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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/421

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SKETCH OF AUGUST KEKULE.

will remember the enthusiasm with which the work was received. For the first time, in place of the former system of organic chemistry based on the old radicals of Berzelius, a system of treatment appeared which in the dress of the theory of types had the doctrine of valency as its foundation, and exposed the construction as well as the isomeric relations of the numerous carbon compounds with wonderful clearness. The work, the first two published volumes of which contained the substances designated by Kekulé as the fatty compounds, is still recognized as the prototype of many text-books that followed it.

"In 1855 Kekulé put forth the second of his great theories. First in the Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Paris, and afterward in fuller form in Liebig's Annalen, appeared the essay, Researches among the Aromatic Compounds, in which he showed that the substances so designated all contain six or more atoms of carbon, and that they could be described as derivatives of the simplest of them, benzene. He proposed two hypotheses to explain the constitution of this substance, one of which, the only one afterward pursued, supposed that the six carbon atoms are associated in a ring, and alternately linked by one and two valencies. By replacing the hydrogen atoms corresponding to each carbon atom by other elements or radicals one could arrive at the knowledge of the constitution of a large number of aromatic bodies which now figure as benzol derivatives. These considerations led, however, to another question—namely, whether or not the supplied places of the six hydrogen atoms are chemically equivalent. The question of space relations in chemistry first came up in connection with this investigation, and Kekulé at once endeavored to solve it. All these ideas were, however, expressed at first with reserve, and this essay closes with the words, 'I place no more value on these views than they are worth, and I believe that much labor must still be applied before such speculations can be regarded as anything else than more or less elegant hypotheses; but I believe, too, that at least experimental speculations of this kind must be used in chemistry.'

"In this case, again, Kekulé's modest expectations have been surpassed. The wonderful results that have accrued from the benzol theory are patent to all of us. We know that it was the instigation to the carrying out of an innumerable multitude of researches which are still pursued with undiminished industry. Rarely has a thought exercised so fructifying and forwarding an influence on chemistry, and so redounded to the advantage of both pure science and art. Thankfulness for this gift, as you know, prompted our society to honor the author of the benzol theory and the twenty-fifth year of the announcement of it by a public festival; and the Kekulé celebra-