Nicolas Lemery’s way to prepare the spirit of salt armoniac sounds very similar to salts volatilization. Or at least it represents an interesting introduction to.
A spirit in ancient chemistry is sometimes a liquid, sometimes a sublimate or flowers. In fact it is the final product of a salt distillation. Excessive molecular purity was neither required nor searched back at that time. Just as we do in Alchemy.
The modern interpretation of ancient methods to get aqua regia , is slightly different from those ones actually performed by ancient chemists. The real ancient ones being closer to Alchemy, since ancient chemists were educated towards salts volatilization, which we know to be the door of Alcahest (1).
This post has been conceived as a continuation from Nicolas Lemery Cours de la Chimie about salts involved in aqua regia preparation. For salt armoniac definition and introduction go to the previous post.
My translation from original french. Title: Volatile Spirit of Salt Armoniac .
“Take one pound of Salt Armoniac and three ponds of quicklime. Reduce them separately in powder and then put together into a mortar, pour common water on: grind again the matter and put the whole into an half void horn in a reverberation fire, and after having fit a large ball on it and perfectly seal the joints with lute, start distilling at low fire and that’s for two or three hours; then increase fire little by little and go on distilling till nothing will get out of it. Remove your vessel and pour the “Spirit” here contained in a phial, take care to have your face turned back to avoid the vapors. One has to perfectly wax close the bottle to prevent this spirit from getting out.
This is an excellent preparation to prevent the diseases coming from humidity corruption, like fevers, epilepsy, plague, paralysis. The dosage is from six droplets to twenty in a glass of melissa water or cardoon.
Quicklime, which is an alkali, breaks the solidity of acid marine salt which keeps the volatile salts tied up inside the salt armoniac, in fact as soon as quicklime and salt armoniac have been mixed together they exhale an unbearable urine smell, such that the volatile salts coming out in abundance pervade artist’s nose and mouth in such a way he cannot complete the putting of the mixing inside the horn, without helping himself avoiding to breath and watch while his hands are working.
The water is added to liquefy these volatile salts, since without humidity they would sublime just in the hornneck and it will clog and break. This spirit is just a solution of volatile salts in water, to sublime and separate them one has to put the liquor into a flask with its hat and go as we will say when describing the volatile salt of viper. Since this sale is dry it tends to decrease its flying away when it is solved in water, for this reason it is better to keep it in spirit form.
Be careful, when opening the ball, not to have the nose above, since this volatile salt is even more detached (volatile) than in the process before and it would quickly enter the nose and preclude the breathing. I have seen many persons fainting because of that. In order to avoid it is good to have a wet cloth to close the ball as soon as you unlute it.
This spirit is an excellent precipitate. It destroys acids as other alkalis do: it is used to precipitate gold when dissolved.
It is good for the diseases we have already talked of, since it opens all the pores and move humidity out by transpirations or urine, according to the body disposition.
In addition, as alkalis do, it kills the acids that foment diseases………
Powder and mix together eight ounces of Sal Armoniac as well as of Salt Tartar. Put quickly the mixture into a glass cucurbit and wet with three ounces of rain water. Put a hat on and after having fit a recipient and perfectly close with lute all joints by means of a wet bladder, you will put your vessel on a table, with a low fire at start to heat the cucurbit little by little and make distilling the spirit drop by drop, but when you see that nothing more will distill, remove the recipient and perfectly close it. Increase the fire to third degree and go on like that for about two hours. Some white flowers of salt armoniac will sublime, and they will attach in the hat bottom with a flour texture.
This spirit has the same qualities and power than the previous one. One has to gather the flowers with a plume and use them as those described before.
A mass white and fixed will remain in the cucurbit bottom: it has to be melted in a sufficient quantity of water, then after having filtered the solution, make it evaporate till dry. You will have a very white salt, which can be defined a good remedy for fevers. The dosage is from eight to thirty grains in a suitable liquor.