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Chemistry Index

Chemical Element Identification Timeline
History of Phosphorus : Introduction and Timeline

History of Science and Technology Index

Characters involved in the Phosphorus Story

Hennig Brand (1630 - c. 1710)
Johann Kunckel (1630 - 1703)
Johann Daniel Krafft (1624 - 1697) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716)
Johann Joachim Becher (1635 - c. 1682)
Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691) and his Assistants

Transcripts of Publications (1677 - 1853)

Aerial Noctiluca : Robert Boyle 1680

Icy Noctiluca : Robert Boyle 1682

An Account of four sorts of factitious
Shining Substances : Robert Boyle 1677

A Paper of the Honourable Robert Boyle's,
Opened Since His Death (1692)

Some Observations made upon an Artificial
Shining Substance : Robert Boyle 1677

Experiments made with the liquid and of the solid
Phosphorus : Frederick Slare 1681

Extract from Experiments of the Luminous
Qualities of Amber : Samuel Wall 1708

On the Discovery of Phosphorus and a
Biography of Ambrose Godfrey
Hanckwitz : Joseph Ince 1853

An Extract from "An Account of some
Experiments upon the Phosphorus Urinæ"
by Ambrose Godfrey Hanckwitz 1731

Other Information

The Chemical Equations involved in the Luminescence of Phosphorus


John Evelyn

John Evelyn by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1687)


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Two extracts from John Evelyn's Diary 1681 and 1685 describing demonstrations with phosphorus

4th August 1681 from the diary of John Evelyn:

"Went to the Royal Society where was produced by Dr. Slaer (one of the members) and extraordinary experiment. He prepared a matter, which without exposure to the sun, of light, (as other phosphorus's were) shone as bright as the flame of a candle: It was a substance of the colour of mouth glue; had a urinous smell; with this he wrote on a sheet of paper, nothing in the least appearing, but being put into a dark place, shone forth in a bright and delicate stroke these two words Vivat Rex Carolus, which remained above half an hour, and longer than we were willing to stay: A beam of the sun was not more perspicuous, it did not flame up, but remained close to the paper, in a neat stroke about the bigness of text letters, so as to give a pretty light about it; The very motion of drawing it on a paper (as one would write with a black-lead pen) setting it on this lambent fire: and when it was almost quite spent, rubbing it a little with one's hand or finger, it would rekindle, yet without taking holding of, or leaving and track on the paper, when exposed to the day again.

Many phosphorus had I seen, as that famous Lapis illuminabilis of Bologna, which I went there to see being in Italy many years since; but never did I see any comparable to this: Washing my hands and face with it, I appeared in the dark like the face of the moon, or rather some spirit, or strange apparition; so as I cannot attribute it to great the providence of God, that it was not first found out by the Papists; for had they the secret only, what a miracle might they make of it, supposing them either to rub the consecrated water with it, or washing the priest's face and hands with it, and doing the feat in some dark church or cloister, proclaim it to the neighbourhood; I am confident the imposture would bring thousands to them, and so an infinity of mischief, to the establishing of the common error of transubstantiation; all the world would ring at the miracle etc..

The matter being rubbed very hard on paper or board, set it in a devouring flame, which I never saw any phosphorus do but this, and it being of a nature to spend itself, or if a little warmed either by the fire or the sun, would flame right out and burn most fiercely, but being kept in a glass of water, lasted without impair; He affirmed it to be chemically and with extraordinary preparation, composed of urine and human blood: which gives great light to Dr. Willis etc. notions of the flamula vitalis which animates the blood, and is for ought we know, the animal life itself of all living things.

It is certainly a most noble experiment; first excogitated and hinted (as this Doctor confessed) by Mr Boyle, with whom this industrious young physician, some time wrought in his laboratory; He took a small portion, not bigger than a small pepper corn, layed it on a dry piece of fir board, and with the of a knife bruised it, as one would spread plaster, and immediately rose up its fierce flame and consumed the board: Then he had a phial of liquor, which he said was made of a disolution of this, which dropping into a beer glass of ale, conceived a flame as soon as it touched or mingled with the ale: of this I drank, and seemed to me to be of an agreeable amber scent, with very little altering the taste of the ale: The Doctor pretends to bring it into a useful and precious medicine or panaceam: This liquor was red.

This noble experiment, exceeded all that ever I had seen of this nature, unless that which my learned friend, and fellow traveller, Mr Henshaw and I accidently beheld a certain Mountebank at Rome in the Piazza Navona (formerly Circus Maximus) now the market place; here, whilst the other charlatans invited people to their stages, by monkies, Jack-puddings and pantomimes; this fellow only took from his finger a ring (whether gold brass or silver, I could not examine, nor did I mind) which seemed to have a lump of blackish wax upon it, about the bigness and shape, of those we call toad-stones (which are indeed the grinders of the shark-fish). This he no sooner touched with the tip of his finger, which he seemed to wet with spittle at his mouth only, (though perhaps dipped in some oil or other menstrue before) but it immediately rose into flame, as big and bright as any was light. This we saw him two or three times blow out, and ascend again, with the least touch of his finger, and then put the ring on his finger, and having by this surprising trick, gotten company about him, he fell to prating for the vending of his pretended remedies etc..

But a thousand times we have deplored, that whatever it cost, we had not purchased this rare receit; It is mentioned how to make the like both in Wecker & Jo: Bap: Ports etc. but on many trials it did not succeed. And what stupidity should seize and possess us, that all the time we were in Rome, we should never think of this until some years after we were nearer home. We have both admired: The matter of fact is true, and I wish I knew how to make the like for a great sum of money; since if it could be made without exceeding cost, it would be an expeditious way to kindle any fire, light a candle and use upon a thousand occasions, abroad or at home;...."


On 13th December 1685 Evelyn attends a demonstration by Frederick Slare at Samuel Pepy's house:

"Dining at Mr. Pepys's, Dr. Slayer showed us an experiment of a wonderful nature, pouring first a very cold liquor into a glass, and superfusing on it another, to appearance cold and clear liquor also; it first produced a white cloud, then boiling, divers coruscations and actual flames of fire mingled with the liquor, which being a little shaken together, fixed divers suns and stars of real fire, perfectly globular, on the sides of the glass, and which there stuck like so many constellations, burning most vehemently, and resembling stars and heavenly bodies, and that for a long space. It seemed to exhibit a theory of the eduction of light out of the chaos, and the fixing or gathering of the universal light into luminous bodies. This matter, or phosphorus, was made out of human blood and urine, elucidating the vital flame, or heat in animal bodies. A very noble experiment!"


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