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A view of the chemical revolution through contemporary textbooks: Lavoisier, Fourcroy and Chaptal*

  • Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (a1)
Abstract

Scientific textbooks are often said to deliver a stereotyped kind of knowledge, which conceals rather than reveals the real making of science. They may, however, alternatively be regarded as of peculiar interest for historians of science. An over-mechanical application of the Kuhnian concepts of ‘scientific revolution’ and ‘normal science’ can lead to the neglect of the internal dynamics of ‘normal science’. Scientific textbooks may provide a better understanding of the process of normalization in science.

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1 Melhado E.M., ‘Metzger, Kuhn and Eighteenth Century Disciplinary History’, in Freudenthal G. (ed.) Studies on Hélène Metzger, Corpus no 8/9, Paris, 1988, pp. 111135. See Metzger H., ‘Introduction à I'étude du rôle de Lavoisier dans l'histoire de la chimie’, Archeion, (1932), 14, pp. 2150; La Philosophie de la matière chez Lavoisier, Paris, Hermann, 1935; Kuhn T.S., The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change, Chicago University Press, 1977.

2 Gascoigne R.M., A Historical Catalogue of Scientists and Scientific Books, Garland, New York, 1984. For the eighteenth century, see Taton René, Enseignement et diffusion des sciences en France au 18ème siècle, Paris, 2nd ed. 1986.

3 Lavoisier A.L., Traits élémentaire de chimie, Paris, 1789, both printed in 2 vols, and in 3 vols; 2nd edn 1793, 2 vols. English editions: Elements of Chemistry, Edinburgh, 1790, trans by R. Kerr (reprinted in New-York, 1965); 2nd edn, Edinburgh, 1793; 3rd edn, 1796; 4th edn, 1799; 5th edn, 2 vols, 1802. See Daumas M., Lavoisier, théoricien et expérimentateur, Paris 1955, pp. 109110.

4 de Fourcroy A.F., Leçons élémentaires d'Histoire naturelle et de chimie, Paris, 1782, 2 vols, 2nd edn, Eléments d'histoire naturelle et de chimie, Paris, 1786, 4 vols; 3rd edition, 1789, 5 vols; 4th edn, Paris, 5 vols, 5th edn, Paris, An II de la république une et indivisible, 5 vols. English translation, Elementary Lectures on Chemistry and Natural History, trans T. Elliot, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1785), 5 edn, trans John Thomson, 3 vols (Edinburgh, 1798). Philosophie Chimique ou Vérités fondamentales de la chimie moderne, Paris, 1792, 2nd edn, 1795, 3rd edn, 1806.

5 Chaptal J.A.C., Elémens de Chymie, Montpellier, J.F. Picot, 3 vols, 1790; 2nd edn, Paris, A. Déterville, 3 vols, An III (1794); 3rd edition, 3 vols, Paris, An V (1796), 4th edn, 3 vols, Paris, An XI (1803). English editions, 3 vols, London, 1791, 1795, 1800; American edition, Philadelphia, 1796 (1 vol.), 1802, Boston, 1806, Philadelphia, 1807.

6 Lavoisier's papers, Archives of the Academy of Science, Folders 1259 and 1260. The first accounts of the unpublished drafts of a treatise were given by Daumas M., in ‘L'élaboration du Traité élémentaire de chimie’, Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences, (1950), 3, pp. 570590; also in Lavoisier, théoricien et expérimentateur, Paris, 1955, pp. 91112. In the memorandum entitled ‘Sur la manière d'enseigner la chimie’ (Appendix 2), Lavoisier characterized his published treatise as ‘un ouvrage imparfait’. Moreover in 1793, when he wrote to his English translator Robert Kerr, Lavoisier disapproved of the second French edition of his Traité élémentaire, which he regarded as a counterfeit (Letter 6 January 1793, quoted by Daumas, op. cit. (3), p. 109).

7 Lavoisier, Traité Elémentaire de Chimie, Oeuvres, Paris, Imprimerie Impériale, 1864, T.I, p. 13. Concerning Chaptal, see Lavoisier, Correspondence, Fascicule IV (17841876), Oeuvres, Paris, 1986, p. 21.

8 On the phrase ‘The theory of the French chemists’, see Smeaton W.A., Ambix, (1959), 7, pp. 4950; and Ambix, (1989), 36, pp. 14.

9 The memoirs by Lavoisier and Bucquet are listed in Daumas, Lavoisier théoricien et expérimentateur, Paris, 1955, pp. 3940. E. McDonald, who devoted a M.Sc. Dissertation to Bucquet, suggested that Lavoisier's plan for founding a new chemistry originated in Bucquet's mind, see ‘The collaboration of Bucquet and Lavoisier’, Ambix, (1966), 13, pp. 7483; Perrin C.E., ‘The Lavoisier-Bucquet collaboration: A Conjecture’, Ambix, (1989), 36, pp. 513.

10 Lavoisier's papers, Archives de I'Academie de Sciences, Folder 1259. See Daumas, op. cit. (3). p. 19.

11 In a ‘Notice abrégée de plusieurs mémoires rédigés en commun par MM. Bucquet et Lavoisier et sur les-quels ils prient l'académie de leur donner date avant sa séparation’, Lavoisier wrote ‘Une circonstance particullière ayant mis M. Bucquet dans le cas de répéter dans mon laboratoire (une partie des expériences les plus) toutes les expériences fondamentales du règne minéral nous avons cru devoir profiter de ce travail pour constater differents fails douteux et incertains pour répéter des expériences très anciennes qui exigent un feu violent ou des appareils très compliqués’ (Lavoisier's Papers, Archives de I'Academie de Science, Folder 363), quoted by Perrin, op. cit. (9) p. 7. Perrin also quoted Bucquet's words ‘nous trouvâmes l'occasion de repéter toutes les expériences fondamentales de la chimie’.

12 Fourcroy, Leçons élémentaires d'histoire naturelle et de chimie, Paris, chez Cuchet, 1782, 1st edn, ‘Préface’, p. ij.

13 Lavoisier, Traité élémentaire de chimie, Oeuvres, T.I, p. 1.

14 Lavoisier, ‘Mémoire sur la nécessité de réformer et de perfectionner la nomenclature de la chimie’, in MM. de Morveau, Lavoisier, Bertholletet Fourcroy, Méthode de nomenclature, Paris, 1787, p. 12; in Oeuvres, T.V., Paris Imprimerie Nationale, 1892, p. 359 (my emphasis). See Crosland M.P., Historical Studies in the Language of Chemistry, Dover Public., New York, 1st edn, 1962, 2nd edn, 1978.

15 Ibid, 1787, pp. 16–17; in Oeuvres, p. 360361.

16 Siegfried R., ‘The Chemical Revolution and the History of Chemistry’ in A. Donovan (ed.), ‘The Chem-cal revolution: Essays in reinterpretation’, Osiris, Second series, (1988), 4, p. 38.

17 Fourcroy, ‘Extrait des registres de la Société Royale de médecine’, 6 février 1789, in Lavoisier, Oeuvres, T.I, pp. 419420 (my emphasis).

18 Fourcroy and Cadet de Vaux, ‘Extrait des registres de la societe d'agriculture’ du 5 février 1789, in Lavoisier Oeuvres, T.I, p. 435.

19 Chaptal, Element de Chymie, Montpellier, 1790, T.I, p. xij.

20 Ibid, T.III, p. 453; Chaptal also advocated the alliance of chemistry with medicine, (T. 3, p. 458) and mineralogy (T2. p. 6).

21 Fourcroy, Eléments d'Histoire naturelle et de chimie. 2nd edn, 1786, T.I, pp. Ixvxcxix. In the later editions the number of categories was reduced to fourteen and to twelve in the entry ‘Axiomes’ of the Encyclopédie méthodique, Chimie, vol. II (1792), reprinted in Philosophie chimique.

22 Ibid., 5th edn, Paris, An II, T.I, p. viij.

23 For a detailed presentation of this book and information about its reception, see Smeaton W.A., Fourcroy, chemist and revolutionary, 1755–1809, Cambridge, 1962, pp. 191195, Fourcroy's twelve headings in the Philosophie chimique, 1792, were: (1) The action of light; (2) the action of caloric; (3) the action of air in combustion; (4) the nature and action of water; (5) the nature and action of earth, and the formation of alkalis; their roles in combinations; (6) the nature and properties of combustible substances; (7) the formation and decomposition of acids; (8) the union of acids with the earths and alkalis; (9) the oxidation and solution of metals; (10) the nature and formation of vegetable matter; (11) the passage of vegetables to the state of animal matter, and the nature of the latter; (12) the spontaneous decomposition of vegetable and animal matters.

24 Langins J., La République avait besoin de savants, ‘Les débuts de I'Ecole Polytechnique: l'Ecole centrale des travaux publics et les cours révolutionnaires de l'An III’, Paris, 1987, pp. 5455 and 173198.

25 Lavoisier's Papers, Archives de I'Academie de Science, 1259, end of the ‘Discours préliminaire’, see Cohen I.B., Revolution in Science, Cambridge, Mass., 1985.

26 Lavoisier, Oeuvres, I, p. 15; de Condillac E.B., La logique ou les premiers développements de I'art de penser, Paris, 1780, p. 114. Albury W.R. The Logic of Condillac and the Structure of the French Chemical and Biological Theory, 1780–1801, (Ph.D. dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1972).

27 Lavoisier, ‘Réflexions sur le phlogistique’, 1783, Oeuvres, vol. ii, p. 624.

28 Anderson W.C., Between the Library and the Laboratory: The language of chemistry in eighteenth century, France, Baltimore, 1984, pp. 132146.

29 Ibid., pp. 147–151.

30 Fourcroy, Système des connaissances chimiques, Paris, 1800, 10 octavo vols (or 5 quarto) T.I, p. xxxj. English translation, A general System of Chemical Knowledge, trans Nicholson W. (London, 1804).

31 Siegfried, ‘The Chemical Revolution and the History of Chemistry’, in Donovan A. (ed.), ‘The Chemical revolution: Essays in reinterpretation’, Osiris, Second series, 1988, 4, pp. 4350. Langins J., ‘Fourcroy, historien de la révolution chimique’, paper read at the International Conference ‘Lavoisier, ses collaborateurs et la révolution chimique’, Ecole Polytechnique, 4–5 décembre 1989.

32 Fourcroy, Système des Connaissances Chimiques, 1800, T.1, p. xl, xli.

33 Smeaton noticed that Guyton de Morveau was named first in the Méthode de nomenclature (1787); in the Essai sur le phlogistique translated from Kirwan (1788), in the list of eight editors of the Annales de chimie (1789). (‘Monsieur et Madame Lavoisier in 1789: The Chemical Revolution and the French Revolution’, Ambix, (1989), 36, pp. 14). A systematic and quantitative analysis of mutal citations of chemists before and during the chemical revolution leads to the striking result that a number of French chemists rose to the top of entailment chains close to Lavoisier; Macquer, Morveau, Berthollet, in the entailogramm for the period 1785–1788; Fourcroy and Berthollet for the period 1791–1795. White D.R. and McCann H.G., ‘Cites and fights: material entailment analysis of the eighteenth-century chemical revolution’, in Wellman B. and Berkowitz S.D. (eds) Social Structures. A Network Approach, Cambridge, 1988, pp. 380400.

34 Fourcroy, Encyclopédie Méthodique, Dictionnaire de Chimie, T.3, 1797.

35 Chaptal, Elémens de chymie, 3rd edn, Paris, An V, T.1, p.1.

36 Ibid. p. Iviv.

37 Smeaton, op. cit. (33).

38 Lavoisier, Oeuvres, II, p. 104.

39 One of Lavoisier's colleagues, however, seemed to agree with him. Guyton de Morveau celebrated Lavoisier as the founder of the new chemistry in 1786, when he gave up the phlogiston theory, and wrote a second Foreword to the first volume of the dictionary of chemistry in the Encyclopédie métbodique. Using the resources of academic rhetoric, Guyton portrayed Lavoisier as a hero fighting against dogmatism and error. He compared him with le ‘grand Descartes’, (1Guyton de Morveau L.B., Dictionnaire de chimie de I'Encyclopédie Méthodique, T.1, 1786, p. 628). See Bensaude-Vincent B., ‘A Founder myth in the History of Sciences? The Lavoisier case’, in L. Graham, W. Lepenies and P. Wiengart (eds), Functions and Uses of Disciplinary Histories, vol. vii, 1983, pp. 5378.

40 Biot J.B., Essai sur I'histoire générate des sciences pendant la révolution, Paris, An IX, 1803; Pouchét G., Les sciences pendant la terreur, Paris, 1896; Fayet J., La révolution française et la science 1789–1795, Paris, 1960; Crosland M. (ed.), Science in France in the revolutionary era, Cambridge, Mass., 1969.

41 Fourcy A., Histoire de I'Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, 1828, 2nd edn, Paris, 1987; Langins J., La république avait besoin de savants: I'Ecole centrale des travaux publics et les cours révolutionnaires de l'An III, Paris, 1987. Julia D. et al. , Atlas de la Révolution Française, II L'enseignement, 1760–1855, Paris, 1988.

42 Lavoisier A.L., ‘Réflexions sur l'instruction publique présentées à la Convention Nationale par le Bureau de consultation des Arts et Métiers, suivies d'un projet de décret, août 1793, in Oeuvres, T.IV, pp. 516540. The course on chemical arts is described on p. 525.

43 The drafts kept in the Archives de l'Academie de Science (Folder 1260), include two projects. One, dated 12 December 1792, only detailed the first and the second part under the heading ‘Table des chapitres d'un cours de chimie expérimentale’. The second, dated 18 December 1792, is entitled ‘Table générale d'un cours de Philosophie expérimentale’ and gives an outline of six parts, though the second one is lacking.

44 Lavoisier Papers, Archives de I'Academie de Science, 1260, ‘Seconde édition d'un cours de chimie’, ‘Prolégomènes’, fol. 1.

45 Guerlac H., ‘Chemistry as a branch of physics: Laplace's collaboration with Lavoisier’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1976), 7, pp. 193276; Melhado E.M., ‘Chemistry, Physics, and the Chemical Revolution’, Isis, (1985), 76, pp. 195211; Donovan A., ‘Lavoisier and the origins of modern chemistry, Osiris, (1989), 4, pp. 214231.

46 In emphasizing ‘decombustion’, as a symmetric reaction to combustion, Lavoisier referred to Fourcroy: ‘Presque tous les phénomènes de la nature, suivant M. de Fourcroy, peuvent se rapporter à deux classes principals, la combustion et la décombustion. Dans la combustion, le corps combustible passe à l'état incombustible. Dans la décombustion, le corps incombustible passe à l'état combustible. Nous ne connaissons guère de décombustion que par des affinités très composées’. In a separate note on decombustion, Lavoisier noticed that decombustion was necessary to balance the preponderant tendency of nature towards combustions: ‘La végétation est une décombustion. Cette opération doit produire les effets inverses de la combustion et doit être accompagnée d'absorption de lumière et de calorique. Elle doit être aussi lente que la combustion est rapide. Nous sommes environnés de corps dans lesquels s'opère une décombustion lente’.

47 Lavoisier, op. cit. (44).

48 Smeaton, Fourcroy: Chemist and Revolutionary, Cambridge, 1962.

49 Fourcroy, Système des connaissances chimiques, Paris, 1800, T.I, p. xxj.

50 Ibid., p. xxiij.

51 Ibid., p. xxx.

52 Darnton R., The Business of Enlightenment. A publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775–1800, 1979.

53 Fourcroy, op. cit. (49), p. xxxviij.

54 Chaptal, Chimie appliquée aux arts, Paris, 1807; 4 vols; 2nd edn, Brussels, 1830.

55 Le Grand H.E., ‘Theory and application: the early chemical work of J.A.C. Chaptal’, British Journal for the History of Science, (1984), 17, pp. 3146.

56 Chaptal, Essai sur le perfectionnement des arts chimiques en France, Paris, 1803.

57 In dedicating his treatise to ‘Sa Majesté l'Empereur-roi’ in 1808, Chaptal acknowledged Napoléon's interest in industrial development and explained that he had resigned in order better to contribute to the prosperity of the country. Chimie appliquée aux arts, 1807, T.1, dédicace. See Chaptal, La vie et I'oeuvre de Chaptal. Mémoires personnels rédigés par lui-même de 1756 à 1804, continués par son arrière petit-fils, Paris, 1893. Peronnet M. (ed.) Chaptal, Paris, Privat, 1988.

58 Chaptal, Chimie appliquée aux arts, T.1, ‘Discours préliminaire’, p. xijxvj.

59 Ibid., p. xlix–1.

60 Gillispie C.C., ‘The Encyclopédie and the Jacobin philosophy of Science: A study in Ideas and Consequences’, in Clagett M. (ed.), Critical Problems in the History of Science, Madison, 1959, pp. 255288.

* Preliminary version of this paper were presented, in part at the BSHS-HSS Anglo—American Conference, Manchester, 11–15 July 1988, and at the Summer Meeting of the BSHS, Edinburgh, 25–28 July 1989. For revision of the English version, I am indebted to Michael Clarke and Anita Guerrini.

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