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Homberg’s Legacy

Homberg’s Legacy

(p.338) 7 Homberg’s Legacy
The Transmutations of Chymistry
Lawrence M. Principe
University of Chicago Press

The final chapter explores Homberg’s legacy for both chymistry and the Académie. His work was followed by many others around Europe. Some adopted his system, others mined his results, and others endeavored to refute them. Homberg’s two closest collaborators—Philippe, declared Regent a week before Homberg’s death, and Geoffroy—prove especially significant. The former took control of the Académie and the latter published two famous and influential papers, one on affinity theory, which is here related to Homberg’s own earlier ideas, and the other on the frauds related to transmutation. The second paper is often cited as a death-knell for transmutational alchemy, but chrysopoeia was actually pursued by new academicians for the next forty years—a surprising discovery revealed in fresh archival sources. This chapter brings the interwoven stories of Homberg, chymistry, and the Académie back full circle when a team of academicians in the 1770s pulled Homberg’s great scientific instrument out of storage and redid his experiments on the composition of metals. One of those experimenters, a twenty-nine-year-old Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, then used Homberg’s instrument and ideas for his own research program, which led in turn to his own new and “revolutionary” theory for chemistry.

Keywords:   Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, affinity, end of alchemy, fraud

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