(From the Arabic term, arsanek; or from for masculus fortis, because of its strong and deadly powers,) called crystal-linum, risagallum, aquala, arfar, aquila, zarnick, ar-taneck, white arsenic, and rat's bane.
Arsenic is a semi-metal contained in almost every ore, particularly those of tin, bismuth", the white pyrites, and cobalt, see Cobaltum; from the last the greatest quantity is obtained: the ore of the cobalt being broken in pieces is placed over a fire, and the arsenic sublimed from it; which, resting on the sides of long chimneys designed for its reception, is swept off into proper vessels to be re-sublimed, or at least melted, by which it is formed into the shining masses which are met with in the shops: those of the greatest solidity and brilliancy should be preferred.
To England it is chiefly brought from the mines in Transylvania, Saxony, Hesse, and Bohemia. Some small quantities are sublimed in Cornwall from the cobalt that is found there. Large portions of sulphur render it inert. It is soluble in eighty parts of water at 60°, and in 15 at 212. When treated with nitrous acid it becomes the arsenical acid, which is reduced immediately if heated in a glass tube with any fatty or carbonaceous matter.
The pure white arsenic hath a penetrating corrosive taste, sublimes at 283° of Fahrenheit, and taken into the body is a violent poison; it produces speedy dryness in the throat and inflammation, dejection, fainting, stupor, delirium, tremors, convulsions, palsy, thirst, burning in the stomach, gripes, vomiting, cold sweats, hiccoughing, and at last death. Besides the effects which it hath in common with other poisons, it quickly destroys the coats of the stomach, and perforates the intestines, occasioning a swelling and sphacelation of the whole body, and a sudden putrefaction after death.
When the quantity taken is not fatal, it occasions tremors, palsies, or lingering hectics;
Though there is but little hope after this poison is swallowed in any considerable quantity, yet, if assistance is to be had, a scruple of the white vitriol will excite a vomiting very quickly, and the metal may be evacuated, though imperfectly, from its weight; and so deleterious is its nature, that a very small remaining portion will soon be fatal. It is proper, therefore, to inviscate what remains; and, for this purpose, warm water, with a large proportion of sweet oil, or milk with sweet oil, should be given to support the vomiting: after sufficient vomiting, mucilages and demulcents, particularly gum arabic, in large quantities, new milk and oil, with fat broth, should be continued some time, and the bowels must be kept lax.
We have not much reason to triumph in our success from these remedies. The arsenic is seldom wholly discharged; and if the patient's life is preserved, he drags on a miserable existence, weak, emaciated, and irritable. For these reasons counterpoisons have been industriously sought; and when it was found that sulphur blunted the activity of metals, particularly of arsenic, hepatic alkalis have been freely exhibited, both to neutralize the acid and to check the activity of the metal. The records of medicine do not, however, allow us to boast of the success of this refinement, and we shall soon investigate the reason.
The acids of lemons and apples have been highly recommended by a modern author of credit, Sage, but his plans have been followed with little success. Alkalis, though a more probable remedy, have been equally unsuccessful; but perhaps the advice of Hahneman may be more useful: he gives two quarts of warm water, in which a pound of common soap is previously dissolved, within the space of two hours.
We have no reason to think that arsenic taken into the stomach ever passes into the mass of blood; all the effects are those exclusively on the primae viae. Yet equally fatal effects have been found when this semi-metal has been breathed in smelting-houses, when sprinkled on wounds, when even worn as an amulet; and for its baleful influence in the form of vapour, we have the testimony of our own countrymen. Fother-gill Medical Observations, vol. v. and Sherwin Memoirs of the Medical Society, vol. ii.
Fortunately we can ascertain the cause of the complaints induced by arsenic; for when the contents of the stomach, if given as a poison, are thrown on live coals, a garlic smell is immediately obvious. On polished copper, if heated between its plates, a white spot is impressed; or in close vessels, the arsenic itself will be found sublimed in the upper parts.
In the stomach, however, there are many substances which may resemble or disguise the smell of garlic, especially if the arsenic be in small quantities. We are therefore advised by Hahneman to boil the contents of the stomach of the person supposed to be destroyed by this poison in a large quantity of river water; to add to one-third of the filtered liquor, hot and limpid lime water; to another third, water saturated with hepatic gas; and to the remainder, a solution of copper in pure aqua ammoniae. Each fluid is rendered turbid if the suspected contents contain arsenic, and the sediment thrown on live coals emits the odour of garlic. The sediment from the lime water is again dissolved by a recent solution of arsenic; the orange coloured sediment from the hepatic gas thrown on the coals takes fire, and the smell of sulphur is observed previous to that of the garlic; while the yellow green sediment of the copper is soluble in pure ammonia, and acids of every kind.
In reading ancient authors on the yellow and red arsenics it should be observed, that their arsenics are not the same as ours. Among the Greeks two kinds were in use, viz. the yellow, which we now call orpiment, and auripigment; and the red, which they call sanbaraca. The Arabians had also two kinds, viz. the yellow, which they call scandaraca; and the red, which they call realgar. It was the fossil sulphurated arsenics that the ancients used medicinally, and only those which were yellow and flaky, like talc, and which alone they call arsenicon. The white arsenic is a discovery of later times. The auripigment we meet with is of the yellow sort, its taste is not very acrimonious. The best mineral orpiment is brought from Turkey: it is very little, if at all, poisonous.