of the apparatus resided in the gilded point, which had purposely been sent from Rome by the Holy Bather." In 1777-78 appeared the Êlêmens de Chyrnie Théorique et Pratique (3 vols. 12mo) of De Morveau, Maret, and Durande, a work highly appreciated by their contem-poraries. The chemical articles in vol. i. of the section " Chymie, Bharmacie, et Métallurgie " of the Encyclopédie Méthodique (1786), as also some few of those of vol. ii. (1792), were from the pen of De Morveau. Of these the longest is a masterly exposition of the facts and conclusions that had up to that time been arrived at by chemists on the subject of acids.

De Morveau's first essay on a new chemical nomenclature, the origin of the present system, was published in the Journal de Physique for May 1782, and was the subject of much adverse criticism. Bepairing to Paris, the author successfully met the objections of his opponents; and in 1787, in conjunction with Lavoisier, Berthollet, and Fourcroy, he published Méthode d'une Nomenclature Chimique, the principles of which were speedily adopted by chemists throughout Europe. Constantly in communi-cation with the leaders of the Lavoisierian school of chemistry in Paris, which he frequently visited, De Morveau soon became convinced of the untenableness of the old phlogistic doctrines, his reasons for renouncing which are stated in his volume of the Encyclopédie Méthodique, p. 625, sqq.

With Lavoisier, Laplace, Monge, Berthollet, and Fourcroy, he in 1788 produced a French translation of Kirwan's Essay on Phlogiston, with annotations effectually disposing of the author's arguments against the new chemistry. The first manufactory of carbonate of soda in France was established by De Morveau in 1783. In 1791 he represented the department of Côte d'Or in the Legis-lative Assembly, and next year in the National Convention, of which he was re-elected a member in 1795. Having already become famous for aeronautical experiments at Dijon in 1783-84, he was appointed in 1794 to superintend the construction of balloons for military purposes (see AERO-NAUTICS, vol. i. p. 199). About the same time he rendered important service to his country by perfecting the processes for the manufacture of gunpowder and saltpetre. In 1796 De Morveau was made a member of the Institute. He retired from political life in 1797, and in 1798 became provisional director of the Polytechnic School, in the foun-dation of which he had been actively concerned. He held during 1800-14 the appointment of master of the mint, received in 1803 the cross of the legion of honour, and was made in 1805 an officer of the same order, and in 1811 a baron of the French empire. He died January 2, 1816.

Besides the above mentioned and other works, and numerous scientific papers in the Collection académique de Dijon, the Joum. de Physique, Joum. de l'École Polytechnique, Mém. de l'Institut, Journ. des Savants, Bull. desSci. de la Soc. Philomatique, and Ann. de Chimie, to wdiich last he was one of the principal contributors, De Morveau wrote—Mémoire sur Téducation publique, 1762; a satiri-cal poem entitled Le Rat Iconoclaste, ou le Jésuite croqué, 1763 ; Discours publics et Éloges, 1775-82 ; Plaidoyers sur plusieurs ques-tions de droit, 1785 ; Traité des moyens de désinfecter l'air, 1801, &c; Rapport fait à VInstitut sur la restauration du tableau de Raphaël connu sous le nom de la Vierge de Foligno (with Vincent, Tannay, and Berthollet), 1802 ; Mém. sur les mortiers, &c., 1805 ; various governmental reports ; and translations, with notes, of treatises by Bergman, Scheele, and Black.

See Berthollet, " Discours,' Inst. R. de France, Funérailles, &c, 1816; A. B. Granville, An Account of the Life and Writings of Baron Guyton de Morveau, F.R.S., 1817 ; T. Thomson, Hist, of Chemistry, ii. 1831 ; Biog. Univ. et Portative des Con-temporains, iii. p. 701, 1834 ; and CHEMISTRY, vol. v. pp. 464, 466. (F. H. B.)


Various French biographical works attribute to De Morveau, in 1773, the discovery of the efficacy of acid vapours in destroying con-tagious miasma. W. Boraston, however, had already in 1630 re-marked—"All acetosus and sower things doe so close the powrers, and passages of the humours, that no venemous ayre can enter therein as by experience I have often found " (A Necessarie and Briefe Treatise of the Contagious Disease of the Pestilence, pp. 11, 12) ; and Dr George Thomson had in 1666 described how, preparing for the "dissection of a pestilent body," he got in readiness "a porringer containing Sulphur to burn under the Corps, " and how, suspecting the entry into his hand during the operation of "slie, insinuating, venemous Atoms," or, in modern phra'Se, septic germs, he sought to nullify their effects by holding the hand in the gas of burning brimstone (AOIM0T0MIA or the Pest Anatomized, pp. 71 and 77-79).

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