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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

Georges Cuvier

4. Early Eighteenth-Century Advances in Chemistry

6. Chemistry in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century

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Cerculus Æterni Motus. Frontispice from Becher’s Physica subterranea, profundam… (1733). Cliché Bibliothèque centrale, MNHN.


During the previous sessions, I presented the various geology systems published in the first half of the eighteenth century. We saw that during that period, they were vague and based on arbitrary assumptions rather than on facts and observations. We will now address the history of chemistry in the same period as it is, after geology, the science encompassing the most important phenomena related to the greatest number of facts.

Chemistry, as it exists today, provides knowledge of the mutual action of various substances reduced to their most elementary molecules and of the resulting changes. Therefore, any chemical phenomenon requires various substances; their parts lose their cohesion under the effect of heat or liquid. Once the different molecules are connected, they interact using their inherent forces, resulting in more or less perceptible changes in...

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