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Characters involved in the Phosphorus Story
Hennig Brand (1630 - c. 1710)
Transcripts of Publications (1677 - 1853)
Aerial Noctiluca : Robert Boyle 1680
HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Extracts from Experiments of the Luminous Qualities of Amber, Diamonds, and Gum Lac, by Dr Wall, in a letter to Dr Sloane, R. S. Secr.
Phil Trans. published 1 January 1708
Having lately observed several natural solid Noctilucas, not hitherto by any, as far as I know, taken notice of, (I think I may well assured some of the phenomena never were) at your request I give you the larger account of them: But , before I speak of my own observations, give me leave to inform you a little concerning the artificial phosphorus, which, you know, is a subject I am pretty well acquainted with, having made a great number of experiments about it, whereby I was naturally led to the following remarks.
You may remember my telling you many years ago of my good friend Mr. Boyle's communicating to me, about the year 1680, his way of making phosphorus with urine, at the same time desiring me to use all my endeavours to find some other subject from whence it might be made in greater quantity, and perhaps he made the request to many more; for, to use his own words, he said, he really pitied his chymist, who was forced to evaporate so prodigious a quantity of urine, to get a very little of the phosphorus. Soon after, in order to see some experiments in chymistry, I lodged for a short time at his chymist's house, one Mr. Bilgar1, then living in Mary-le-Bone Street near Piccadilly, who indeed was equally, if not more importunate with me than Mr. Boyle, to try if I could find out some other matter, from which more might be made than from urine, telling me there was so great a demand for it, that it would be of great advantage to him2. It being a very hot summer, I cause a piece of the dried matter in the fields, where they empty the houses of office, to be dug up, in which, when broken in the dark, a great number of small particles of phosphorus appeared: This matter I carried to Mr. Boyle, who viewed it with great satisfaction, and Mr. Bilgar, by his direction, fell to work thereon, but from it could make very little or no phosphorus, until another matter3 was added to the distillation, and then he could therewith make large quantities, to his great profit; for while I was at his house, I often saw him make it, and sell it for six guineas, and six Louis d'Ors an ounce, whereby he got so much money, that, I believe, he thought himself above his business, and quickly left England; so that we lost a faithful and industrious servant. I forbear to mention the above laid matter in kindness to Mr. Godfrey, who succeeded Mr. Bilgar as chymist to Mr. Boyle, and is the only person, that I know of, who now makes it.
Now, Sir, my being, as you have heard, well acquainted with the artificial phosphorus, was the occasion of my making reflections about it, and caused me to consider, whether there might not be in rerum natura other natural ones, besides those that Mr. Boyle and some others have given an account of.
You well know, Sir that human dung and urine so plentifully abound with an Oleosum4 and common salt, so that I take the artificial phosphorus to be nothing else but that animal Oleosum, coagulated with mineral acid of spirit of salt, which Coagulum is preserved and not dissolved in water, but ascended by air.
Wall goes on to argue that amber could be a natural phosphorus. He rubbed amber with cloth and produced sparks (static electricity).
Just under one hundred years later in 1767, Joseph Priestley is his "The History and Present State of Electricity: With Original Experiments describes Wall as "Making experiments upon artificial phosphorus, which he took to be an animal oil coagulated with a mineral acid, he was led to the conjecture that amber, which he supposed to be a mineral oil coagulated with a mineral volatile acid, might be a natural phosphorus; and with this view he began to make experiments upon it, the result of which, being very curious and surprising."
Samuel Wall was never made a member of the Royal Society.
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