Nicolas Lemery’s way of preparing the spirit of salt armoniac sounds very similar to salt volatilization. Or at least it represents an interesting introduction.
A spirit in ancient chemistry is sometimes a liquid, sometimes a sublimate, or flowers. It is the final product of salt distillation. Excessive molecular purity was neither required nor searched back then, just as we do in Alchemy.
The modern interpretation of ancient methods to get aqua regia , is slightly different from those performed by ancient chemists. The real ancient ones are closer to Alchemy since ancient chemists had been educated on 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 the 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 them together into a mortar, pour common water on and grind the matter again and put the whole into a 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” 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 of humidity corruption, like fevers, epilepsy, plague, and 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, and marine salt keeps the volatile salts tied up inside the salt armoniac, in fact as soon as quicklime and salt armoniac have been mixed, 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 breathe 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 horn neck, 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 the 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 before, and it would quickly enter the nose and preclude breathing. I have seen many people fainting because of that. 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 suitable for the diseases we have already discussed since it opens all the pores and moves humidity out by transpiration or urine, according to the body’s disposition.
In addition, as alkalis do, it kills the acids that foment diseases…
Title: Another preparation of volatile spirit of salt armoniac, by the same means of flowers and the febrifuge salt fixe.
Powder and mix eight ounces of Sal Armoniac and Salt Tartar. Put the mixture quickly into a glass cucurbit and wet it with three ounces of rainwater. Put a hat on, and after having fit a recipient and perfectly close with lute all joints using a wet bladder, you will put your vessel on a table, with a low fire at the 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 for about two hours. Some white flowers of salt armoniac will sublime, and they will attach to the hat bottom with a flour texture.
This spirit has the same qualities and power as the previous one. One must gather the flowers with a plume and use them as 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 as a good remedy for fevers. The dosage is from eight to thirty grains in a suitable liquor. Titles: Notes.
Salt Tartar in this operation takes action like quicklime in the other, but since it is a more powerful alkali than quicklime, it doesn’t need to be added in the same quantity. It can be substituted by the salt niter fixed by coals or another salt alkali.
When the fire begins to heat the matter, a large number of volatile salts raise to the hat, in a lovely crystal shape, but the overcoming humidity gets them back to spirits.
The flowers come from a certain quantity of salt armoniac, not enough penetrated by the salt tartar. The febrifuge salt is nothing more than a mixture of salt tartar and the fixed and acid part of salt armoniac; pushes through urine and barely through sweat; the fact of being fixed causes it to precipitate more rapidly than it rarefies; for this, it removes the obstructions, which are often the first cause of fevers.
Title: Acid Spirit of Salt Armoniac.
Take the quantity you like of the fixed febrifuge salt we have already discussed. Reduce it in powder and mix it exactly with three same quantities of Bole powder (2). Put the mixture in a horn whose third is wide. Place it in a closed reverberation oven and fit a grand ball or recipient on it. Close joints with the lute and go, as we have said about preparing the spirit of salt. You will find an acid spirit in the recipient, which is a very good diuretic, specifically for pernicious diseases, and dosage is a pleasant acidity inside juleps or soups.
This acid spirit comes from the fixed salt armoniac since the alkali does not provide any drop. Somebody stated it could dissolve gold, but I never experienced that, despite putting it inside a gold very untied. The gold, having remained two or three days, was removed as undivided as before.”
Lemery fails here to say that single salt volatilization has never produced our Mercurius/Universal Dissolvent/Alcahest; in fact, alchemists used to repeat operations over and over to extract our Secret Fire from Materia Tertia or salts. Was Lemery so uneducated or wanted to give us a hint about saving the secret?
Previous post: Lemery & Sal Armoniac , the conclusive article is Aqua Regia and Fulminating Gold According to Lemery ;
Next post: Lemery & the Spirits of Common Salt with Wine.
- See also Starkey & Volatilization of Alkalis;
- For a bole definition, see the site dictionary or Martino Poli & the Analysis of Saltpeter ;