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Number, Weight, Measure, and Experiment in Chymistry

Number, Weight, Measure, and Experiment in Chymistry

From the Medievals to Van Heemont

(p.35) Two Number, Weight, Measure, and Experiment in Chymistry
Alchemy Tried in the Fire
University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the background to Starkey's chymical practice by briefly sketching issues of quantitative and qualitative chymical practice from the High Middle Ages down to the seventeenth century. This chapter looks at the study of Starkey's most important preceptor, the Flemish natural philosopher Joan Baptista Van Helmont. Although Van Helmont's importance to seventeenth-century chymical and medical thought has been generally recognized, the details of his influence are not yet fully understood, and the magnitude of his impact remains significantly underappreciated. This chapter sheds light on Van Helmont's view of the role of mathematics in natural philosophy and his deployment of quantitative techniques—particularly the notion of “mass balance”—in investigating nature and probing the outcome of practical chymical processes. The Helmontian emphasis on mass balance provided a new focus for chymistry that culminated eventually in the famous balance sheet method of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and his predecessors at the Académie Royale des Sciences.

Keywords:   chymical, Starkey's, Helmontian, balance sheet, mass balance

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