This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Arsenicum Album Pharm. Paris. Arse-nicum simpliciter dictum. Arsenic or white arsenic: a semitransparent crystalline concrete, assuming an opake milky hue on being exposed for some time to the air: soluble plentifully in alkaline lixivia, more sparingly in oils, and still more so in acids; dissolving also, by the assist-ance of a boiling heat, in water, but separating and crystallizing in great part as the liquor cools; totally exhaling, by a heat below ignition, in thick fumes, distinguishable from those of all other known mineral substances, by a strong fetid smell resembling that of garlic.
The fumes, caught in vessels, condense, either into a crystalline form again, or into a powdery one, according as the receiver is less or more removed from the action of the heat. If the arsenic be mixed with vegetable or animal coals, or other inflammable substances not sul-phureous, that is, not participating of vitriolic acid, and exposed to a moderate heat without communication with the air, it sublimes in form of a bright greyish metallic substance, quickly tarnishing to a black, lighter and less compact than most of the other metallic bodies, scarcely seven times specifically heavier than water, changeable into a calx or white arsenic again by sublimation with the admission of air.
Arsenic is contained, in greater or less quantity, in the ores of most metallic bodies, particularly in those of tin and bismuth, and in the mineral called cobalt, cobaltum, cadmia metal-lic; from which last, greatest part of the arsenic brought to us is extracted, in Saxony, by a kind of sublimation: the arsenic rises at first into a large horizontal chimney communicating with the furnace, in form of a greyish meal, which, more carefully resublimed, concretes into the crystalline white arsenic of the shops. Henckel observes, that of all the metallic bodies, mercury and the antimonial metal are the only ones which are never found to have any arsenic in their ores: to these perhaps may be added zinc, whose proper ore, calamine, appears to, be pure from arsenic.
White arsenic is one of the most violent poisons. Besides the effects, which it produces in common with other poisonous substances, it is said to render the coats of the stomach remarkably thin, to occasion a swelling and spha-celation of the whole body, and a sudden putrefaction after death, particularly of the genitals in men (a). Where the quantity taken has been so small as not to prove fatal, tremors, palsies, and lingering hectics succeed. It has likewise been observed to produce very dangerous, and sometimes mortal symptoms, when applied externally (b), which it was formerly recommended to be, against cancers and scrophulous tumors.
* This dangerous mineral has of late been considered by some as a real specific against the cancerous virus. Mr. Le Febure has ventured publicly to recommend its internal use, together with a topical application of it to the affected part, in cancerous cases; and positively affirms that he has found it efficacious in more than two hundred instances, without any bad effects. He gives a very dilute solution of white arsenic, mixed with milk and syrup of poppies. Mr. Juftamond, who published a treatise on cancers two or three years since, agrees with the above-mentioned author in the idea that arsenic is spe-cific against this disease, but laments that even the moil guarded external use of it, while it produces the happiest effects in healing cancerous ulcers, yet occasions such disagreeable symptoms of the paralytic kind, that it cannot be persisted in. The latest trials in London are said to confirm this account *(a).
(a) Stahl. Mens. Novemb. cap. iv. opusc. p. 454, 455. Lindeftolpe, De venenis, edit. Stentzel, cap. xvi. thef. x.
(b) Degner, Hist. dysenteriae biliosae, p. 214. Hildanus, Obs. p. 606. Heimrich, Act. nat. cur. vbl. ii. obs. 10. Fernelius, De methodo medendi, lib. vi. cap. 18.
The remedies against this, as against most other poisons, are, milk and oily liquors, immediately and liberally drank. Hoffman tells us of several persons of distinction, who, on tailing food with which white arsenic had been mixed instead of sugar, were all seized with anxiety at the breast, pain at the stomach, tremor of the lips, and reachings: milk and oil were poured down, plentifully and repeatedly, so as to keep them strongly vomiting for half a day; some vomited no less than an hundred times: by this simple remedy they all escaped (b), and some instances of the same kind have fallen within my own knowledge. Tachenius relates, that convulsions of the limbs, gripes, bloody urine with inexpressible pain, and a contraction of the whole body, which he had been seized with from exposure to the fumes of arsenic, being relieved by milk and oil, a flow fever succeeded, which continued during the winter, and of which he was at last cured by decoctions of the vulnerary herbs, and by the use of cabbage sprouts with orange juice, oil, and a little salt (a). *Sage, in his Mineralogy, says that the regulus is far less dangerous than the calx or glass: he gave half an ounce of the regulus to a cat; who grew meager for some time, but afterwards fat again - that acids, particularly vinegar, are the antidotes to this poison. Oils and emulsions do not obtund its effects as acids do; of this he has had experience on brutes - that the regulus is not soluble in water; and that the founders are more afraid of fumes of lead than of arsenic.
* (a) The internal use of arsenic has since gained ground in a variety of disorders, particularly in intermittent fevers, which it is said readily to cure, and sometimes after the bark and all other remedies have failed, and that without any bad effects whatsoever, or such only as are easily obviated. A solution of the mineral is given by drops, amounting from 1/16 to 1/8 of a grain for a dose, largely dilated in a tepid aqueous liquor.
See Fowler's Medical Reports of the Effects of Arsenic, 1786.
(b) Hoffman, Syst. wed. rat. de feb. fect. ii, cap. iii. obf. iii.
Sulphur, which restrains the power of mercury and the antimonial metal, remarkably abates the virulence of arsenic; compositions of arsenic and sulphur being far less poisonous than the pure white arsenic, and those, in which the quantity of sulphur is considerable, seeming to be almost innocent. Different compositions of this kind are both prepared by art, and found native in the earth.
The bright yellow, somewhat transparent masses, called yellow arsenic, are prepared, by mixing the arsenical meal, as extracted by the first sublimation from the ore, with one tenth its weight of sulphur, and subliming them together: on doubling the quantity of sulphur, the compound proves more opake and compact, of a deep red colour, resembling in the mass that of of cinnabar, but losing of its beauty on being ground into powder, whilst that of cinnabar is improved by trituration: by varying the proportions of arsenic and sulphur, sublimates may be obtained of a great variety of shades of yellow and red. The fossil sulphurated arsenics differ remarkably in texture as well as in colour, some being smooth and uniform like the factitious masses, and others composed of small scales or leaves; the former are commonly dis-tinguished by the name zarnichs, the latter by that of auripigmenta or orpiments: the orpiments are the only substances to which the Greeks gave the name arsenicon, the preparation of white arsenic being a discovery of later years: the red zarnichs are the sandarache of the Greeks, and the realgar and risigal of the Arabians and some of the chemical writers.
(a) Tachenius, Hippocrates chymicus, p. 149.
That these fossils are really sulphurated arsenics is evident from sundry experiments. When set on fire, the arsenical, as well as the sulphu-reous smell, is plainly distinguishable. If triturated with quicksilver, and exposed to a suitable heat, the sulphur is detained by the mercury, and a pure white arsenic sublimes. A mixture of fixt alkaline salt, with any vegetable or animal substance, as the compound called by the afsayers black flux, in like manner keeps down the sulphur, and at the same time revives the arsenic into its reguline or metallic form.
All these compounds are mild, compared to the white arsenic; and several of them are looked upon by many as having no poisonous quality. Some, both of the factitious and native, have been given to dogs in considerable quantities, without producing any ill effect. The native minerals have been used as medicines in the eastern countries, and by some imprudently recommended in our own.