Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Part III.

Description of the Instruments and Operations of Chemistry.


In the two former parts of this work I designedly avoided being particular in describing the manual operations of chemistry, because I had found from experience, that, in a work appropriated to reasoning, minute descriptions of processes and of plates interrupt the chain of ideas, and render the attention necessary both difficult and tedious to the reader. On the other hand, if I had confined myself to the summary descriptions hitherto given, beginners could have only acquired very vague conceptions of practical chemistry from my work, and must have wanted both confidence and interest in operations they could neither repeat nor thoroughly comprehend. This want could not have been supplied from books; for, besides that there are not any which describe the modern instruments and experiments sufficiently at large, any work that could have been consulted would have presented these things under a very different order of arrangement, and in a different chemical language, which must greatly tend to injure the main object of my performance.

Influenced by these motives, I determined to reserve, for a third part of my work, a summary description of all the instruments and manipulations relative to elementary chemistry. I considered it as better placed at the end, rather than at the beginning of the book, because I must have been obliged to suppose the reader acquainted with circumstances which a beginner cannot know, and must therefore have read the elementary part to become acquainted with. The whole of this third part may therefore be considered as resembling the explanations of plates which are usually placed at the end of academic memoirs, that they may not interrupt the connection of the text by lengthened description. Though I have taken great pains to render this part clear and methodical, and have not omitted any essential instrument or apparatus, I am far from pretending by it to set aside the necessity of attendance upon lectures and laboratories, for such as wish to acquire accurate knowledge of the science of chemistry. These should familiarise themselves to the employment of apparatus, and to the performance of experiments by actual experience. Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu, the motto which the celebrated Rouelle caused to be painted in large characters in a conspicuous part of his laboratory, is an important truth never to be lost sight of either by teachers or students of chemistry.

Chemical operations may be naturally divided into several classes, according to the purposes they are intended for performing. Some may be considered as purely mechanical, such as the determination of the weight and bulk of bodies, trituration, levigation, searching, washing, filtration, &c. Others may be considered as real chemical operations, because they are performed by means of chemical powers and agents; such are solution, fusion, &c. Some of these are intended for separating the elements of bodies from each other, some for reuniting these elements together; and some, as combustion, produce both these effects during the same process.

Without rigorously endeavouring to follow the above method, I mean to give a detail of the chemical operations in such order of arrangement as seemed best calculated for conveying instruction. I shall be more particular in describing the apparatus connected with modern chemistry, because these are hitherto little known by men who have devoted much of their time to chemistry, and even by many professors of the science.


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