1902 Encyclopedia > Chemistry > History of Chemistry: Robert Boyle. Hermann Boerhaave.

(Part 5)

HISTORY OF CHEMISTRY: Robert Boyle (1627-91). Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738).

The first to attempt to overthrow the doctrines of the iatro-chemists was Robert Boyle (1627-1691), who is 1661 published the first edition of The Sceptical Chemist, or Chymico-Physical Doubts and Paradoxes touching the Experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things, a treatise in which he shows the doubtful character of the doctrine of the threefold constitution of matter, and lays stress upon the influence of heat in the formation of new bodies, not necessarily pre-existent as such in the substances from which they are produced.

Robert Boyle image

Robert Boyle (1627-91),
Irish chemist, often called the father of modern chemistry

If, as he tells us, he is somewhat too indulgent of suspicion against the hypotheses or arguments of other chemists, he is only acting in compliance with the advice of Aristotle, and bending a crooked stick the contrary way, to reduce it at length to straightness. Into the mouth of "Themistius" he puts the complaint that "Aristotle’s hypothesis had not been called in question till in the last century Paracelsus and some few other sooty empiricks, having their eyes darkened and their brains troubled with the smoke of their furnaces, began to rail at the Peripatetick doctrine, which they were too illiterate to understand, and to tell the credulous world that they could see the three ingredients in mixed bodies, which, to gain themselves the repute of inventors, they endeavoured to disguise by calling them – instead of earth, and fire, and vapour – salt, sulphur, and mercury, to which they gave the canting title of hypostatical principles."

Boyle inclines to a belief in "but one universal matter of things, as it is known that the Aristotelians themselves acknowledge, who called it materia prima;. . . . .the portions of this matter seem to differ from one another in certain qualities or accidents, fewer or more." He thinks that elementary corpuscles are of various sizes, and of more sorts than three or four or five; and that the combination of two of these corpuscles may five rise to a new body as really one as either of the corpuscles before they were mingled or confounded, this concretion being endowed with distinct qualities, and no more by fire or any known way of analysis divisible into the corpuscles that had first concurred to make it, than either of them could by the same means be subdivided into other particles. He furthermore deduces from his arguments the corollary, "That it may as yet be doubted whether or no there be any determinate number of elements: or, if you please, whether or no all compound bodies do consists of the same number of elementary ingredients or material principles."

In another work, The Imperfections of the Chemical Doctrines of Qualities, Boyle points out the arbitrary nature of Sylvius’s classification of all substances as acids and alkalies, and the needlessness and unsatisfactory character of his hypotheses.

Iatro-chemistry was opposed also by Conring (1606-1681), Sydenham (1624-1689), Pitcairne (1652-1713), and his pupil Boerhaave (1668-1738), the author of the excellent Elementa Chemiae; and though vigorously supported by De Blegny, Borrichius, Viridet, Vieussens, and others, it gradually lost repute, and was finally overthrown by F. Hoffmann (1660-1742).

Related Pages: Biography of Robert Boyle

Read the rest of this article:
Chemistry - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries