Les Elemens de chymie.

Paris, Mathieu le Maistre, 1615


FIRST EDITION THUS. 8vo. Pp. (xiv) 290 (ii). Roman letter. Tp with woodcut ornament, ornamental head pieces and floriated initials. Diagram of a chemical reaction p. 168. Stamp of Birmingham Assay Office Library on ffep and last leaf, faded ms to lower edge of tp (use uv). Light age yellowing, worming to lower outer margin of B7-8, gutter holed pp. 270-90, repaired on last two leaves with slight loss to last three, otherwise a good clean copy with generous margins in C17 speckled calf, slight rubbing to outer edges, gilt spine with floral motif in compartments, edges speckled red.

Rare first French edition of this important publication on chemistry. First published as Tyrocinium chymicum 1610, it is considered one of the ground-breaking chemistry textbooks, branching away from alchemy to a more modern scientific approach. This work contains the first-ever diagram of a chemical equation, showing the results of reactions in which there are two or more reagents. It depicts the reaction of corrosive sublimate with sulfide of antimony. The experiments discussed in the work are mainly pharmaceutical. The original edition was a published set of chemistry lecture notes compiled by the iatrochemist Béguin himself. It utilises empirical methods and arose amidst the developments of scientific enquiry propelled by Sir Francis Bacon, Robert Hooke, and others.

This work was intended to relieve Béguin of the constant demand to lecture his eager pupils. He states he visited the mines of Hungary and Slovenia in 1604 where he gathered the materials for his chemical experiments. He acknowledges the authority and censorship of the Paris Faculty of Medicine, which may be the reason for his omission of a Paracelsian quotation. Béguin undertook chemical experiments with the aim of separating and recombining natural mixed bodies to produce agreeable and safe medicines.

Divided into three books, Béguin begins with chemical processes like calcination, and goes on to describe these in relation to different substances like extracts from flowers and herbs, vinegar, and even human blood and wine. He discusses the ‘essences’ that make up everything, and divides them into categories. The essences in blood “conserue la santé de l’homme, prolonge sa jeunelle retarde sa viellesse, & chasse toute forte de maladies”. He provides instructions to separate blood through chemical experimentation. It requires blood from a healthy man “en la fleur de son age”, and follows a technique of heating and chilling as it typical with his other investigations. Wightman Vol 1 p. 180 states “A presage of the ‘new’ chemistry is the testing of distilled water with a drop or two of ‘spirit of vitriol’ to demonstrate the absence of lead”. He is credited with the first ever mention of acetone, which he calls “the burning spirit of Saturn”.  Béguin’s work was increasingly added to over its many later editions, and remained immensely popular through to the seventeenth century. It was translated into a number of European languages and set the blueprint for many later French chemical textbooks. The work was only usurped from its favourable position with the advent of Nicolas Lémery’s Cours de chymie in 1675.

Poggendorff 134; Ferguson Vol 1 93.
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