Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/313

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cola, one of the most earnest and truthful of investigators, still adheres to the belief that these gases in mines are manifestations of devils, and specifies two classes—one of malignant imps, who blow out the miners' lamps, and the other of friendly imps, who simply tease the workmen in various ways. He goes so far as to tell us that one of these spirits in the Saxon mine of Annaberg destroyed twelve workmen at once by the power of his breath.

At the end of the sixteenth century we find a writer on mineralogy complaining that the mines in France and Germany had been in large part abandoned on account of the "evil spirits of metals which had taken possession of them."

But at various periods glimpses of the truth had been gained. The ancient view had not been entirely forgotten; and as far back as the first part of the thirteenth century Albert the Great suggested a natural cause in the possibility of exhalations from minerals causing a "corruption of the air"; but he, as we have seen, was driven or dragged off into theological studies, and the world relapsed into the theological view.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century there came a great genius laden with important truths in chemistry, but for whom the world was not ready—Basil Valentine. His discoveries anticipated much that has brought fame and fortune to chemists since, yet so fearful of danger was he that his work was carefully concealed. Not until after his death was his treatise on alchemy found, and even then it was for a long time not known where and when he lived. The papal bull, Spondent pariter, and the various prohibitions it bred, forcing other alchemists to conceal their laboratories, led him to let himself be known during his life at Erfurt simply as an apothecary, and to wait until after his death to make a revelation of truth, which during his lifetime might have cost him dear. Among the legacies of this greatest of the alchemists was the doctrine that the air which asphyxiates workers in mines is similar to that which is produced by fermentation of malt, and a recommendation that in order to drive away the evil and to prevent serious accidents, fires be lighted and jets of steam used to ventilate the mines, laying stress especially upon the idea that the danger in the mines is produced by "exhalations of metals."

Thanks to men like Valentine, this idea of the interference of Satan and his minions with the mining industry was gradually weakened, and the working of the deserted mines was resumed; yet, even at a comparatively recent period, we find it still lingering, and among leading divines in the very heart of Protestant Germany. In 1715 a cellar-digger having been stifled at Jena, the medical faculty of the university decided that the cause was not the direct action of the devil, but a deadly gas. Thereupon