Robert Boyle.

The sceptical chymist online

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Transcriber's Notes:

This e-book was prepared from a facsimile of the 1661 first
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A table of contents has been provided for the reader's





Doubts & Paradoxes,

Touching the


Commonly call'd


As they are wont to be Propos'd and Defended by the Generality of


Whereunto is præmis'd Part of another Discourse relating to the same


The Honourable _ROBERT BOYLE_, Esq;


Printed by _J. Cadwell_ for _J. Crooke_, and are to be Sold at the
_Ship_ in St. _Paul's_ Church-Yard.



A Præface Introductory
Physiological Considerations
The First Part
The Second Part
The Third Part
The Fourth Part
The Fifth Part
The Sixth Part
The Conclusion
Printer's Note




_To the following Treatise._

_To give the Reader an account, Why the following Treatise is suffer'd
to pass abroad so maim'd and imperfect, I must inform him that 'tis
now long since, that to gratify an ingenious Gentleman, I set down
some of the Reasons that kept me from fully acquiescing either in the
Peripatetical, or in the Chymical Doctrine, of the Material Principles
of mixt Bodies. This Discourse some years after falling into the hands
of some Learned men, had the good luck to be so favourably receiv'd,
and advantageously spoken of by them, that having had more then
ordinary Invitations given me to make it publick, I thought fit to
review it, that I might retrench some things that seem'd not so fit to
be shewn to every Reader, And substitute some of those other things
that occurr'd to me of the trials and observations I had since made.
What became of my papers, I elsewhere mention in a Preface where I
complain of it: But since I writ That, I found many sheets that
belong'd to the subjects I am now about to discourse of. Wherefore
seeing that I had then in my hands as much of the first Dialogue as
was requisite to state the Case, and serve for an Introduction as well
to the conference betwixt_ Carneades _and_ Eleutherius, _as to some
other Dialogues, which for certain reasons are not now herewith
publish'd, I resolv'd to supply, as well as I could, the Contents of a
Paper belonging to the second of the following Discourses, which I
could not possibly retrive, though it were the chief of them all. And
having once more try'd the Opinion of Friends, but not of the same,
about this imperfect work, I found it such, that I was content in
complyance with their Desires; that not only it should be publish'd,
but that it should be publish'd as soon as conveniently might be. I
had indeed all along the Dialogues spoken of my self, as of a third
Person; For, they containing Discourses which were among the first
Treatises that I ventur'd long ago to write of matters Philosophical,
I had reason to desire, with the Painter, to_ latere pone tabulam,
_and hear what men would say of them, before I own'd my self to be
their Author. But besides that now I find, 'tis not unknown to many
who it is that writ them, I am made to believe that 'tis not
inexpedient, they should be known to come from a Person not altogether
a stranger to Chymical Affairs. And I made the lesse scruple to let
them come abroad uncompleated, partly, because my affairs and
Præ-ingagements to publish divers other Treatises allow'd me small
hopes of being able in a great while to compleat these Dialogues. And
partly, because I am not unapt to think, that they may come abroad
seasonably enough, though not for the Authors reputation, yet for
other purposes. For I observe, that of late Chymistry begins, as
indeed it deserves, to be cultivated by Learned Men who before
despis'd it; and to be pretended to by many who never cultivated it,
that they may be thought not to ignore it: Whence it is come to passe,
that divers Chymical Notions about Matters Philosophical are taken for
granted and employ'd, and so adopted by very eminent Writers both
Naturalists and Physitians. Now this I fear may prove somewhat
prejudicial to the Advancement of solid Philosophy: For though I am a
great Lover of Chymical Experiments, and though I have no mean esteem
of divers Chymical Remedies, yet I distinguish these from their
Notions about the causes of things, and their manner of Generation.
And for ought I can hitherto discern, there are a thousand_ Phænomena
_in Nature, besides a Multitude of Accidents relating to the humane
Body, which will scarcely be clearly & satisfactorily made out by them
that confine themselves to deduce things from Salt, Sulphur and
Mercury, and the other Notions peculiar to the Chymists, without
taking much more Notice than they are wont to do, of the Motions and
Figures, of the small Parts of Matter, and the other more Catholick
and Fruitful affections of Bodies. Wherefore it will not perhaps be
now unseasonable to let our_ Carneades _warne Men, not to subscribe to
the grand Doctrine of the Chymists touching their three Hypostatical
Principles, till they have a little examin'd it, and consider'd, how
they can clear it from his Objections, divers of which 'tis like they
may never have thought on; since a Chymist scarce would, and none but
a Chymist could propose them. I hope also it will not be unacceptable
to several Ingenious Persons, who are unwilling to determine of any
important Controversie, without a previous consideration of what may
be said on both sides, and yet have greater desires to understand
Chymical Matters, than Opportunities of learning them, to find here
together, besides several Experiments of my own purposely made to
Illustrate the Doctrine of the Elements, divers others scarce to be
met with, otherwise then Scatter'd among many Chymical Books. And to
Find these Associated Experiments so Deliver'd as that an Ordinary
Reader, if he be but Acquainted with the usuall Chymical Termes, may
easily enough Understand Them; and even a wary One may safely rely on
Them. These Things I add, because a Person any Thing vers'd in the
Writings of Chymists cannot but Discern by their obscure, Ambiguous,
and almost Ænigmatical Way of expressing what they pretend to Teach,
that they have no Mind, to be understood at all, but by_ the Sons of
Art _(as they call them) nor to be Understood even by these without
Difficulty And Hazardous Tryalls. Insomuch that some of Them Scarce
ever speak so candidly, as when they make use of that known Chymical
Sentence;_ Ubi palam locuti fumus, ibi nihil diximus. _And as the
obscurity of what some Writers deliver makes it very difficult to be
understood; so the Unfaithfulness of too many others makes it unfit to
be reli'd on. For though unwillingly, Yet I must for the truths sake,
and the Readers, warne him not to be forward to believe Chymical
Experiments when they are set down only by way of Prescriptions, and
not of Relations; that is, unless he that delivers them mentions his
doing it upon his own particular knowledge, or upon the Relation of
some credible person, avowing it upon his own experience. For I am
troubled, I must complain, that even Eminent Writers, both Physitians
and Philosophers, whom I can easily name, if it be requir'd, have of
late suffer'd themselves to be so far impos'd upon, as to Publish and
Build upon Chymical Experiments, which questionless they never try'd;
for if they had, they would, as well as I, have found them not to be
true. And indeed it were to be wish'd, that now that those begin to
quote Chymical Experiments that are not themselves Acquainted with
Chymical Operations, men would Leave off that Indefinite Way of
Vouching the Chymists say this, or the Chymists affirme that, and
would rather for each Experiment they alledge name the Author or
Authors, upon whose credit they relate it; For, by this means they
would secure themselves from the suspition of falshood (to which the
other Practice Exposes them) and they would Leave the Reader to Judge
of what is fit for him to Believe of what is Deliver'd, whilst they
employ not their own great names to Countenance doubtfull Relations;
and they will also do Justice to the Inventors or Publishers of true
Experiments, as well as upon the Obtruders of false ones. Whereas by
that general Way of quoting the Chymists, the candid Writer is
Defrauded of the particular Praise, and the Impostor escapes the
Personal Disgrace that is due to him._

_The remaining Part of this Præface must be imploy'd in saying
something for_ Carneades, _and something for my Self._

_And first_, Carneades _hopes that he will be thought to have disputed
civilly and Modestly enough for one that was to play the Antagonist
and the Sceptick. And if he any where seem to sleight his Adversaries
Tenents and Arguments, he is willing to have it look'd upon as what he
was induc'd to, not so much by his Opinion of them, as the Examples
of_ Themistius _and_ Philoponus, _and the custom of such kind of

_Next, In case that some of his Arguments shall not be thought of the
most Cogent sort that may be, he hopes it will be consider'd that it
ought not to be Expected, that they should be So. For, his Part being
chiefly but to propose Doubts and Scruples, he does enough, if he
shews that his Adversaries Arguments are not strongly Concluding,
though his own be not so neither. And if there should appear any
disagreement betwixt the things he delivers in divers passages, he
hopes it will be consider'd, that it is not necessary that all the
things a Sceptick Proposes, should be consonant; since it being his
work to Suggest doubts against the Opinion he questions, it is
allowable for him to propose two or more severall_ Hypotheses _about
the same thing: And to say that it may be accounted for this way, or
that way, or the other Way, though these wayes be perhaps inconsistent
among Themselves. Because it is enough for him, if either of the
proposed_ Hypotheses _be but as probable as that he calls a question.
And if he proposes many that are Each of them probable, he does the
more satisfie his doubts, by making it appear the more difficult to be
sure, that that which they alwayes differ from is the true. And our_
Carneades _by holding the Negative, he has this Advantage, that if
among all the Instances he brings to invalidate all the Vulgar
Doctrine of those he Disputes with, any one be Irrefragable, that
alone is sufficient to overthrow a Doctrine which Universally asserts
what he opposes. For, it cannot be true, that all Bodies whatsoever
that are reckon'd among the Perfectly mixt Ones, are Compounded of
such a Determinate Number of such or such Ingredients, in case any one
such Body can be produc'd, that is not so compounded; and he hopes
too, that Accurateness will be the less expected from him, because his
undertaking obliges him to maintain such Opinions in Chymistry, and
that chiefly by Chymical Arguments, as are Contrary to the very
Principles of the Chymists; From whose writings it is not Therefore
like he should receive any intentionall Assistance, except from some
Passages of the Bold and Ingenious_ Helmont, _with whom he yet
disagrees in many things (which reduce him to explicate Divers
Chymical_ Phænomena, _according to other Notions;) And of whose
Ratiocinations, not only some seem very Extravagant, but even the Rest
are not wont to be as considerable as his Experiments. And though it
be True indeed, that some_ Aristotelians _have occasionally written
against the Chymical Doctrine he Oppugnes, yet since they have done it
according to their Principles, And since our_ Carneades _must as well
oppose their_ Hypothesis _as that of the Spagyrist, he was fain to
fight his Adversaries with their own Weapons, Those of the
Peripatetick being Improper, if not hurtfull for a Person of his
Tenents; besides that those_ Aristotelians, _(at Least, those he met
with,) that have written against the Chymists, seem to have had so
little Experimental Knowledge in Chymical Matters, that by their
frequent Mistakes and unskilfull Way of Oppugning, they have too often
expos'd Themselves to the Derision of their Adversaries, for writing
so Confidently against what they appear so little to understand._

_And Lastly_, Carneades _hopes, he shall doe the Ingenious this Piece
of service, that by having Thus drawn the Chymists Doctrine out of
their Dark and Smoakie Laboratories, and both brought it into the open
light, and shewn the weakness of their Proofs, that have hitherto
been wont to be brought for it, either Judicious Men shall henceforth
be allowed calmly and after due information to disbelieve it, or those
abler Chymists, that are zealous for the reputation of it, will be
oblig'd to speak plainer then hitherto has been done, and maintain it
by better Experiments and Arguments then Those_ Carneades _hath
examin'd: so That he hopes, the Curious will one Way or other Derive
either satisfaction or instruction from his endeavours. And as he is
ready to make good the profession he makes in the close of his
Discourse, he being ready to be better inform'd, so he expects either
to be indeed inform'd, or to be let alone. For Though if any Truly
knowing Chymists shall Think fit in a civil and rational way to shew
him any truth touching the matter in Dispute That he yet discernes
not,_ Carneades _will not refuse either to admit, or to own a
Conviction: yet if any impertinent Person shall, either to get Himself
a Name, or for what other end soever, wilfully or carelesly mistake
the State of the Controversie, or the sence of his Arguments, or shall
rail instead of arguing, as hath been done of Late in Print by divers
Chymists;_[1] _or lastly, shall write against them in a canting way; I
mean, shall express himself in ambiguous or obscure termes, or argue
from experiments not intelligibly enough Deliver'd_, Carneades
_professes, That he values his time so much, as not to think the
answering such Trifles worth the loss of it._

[Footnote 1: G. and F. and H. and others, in their books against one

_And now having said thus much for_ Carneades, _I hope the Reader will
give me leave to say something too for my self._

_And first, if some morose Readers shall find fault with my having
made the Interlocutors upon occasion complement with one another, and
that I have almost all along written these Dialogues in a stile more
Fashionable then That of meer scholars is wont to be, I hope I shall
be excus'd by them that shall consider, that to keep a due_ decorum
_in the Discourses, it was fit that in a book written by a Gentleman,
and wherein only Gentlemen are introduc'd as speakers, the Language
should be more smooth, and the Expressions more civil than is usual in
the more Scholastick way of writing. And indeed, I am not sorry to
have this Opportunity of giving an example how to manage even Disputes
with Civility; whence perhaps some Readers will be assisted to discern
a Difference betwixt Bluntness of speech and Strength of reason, and
find that a man may be a Champion for Truth, without being an Enemy to
Civility; and may confute an Opinion without railing at Them that hold
it; To whom he that desires to convince and not to provoke them, must
make some amends by his Civility to their Persons, for his severity
to their mistakes; and must say as little else as he can, to displease
them, when he says that they are in an error._

_But perhaps other Readers will be less apt to find fault with the
Civility of my Disputants, than the Chymists will be, upon the reading
of some Passages of the following Dialogue, to accuse_ Carneades _of
Asperity. But if I have made my Sceptick sometimes speak sleightingly
of the Opinions he opposes, I hope it will not be found that I have
done any more, than became the Part he was to act of an Opponent:
Especially, if what I have made him say be compar'd with what the
Prince of the Romane Orators himself makes both great Persons and
Friends say of one anothers Opinions, in his excellent Dialogues,_ De
Natura Deorum: _And I shall scarce be suspected of Partiality, in the
case, by them that take Notice that there is full as much (if not far
more) liberty of sleighting their Adversaries Tenents to be met with
in the Discourses of those with whom_ Carneades _disputes. Nor needed
I make the Interlocutors speak otherwise then freely in a Dialogue,
wherein it was sufficiently intimated, that I meant not to declare my
own Opinion of the Arguments propos'd, much lesse of the whole
Controversy it self otherwise than as it may by an attentive Reader be
guess'd at by some Passages of_ Carneades: _(I say, some Passages,
because I make not all that he says, especially in the heat of
Disputation, mine,) partly in this Discourse, and partly in some other
Dialogues betwixt the same speakers (though they treat not immediately
of the Elements) which have long layn by me, and expect the
Entertainment that these present Discourses will meet with. And indeed
they will much mistake me, that shall conclude from what I now
publish, that I am at Defyance with Chymistry, or would make my
Readers so. I hope the_ Specimina _I have lately publish'd of an
attempt to shew the usefulness of Chymical Experiments to
Contemplative Philosophers, will give those that shall read them other
thoughts of me: & I had a design (but wanted opportunity) to publish
with these Papers an Essay I have lying by me, the greater part of
which is Apologetical for one sort of Chymists. And at least, as for
those that know me, I hope the pain I have taken in the fire will both
convince them, that I am far from being an Enemy to the Chymists Art,
(though I am no friend to many that disgrace it by professing it,) and
perswade them to believe me when I declare that I distinguish betwixt
those Chymists that are either Cheats, or but Laborants, and the true_
Adepti; _By whom, could I enjoy their Conversation, I would both
willingly and thankfully be instructed; especially concerning the
Nature and Generation of Metals: And possibly, those that know how
little I have remitted of my former addictedness to make Chymical
Experiments, will easily believe, that one of the chief Designes of
this Sceptical Discourse was, not so much to discredit Chymistry, as
to give an occasion and a kind of necessity to the more knowing
Artists to lay aside a little of their over-great Reservedness, &
either explicate or prove the Chymical Theory better than ordinary
Chymists have done, or by enriching us with some of their nobler
secrets to evince that Their art is able to make amends even for the
deficiencies of their Theory: And thus much I shall here make bold to
add, that we shall much undervalue Chymistry, if we imagine, that it
cannot teach us things farr more useful, not only to Physick but to
Philosophy, than those that are hitherto known to vulgar Chymists. And
yet as for inferiour Spagyrists themselves, they have by their labours
deserv'd so well of the Common-wealth of Learning, that methinks 'tis
Pity they should ever misse the Truth which they have so industriously
sought. And though I be no Admirer of the Theorical Part of their Art,
yet my conjectures will much deceive me, if the Practical Part be not
much more cultivated than hitherto it has been, and do not both employ
Philosophy and Philosophers, and help to make men such. Nor would I
that have been diverted by other Studies as well as affairs, be
thought to pretend being a profound Spagyrist, by finding so many
faults in the Doctrine wherein the Generality of Chymists scruples not
to Acquiesce: For besides that 'tis most commonly far easier to frame
Objections against any propos'd_ Hypothesis, _than to propose an_
Hypothesis _not lyable to Objections (besides this I say) 'tis no such
great matter, if whereas Beginners in Chymistry are commonly at once
imbu'd with the Theory and Operations of their profession, I who had
the good Fortune to Learn the Operations from illiterate Persons,
upon whose credit I was not Tempted to take up any opinion about them,
should consider things with lesse prejudice, and consequently with
other Eyes than the Generality of Learners; And should be more
dispos'd to accommodate the_ Phænomena _that occur'd to me to other
Notions than to those of the Spagyrists. And having at first
entertain'd a suspition That the Vulgar Principles were lesse General
and comprehensive, or lesse considerately Deduc'd from Chymical
Operations, than was believ'd; it was not uneasie for me both to Take
notice of divers_ Phænomena, _overlook'd by prepossest Persons, that
seem'd not to suite so well with the_ Hermetical _Doctrine; and, to
devise some Experiments likely to furnish me with Objections against
it, not known to many, that having practis'd Chymistry longer
perchance then I have yet liv'd, may have far more Experience, Than I,
of particular processes._

_To conclude, whether the Notions I have propos'd, and the Experiments
I have communicated, be considerable, or not, I willingly leave others
to Judge; and This only I shall say for my Self, That I have
endeavour'd to deliver matters of Fact, so faithfully, that I may as
well assist the lesse skilful Readers to examine the Chymical_
Hypothesis, _as provoke the Spagyrical Philosophers to illustrate it:
which if they do, and that either the Chymical opinion, or the
Peripatetick, or any other Theory of the Elements differing from that
I am most inclin'd to, shall be intelligibly explicated, and duly
prov'd to me; what I have hitherto discours'd will not hinder it from
making a Proselyte of a Person that Loves Fluctuation of Judgment
little enough to be willing to be eas'd of it by any thing but




_The experiments wont to be employed to evince either the IV
Peripatetick Elements, or the III Chymical Principles of Mixt Bodies._

Part of the First Dialogue.

I Perceive that divers of my Friends have thought it very strange to
hear me speak so irresolvedly, as I have been wont to do, concerning
those things which some take to be the Elements, and others to be the
Principles of all mixt Bodies. But I blush not to acknowledge that I
much lesse scruple to confess that I Doubt, when I do so, then to
profess that I Know what I do not: And I should have much stronger
Expectations then I dare yet entertain, to see Philosophy solidly
establish't, if men would more carefully distinguish those things that
they know, from those that they ignore or do but think, and then
explicate clearly the things they conceive they understand,
acknowledge ingenuously what it is they ignore, and profess so
candidly their Doubts, that the industry of intelligent persons might
be set on work to make further enquiries, and the easiness of less
discerning Men might not be impos'd on. But because a more particular
accompt will probably be expected of my unsatisfyedness not only with
the Peripatetick, but with the Chymical Doctrine of the Primitive
Ingredients of Bodies: It may possibly serve to satisfy others of the
excusableness of my disatisfaction to peruse the ensuing Relation of
what passed a while since at a meeting of persons of several opinions,

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Online LibraryRobert BoyleThe sceptical chymist → online text (page 1 of 21)