Vel Chimia, (from the Arabic term chamiah, from chamah, to burn). Chemistry. Among the Greeks it was called and ; the last of which hath been generally followed by the later writers on this subject, though the most approved editors and other learned men have preferred the former. The modern Greeks write It is also called archimagia and pyrotechnic.
Though this branch of the science of nature is well known, the definition of chemistry has occasioned many discussions and tedious controversies. The first great object is to distinguish it from natural philosophy, a task which few authors have successfully performed; and we are on this account tempted to select the discriminating description of the Abbe Haiiy, in the ablest system of natural philosophy yet published.
"When we consider,"observes this author, "the general and permanent properties of bodies, or when the changes that these bodies undergo are slight, and they return to their former state, after the cause has ceased to act; when, also, the laws which determine the reciprocal actions of the same bodies are propagated to distances more or less considerable; the results of our observations are still within the confines of natural philosophy. But when the phenomena depend on the ultimate action which the molecules exert on each other, at distances almost infinitely small, by virtue of which the molecules separate to unite again in a different order, forming new combinations, with new properties, the study of the phenomena belongs to chemistry."
We seldom indulge ourselves with quoting the words of an author but for some particular object. This distinction, truly judicious and scientific, we consider as one of those positions on which we can securely rest, and to which we may have occasion to refer. At pre-' 3 G sent it serves only to introduce, and as a foundation for, a more precise definition of chemistry than any former author has offered. We shall consider chemistry, therefore, as comprehending the science of the mutual actions of the smaller particles of matter, either in decomposing natural bodies or producing new compounds. In this view, fire, electricity, and Galvanism, are its instruments only, and become the objects of chemistry when they enter into the composition of bodies; and in this view, also, the human body is a philosophical and chemical machine, though chiefly chemical. It sometimes partakes of both, in as much as its operations are carried on between particles at an indefinitely minute distance, but not always occasioning decomposition or new compounds with different properties.
Were we to treat of the history of chemical arts, we should be carried back to a very remote era: were we to speak of chemistry as a science, our history would scarcely yet have a beginning. Chemical arts do not imply chemical science; and we shall consequently overlook the fancies of those, who see in common operations the rudiments of what has since been so advantageously developed; who admire, for instance, the ingenuity of those ancient artists who could be so far instructed as to produce a scarlet dye, when they were in reality ignorant of such a colour.
The Egyptians, who have had the honour of inventing every science, probably without the accurate knowledge of any one, have appeared to claim chemistry as peculiarly their own. Plutarch tells us, that Egypt is called from its earth, like the black of the eye; but the name is more probably derived from Ham, as it is called by the psalmist Al-chami. The error arising from this name was fostered by the new Platonists, who forged works under the names of Hermes, etc. as those of the ancient Egyptians. Yet to these new Platonists we are perhaps indebted for many valuable facts. They were the first visionaries who aimed at changing the meaner metals to gold, a pursuit with which the discovery of an universal medicine was very early connected; and from them it was conveyed to the Arabians, by whom it was taught to Europeans. Themistius, the peripatetic, in the fourth century, and AEneas of Gaza, in the fifth, speak of these attempts; the former in his 'oratio ad Valentinum,' the latter in his Dialogue entitled 'theophrastus.' With them and with the Arabians the art remained; nor did it reach Europe till after the capture of Constantinople, for the name was unknown to the Grecians of Europe till the time of Julius Firmi-cus, who lived under Constantine the Great.
The Arabians applied this new science to medicine, though not to any considerable extent. Their practice was mild and timid; and had any more active medicine been discovered, it is not probable, from their general conduct, that they would have been its patrons. The works of Geber, Rhazes, Avicenna, and Mesue, have reached us; and from them, were not our limits confined, we might trace very accurately the state of medicinal chemistry at that time. It is enough to remark, that it added little to the powers of medicine, though somewhat to the convenience of the practitioner. We -speak not now of the new medicines which they introduced.
In Europe, the art of making gold filled the minds of the chemists, or rather alchymists, to which they joined an almost equal anxiety to discover the universal medicine. This was sometimes supposed to be the same, sometimes a similar preparation; and as the former art depended, in their opinion, on the employment of mercury and antimony, many preparations of these metals must have occurred, and we can trace some of them at this time to these whimsical unintelligible works. Even among the alchymists, however, we perceive traces of sounder minds and more solid judgments mixed with their reveries; and the names of Albert von Bollstaedt, Roger Bacon, Raymond Lully, Albertus Magnus, Arnold of Villenuova, the Isaacs of Holland, and Basil Valentine (though probably not his true name), merit peculiar distinction. They mixed indeed the fancies, the superstitions, and the unintelligible language of the alchymists with their descriptions; but they discovered and detailed, often with precision, many valuable and important facts. The writings of Lully and Arnold, however, seldom merit the commendations which we have bestowed; and perhaps the praise of any portion of perspicuity might have been more limited. They were all of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.