Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Chapter XI.

Observations upon Oxyds and Acids with several Bases — and upon the Composition of Animal and Vegetable Substances.

We have, in Chap. V. and VIII. examined the products resulting from the combustion of the four simple combustible substances, sulphur, phosphorus, charcoal, and hydrogen: We have shown, in Chap. X that the simple combustible substances are capable of combining with each other into compound combustible substances, and have observed that oils in general, and particularly the fixed vegetable oils, belong to this class, being composed of hydrogen and charcoal. It remains, in this chapter, to treat of the oxygenation of these compound combustible substances, and to show that there exist acids and oxyds having double and triple bases. Nature furnishes us with numerous examples of this kind of combinations, by means of which, chiefly, she is enabled to produce a vast variety of compounds from a very limited number of elements, or simple substances.

It was long ago well known, that, when muriatic and nitric acids were mixed together, a compound acid was formed, having properties quite distinct from those of either of the acids taken separately. This acid was called aqua regia, from its most celebrated property of dissolving gold, called king of metals by the alchymists. Mr Berthollet has distinctly proved that the peculiar properties of this acid arise from the combined action of its two acidifiable bases; and for this reason we have judged it necessary to distinguish it by an appropriate name: That of nitro-muriatic acid appears extremely applicable, from its expressing the nature of the two substances which enter into its composition.

This phenomenon of a double base in one acid, which had formerly been observed only in the nitro-muriatic acid, occurs continually in the vegetable kingdom, in which a simple acid, or one possessed of a single acidifiable base, is very rarely found. Almost all the acids procurable from this kingdom have bases composed of charcoal and hydrogen, or of charcoal, hydrogen, and phosphorus, combined with more or less oxygen. All these bases, whether double or triple, are likewise formed into oxyds, having less oxygen than is necessary to give them the properties of acids. The acids and oxyds from the animal kingdom are still more compound, as their bases generally consist of a combination of charcoal, phosphorus, hydrogen, and azote.

As it is but of late that I have acquired any clear and distinct notions of these substances, I shall not, in this place, enlarge much upon the subject, which I mean to treat of very fully in some memoirs I am preparing to lay before the Academy. Most of my experiments are already performed; but, to be able to give exact reports of the resulting quantities, it is necessary that they be carefully repeated, and increased in number: Wherefore, I shall only give a short enumeration of the vegetable and animal acids and oxyds, and terminate this article by a few reflections upon the composition of vegetable and animal bodies.

Sugar, mucus, under which term we include the different kinds of gums, and starch, are vegetable oxyds, having hydrogen and charcoal combined, in different proportions, as their radicals or bases, and united with oxygen, so as to bring them to the state of oxyds. From the state of oxyds they are capable of being changed into acids by the addition of a fresh quantity of oxygen; and, according to the degrees of oxygenation, and the proportion of hydrogen and charcoal in their bases, they form the several kinds of vegetable acids.

It would be easy to apply the principles of our nomenclature to give names to these vegetable acids and oxyds, by using the names of the two substances which compose their bases: They would thus become hydro-carbonous acids and oxyds: In this method we might indicate which of their elements existed in excess, without circumlocution, after the manner used by Mr Rouelle for naming vegetable extracts: He calls these extracto-resinous when the extractive matter prevails in their composition, and resino-extractive when they contain a larger proportion of resinous matter. Upon that plan, and by varying the terminations according to the formerly established rules of our nomenclature, we have the following denominations: Hydro-carbonous, hydro-carbonic; carbono-hydrous, and carbono-hydric oxyds. And for the acids: Hydro-carbonous, hydro carbonic, oxygenated hydro-carbonic; carbono-hydrous, carbono-hydric, and oxygenated carbono-hydric. It is probable that the above terms would suffice for indicating all the varieties in nature, and that, in proportion as the vegetable acids become well understood, they will naturally arrange themselves under these denominations. But, though we know the elements of which these are composed, we are as yet ignorant of the proportions of these ingredients, and are still far from being able to class them in the above methodical manner; wherefore, we have determined to retain the ancient names provisionally. I am somewhat farther advanced in this inquiry than at the time of publishing our conjunct essay upon chemical nomenclature; yet it would be improper to draw decided consequences from experiments not yet sufficiently precise: Though I acknowledge that this part of chemistry still remains in some degree obscure, I must express my expectations of its being very soon elucidated.

I am still more forcibly necessitated to follow the same plan in naming the acids, which have three or four elements combined in their bases; of these we have a considerable number from the animal kingdom, and some even from vegetable substances. Azote, for instance, joined to hydrogen and charcoal, form the base or radical of the Prussic acid; we have reason to believe that the same happens with the base of the Gallic acid; and almost all the animal acids have their bases composed of azote, phosphorus, hydrogen, and charcoal. Were we to endeavour to express at once all these four component parts of the bases, our nomenclature would undoubtedly be methodical; it would have the property of being clear and determinate; but this assemblage of Greek and Latin substantives and adjectives, which are not yet universally admitted by chemists, would have the appearance of a barbarous language, difficult both to pronounce and to be remembered. Besides, this part of chemistry being still far from that accuracy it must arrive to, the perfection of the science ought certainly to precede that of its language; and we must still, for some time, retain the old names for the animal oxyds and acids. We have only ventured to make a few slight modifications of these names, by changing the termination into ous, when we have reason to suppose the base to be in excess, and into ic, when we suspect the oxygen predominates.

The following are all the vegetable acids hitherto known:

1. Acetous acid.

2. Acetic acid.

3. Oxalic acid.

4. Tartarous acid.

5. Pyro-tartarous acid.

6. Citric acid.

7. Malic acid.

8. Pyro-mucous acid.

9. Pyro-lignous acid.

10. Gallic acid.

11. Benzoic acid.

12. Camphoric acid.

13. Succinic acid.

Though all these acids, as has been already said, are chiefly, and almost entirely, composed of hydrogen, charcoal, and oxygen, yet, properly speaking, they contain neither water carbonic acid nor oil, but only the elements necessary for forming these substances. The power of affinity reciprocally exerted by the hydrogen, charcoal, and oxygen, in these acids, is in a state of equilibrium only capable of existing in the ordinary temperature of the atmosphere; for, when they are heated but a very little above the temperature of boiling water, this equilibrium is destroyed, part of the oxygen and hydrogen unite, and form water; part of the charcoal and hydrogen combine into oil; part of the charcoal and oxygen unite to form carbonic acid; and, lastly, there generally remains a small portion of charcoal, which, being in excess with respect to the other ingredients, is left free. I mean to explain this subject somewhat farther in the succeeding chapter.

The oxyds of the animal kingdom are hitherto less known than those from the vegetable kingdom, and their number is as yet not at all determined. The red part of the blood, lymph, and most of the secretions, are true oxyds, under which point of view it is very important to consider them. We are only acquainted with six animal acids, several of which, it is probable, approach very near each other in their nature, or, at least, differ only in a scarcely sensible degree. I do not include the phosphoric acid amongst these, because it is found in all the kingdoms of nature. They are,

1. Lactic acid.

2. Saccholactic acid.

3. Bombic acid.

4. Formic acid.

5. Sebacic acid.

6. Prussic acid.

The connection between the constituent elements of the animal oxyds and acids is not more permanent than in those from the vegetable kingdom, as a small increase of temperature is sufficient to overturn it. I hope to render this subject more distinct than has been done hitherto in the following chapter.


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