To make the Basilius Valentinus Sweetened Spirit of Salt you have to mix together equal parts of Spirit of salt and wine and put them to digest for about three or four days in a meeting vessel with a very light sand fire. It is thought to be more suitable than the previous Spirit for the inner parts, for it is accounted for less corrosivity being adjusted with the Spirit of Wine; the dosage is from four up to twelve drops in liquors suitable for the disease.”
Here Lemery mentions the spirit of the sweetened sea salt of Basilius Valentinus. Of course we don’t have to forget that the benedictine monk of Erfurt ( but in my opinion very unlikely he has ever been stepping a cloister) was an apothecary, and sometimes he too was compelled to do his job. Surely wine is able to “sweeten” a too harsh spirit of sea salt to be used as a medicine to drink. Not only, but it was used as a medical helper too: up to the beginning of the twentieth century in Venice physicians used to prescribe one daily liter of wine to remove pneumonia (don’t ask, please). Had something alchemical been hidden inside this Lemery’s statement, he probably would recommend a rectified spirit of wine, much more volatile, instead of a too less alcoholic wine. But can a well rectified spirit of wine “digest”, a hydrochloric acid in crystallized form, as it is when frozen, before raising it? So could here “to sweeten” also be intended as digesting? Pay attention, because sometimes a chemical digestion
is not so far from an alchemical digestion.
“Notes: One has to mix the earth or the bole with the salt, in order to divide it in particles which in this way are easier to be rarefied, since the parts composing the salt are so tightly closed that all the fire power cannot open if they are not made wider by some intermediary.”
The preparation we give to salt, before put it in the horn, is longer than usual, but I have already observed that the escaping spirit will come out in a easier way after setting the matter in a certain system.
One has to make some wide inside the horn and fitting a recipient for the spirit to move around before settling, otherwise it may break the whole apparatus. The fire has to be increased little by little, because the first spirits can exert a great force when pushed.
Someone has researched a method to obtain the spirit of salt without addition, but this is still unknown. It is fair to say that monsieur Seignette, apothecary in la Rochelle, among other remarkable discoveries he made on salts, whose study seems to be apparently a natural ability for him, in 1672 he brought about a sea salt which we were able to distill without any addition and in two hours time we obtained three ounces and a half of a very good spirit, and that out of six ounces of salt which we had previously put into the horn. Before we broke the horn and having reduced in powder the remained salt which was two ponces and a half, we put it to be exposed to air inside a bowl for fifteen days, and then we found it saturated with Spirits; we put it to distill and with the same former easiness, we obtained half the weight of salt spirit. The matter remained inside the horn and having been exposed to air retakes Spirits again. Monsieur Seignette assured us that he had extracted some Spirit out of the same matter up to nine times; that’s worth of admiration and demonstrates that air contains a Spirit which forms different things according to the different disposition of the matters in which it enters. This salt, which is peculiar to him who showed us, has been prepared in a way we ignore.”
“We have to point out that the acids extracted by means of a violent fire are differently powerful than those naturally extracted, as the sour of bier, wine, cider, lemon and others. The Spirit of Salt when compared to those has some particular differences, since it precipites what the Aqua Fortis Strong Water has dissolved: this acid, conforming to what one can judge from the effects, it is composed by points stronger and more penetrating than the other ones. For this very reason it can agitate those of Strong Water loaded by some dissolved bodies and make them loose by shaking them.
It is also to point that the effervescence caused when the Spirit of Salt is poured on the dissolution of a body inside the Strong Water, is not the same as that one produced when one pours some Alkali. The first one is much more slower producing than the last one.
The Spirit of Salt dissolves foiled gold, and that’s cannot be performed by Aqua Fortis Strong Water.”
Aqua Regia was, and is, a combination of Hydrochloric Acid and Nitric Acid 3:1 (2). But Lemery here doesn’t mention any source for Ammonium. And additionally the french chemist cannot believe that an acid/Spirit could form different things according to the different disposition of the matters in which it enters. Lemery here seems describing the alchemical Mercurius, or seed of the matter. If common hydrochloric acid could so easily dissolve foiled gold, why using Aqua Regia, back at that time a product achieved after a very long process? Only our Alkahest/Universal Disolvent/Mercurius, out of salts volatilization, can point so high.
“When this Spirit is sweetened, it gets mixed with the Spirit of Wine, which being a Sulphur impedes the movement of the acid points, and restrains a part of their movement; this cause this Spirit to be more temperate by this addition, than if water has been put in the place of the spirit of wine.
Spirit of Salt may be as well produced with decrepited salt, in the same way.”
When Lemery mentions the “Spirit of Wine impeding the movement of the acid points” it simply means that acidity is getting mitigated, since back at that time an acid was thought as a matter packed with sharp spikes. But, more interesting, here we learned another meaning for Sulphur term: what is able to raise ( ancient chemistry shared these nomenclatures with Alchemy). So the spirit of wine is a sulphur in the sense it is able to raise. What is done by wine cannot be done by the spirit of wine. And conversely what is done by the spirit of wine cannot be done by wine. Nevertheless they could, and sometimes should, work jointly but in separate phases to first digest and then raise a not so volatile common salt (3).
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- From latin aperire or open;
- See also Aqua Regia & Fulminating Gold , but ancient proceedings were slightly different, as we will see in next posts on Lemery;
- See also Starkey, Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2;