1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Berthollet, Claude Louis
BERTHOLLET, CLAUDE LOUIS (1748–1822), French chemist, was born at Talloire, near Annecy in Savoy, on the 9th of December 1748. He studied first at Chambery and afterwards at Turin, where he graduated in medicine. Settling in Paris in 1772, he became the private physician of Philip, duke of Orleans, and by his chemical work soon gained so high a reputation that in 1780 he was admitted into the Academy of Sciences. In 1785 he declared himself an adherent of the Lavoisierian school, though he did not accept Lavoisier’s view of oxygen as the only and universal acidifying principle, and he took part in the reform in chemical nomenclature carried out by Lavoisier and his associates in 1787. Among the substances of which he investigated the composition were ammonia, sulphuretted hydrogen and prussic acid, and his experiments on chlorine, which he regarded, not as an element, but as oxygenated muriatic (oxymuriatic) acid, led him to propose it as a bleaching agent in 1785. He also prepared potassium chlorate and attempted to use it in the manufacture of gunpowder as a substitute for saltpetre. When, at the beginning of the French Revolution, the deficiency in the supply of saltpetre became a serious matter, he was placed at the head of the commission entrusted with the development of its production in French territory, and another commission on which he served had for its object the improvement of the methods of iron manufacture. He was also a member in 1794 of the committee on agriculture and the arts, and technical science was further indebted to him for a systematic exposition of the principles of dyeing—Élémens de l’art de la teinture, 1791, of which he published a second edition in 1809, in association with his son, A. B. Berthollet (1783–1811). After 1794 he was teacher of chemistry in the polytechnic and normal schools of Paris, and in 1795 he took an active part in remodelling the Academy as the Institut National. In the following year he and Gaspard Monge were chosen chiefs of a commission charged with the task of selecting in Italy the choicest specimens of ancient and modern art for the national galleries of Paris; and in 1798 he was one of the band of scientific men who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, there forming themselves into the Institute of Egypt on the plan of the Institut National. On the fall of the Directory he was made a senator and grand officer of the Legion of Honour; under the empire he became a count; and after the restoration of the Bourbons he took his seat as a peer. In the later years of his life he had at Arcueil, where he died on the 6th of November 1822, a well-equipped laboratory, which became a centre frequented by some of the most distinguished scientific men of the time, their proceedings being published in three volumes, between 1807 and 1817, as the Mémoires de la société d’Arcueil. Berthollet’s most remarkable contribution to chemistry was his Essai de statique chimique (1803), the first systematic attempt to grapple with the problems of chemical physics. His doctrines did not meet with general approval among his contemporaries, partly perhaps because he pushed them too far, as for instance in holding that two elements might combine in constantly varying proportions, a view which gave rise to a long dispute with L. J. Proust; but his speculations, in particular his insistence on the influence of the relative masses of the acting substances in chemical reactions, have exercised a dominating influence on the modern developments of the theory of chemical affinity, of which, far more than T. O. Bergman, whom he controverted, he must be regarded as the founder.