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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/694

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

radicles began to occupy the attention of chemists, and a definite line of attack upon organic matter was recognized.

Two years later the second great step was taken. Dumas, studying the action of chlorine upon acetic acid, showed that the chlorine could replace hydrogen atom for atom, or volume for volume, and that his observations explained other reactions which had been unintelligible hitherto. This research led him to the famous theory of substitutions, which at first was received with ridicule, but soon found general acceptance. Electro-chemical conceptions, the Berzelian doctrines, were then in vogue, and it seemed strange, even absurd, to suppose that electro-negative chlorine could be substituted for electro-positive hydrogen. But the facts were stronger than the preconceived ideas, and the latter soon gave way. In this discovery by Dumas the first germs of the modern theory of valence are to be found.

For the study of inorganic substances, however, the dualistic theory was long retained, with the result that inorganic chemistry degenerated to a great extent into analysis and compound making, without any general conceptions which could stimulate scientific advance. It became a science of details rather than of principles, and was soon overshadowed by the organic branch. In the latter, theory after theory sprang up, flourished, and died away, each one having partial truth, but none being exhaustive and final. Still, the intellectual activity led to discoveries, and the warfare between doctrines, unlike the warfare between men, was productive of good instead of destruction. From the conflict of ideas the truth gradually emerged, and a new system of chemical philosophy was developed. The theory of compound radicles, the nucleus theory, the theory of types, the conception of conjugated compounds, followed rapidly one after the other, until in the discovery of valence all discrepancies were reconciled, structural chemistry came into existence, and a single doctrine, applicable alike to organic and inorganic substances, had possession of the field.

The theory of valence was a logical outgrowth from its predecessors, whose valuable features it included in a wider generalization, but it was the work of no one master mind. Many chemists contributed to its up-building, Frankland and Kekulé being among the leaders; but its foundations are to be detected in the atomic theory itself, from which it is legitimately derived. To understand its full significance we must take a step backward in history, and trace the change in atomic weights from their first form to the modern system.

In the early days of the atomic theory, in the determinations by Wollaston, Berzelius, and others, attention was chiefly paid to