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The Legacy of Van Helmont's and Starkey's Chymistry

The Legacy of Van Helmont's and Starkey's Chymistry

Boyle, Homberg, and the Chemical Revolution

(p.273) Six The Legacy of Van Helmont's and Starkey's Chymistry
Alchemy Tried in the Fire
University of Chicago Press

Boyle's mechanical interpretations of exantlated acids and the dissolution of materials by the alkahest—such as Van Helmont's explanations of these phenomena—focused on the changes induced in a single substance that retains its material identity while being divided into smaller corpuscles or otherwise undergoing a change in texture. Homberg examined the solubilities of the various metals toward different acids. Homberg explained the twofold product of the precipitation of mercury. This chapter outlines a clear legacy of Van Helmont's and Starkey's chymical theory and practice. Helmontianism, at least partly transmitted through and interpreted by Starkey, not only played an important role in Boyle's first set of natural philosophical publications but also persisted in somewhat different formats in his mature chymistry. A mechanical chymistry wherein anything could produce anything else via mechanical changes of corpuscular texture militated against the very possibility of meaningful quantitative analysis, because a purely mechanistic chymistry is incompatible with the notion of “constant composition” that undergirds the concept of analysis.

Keywords:   Homberg, Van Helmont's, Starkey's chymical theory, Helmontianism, mechanistic chymistry

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