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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/99

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

read to the Royal Society on May 20, 1790, Keir described quite fully many of the phenomena due to 'altered' iron, as he called it, and this property was afterwards known to many chemists; nevertheless, Schönbein first used the term passivity, and the discovery of the phenomena is commonly ascribed to him.

The 'Sketch of the Life of James Keir' is one of the rarest of the biographies of chemists, having been printed for private circulation, and edited by his grandson, James Keir Moilliet (London, 1868). Keir, who was born in 1735, was educated as a physician, but entered the army, and on retiring became a successful man of business, associated at one time with Boulton and Watt; he was an intimate friend of Erasmus Darwin and of Joseph Priestley, whose phlogistic views he shared in spite of the clear demonstrations of Lavoisier. In a letter to Darwin, dated 1790, Keir wrote:

"I neither believe in phlogiston nor in oxygene, nor in any other of Lavoisier's metaphysical principles. … What I dislike in the anti-phlogistians is their pedantry and presumption; in the old system there is one assumed matter, whereas in Lavoisier's there are oxygene, hydrogene, calorique and carbone, all of which are imaginary, or at least hypothetical beings." Keir was a member of the social club known as the Lunar Society, which was founded in Birmingham in 1766, and lasted nearly forty years.

All that is known of this private society, its founders, its membership and its meetings is found in another privately printed volume, 'Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley,' by Henry Carrington Bolton (New York, 1892); this contains ninety-seven letters of the eminent chemist who discovered oxygen, accompanied by historical and bibliographic notes. The book is illustrated by portraits of Priestley and of his friend Wedgewood, to whom many of the letters are addressed; they cover the period from 1780 to 1804, the last being written by Thomas Cooper to Dr. Benjamin Rush to announce the death of Priestley, which had occurred that morning (February 6). Some letters written in 1783 concerning Watts' experiments throw light on his share in the discovery of the composition of water. Priestley, as is well known, adhered throughout his life to the theory of phlogiston, and never accepted the doctrines of his contemporary Lavoisier. The life of this great French chemist was edited by Edouard Grimaux, in a handsome, well-illustrated volume (Paris, 1888). This contains besides the story of his grand discoveries, of his government positions and his domestic concerns, many official documents, supplying the historical proofs; the events associated with his arrest, imprisonment and unhappy and tragic end, are of painful interest.

Charles William Scheele, the poor apothecary of an obscure town in remote Sweden, made twenty-five prime discoveries, any one of which would have sufficed to make him famous; his 'Letters and Drawings,' edited by A. E. Nordenskiöld were published in a handsome octavo, illustrated with plates and fac-similes. The hundred and thirty-three letters extend from 1767 to 1781, and are addressed to Gahn, Bergman, Hjelm and others; the editor endeavors to prove from Scheele's manuscripts that he isolated oxygen more than a year earlier than Priestley. Books printed outside of Sweden were hardly accessible to Scheele. In 1777 he wrote to Gahn:

"Priestley's book I have not yet seen. If it were in French I should like to read it. Here I am in great darkness as respects literature, a deprivation that is very unfortunate." Those seeking details of the life and labors of Scheele must consult this authoritative work, which appears in two editions, Swedish and German (Stockholm, 1892). Scheele wrote in both these languages