Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 17

Proximate Instances Lacking the Nature of Heat

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25. Suggesting Instances

49 These point out, that which is advantageous to mankind

Bare power and knowledge in themselves exalt rather than enrich human nature. We must, therefore, select from the general store such things as are most useful to mankind. We shall have a better opportunity of discussing these when we treat of the application to practice; besides, in the work of interpretation, we leave room, on every subject, for the human or optative chart; for it is a part of science to make judicious inquiries and wishes.

26. Generally Useful instances

50 These relate to various points, and frequently occur, sparing by that means considerable labor and new trials. The proper place for treating of instruments and contrivances, will be that in which we speak of the application to practice, and the methods of experiment.

All that has hitherto been ascertained, and made use of, will be described in the particular history of each art. At present, we will subjoin a few general examples of the instances in question.

Man acts, then, upon natural bodies (besides merely bringing them together or removing them) by 7 principal methods:

  1. The exclusion of all that impedes and disturbs

  2. by compression, extension, agitation, and the like

  3. by heat and cold

  4. by detention in a suitable place

  5. by checking or directing motion

  6. by peculiar harmonies

  7. by a seasonable and proper alternation, series, and succession of all these, or, at least, of some of them.

  8. Common air is always at hand. It forces its admission, as also the rays of the heavenly bodies, create much disturbance. Whatever, therefore, tends to exclude them may well be considered as generally useful. The substance and thickness of vessels in which bodies are placed when prepared for operations may be referred to this head. So also may the accurate methods of closing vessels by consolidation, or the lutum sapientiæ, as the chemists call it. The exclusion of air by means of liquids at the extremity is also very useful, as when they pour oil on wine, or the juices of herbs, which by spreading itself upon the top like a cover, preserves them uninjured from the air.

Powders, also, are serviceable, for although they contain air mixed up in them, yet they ward off the power of the mass of circumambient air,[271] which is seen in the preservation of grapes and other fruits in sand or flour. Wax, honey, pitch, and other resinous bodies, are well used in order to make the exclusion more perfect, and to remove the air and celestial influence. We have sometimes made an experiment by placing a vessel or other bodies in quicksilver, the most dense of all substances capable of being poured round others. Grottoes and subterraneous caves are of great use in keeping off the effects of the sun, and the predatory action of air, and in the north of Germany are used for granaries.

The depositing of bodies at the bottom of water may be also mentioned here; and I remember having heard of some bottles of wine being let down into a deep well in order to cool them, but left there by chance, carelessness, and forgetfulness for several years, and then taken out; by which means the wine not only escaped becoming flat or dead, but was much more excellent in flavor, arising (as it appears) from a more complete mixture of its parts.

But if the case require that bodies should be sunk to the bottom of water, as in rivers or the sea, and yet should not touch the water, nor be inclosed in sealed vessels, but surrounded only by air, it would be right to use that vessel which has been sometimes employed under water above ships that have sunk, in order to enable the divers to remain below and breathe occasionally by turns.

It was of the following nature: A hollow tub of metal was formed, and sunk so as to have its bottom parallel with the surface of the water; it thus carried down with it to the bottom of the sea all the air contained in the tub. It stood upon three feet (like a tripod), being of rather less height than a man, so that, when the diver was in want of breath, he could put his head into the hollow of the tub, breathe, and then continue his work.[272] We hear that some sort of boat or vessel has now been invented, capable of carrying men some distance under water. Any bodies, however, can easily be suspended under some such vessel as we have mentioned, which has occasioned our remarks upon the experiment.

Another advantage of the careful and hermetical closing of bodies is this—not only the admission of external air is prevented (of which we have treated), but the spirit of bodies also is prevented from making its escape, which is an internal operation. For any one operating on natural bodies must be certain as to their quantity, and that nothing has evaporated or escaped, since profound alterations take place in bodies, when art prevents the loss or escape of any portion, while nature prevents their annihilation. With regard to this circumstance, a false idea has prevailed (which if true would make us despair of preserving quantity without diminution), namely, that the spirit of bodies, and air when rarefied by a great degree of heat, cannot be so kept in by being inclosed in any vessel as not to escape by the small pores. Men are led into this idea by the common experiments of a cup inverted over water, with a candle or piece of lighted paper in it, by which the water is drawn up, and of those cups which, when heated, draw up the flesh. For they think that in each experiment the rarefied air escapes, and that its quantity is therefore diminished, by which means the water or flesh rises by the motion of connection. This is, however, most incorrect.

The air is not diminished in quantity, but contracted in dimensions,[161] nor does this motion of the rising of the water[273] begin till the flame is extinguished, or the air cooled, so that physicians place cold sponges, moistened with water, on the cups, in order to increase their attraction. There is, therefore, no reason why men should fear much from the ready escape of air: for although it be true that the most solid bodies have their pores, yet neither air, nor spirit, readily suffers itself to be rarefied to such an extreme degree; just as water will not escape by a small chink.

  1. With regard to the second of the seven above-mentioned methods, we must especially observe, that compression and similar violence have a most powerful effect either in producing locomotion, and other motions of the same nature, as may be observed in engines and projectiles, or in destroying the organic body, and those qualities, which consist entirely in motion (for all life, and every description of flame and ignition are destroyed by compression, which also injures and deranges every machine); or in destroying those qualities which consist in position and a coarse difference of parts, as in colors; for the color of a flower when whole, differs from that it presents when bruised, and the same may be observed of whole and powdered amber; or in tastes, for the taste of a pear before it is ripe, and of the same pear when bruised and softened, is different, since it becomes perceptibly more sweet. But such violence is of little avail in the more noble transformations and changes of homogeneous bodies, for they do not, by such means, acquire any constantly and permanently new state, but one that is transitory, and always struggling to return to its former habit and freedom. It would not, however, be useless[274] to make some more diligent experiments with regard to this; whether, for instance, the condensation of a perfectly homogeneous body (such as air, water, oil, and the like) or their rarefaction, when effected by violence, can become permanent, fixed, and, as it were, so changed, as to become a nature. This might at first be tried by simple perseverance, and then by means of helps and harmonies. It might readily have been attempted (if we had but thought of it), when we condensed water (as was mentioned above), by hammering and compression, until it burst out. For we ought to have left the flattened globe untouched for some days, and then to have drawn off the water, in order to try whether it would have immediately occupied the same dimensions as it did before the condensation. If it had not done so, either immediately, or soon afterward, the condensation would have appeared to have been rendered constant; if not, it would have appeared that a restitution took place, and that the condensation had been transitory. Something of the same kind might have been tried with the glass eggs; the egg should have been sealed up suddenly and firmly, after a complete exhaustion of the air, and should have been allowed to remain so for some days, and it might then have been tried whether, on opening the aperture, the air would be drawn in with a hissing noise, or whether as much water would be drawn into it when immersed, as would have been drawn into it at first, if it had not continued sealed. For it is probable (or, at least, worth making the experiment) that this might have happened, or might happen, because perseverance has a similar effect upon bodies which are a little less homogeneous. A stick bent together for some time does not rebound, which is not owing to any loss of quantity in the wood during the time, for the same would[275] occur (after a larger time) in a plate of steel, which does not evaporate. If the experiment of simple perseverance should fail, the matter should not be given up, but other means should be employed. For it would be no small advantage, if bodies could be endued with fixed and constant natures by violence. Air could then be converted into water by condensation, with other similar effects; for man is more the master of violent motions than of any other means.

  2. The third of our seven methods is referred to that great practical engine of nature, as well as of art, cold and heat. Here, man’s power limps, as it were, with one leg. For we possess the heat of fire, which is infinitely more powerful and intense than that of the sun (as it reaches us), and that of animals. But we want cold,[162] except such as we can obtain in winter, in caverns, or by surrounding objects with snow and ice, which, perhaps, may be compared in degree with the noontide heat of the sun in tropical countries, increased by the reflection of mountains and walls. For this degree of heat and cold can be borne for a short period only by animals, yet it is nothing compared with the heat of a burning furnace, or the corresponding degree of cold.[163] Everything with us has a tendency to become rarefied, dry and wasted, and nothing[276] to become condensed or soft, except by mixtures, and, as it were, spurious methods. Instances of cold, therefore, should be searched for most diligently, such as may be found by exposing bodies upon buildings in a hard frost, in subterraneous caverns, by surrounding bodies with snow and ice in deep places excavated for that purpose, by letting bodies down into wells, by burying bodies in quicksilver and metals, by immersing them in streams which petrify wood, by burying them in the earth (which the Chinese are reported to do with their china, masses of which, made for that purpose, are said to remain in the ground for forty or fifty years, and to be transmitted to their heirs as a sort of artificial mine) and the like. The condensations which take place in nature, by means of cold, should also be investigated, that by learning their causes, they may be introduced into the arts; such as are observed in the exudation of marble and stones, in the dew upon the panes of glass in a room toward morning after a frosty night, in the formation and the gathering of vapors under the earth into water, whence spring fountains and the like.

Besides the substances which are cold to the touch, there are others which have also the effect of cold, and condense; they appear, however, to act only upon the bodies of animals, and scarcely any further. Of these we have many instances, in medicines and plasters. Some condense the flesh and tangible parts, such as astringent and inspissating medicines, others the spirits, such as soporifics. There are two modes of condensing the spirits, by soporifics or provocatives to sleep; the one by calming the motion, the other by expelling the spirit. The violet, dried roses, lettuces, and other benign or mild remedies, by their friendly and gently cooling vapors, invite the spirits[277] to unite, and restrain their violent and perturbed motion. Rose-water, for instance, applied to the nostrils in fainting fits, causes the resolved and relaxed spirits to recover themselves, and, as it were, cherishes them. But opiates, and the like, banish the spirits by their malignant and hostile quality. If they be applied, therefore, externally, the spirits immediately quit the part and no longer readily flow into it; but if they be taken internally, their vapor, mounting to the head, expels, in all directions, the spirits contained in the ventricles of the brain, and since these spirits retreat, but cannot escape, they consequently meet and are condensed, and are sometimes completely extinguished and suffocated; although the same opiates, when taken in moderation, by a secondary accident (the condensation which succeeds their union), strengthen the spirits, render them more robust, and check their useless and inflammatory motion, by which means they contribute not a little to the cure of diseases, and the prolongation of life.

The preparations of bodies, also, for the reception of cold should not be omitted, such as that water a little warmed is more easily frozen than that which is quite cold, and the like.

Moreover, since nature supplies cold so sparingly, we must act like the apothecaries, who, when they cannot obtain any simple ingredient, take a succedaneum, or quid pro quo, as they term it, such as aloes for xylobalsamum, cassia for cinnamon. In the same manner we should look diligently about us, to ascertain whether there may be any substitutes for cold, that is to say, in what other manner condensation can be effected, which is the peculiar operation of cold.

Such condensations have four kinds only:

  1. By simple compression, which is of little[278] avail toward permanent condensation, on account of the elasticity of substances, but may still, however, be of some assistance.

  2. By the contraction of the coarser, after the escape or departure of the finer parts of a given body; as is exemplified in induration by fire, and the repeated heating and extinguishing of metals, and the like.

  3. By the cohesion of the most solid homogeneous parts of a given body, which were previously separated, and mixed with others less solid, as in the return of sublimated mercury to its simple state, in which it occupies much less space than it did in powder, and the same may be observed of the cleansing of all metals from their dross.

  4. By harmony, or the application of substances which condense by some latent power. These harmonies are as yet but rarely observed, at which we cannot be surprised, since there is little to hope for from their investigation, unless the discovery of forms and confirmation be attained.

With regard to animal bodies, it is not to be questioned that there are many internal and external medicines which condense by harmony, as we have before observed, but this action is rare in inanimate bodies. Written accounts, as well as report, have certainly spoken of a tree in one of the Tercera or Canary Islands (for I do not exactly recollect which) that drips perpetually, so as to supply the inhabitants, in some degree, with water; and Paracelsus says that the herb called ros solis is filled with dew at noon, while the sun gives out its greatest heat, and all other herbs around it are dry. We treat both these accounts as fables; they would, however, if true, be of the most important service, and most worthy of examination. As to the honey-dew, resembling manna, which is found in May on the leaves of the oak, we are of opinion that it is not condensed by any harmony or peculiarity[279] of the oak leaf, but that while it falls equally upon other leaves it is retained and continues on those of the oak, because their texture is closer, and not so porous as that of most of the other leaves.[164]

With regard to heat, man possesses abundant means and power; but his observation and inquiry are defective in some respects, and those of the greatest importance, notwithstanding the boasting of quacks. For the effects of intense heat are examined and observed, while those of a more gentle degree of heat, being of the most frequent occurrence in the paths of nature, are, on that very account, least known. We see, therefore, the furnaces, which are most esteemed, employed in increasing the spirits of bodies to a great extent, as in the strong acids, and some chemical oils; while the tangible parts are hardened, and, when the volatile part has escaped, become sometimes fixed; the homogeneous parts are separated, and the heterogeneous incorporated and agglomerated in a coarse lump; and (what is chiefly worthy of remark) the junction of compound bodies, and the more delicate conformations are destroyed and confounded.

But the operation of a less violent heat should be tried and investigated, by which more delicate mixtures and regular conformations may be produced and elicited, according to the example of nature, and in imitation of the effect of the sun, which we have alluded to in the aphorism on the instances of alliance. For the works of nature are carried on in much smaller portions, and in more delicate and varied positions than those of fire, as we now employ it. But man will then appear to have really augmented his power, when the works of nature can be[280] imitated in species, perfected in power, and varied in quantity; to which should be added the acceleration in point of time.

Rust, for instance, is the result of a long process. But crocus martis is obtained immediately.

The same is true of natural verdigris and ceruse.

Crystal is formed slowly, while glass is blown immediately.

Stones increase slowly, while bricks are baked immediately, etc. In the meantime (with regard to our present subject) every different species of heat should, with its peculiar effects, be diligently collected and inquired into; that of the heavenly bodies, whether their rays be direct, reflected, or refracted, or condensed by a burning-glass; that of lightning, flame, and ignited charcoal; that of fire of different materials, either open or confined, straitened or overflowing, qualified by the different forms of the furnaces, excited by the bellows, or quiescent, removed to a greater or less distance, or passing through different media; moist heats, such as the balneum Mariæ, and the dunghill; the external and internal heat of animals; dry heats, such as the heat of ashes, lime, warm sand; in short, the nature of every kind of heat, and its degrees.

We should, however, particularly attend to the investigation and discovery of the effects and operations of heat, when made to approach and retire by degrees, regularly, periodically, and by proper intervals of space and time. For this systematical inequality is in truth the daughter of heaven and mother of generation, nor can any great result be expected from a vehement, precipitate, or desultory heat. For this is not only most evident in vegetables, but in the wombs of animals also there arises a great inequality of heat, from the motion, sleep, food, and passions of the female. The same inequality prevails in those subterraneous[281] beds where metals and fossils are perpetually forming, which renders yet more remarkable the ignorance of some of the reformed alchemists, who imagined they could attain their object by the equable heat of lamps, or the like, burning uniformly. Let this suffice concerning the operation and effects of heat; nor is it time for us to investigate them thoroughly before the forms and conformations of bodies have been further examined and brought to light. When we have determined upon our models, we may seek, apply, and arrange our instruments.

  1. by continuance

This is the very steward and almoner of nature.

We apply the term continuance to the abandonment of a body to itself for an observable time, guarded and protected in the meanwhile from all external force. For the internal motion then commences to betray and exert itself when the external and adventitious is removed. The effects of time, however, are far more delicate than those of fire. Wine, for instance, cannot be clarified by fire as it is by continuance. Nor are the ashes produced by combustion so fine as the particles dissolved or wasted by the lapse of ages. The incorporations and mixtures, which are hurried by fire, are very inferior to those obtained by continuance; and the various conformations assumed by bodies left to themselves, such as mouldiness, etc., are put a stop to by fire or a strong heat. It is not, in the meantime, unimportant to remark that there is a certain degree of violence in the motion of bodies entirely confined; for the confinement impedes the proper motion of the body. Continuance in an open vessel, therefore, is useful for separations, and in one hermetically sealed for mixtures, that in a vessel partly closed, but admitting the air, for putrefaction. But instances of the[282] operation and effect of continuance must be collected diligently from every quarter.

  1. The direction of motion (which is the fifth method of action) is of no small use. We adopt this term, when speaking of a body which, meeting with another, either arrests, repels, allows, or directs its original motion. This is the case principally in the figure and position of vessels. An upright cone, for instance, promotes the condensation of vapor in alembics, but when reversed, as in inverted vessels, it assists the refining of sugar. Sometimes a curved form, or one alternately contracted and dilated, is required. Strainers may be ranged under this head, where the opposed body opens a way for one portion of another substance and impedes the rest. Nor is this process or any other direction of motion carried on externally only, but sometimes by one body within another. Thus, pebbles are thrown into water to collect the muddy particles, and syrups are refined by the white of an egg, which glues the grosser particles together so as to facilitate their removal. Telesius, indeed, rashly and ignorantly enough attributes the formation of animals to this cause, by means of the channels and folds of the womb. He ought to have observed a similar formation of the young in eggs which have no wrinkles or inequalities. One may observe a real result of this direction of motion in casting and modelling.

  2. The effects produced by harmony and aversion (which is the sixth method) are frequently buried in obscurity; for these occult and specific properties (as they are termed), the sympathies and antipathies, are for the most part but a corruption of philosophy. Nor can we form any great expectation of the discovery of the harmony which exists between natural objects, before that of their forms and[283] simple conformations, for it is nothing more than the symmetry between these forms and conformations.

The greater and more universal species of harmony are not, however, so wholly obscure, and with them, therefore, we must commence. The first and principal distinction between them is this; that some bodies differ considerably in the abundance and rarity of their substance, but correspond in their conformation; others, on the contrary, correspond in the former and differ in the latter. Thus the chemists have well observed, that in their trial of first principles sulphur and mercury, as it were, pervade the universe; their reasoning about salt, however, is absurd, and merely introduced to comprise earthy dry fixed bodies.

In the other two, indeed, one of the most universal species of natural harmony manifests itself. Thus there is a correspondence between sulphur, oil, greasy exhalations, flame, and, perhaps, the substance of the stars. On the other hand, there is a like correspondence between mercury, water, aqueous vapor, air, and, perhaps, pure inter-sidereal ether. Yet do these two quaternions, or great natural tribes (each within its own limits), differ immensely in quantity and density of substance, while they generally agree in conformation, as is manifest in many instances. On the other hand, the metals agree in such quantity and density (especially when compared with vegetables, etc.), but differ in many respects in conformation. Animals and vegetables, in like manner, vary in their almost infinite modes of conformation, but range within very limited degrees of quantity and density of substance.

The next most general correspondence is that between individual bodies and those which supply them by way of menstruum or support. Inquiry, therefore, must be made as to the climate, soil, and depth at which each metal is generated, and the same of gems, whether produced in rocks or mines, also as to the soil in which particular trees, shrubs, and herbs, mostly grow and, as it were, delight; and as to the best species of manure, whether dung, chalk, sea sand, or ashes, etc., and their different propriety and advantage according to the variety of soils. So also the grafting and setting of trees and plants (as regards the readiness of grafting one particular species on another) depends very much upon harmony, and it would be amusing to try an experiment I have lately heard of, in grafting forest trees (garden trees alone having hitherto been adopted), by which means the leaves and fruit are enlarged, and the trees produce more shade. The specific food of animals again should be observed, as well as that which cannot be used. Thus the carnivorous cannot be fed on herbs, for which reason the order of feuilletans, the experiment having been made, has nearly vanished; human nature being incapable of supporting their regimen, although the human will has more power over the bodily frame than that of other animals. The different kinds of putrefaction from which animals are generated should be noted.

The harmony of principal bodies with those subordinate to them (such indeed may be deemed those we have alluded to above) are sufficiently manifest, to which may be added those that exist between different bodies and their objects, and, since these latter are more apparent, they may throw great light when well observed and diligently examined upon those which are more latent.

The more internal harmony and aversion, or friendship and enmity (for superstition and folly have rendered the terms of sympathy and antipathy almost disgusting), have[285] been either falsely assigned, or mixed with fable, or most rarely discovered from neglect. For if one were to allege that there is an enmity between the vine and the cabbage, because they will not come up well when sown together, there is a sufficient reason for it in the succulent and absorbent nature of each plant, so that the one defrauds the other. Again, if one were to say that there is a harmony and friendship between the corn and the corn-flower, or the wild poppy, because the latter seldom grow anywhere but in cultivated soils, he ought rather to say, there is an enmity between them, for the poppy and the corn-flower are produced and created by those juices which the corn has left and rejected, so that the sowing of the corn prepares the ground for their production. And there are a vast number of similar false assertions. As for fables, they must be totally exterminated.

There remains, then, but a scanty supply of such species of harmony as has borne the test of experiment, such as that between the magnet and iron, gold and quicksilver, and the like. In chemical experiments on metals, however, there are some others worthy of notice, but the greatest abundance (where the whole are so few in numbers) is discovered in certain medicines, which, from their occult and specific qualities (as they are termed), affect particular limbs, humors, diseases, or constitutions. Nor should we omit the harmony between the motion and phenomena of the moon, and their effects on lower bodies, which may be brought together by an accurate and honest selection from the experiments of agriculture, navigation, and medicine, or of other sciences.

By as much as these general instances, however, of more latent harmony, are rare, with so much the more diligence are they to be inquired after, through tradition, and faithful and honest[286] reports, but without rashness and credulity, with an anxious and, as it were, hesitating degree of reliance. There remains one species of harmony which, though simple in its mode of action, is yet most valuable in its use, and must by no means be omitted, but rather diligently investigated. It is the ready or difficult coition or union of bodies in composition, or simple juxtaposition.

For some bodies readily and willingly mix, and are incorporated, others tardily and perversely; thus powders mix best with water, chalk and ashes with oils, and the like. Nor are these instances of readiness and aversion to mixture to be alone collected, but others, also, of the collocation, distribution, and digestion of the parts when mingled, and the predominance after the mixture is complete.

  1. Lastly, there remains the seventh, and last of the seven, modes of action; namely, that by the alternation and interchange of the other six; but of this, it will not be the right time to offer any examples, until some deeper investigation shall have taken place of each of the others. The series, or chain of this alternation, in its mode of application to separate effects, is no less powerful in its operation than difficult to be traced. But men are possessed with the most extreme impatience, both of such inquiries, and their practical application, although it be the clew of the labyrinth in all greater works. Thus far of the generally useful instances.