Elements of Chemistry

Elements of Chemistry

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by Antoine Lavoisier

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Monumental classic by the founder of modern chemistry is essential for undergraduate students. First explicit statement of law of conservation of matter in chemical change; first modern list of chemical elements; more. Facsimile reprint of original (1790) Kerr translation. Introduction by Professor Douglas McKie.
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Monumental classic by the founder of modern chemistry is essential for undergraduate students. First explicit statement of law of conservation of matter in chemical change; first modern list of chemical elements; more. Facsimile reprint of original (1790) Kerr translation. Introduction by Professor Douglas McKie.

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Elements of Chemistry

in a new systematic order, containing all the modern discoveries

By Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Robert Kerr

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1965 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14125-1


Of the Combinations of Caloric, and the Formation of Elastic Aëriform Fluids.

THAT every body, whether solid or fluid, is augmented in all its dimensions by any increase of its sensible heat, was long ago fully established as a physical axiom, or universal proposition, by the celebrated Boerhaave. Such facts as have been adduced for controverting the generality of this principle offer only fallacious results, or, at least, such as are so complicated with foreign circumstances as to mislead the judgment; But, when we separately consider the effects, so as to deduce each from the cause to which they separately belong, it is easy to perceive that the separation of particles by heat is a constant and general law of nature.

When we have heated a solid body to a certain degree, and have thereby caused its particles to separate from each other, if we allow the body to cool, its particles again approach each other in the same proportion in which they were separated by the increased temperature; the body returns through the same degrees of expansion which it before extended through; and, if it be brought back to the same temperature from which we set out at the commencement of the experiment, it recovers exactly the same dimensions which it formerly occupied. But, as we are still very far from being able to arrive at the degree of absolute cold, or deprivation of all hear, being unacquainted with any degree of coldness which we cannot suppose capable of still farther augmentation, it follows, that we are still incapable of causing the ultimate particles of bodies to approach each other as near as is possible; and, consequently, that the particles of all bodies do not touch each other in any state hitherto known, which, tho' a very singular conclusion, is yet impossible to be denied.

It is supposed, that, since the particles of bodies are thus continually impelled by heat to separate from each other, they would have no connection between themselves; and, of consequence, that there could be no solidity in nature, unless they were held together by some other power which tends to unite them, and, so to speak, to chain them together; which power, whatever be its cause, or manner of operation, we name Attraction.

Thus the particles of all bodies may be considered as subjected to the action of two opposite powers, the one repulsive, the other attractive, between which they remain in equilibrio. So long as the attractive force remains stronger, the body must continue in a state of solidity; but if, on the contrary, heat has so far removed these particles from each other, as to place them beyond the sphere of attraction, they lose the adhesion they before had with each other, and the body ceases to be solid.

Water gives us a regular and constant example of these facts; whilst below Zero of the French thermometer, or 32° of Fahrenheit, it remains solid, and is called ice. Above that degree of temperature, its particles being no longer held together by reciprocal attraction, it becomes liquid; and, when we raise its temperature above 80°, (212°) its particles, giving way to the repulsion caused by the heat, assume the state of vapour or gas, and the water is changed into an aëriform fluid.

The same may be affirmed of all bodies in nature: They are either solid or liquid, or in the state of elastic aëriform vapour, according to the proportion which takes place between the attractive force inherent in their particles, and the repulsive power of the heat acting upon-these; or, what amounts to the same thing, in proportion to the degree of heat to which they are exposed,

It is difficult to comprehend these phenomena, without admitting them as the effects of a real and material substance, or very subtile fluid, which, insinuating itself between the particles of bodies, separates them from each other; and, even allowing the existence of this fluid to be hypothetical, we shall see in the sequel, that it explains the phenomena of nature in a very satisfactory manner.

This substance, whatever it is, being the cause of heat, or, in other words, the sensation which we call warmth being caused by the accumulation of this substance, we cannot, in strict language, distinguish it by the term heat; because the same name would then very improperly express both cause and effect. For this reason, in the memoir which I published in 1777, I gave it the names of igneous fluid and matter of heat: And, since that time, in the work published by Mr de Morveau, Mr Berthollet, Mr de Fourcroy, and myself, upon the reformation of chemical nomenclature, we thought it necessary to banish all periphrastic expressions, which both lengthen physical language, and render it more tedious and less distinct, and which even frequently does not convey sufficiently just ideas of the subject intended. Wherefore, we have distinguished the cause of heat, or that exquisitely elastic fluid which produces it, by the term of caloric. Besides, that this expression fulfils our object in the system which we have adopted, it possesses this farther advantage, that it accords with every species of opinion, since, strictly speaking, we are not obliged to suppose this to be a real substance; it being sufficient, as will more clearly appear in the sequel of this work, that it be considered as the repulsive cause, whatever that may be, which separates the particles of matter from each other; so that we are still at liberty to investigate its effects in an abstract and mathematical manner.

In the present state of our knowledge, we are unable to determine whether light be a modification of caloric, or if caloric be, on the contrary, a modification of light. This, however, is indisputable, that, in a system where only decided facts are admissible, and where we avoid, as far as possible, to suppose any thing to be that is not really known to exist, we ought provisionally to distinguish, by distinct terms, such things as are known to produce different effects. We therefore distinguish light from caloric; though we do not therefore deny that these have certain qualities in common, and that, in certain circumstances, they combine with other bodies almost in the same manner, and produce, in part, the same effects.

What I have already said may suffice to determine the idea affixed to the word caloric; but there remains a more difficult attempt, which is, to give a just conception of the manner in which caloric acts upon other bodies. Since this subtile matter penetrates through the pores of all known substances; since there are no vessels through which it cannot escape, and, consequently, as there are none which are capable of retaining it, we can only come at the knowledge of its properties by effects which are fleeting, and difficultly ascertainable. It is in these things which we neither see nor feel, that it is especially necessary to guard against that extravagancy of our imagination, which forever inclines to step beyond the bounds of truth, and is very difficultly restrained within the narrow line of facts.

We have already seen, that the same body becomes solid, or fluid, or aëriform, according to the quantity of caloric by which it is penetrated; or, to speak more strictly, according as the repulsive force exerted by the caloric is equal to, stronger, or weaker, than the attraction of the particles of the body it acts upon.

But, if these two powers only existed, bodies would become liquid at an indivisible degree of the thermometer, and would almost instantaneously pass from the solid state of aggregation to that of aëriform elasticity. Thus water, for instance, at the very moment when it ceases to be ice, would begin to boil, and would be transformed into an aëriform fluid, having its particles scattered indefinitely through the surrounding space. That this does not happen, must depend upon the action of some third power. The pressure of the atmosphere prevents this separation, and causes the water to remain in the liquid state till it be raised to 80° of temperature (212°) above zero of the French thermometer, the quantity of caloric which it receives in the lowest temperature being insufficient to overcome the pressure of the atmosphere.

Whence it appears that, without this atmospheric pressure, we should not have any permanent liquid, and should only be able to see bodies in that state of existence in the very instant of melting, as the smallest additional caloric would instantly separate their particles, and dissipate them through the surrounding medium. Besides, without this atmospheric pressure, we should not even have any aëriform fluids, strictly speaking, because the moment the force of attraction is overcome by the repulsive power of the caloric, the particles would separate themselves indefinitely, having nothing to give limits to their expansion, unless their own gravity might collect them together, so as to form an atmosphere.

Simple reflection upon the most common experiments is sussicient to evince the truth of these positions. They are more particularly proved by the following experiment, which I published in the Memoirs of the French Academy for 1777, P. 426.

Having filled with sulphuric ether * a small narrow glass vessel, A, (Plate VII. Fig. 17.), standing upon its stalk P, the vessel, which is from twelve to fifteen lines diameter, is to be covered by a wet bladder, tied round its neck with several turns of strong thread; for greater security, fix a second bladder over the first, The vessel should be filled in such a manner with the ether, as not to leave the smallest portion of air between the liquor and the bladder. It is now to be placed under the recipient BCD of an air-pump, of which the upper part B ought to be fitted with a leathern lid, through which passes a wire EF, having its point F very sharp; and in the same receiver there ought to be placed the barometer GH. The whole being thus disposed, let the recipient be exhausted and then, by pushing down the wire EF, we make a hole in the bladder. Immediately the ether begins to boil with great violence, and is changed into an elastic aëriform fluid, which fills the receiver. If the quantity of ether be sufficient to leave a few drops in the phial after the evaporation is finished, the elastic fluid produced will sustain the mercury in the barometer attached to the air-pump, at eight or ten inches in winter, and from twenty to twenty-five in summer. To render this experiment more complete, we may introduce a small thermometer into the phial A, containing the ether, which will descend considerably during the evaporation.

The only effect produced in this experiment is, the taking away the weight of the atmosphere, which, in its ordinary state, presses on the surface of the ether; and the effects resulting from this removal evidently prove, that, in the ordinary temperature of the earth, ether would always exist in an aëriform state, but for the pressure of the atmosphere, and that the passing of the ether from the liquid to the aëriform state is accompanied by a considerable lessening of heat; because, during the evaporation, a part of the caloric, which was before in a free state, or at least in equilibrio in the surrounding bodies, combines with the ether, and causes it to assume the aëriform state.

The same experiment succeeds with all evaporable fluids, such as alkohol, water, and even mercury; with this difference, that the atmosphere formed in the receiver by alkohol only supports the attached barometer about one inch in winter, and about four or five inches in summer; that formed by water, in the same situation, raises the mercury only a few lines, and that by quicksilver but a few fractions of a line. There is therefore less fluid evaporated from alkohol than from ether, less from water than from alkohol, and still less from mercury than from either; consequently there is less caloric employed, and less cold produced, which quadrates exactly with the results of these experiments.

It would have been more satisfactory if the Author had specified the degrees of the thermometer at which these heights of the mercury in the barometer are produced.

Another species of experiment proves very evidently that the aëriform state is a modification of bodies dependent on the degree of temperature, and on the pressure which these bodies undergo. In a Memoir read by Mr de la Place and me to the Academy in 1777, which has not been printed, we have shown, that, when ether is subjected to a pressure equal to twenty-eight inches of the barometer, or about the medium pressure of the atmosphere, it boils at the temperature of about 32° (104), or 33° (106.25°), of the thermometer. Mr de Luc, who has made similar experiments with spirit of wine, finds it boils at 67° (182.75°). And all the world knows that water boils at 80° (212°). Now, boiling being only the evaporation of a liquid, or the moment of its passing from the fluid to the aëriform state, it is evident that, if we keep ether continually at the temperature of 33° (106.25°), and under the common pressure of the atmosphere, we shall have it always in an elastic aëriform state; and that the same thing will happen with alkohol when above 67° (182.75°), and with water when above 80° (212°); all which are perfectly conformable to the following experiment.

I filled a large vessel ABCD (Plate VII. Fig. 16.) with water, at 35° (110.75°), or 36° (113°); I suppose the vessel transparent, that we may see what takes place in the experiment; and we can easily hold the hands in water at that temperature without inconvenience. Into it I plunged some narrow necked bottles F, G, which were filled with the water, after which they were turned up, so as to rest on their mouths on the bottom of the vessel. Having next put some ether into a very small matrass, with its neck a b c, twice bent as in the Plate, I plunged this matrass into the water, so as to have its neck inserted into the mouth of one of the bottles F. Immediately upon feeling the effects of the heat communicated to it by the water in the vessel ABCD it began to boil; and the caloric entering into combination with it, changed it into elastic aëriform fluid, with which I filled several bottles successively, F, G, &c.

This is not the place to enter upon the examination of the nature and properties of this aëriform fluid, which is extremely inflammable; but, confining myself to the object at present in view, without anticipating circumstances, which I am not to suppose the reader to know, I shall only observe, that the ether, from this experiment, is almost only capable of existing in the aëriform state in our world; for, if the weight of our atmosphere was only equal to between 20 and 24 inches of the barometer, instead of 28 inches, we should never be able to obtain ether in the liquid state, at least in summer; and the formation of ether would consequently be impossible upon mountains of a moderate degree of elevation, as it would be converted into gas immediately upon being produced, unless we employed recipients of extraordinary strength, together with refrigeration and compression. And, lastly, the temperature of the blood being nearly that at which ether passes from the liquid to the aëriform state, it must evaporate in the primae viae, and consequently it is very probable the medical properties of this fluid depend chiefly upon its mechanical effect.


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