Raimondo di Sangro reveals the origin of the salts involved in the fiery substance: human skull bones. But not a traditional chemical processing, of course.
The Prince di San Severo defines philosophical candle, or Spirit, a piece of matter processed with menstruums and presenting a perfect fixation of all the volatile parts, as keen to point. Then he calls “Soul” the candle’s flame. Despite all the assurances made to his interlocutor, here di Sangro is no more in the field of seventeenth century science but already in the field of Alchemy. Although he plunges in the scientific culture of his time when asking for help to the phlogiston theory to explain the weird properties of his flame.
The issue is not only to understand whether our Mercurius Philosophorum can be used as eternal candle, and why that should be possible, but also to figure out whether there is an affinity between our philosophical matter/candle, i.e. the Spirit, and the plasma which we call fire. The question is not trivial, firstly because we know of systems to attract Mercurius Universalis involving fire, and secondly because Raimondo di Sangro calls his flame “Soul”.
You can find the previous three letters at Raimondo di Sangro and the Philosophical Candle. Part 1.
A necessary clarification: Raimondo di Sangro uses the word “lume” which in the italian language of the eighteenth century was different from the latin “Lumen” which instead determined a light, rather than the device producing light. So we can imagine that for “lume” he means the flame lighted on his “candle”.
In my previous letter I promised to unveil the composition of my lantern. The matter accountable for this phenomenon are the bones of the noblest animal on the earth. The best are those of the head, whose I have used, though I think that every other animal’s bones can serve the same effect even if without the same nobility of the first one.
Many other components will enter, but they are all passing by menstruums which don’t incorporate with the matter. And this matter is the real reason, no less than those flames which sometimes we see in the graveyards, or in battlefields after gruesome battles, or hovering the hanged heads exposed to the air, and at the first opening of ancient graves, as some ignorant say of lit lanterns found in the dark, in fact we always associate the idea of a lantern where there is a light. But the real reason is in the bones salts which soon lighted on in contact with air, and the same soon died out because they were not enough purified, so that fire could only be a volatile and momentary fire, On the other hand you know that the best artificial phosphors are those from urine salts which are imbued indeed. Nevertheless just because these salts come from an excremental matter, they tend to be a phosphorous matter and never a real fire.
Those salts, which are part of us, are sometimes suitable to produce a momentary ignition, moreover when surrounded by greasy particles, and not fit to the purpose; this kind of matter causes those phenomena inside the ancient graves or battlefields, whereas these particles could be in the end free from polluted particles which instead prevent the action, in this case the produced fire may be perpetual, in this third kind we can put my eternal lantern, which I had the honor to briefly tell the history.
I stop here, as I wish to hear from other opinions before going any further. To the purpose I beg you to let me know of every observation made by people you have told about my experience.
Natural philosophers tend to content themselves to investigate on the effects rather than the causes. Now, with the first four letters on my chance discovery I have drawn the attention of the scientific world. First of all one can ask if my “lume” was a real fire, a real igneous flame, or rather a phosphor. I can witness an ignition that is imparted by an external natural flame and which can be communicated to another flame. The burning, smoking, moving, shaking and elongating of the flame which takes it to be considered a flame. Said that, the most astonishing thing is the long lasting of the flame together with the lack of the minimum consumption of the matter. What must we deduce from that? probably that it, once lighted on, receives a nourishment from the surrounding air.
We know that our atmosphere is composed by tiny elementary and igneous particles, hence my matter could attract these particles, in fact when closed off it tends do die out and, always in closing condition, to lean towards the slightest hole, it seems to run to get the needed nourishment.
Why, once extinguished, cannot it be lighted on again?We know quite every matter when close to a flame tends to catch fire and this is because of the easy to ignite particles. Probably the matter of my philosophical candle does contain less easy to ignite particles than normal matter. In fact it is prevented to light on, unless it reaches the weight of 1/4 of an ounce less 27 grains. After the ignition the matter seems able to attract a huge number of igneous particles from the atmosphere, in fact the few igneous particles may be off after the first ignition. So, all the long lasting ignition seems to just rely on the draining from the surrounding air. It is easy to understand why my candle can be eternal. But it tends to be weaker than a normal flame exactly for the above mentioned reason: because the flame is not an inner flame.
Why does my flame tend to die out if bent of 45°? Because the particles composing the flame have a wedge shape for better penetrating the air, in the presence of an air current, it behaves like an ear of corn that is bent by the wind, in fact, if the wind bends the ear over a certain extent the stem will always bent.
The learned dame who persuaded me to write “Lettera Apologetica” asked me some questions: why did I keep to use a wick in my experiments instead of directly lighting the matter? Why was I so sure it was not the wick to last so long instead of the matter? As I have previously said, my matter was a soft butter-like texture and I needed the flame to be focused on a point, not spread on the whole surface.
I have planned to place two flames of my matter in San Severo chapel inside two crystal flasks, of a thimble size, standing on two marble chandeliers. It is true that at first I though to make two candles of it, since this is a candle substance, but I don’t want the visitors to put their hand on my matter. And now I come to the wick issue: at first I though to use an asbestos device, but then I decided to make use of a gold wick prepared according to the art.
The dame was satisfied with my answers and made another question: why the attraction and absorption of the surrounding igneous particles don’t make any visible change in your flame? I replied that probably, as the weight of the matter seems always due not to go under 1/4 of an ounce less 27 grains, there is an intensity as proportionate as the matter weight. If I could have, but I hadn’t enough matter, doubled the weight perhaps the flame would have been twice as luminous.
The said matter, which at first I described as a yellowish soft butter-like texture, is now taking a blood red streaks on the surface. So that I begin to think that in this red color lies the power of these rare properties. Probably only those streaks do contain the igneous particles able to take fire and attract the elementary particles of the air. For instance, the very learned Peter Van Musschenbroeck in his experimental physics tells us that having reduced a magnet in fine powder, and after having exposed it to fire, he got a little part of dark color which seemed to have kept all the magnetic property while the greater amount revealed to be idle. In one of the remaining two little flasks, whose weight is 1/4 of an ounce and twelve grains, I noticed that the red portion is very abundant, in the other one, which is 1/4 of an ounce plus 48 grains, the red portion is so little to be barely visible. Now I think that only the red portion can be lighted on. I mean to test on it.
The learned dame also said she failed to understand why the elementary fire, which is all the same nature, when reduced in flame, could cause in the electric machine effects so different from my lamp matter. for instance in the first doesn’t burn hands and is very dim at sight, while in the latter does all that occur in a normal flame.
I answered that there was no doubt about the elementary fire in the electric machine being the same as in my matter, but it is fair to say that, after the first ignition, we cannot compare the two matters. Both attract the elementary fire, this is true, but then they are different for purposes and effects too. Among magnets there is the ones attracting more than others. And the same for the hydraulic machines. So, I asked, what was the connection between a flame lighted on by the simple rotating of a globe and the matter of my lamp, which is different as concept from any other ignite substance? Even if the flame of an electric machine gets to burn a hand the more one rubs the glass globe and the more the globe’s diameter, so why to be amazed of the normal flame effects of my matter? This was my answer, but now I begin to consider also that I previously said that my matter continuously attracts elementary fire particles and in the meanwhile it consumes all the few igniting particles in the form of red strikes? It is true that it was just a conjecture to say that all the attractive properties of my lamp lie in those bloody red portions, nevertheless it may be that other less beautiful portions would act as attractive particles even if not able to take fire. Is it also true that in my previous inert matter I haven’t seen any red portion. So why do not suppose that in my matter too could lie the property seen in the amazing experiments of Young here in Naples with artificial magnets? After having, the said Englishman, communicated the attractive virtue to an iron lamina this one could attract a little iron ball, and then the latter could communicate the attractive property to a simile bullet and so on till the number of fifteen bullets, which united were able to hover over the iron lamina. So why not to think that my matter may communicate, in the very moment of the final extinguishing, the same attracting virtue to another portion?
The dame made me another question: It has been observed that the flame tends to shake the more when bent towards 45°, and eventually at 45° angle it dies out, and I have said that was because of the column of air burden on the flame, but why this feature doesn’t show if one opens a hole in the lantern? I answer that probably the attraction to the hole was a natural and spontaneous movement of the flame and not forced, so the flame is not forced to undergo and also that once removed the plug, this very action produces an upward force.
She also objected to a statement of mine, in my fourth letter, about the salts inside the graves which would tend to momentarily lit on when lifting the gravestones and I said that those should be intended as volatile fires as the salts were not so purified. And in that was the difference of my matter, which instead never takes fire without being near a flame. My salts are indeed very purified. I did compare my matter with the corpses salts just to prove that my flame was instead firm and eternal. And between the matter of my candle and the corpses salts there is also another difference, that’s to say the first ones are surely not well purified and consequently badly fixed, so still filled with volatile substance, while the matter of my candle presents a perfect fixation of all the volatile parts and so needs the proximity of a flame to light on.
Last objection of the dame: how comes that I said that no matter was consumed while burning and then I added that once died out it could not take fire again as all the ignite particles were gone? I answered that probably the weight of the active particles was so negligible that it can not be weighed, In fact the red portion over my matter was really a tiny portion of the whole matter. The learned Hermann Boerhave demonstrated that in the air particles of every kind do flow, even from decomposing and fermenting matters, so why not to suppose that the attractive particles in my candles, once consumed out, could not be replaced by these hovering particles? The gesuite Beraud had also demonstrated that calcined salts tend to increase in weight and that because they can absorb the particles in the air. For instance the matter of my candles could absorb the particles emitted by Vesuvius.
These particles then fasten to the wick and produce the fume which the elementary fire cannot produce. In fact I can remember that not only the weight of the candle doesn’t decrease as the flame goes on burning, but even increases: the second little flask indeed, once the flame was off, marked a greater weight of a grain compared to starting weigh.
I decided to reveal my discovery in the form of correspondence because I wanted to have a chance to correct me as I went, without contradicting. If anyone was not convinced at all of my system, that’s to say that the matter of my lamp does attract the elementary fire in the atmosphere and will serve to fuel its eternal flame, I’ll let him speak because one day he will repent of his words, and then I will reveal a detail that will prove without doubt the foundation of my method and that so far I have been silent about to keep it for the future.
In the meantime, please continue to love me and be friendly despite the abuse I do of your admirable patience.