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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

Extracts from John Evelyn's Diary 1681 and 1685

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



William Croone by Mary Beale in 1680



1The diarist, John Evelyn Use the link above to reach the extract from his diary that describes this (rather foolish) event.

2Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623-1688)


4oil of sulphur or dilute sulphuric acid

5Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675)

6Richard Lower (1631 - 1691)

7William Croone (1633 - 1684)




Richard Lower b Jacob Huysmans


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Philosophical Collections
December 10th 1681

An account of Several Experiments made with the shining substance of the liquid and of the sold Phosphorus, prepared and communicated to the Collector, by Dr. Frederick Slare, Fellow of the Royal Society, and one of the College of Physicians.


That I may not exceed the bounds of a letter, I shall now only give you an account of the two or three experiments about the Phosphori of my own preparation.

The experiments that I showed the Royal Society the last summer, were some with a liquid, and some with a solid phosphorus. These two do not materially differ, being made both out of substances taken from a human body. The liquid is a substance mixed with a liquor, that (though it would burn a body in a solid mass) will not offend a lady's hand with scalding, or even heat, when washed in it. An experiment of this kind I made this last week, in the presence of several persons of very great quality, where a very learned and ingenious person, for whom I know you have a great respect1, washing both his hands and face with it, made not only his own face to shine, but the lustre of his face discovered three or four other faces not far distant: Yet so soon as the candles were brought into the room, the shining disappeared, and no sign of change was perceivable on the skin of either.

This phosphorus continues its light very long, if close stoppered; yet in one sort I have observed a kind of flashing six or seven times successively, though the glass were close stoppered; which makes me conclude it to be the same with the Phosphorus fulgurans of Dr. Elsholtz's2, the flashings of it having some resemblance to lightning.

The other phosphorus, which is solid, differs not, as I have said, materially from the fluid, being made for the most part out of urine, but I am sufficiently satisfied that it may be as well made out of blood, if it could be as easily obtained as urine in great quantities, since urine is but the serum of the blood strained through the kidneys.

In this preparation, we have not only the common analysis into waters, spirits, volatile salts, sulphurs, or oils, but divers other extraordinary appearances before this grand product comes.

The substance of this phosphorus may be made as transparent as any resinous body, and will melt like wax in warm water: And when cold, it is exceeding tough and cuts like Luna Cornea, or rather somewhat harder. When it is all under or covered with the water, it ceases to shine; but whenever any part of it chances to emerge or get up into the air, though the glass be hermetically sealed or perfectly shut, yet it will shine.

In a large glass I have kept it without water for several days, and yet continually shining with little or no diminution of its light or weight.

Of this solid I have some parcels much more vigorous and inflammable than others. When I made some experiments last summer with this solid phosphorus, everyone handled it without any danger: But I have since had some parcels that would scarce endure the touch of a warm hand, without taking fire and burning. Such mischances have happened to several, that extorted this curiosity out of my hands, who would not believe such a cold body, would of itself turn into so fierce a fire. Thus making some experiments in the company of a very worthy and ingenious gentleman, I laid down a piece of this luminous substance (about two drachms in weight) and it took fire when no candle was in the room, and we were all at a good distance, and blazed like a faggot, and burnt the carpet and board it lay upon: This sort is only for the experienced and careful to meddle with.

The less vigorous, as I was speaking of, did afford us this experiment. We wrote with a pointed end, what words we pleased in the light, and then we removed into the dark, and had very radiant and legible characters, which looked like words written with a beam of light: I have made this continue for a considerable time, by laying it on with advantage.

If we carry these glorious letters to the fireside, and suffer them there to grow warm, they will presently turn into dark lines, and remain as long as good ink may be thought to do.

This light is very diffusive of itself, for I have marked down above a hundred characters with this illustrious pencil, and found not a twentieth part consumed.

In like manner I weighed out half a grain, and spread it over my hand at night, which it gilded all over and continued light all the night, for so I found it next morning.

As further proof of its diffusive quality, having weighed out one grain and counter-poised it in good scales, it continued to flame in the open air for seven or eight days, insomuch that shutting my study window by day, I could always see a bead of fire, and when I looked intent upon it, it sent up white flame unto the ambient air; which a large piece does very remarkably.

After all was burnt out, we had no ashes or recremeuts3, save only a little moisture which tasted sub-acid. Having suffered a larger piece to burn out, I had more moisture, which tasted like a weak Oleum Sulphuris per Campanam4. This puts me in mind, that most of my friends, when they have seen this experiment, are apt to call its fume sulphurous, and truly in all properties it seems rather referable to suphurs than saline concretes upon the score of its in flammability, as well as for this reason, that it neither loses nor is dissolved in water.

What medical use may be made of this noble concrete, time may discover, I will not trouble you now with what I can say of this matter. This I am sure, that the learned Willis5 (were he alive) would rejoice to see such a product out of our bodies, who was very confident of something igneous or flammeous or very analogous to fire, that did kindle and impregnate our blood. Nor does the ingenious Dr. Lower6 disallow such a hypothesis, though he supports an ascension of the blood rather in the lungs than in the heart.

What service this may do in helping us explain other phenomena of nature, I should be glad to know particularly, as to that observation of the learned Dr. Croon7, who, upon rubbing his body with a fresh and well warmed shift, has made both to shine; and also that of a worthy Bristol gentleman, who together with his son told me, that after much walking, both their stockings will frequently shine.

However, this will be satisfaction enough to me, it may be but so far worth your considering, as to give us the opportunity of hearing some more of your lectures, concerning the nature of light.




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