Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Chapter XVII.

Continuation of the Observations upon Salifiable Bases, and the Formation of Neutral Salts.

It is necessary to remark, that earths and alkalies unite with acids to form neutral salts without the intervention of any medium, whereas metallic substances are incapable of forming this combination without being previously less or more oxygenated; strictly speaking, therefore, metals are not soluble in acids, but only metallic oxyds. Hence, when we put a metal into an acid for solution, it is necessary, in the first place, that it become oxygenated, either by attracting oxygen from the acid or from the water; or, in other words, that a metal cannot be dissolved in an acid unless the oxygen, either of the acid, or of the water mixed with it, has a stronger affinity to the metal than to the hydrogen or the acidifiable base; or, what amounts to the same thing, that no metallic solution can take place without a previous decomposition of the water, or the acid in which it is made. The explanation of the principal phenomena of metallic solution depends entirely upon this simple observation, which was overlooked even by the illustrious Bergman.

The first and most striking of these is the effervescence, or, to speak less equivocally, the disengagement of gas which takes place during the solution; in the solutions made in nitric acid this effervescence is produced by the disengagement of nitrous gas; in solutions with sulphuric acid it is either sulphurous acid gas or hydrogen gas, according as the oxydation of the metal happens to be made at the expence of the sulphuric acid or of the water. As both nitric acid and water are composed of elements which, when separate, can only exist in the gasseous form, at least in the common temperature of the atmosphere, it is evident that, whenever either of these is deprived of its oxygen, the remaining element must instantly expand and assume the state of gas; the effervescence is occasioned by this sudden conversion from the liquid to the gasseous state. The same decomposition, and consequent formation of gas, takes place when solutions of metals are made in sulphuric acid: In general, especially by the humid way, metals do not attract all the oxygen it contains; they therefore reduce it, not into sulphur, but into sulphurous acid, and as this acid can only exist as gas in the usual temperature, it is disengaged, and occasions effervescence.

The second phenomenon is, that, when the metals have been previously oxydated, they all dissolve in acids without effervescence: This is easily explained; because, not having now any occasion for combining with oxygen, they neither decompose the acid nor the water by which, in the former case, the effervescence is occasioned.

A third phenomenon, which requires particular consideration, is, that none of the metals produce effervescence by solution in oxygenated muriatic acid. During this process the metal, in the first place, carries off the excess of oxygen from the oxygenated muriatic acid, by which it becomes oxydated, and reduces the acid to the state of ordinary muriatic acid. In this case there is no production of gas, not that the muriatic acid does not tend to exist in the gasseous state in the common temperature, which it does equally with the acids formerly mentioned, but because this acid, which otherwise would expand into gas, finds more water combined with the oxygenated muriatic acid than is necessary to retain it in the liquid form; hence it does not disengage like the sulphurous acid, but remains, and quietly dissolves and combines with the metallic oxyd previously formed from its superabundant oxygen.

The fourth phenomenon is, that metals are absolutely insoluble in such acids as have their bases joined to oxygen by a stronger affinity than these metals are capable of exerting upon that acidifying principle. Hence silver, mercury, and lead, in their metallic states, are insoluble in muriatic acid, but, when previously oxydated, they become readily soluble without effervescence.

From these phenomena it appears that oxygen is the bond of union between metals and acids; and from this we are led to suppose that oxygen is contained in all substances which have a strong affinity with acids: Hence it is very probable the four eminently salifiable earths contain oxygen, and their capability of uniting with acids is produced by the intermediation of that element. What I have formerly noticed relative to these earths is considerably strengthened by the above considerations, viz. that they may very possibly be metallic oxyds, with which oxygen has a stronger affinity than with charcoal, and consequently not reducible by any known means.

All the acids hitherto known are enumerated in the following table, the first column of which contains the names of the acids according to the new nomenclature, and in the second column are placed the bases or radicals of these acids, with observations.

Names of the Acids. Names of the Bases, with Observations.
1. Sulphurous }Sulphur.
2. Sulphuric }
3. Phosphorous }Phosphorus.
4. Phosphoric }
5. Muriatic }Muriatic radical or base, hitherto unknown.
6. Oxygenated muriatic }
7. Nitrous }
8. Nitric }Azote.
9. Oxygenated nitric }
10. Carbonic Charcoal
}The bases or radicals of all these acids
11. Acetous }seem to be formed by a combination
12. Acetic }of charcoal and hydrogen;
13. Oxalic }and the only difference seems to be
14. Tartarous }owing to the different proportions in
15. Pyro-tartarous }which these elements combine to form
16. Citric }their bases, and to the different doses
17. Malic }of oxygen in their acidification. A
18. Pyro-lignous }connected series of accurate experiments
19. Pyro-mucous }is still wanted upon this subject.
20. Gallic }Our knowledge of the bases of
21. Prussic }these acids is hitherto imperfect; we
22. Benzoic }only know that they contain hydrogen
23. Succinic }and charcoal as principal elements,
24. Camphoric }and that the prussic acid contains
25. Lactic }azote.
26. Saccholactic }
27. Bombic }The base of these and all acids
28. Formic }procured from animal substances seems
29. Sebacic }to consist of charcoal, hydrogen,
}phosphorous, and azote.
30. Boracic }The bases of these two are hitherto
31. Fluoric }entirely unknown.
32. Antimonic Antimony.
33. Argentic Silver.
34. Arseniac(A) Arsenic.
35. Bismuthic Bismuth.
36. Cobaltic Cobalt.
37. Cupric Copper.
38. Stannic Tin.
39. Ferric Iron.
40. Manganic Manganese.
41. Mercuric(B) Mercury.
42. Molybdic Molybdena.
43. Nickolic Nickel.
44. Auric Gold.
45. Platinic Platina.
46. Plumbic Lead.
47. Tungstic Tungstein.
48. Zincic Zinc.

[Note A: This term swerves a little from the rule in making the name of this acid terminate in ac instead of ic. The base and acid are distinguished in French by arsenic and arsenique; but, having chosen the English termination ic to translate the French ique, I was obliged to use this small deviation. — E.]

[Note B: Mr Lavoisier has hydrargirique; but mercurius being used for the base or metal, the name of the acid, as above, is equally regular, and less harsh. — E.]

In this list, which contains 48 acids, I have enumerated 17 metallic acids hitherto very imperfectly known, but upon which Mr Berthollet is about to publish a very important work. It cannot be pretended that all the acids which exist in nature, or rather all the acidifiable bases, are yet discovered; but, on the other hand, there are considerable grounds for supposing that a more accurate investigation than has hitherto been attempted will diminish the number of the vegetable acids, by showing that several of these, at present considered as distinct acids, are only modifications of others. All that can be done in the present state of our knowledge is, to give a view of chemistry as it really is, and to establish fundamental principles, by which such bodies as may be discovered in future may receive names, in conformity with one uniform system.

The known salifiable bases, or substances capable of being converted into neutral salts by union with acids, amount to 24; viz. 3 alkalies, 4 earths, and 17 metallic substances; so that, in the present state of chemical knowledge, the whole possible number of neutral salts amounts to 115233. This number is upon the supposition that the metallic acids are capable of dissolving other metals, which is a new branch of chemistry not hitherto investigated, upon which depends all the metallic combinations named vitreous. There is reason to believe that many of these supposable saline combinations are not capable of being formed, which must greatly reduce the real number of neutral salts producible by nature and art. Even if we suppose the real number to amount only to five or six hundred species of possible neutral salts, it is evident that, were we to distinguish them, after the manner of the ancients, either by the names of their first discoverers, or by terms derived from the substances from which they are procured, we should at last have such a confusion of arbitrary designations, as no memory could possibly retain. This method might be tolerable in the early ages of chemistry, or even till within these twenty years, when only about thirty species of salts were known; but, in the present times, when the number is augmenting daily, when every new acid gives us 24 or 48 new salts, according as it is capable of one or two degrees of oxygenation, a new method is certainly necessary. The method we have adopted, drawn from the nomenclature of the acids, is perfectly analogical, and, following nature in the simplicity of her operations, gives a natural and easy nomenclature applicable to every possible neutral salt.

In giving names to the different acids, we express the common property by the generical term acid, and distinguish each species by the name of its peculiar acidifiable base. Hence the acids formed by the oxygenation of sulphur, phosphorus, charcoal, &c. are called sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, carbonic acid, &c. We thought it likewise proper to indicate the different degrees of saturation with oxygen, by different terminations of the same specific names. Hence we distinguish between sulphurous and sulphuric, and between phosphorous and phosphoric acids, &c.

By applying these principles to the nomenclature of neutral salts, we give a common term to all the neutral salts arising from the combination of one acid, and distinguish the species by adding the name of the salifiable base. Thus, all the neutral salts having sulphuric acid in their composition are named sulphats; those formed by the phosphoric acid, phosphats, &c. The species being distinguished by the names of the salifiable bases gives us sulphat of potash, sulphat of soda, sulphat of ammoniac, sulphat of lime, sulphat of iron, &c. As we are acquainted with 24 salifiable bases, alkaline, earthy, and metallic, we have consequently 24 sulphats, as many phosphats, and so on through all the acids. Sulphur is, however, susceptible of two degrees of oxygenation, the first of which produces sulphurous, and the second, sulphuric acid; and, as the neutral salts produced by these two acids, have different properties, and are in fact different salts, it becomes necessary to distinguish these by peculiar terminations; we have therefore distinguished the neutral salts formed by the acids in the first or lesser degree of oxygenation, by changing the termination at into ite, as sulphites, phosphites34, &c. Thus, oxygenated or acidified sulphur, in its two degrees of oxygenation is capable of forming 48 neutral salts, 24 of which are sulphites, and as many sulphats; which is likewise the case with all the acids capable of two degrees of oxygenation35.

It were both tiresome and unnecessary to follow these denominations through all the varieties of their possible application; it is enough to have given the method of naming the various salts, which, when once well understood, is easily applied to every possible combination. The name of the combustible and acidifiable body being once known, the names of the acid it is capable of forming, and of all the neutral combinations the acid is susceptible of entering into, are most readily remembered. Such as require a more complete illustration of the methods in which the new nomenclature is applied will, in the Second Part of this book, find Tables which contain a full enumeration of all the neutral salts, and, in general, all the possible chemical combinations, so far as is consistent with the present state of our knowledge. To these I shall subjoin short explanations, containing the best and most simple means of procuring the different species of acids, and some account of the general properties of the neutral salts they produce.

I shall not deny, that, to render this work more complete, it would have been necessary to add particular observations upon each species of salt, its solubility in water and alkohol, the proportions of acid and of salifiable base in its composition, the quantity of its water of cristallization, the different degrees of saturation it is susceptible of, and, finally, the degree of force or affinity with which the acid adheres to the base. This immense work has been already begun by Messrs Bergman, Morveau, Kirwan, and other celebrated chemists, but is hitherto only in a moderate state of advancement, even the principles upon which it is founded are not perhaps sufficiently accurate.

These numerous details would have swelled this elementary treatise to much too great a size; besides that, to have gathered the necessary materials, and to have completed all the series of experiments requisite, must have retarded the publication of this book for many years. This is a vast field for employing the zeal and abilities of young chemists, whom I would advise to endeavour rather to do well than to do much, and to ascertain, in the first place, the composition of the acids, before entering upon that of the neutral salts. Every edifice which is intended to resist the ravages of time should be built upon a sure foundation; and, in the present state of chemistry, to attempt discoveries by experiments, either not perfectly exact, or not sufficiently rigorous, will serve only to interrupt its progress, instead of contributing to its advancement.

33 This number excludes all triple salts, or such as contain more than one salifiable base, all the salts whose bases are over or under saturated with acid, and those formed by the nitro-muriatic acid. — E.

34 As all the specific names of the acids in the new nomenclature are adjectives, they would have applied severally to the various salifiable bases, without the invention of other terms, with perfect distinctness. Thus, sulphurous potash, and sulphuric potash, are equally distinct as sulphite of potash, and sulphat of potash; and have the advantage of being more easily retained in the memory, because more naturally arising from the acids themselves, than the arbitrary terminations adopted by Mr Lavoisier. — E.

35 There is yet a third degree of oxygenation of acids, as the oxygenated muriatic and oxygenated nitric acids. The terms applicable to the neutral salts resulting from the union of these acids with salifiable bases is supplied by the Author in the Second Part of this Work. These are formed by prefixing the word oxygenated to the name of the salt produced by the second degree of oxygenation. Thus, oxygenated muriat of potash, oxygenated nitrat of soda, &c. — E.


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