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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/68

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By Professor JAS. LEWIS HOWE


NOT long since M. Louis Quennessen of Paris (head of the old house of Des Moutis & Co., platinum refiners) directed my attention to an early worker on platinum, Pierre-François Chabaneau, whose name has so far escaped the historians of chemistry that I think it is not even mentioned in any English or German work, and has only appeared in the last edition of Moissan's "Traite de Chimie Minèrale." More recently, through the courtesy of M. Quennessen, I have received a copy of an all but unknown memoir, "Notice sur Chabaneau, Chimiste Périgourdin," par M. Jules Delanoue, printed at Périgueux in 1862, portions of which appear to be of sufficient interest to put on record. This biographical sketch was written in 1857, though not published till five years later, and has for its purpose "to call to the attention of our citizens the useful work, too little known, of a modest man, who unquestionably deserves the first place among the distinguished men whom Périgord has given to the world."

It may be noted that Périgueux is the capital of the old province of Périgord (now in part Dordogne) in southwest France, and has an interesting history going back to the time when it was the old Gallic town of Vesunna, the capital of the Petrocorii. Numerous remains of Vesunna are still in existence, especially baths, temples, an aqueduct and fragments of the amphitheater, mostly dating from its Roman occupation. The most notable building of Périgueux is the cathedral of St. Front, belonging to the Byzantine period, which bears quite a close resemblance to St. Mark's at Venice. The town has undergone many vicissitudes, having been taken by the barbarians in the fourth century, the Saracens in the eighth, the Normans in the ninth, the English in the fourteenth, and later restored to the French. It was a stronghold of the Calvinists in the Huguenot wars, and at this time was nearly laid in ruins. In the midst of an agricultural region, it is perhaps best known for its truffles and chestnut-fed hogs, the latter being used in hunting for the former.

The early history of Chabaneau is a not unfamiliar one of precocity and hardship.

Pierre-François Chabaneau was born at Nontron (in northwestern Dordogne) April 21, 1754. His family were respectable artisans, and he would undoubtedly have followed the obscure career of his parents, had not his intelligence and pronounced love of study attracted the attention of his uncle, a