From Alchemy to Chemistry:
Five Hundred Years of Rare and Interesting Books

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rare Book Room Exhibit

LEMERY, NICOLAS (1645 - 1715). A Course of Chymistry Containing an easie Method of Preparing those Chymical Medicines Which are Used in Physik. London, 1698.

Later edition of Lemery's highly successful Course of Chymistry, which first appeared in 1675. It served as the textbook to his popular courses on chemistry, and brought French chemical teaching out of the quasi-mystical Paracelsian tradition into the main-stream of Cartesian and atomistic natural philosophy. The importance of this work lies not in its originality or its thoroughness - Lemery followed very closely the work of his predecessors Le Febvre and Glaser, and did not develop any rigorous theories of matter - but rather in its attractive presentation of chemical ideas in corpuscular-mechanist terms, which contributed to the book's overwhelming popularity. A Course of Chymistry sold "like a work of romance or satire": it went through numerous editions, and was translated into Latin and all the major European languages. Lemery introduced his explanations of chemical reactions in terms of particle shape and movement on an ad hoc basis. Thus the best way to explain the nature of salts is to attribute shapes to their constituent particles. Acid salts must have sharp pointed particles because of their sharp taste and, even more convincingly, because they solidify in the form of sharp pointed crystals. Contrariwise, alkalis are composed of earthy solid particles whose interstitial pores are so shaped as to admit entry of the spike particles of acid. Lemery postulated that, for reaction to take place between a particular acid and alkali, there must be an appropriate relationship between the size of the acid spikes and alkaline pores.

DSB; Norman Library of Science, 1329.

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