Ashes, generally speaking, are the remains of bodies reduced by fire. There are vegetable, animal, and mineral ashes: but the first strictly entitled to that appellation. We understand, that the French have recently contrived a process of converting the ashes, or residuum of animal substances, decomposed by burning them, into glass, similar to that which is produced in the manufacture of this article, when siliceous earth and wood-ashes are the principal ingredients. This curious conversion of human bodies into a transparent and most beautiful metal, is an ingenious imitation of the practice frequently adopted among the ancients, with a view to preserve the. sacred remains of their revered ancestors, or of persons of great worth and merit. But, whether such expedients, if they ever should become general, be compatible with the refined feelings of relations and friends in other countries, we submit to the determination of our sentimental readers. If we may be allowed to express our opinion on so delicate a subject., the scheme now followed, in this respect, by the ambitious conquerors of, and in France, may be a very economical one, for saving the expeuces of an ostentatious funeral; and, as such, we have mentioned it in this work : but we doubt, whether there may be found many individuals in this country, except those few among the emigrees, who incline, or d to receive the honours of combustion.
Mineral bodies, when reduced by fire, are properly called Calxes, of which we shall treat under that distinct head.
There is a great variety of wood-ashes prepared from different vegetables. We have already described the propertites of Alkalies (p.29), and shall at present observe, that vegetable ashes contain a great quantity of fixed salt, blended with earthy particles; and that from these, ashes are extracted the fixed alkaline salts, called Potash, Pearl-ash, Barilla, etc; of the preparation, and properties of which, we propose to treat under their respective heads. Confining, therefore, our account to ashes, in their unchanged and crude state, we shall give the following description of the different useful purposes to which they are subservient, in domestic and rural economy.
About half a century ago, Dr. Francis Home, of Edinburgh, who may be considered as the earliest benefactor of the Scottish cotton manufactories, justly observed, in an ingenious treatise, entitled, Experiments in Bleaching, that the proper application of alkaline icys isone of the most important and critical articles in the whole process of that art. This circumstance induced him to inquire, after the mathematical method of investigating truth, into the nature and composition of the several sorts of ashes used for this purpose. With due deference to the talents of his genius, that has apparently been misled on this early occasion, we cannot but regret that Dr. Home appears then to have been unacquainted with a strict analytical and synthetical investigation of natural bodies; a method which, we venture to say, might have enabled him to anticipate manv of the sub-sequent discoveries, made a che-mistry by the French, Swedish and British philosophers of the antiphlogistic school. He is, however, justly entitled to the praise and gratitude of his countrymen ; among whom- he greatly contributed to excite a spirit of research into die useful phenomena of natural bodies; a spirit which has already groved highly beneficial to the community at large, and eminently conducive to the honour of that celebrated University, in which be now the oldest professor .
la the treatise before alluded to, the author originally proposed the use of oil of vilbriol, instead of the acids formerly used for bleaching linen, such as butter-milk, sour milk, infusions of bran, or rye-meal, etc. kept for some days, till they acquired a proper decree of acidity. He proved by experiments, that the vitriolic acid is by no means injurious to the clod ; is less expensive, more expeditious, and on all accounts equally, if not more, efficacious.
Many and curious were the experiments which Dr. Home then instituted, on the different ashes; and from the result of which ho concluded, that pearl-ashes contain a pure alkaline salt, with a small proportion of vilriolated tarter and absorbent earth. In the composi-tion of Russian and Swedish ashes covered a considerable quantity of lime; a discovery which amply evinced the wisdom of an Act of the British Legislature which prohibited the use of lime in bleaching. For, though lime-water alone greatly contributes to whiten cloth, yet it is apt to render it much weaker; but that alkaline added to time, diminish its poower of weakening and corroding, in proportion to the quantity of these salts added to the time. This observation suggested to him a hint of supplying the Muscovy ashes, at home, by a preparation which experience proved to answer all the intended purposes of those ashes. After repeated trials of different proportions, the method of
We believe he is near NINETY years of age making this profitable substitute, consists in adding one-fourth of d in a little water, to three quarts of quenched lime. Whether this process has been found generally successful, we have been able to ascertain.
In rural economy, ashes have.since the days of Virgil, been considered as one of the best, and easiest, means of fertilizing land; yet many objections have been started, by modern writers, against their use ; probably because they were indis-crimnately employed for all kinds of soil, whether moist or dry. cold or warm, loose or clayey. Hence we need not be surprized that agriculturists have differed in opinion on this subject. Without detaining the reader with speculations concerning the. manner in which ashes act on the soil, in promoting its fertility, we shall briefly observe, on the authority of the best writers, supported by experience :
1. That vegetable ashes, in genera1, are most effectual for ma-nuring moist, cold, boggy, marshy, or uncultivated soils.
2. That ashes are no less fit for Dure, after the salt is extracted from them, than before; and, if there be any difference, it is in favour of the washed ashes.
An anonymous correspondent in the Gentl. Mag. for June, 1/00, appears to have derived the first hint respecting the advantages of peal-ashes in dressing land, and a method of preparing coal-ashes for the same purpose, from the Dic-tionaire Economique, or the Family Dictionary, translated from the French by the late Prof. Bradley, of Cambridge, and published in 1725. In this curious work, which equally abounds with excellent and frivolous remarks, we find the- for lowing passage : " Turf and peat ashes must needs be very rich, much after the same manner as burning of land." Perhaps it is in consequence of this suggestion, that we find in the Magazine before alluded to, an account of too insting a nature to withhold it from our readers.
Peat-ashes, properly burnt, afford an excellent manure for both corn and grass-land ; but the most valuable are those obtained from the lowest stratum of the peat, where the fibres and roots of the earth are most decayed. This will yield a large quantity of very strong ashes, cf a colour, when recently burnt, resembling vermilion, and of a very saline and pungent taste. Great care and caution should be used in burning these ashes, and likewise in preserving them for future use. The method of burning them is similar to that of making. charcoal. After the peat is collected into a large heap, and covered so as not to flame out, it must be suffered to consume slowly, till the whole substance is reduced to ashes. Thus burnt, they are found excellent in sweetening sour meadow-land, destroying rushes, and other bad kinds of weeds, and producing in their place great quantities of excellent grass. In some parts of Berkshire and Lancashire, they are considered one of the best dressings for spring crops.
A very great improvement may likewise made, and at a moderate expence, with coal-ashes, which, when properly preserved, are a most useful article for manure. By putting one bushel of lime, in its hottest state, into every cart-load of these ashes, covering it up in the middle of the heap for abou twelve hours, till the lime be entire ly fallen: then incorporating them well together, and by turning the whole over two or three times, the cinders, or half-burnt parts of the coals, which, instead of being useful, are noxious to the ground, will be reduced ro as fine a powder as the lime itself. For this purpose, however, the coal-ashes should be carefully kept dry : and, thus prepared, they are the quickest breakers and improvers of moorish and benty land.
Professor Bradley, in his dictionary before mentioned, farther observes that soap-ashes are highly commended by Mr. Pratt, as be-ing, after the soap-boiler has extracted them, eminently fructifv-ing5 and that the ashes of any kind of vegetables are profitable for enriching barren grounds, as they promote the decomposition of moss and rushes, in a very great degree. The best season for laying them, either for corn, pasture, or meadow is said to be in the beginning of winter, in order that they may the more easily be dissolved by showers of rain.
Having given this view of the subject, from the collective experience of British writers, we shall also communicate a few practical facts, derived from authentic German authors.
According to their experience, potash is most usefully employed for correcting a sandy and loamy soil; the ashes obtained from the hardest woods, being the most beneficial, and among these, the beech and oak are generally pre-ferred. A small addition of quicklime to the pot-ash, tends considerably to increase its fertilizing property.
The refuse of soap-boiler's ashes, is likewise used in Germany with the best eftect, when sprinkled, soon after sowing, either in spring or in autumn, as closely as possible, over fields of wheat, rye, spelt, lentils, pease, beans, bar-lev, lint-seed, hemp, millet, and similar grain. An acre of wheat or bariey, requires however a much greater proportion of these ashes, than one sown with rye, or cor an inferior quality. They are farther employed with great advantage, by scattering them on meadows in the early part of spring. - See also Coals.