generally forced upon chemists are those of fractional precipitation or crystallization; the striking resemblances of the compounds of these elements rarely admitting of a complete separation by simple precipitation and filtration. The extraordinary patience requisite to a successful termination of such an analysis can only be adequately realized by actual research; an idea may be obtained from Crookes’s Select Methods in Analysis. Of recent years the introduction of various organic compounds as precipitants or reagents has reduced the labour of the process; and advantage has also been taken of the fairly complex double salts which these metals form with compounds. The purity of the compounds thus obtained is checked by spectroscopic observations. Formerly the spark- and absorption-spectra were the sole methods available; a third method was introduced by Crookes, who submitted the oxides, or preferably the basic sulphates, to the action of a negative electric discharge in vacuo, and investigated the phosphorescence induced spectroscopically. By such a study in the ultra-violet region of a fraction prepared from crude yttria he detected a new element victorium, and subsequently by elaborate fractionation obtained the element itself.
The first earth of this group to be isolated (although in an impure form) was yttria, obtained by Gadolin in 1794 from the mineral gadolinite, which was named after its discoverer and investigator. Klaproth and Vauquelin also investigated this earth, but without detecting that it was a complex mixture—a discovery reserved for C. G. Mosander. The next discovery, made independently and simultaneously in 1803 by Klaproth and by W. Hisinger and Berzelius, was of ceria, the oxide of cerium, in the mineral cerite found at Ridderhytta, Westmannland, Sweden. These crude earths, yttria and ceria, have supplied most if not all of the “rare earth” metals. In 1841 Mosander, having in 1839 discovered a new element lanthanum in the mineral cerite, isolated this element and also a hitherto unrecognized substance, didymia, from crude yttria, and two years later he announced the determination of two fresh constituents of the same earth, naming them erbia and terbia. Lanthanum has retained its elementary character, but recent attempts at separating it from didymia have led to the view that didymium is a mixture of two elements, praseodymium and neodymium (see Didymium). Mosander’s erbia has been shown to contain various other oxides—thulia, holmia, &c.—but this has not yet been perfectly worked out. In 1878 Marignac, having subjected Mosander’s erbia, obtained from gadolinite, to a careful examination, announced the presence of a new element, ytterbium; this discovery was confirmed by Nilson, who in the following year discovered another element, scandium, in Marignac’s ytterbia. Scandium possesses great historical interest, for Cleve showed that it was one of the elements predicted by Mendeléeff about ten years previously from considerations based on his periodic classification of the elements (see Element). Other elements predicted and characterized by Mendeléeff which have been since realized are gallium, discovered in 1875, and germanium, discovered in 1885 by Clemens Winkler.
In 1880 Marignac examined certain earths obtained from the mineral samarskite, which had already in 1878 received attention from Delafontaine and later from Lecoq de Boisbaudran. He established the existence of two new elements, samarium and gadolinium, since investigated more especially by Cleve, to whom most of our knowledge on this subject is due. In addition to the rare elements mentioned above, there are a score or so more whose existence is doubtful. Every year is attended by fresh “discoveries” in this prolific source of elementary substances, but the paucity of materials and the predilections of the investigators militate in some measure against a just valuation being accorded to such researches. After having been somewhat neglected for the greater attractions and wider field presented by organic chemistry, the study of the elements and their inorganic compounds is now rapidly coming into favour; new investigators are continually entering the lists; the beaten paths are being retraversed and new ramifications pursued.
IV. Organic Chemistry
While inorganic chemistry was primarily developed through the study of minerals—a connexion still shown by the French appellation chimie minérale—organic chemistry owes its origin to the investigation of substances occurring in the vegetable and animal organisms. The quest of the alchemists for the philosopher’s stone, and the almost general adherence of the iatrochemists to the study of the medicinal characters and preparation of metallic compounds, stultified in some measure the investigation of vegetable and animal products. It is true that by the distillation of many herbs, resins and similar substances, several organic compounds had been prepared, and in a few cases employed as medicines; but the prevailing classification of substances by physical and superficial properties led to the correlation of organic and inorganic compounds, without any attention being paid to their chemical composition. The clarification and spirit of research so clearly emphasized by Robert Boyle in the middle of the 17th century is reflected in the classification of substances expounded by Nicolas Lémery, in 1675, in his Cours de chymie. Taking as a basis the nature of the source of compounds, he framed three classes: “mineral,” comprising the metals, minerals, earths and stones; “vegetable,” comprising plants, resins, gums, juices, &c.; and “animal,” comprising animals, their different parts and excreta. Notwithstanding the inconsistency of his allocation of substances to the different groups (for instance, acetic acid was placed in the vegetable class, while the acetates and the products of their dry distillation, acetone, &c., were placed in the mineral class), this classification came into favour. The phlogistonists endeavoured to introduce chemical notions to support it: Becher, in his Physica subterranea(1669), stated that mineral, vegetable and animal matter contained the same elements, but that more simple combinations prevailed in the mineral kingdom; while Stahl, in his Specimen Becherianum (1702), held the “earthy” principle to predominate in the mineral class, and the “aqueous” and “combustible” in the vegetable and animal classes. It thus happened that in the earlier treatises on phlogistic chemistry organic substances were grouped with all combustibles.
The development of organic chemistry from this time until almost the end of the 18th century was almost entirely confined to such compounds as had practical applications, especially in pharmacy and dyeing. A new and energetic spirit was introduced by Scheele; among other discoveries this gifted experimenter isolated and characterized many organic acids, and proved the general occurrence of glycerin (Ölsüss) in all oils and fats. Bergman worked in the same direction; while Rouelle was attracted to the study of animal chemistry. Theoretical speculations were revived by Lavoisier, who, having explained the nature of combustion and determined methods for analysing compounds, concluded that vegetable substances ordinarily contained carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, while animal substances generally contained, in addition to these elements, nitrogen, and sometimes phosphorus and sulphur. Lavoisier, to whom chemistry was primarily the chemistry of oxygen compounds, having developed the radical theory initiated by Guyton de Morveau, formulated the hypothesis that vegetable and animal substances were oxides of radicals composed of carbon and hydrogen; moreover, since simple radicals (the elements) can form more than one oxide, he attributed the same character to his hydrocarbon radicals: he considered, for instance, sugar to be a neutral oxide and oxalic acid a higher oxide of a certain radical, for, when oxidized by nitric acid, sugar yields oxalic acid. At the same time, however, he adhered to the classification of Lémery; and it was only when identical compounds were obtained from both vegetable and animal sources that this subdivision was discarded, and the classes were assimilated in the division organic chemistry.
At this time there existed a belief, held at a later date by Berzelius, Gmelin and many others, that the formation of organic compounds was conditioned by a so-called vital force; and the difficulty of artificially realizing this action explained the supposed impossibility of synthesizing organic compounds.