New Narratives in Eighteenth-Century Chemistry

Volume 18 of the series Archimedes New Studies In The History And Philosophy Of Science and Technology pp 97-137

Apothecary-Chemists in Eighteenth-Century Germany

  • Ursula Klein

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In 1784, a connoisseur of intellectual life in Berlin reported to Lorenz Crell, professor of theoretical medicine and materia medica at the University of Helmstedt and editor of the Chemische Annalen, that interest in chemistry had grown enormously in his city: “You will hardly believe how much the study of chemistry is appreciated here now,” he exclaimed. “Lectures on chemistry are attended by people from all social classes (Stände); what’s more, since this winter there are also distinguished members of the fairer sex in the audience.” These ladies, he continued, “forsake their coffee and game tables, their assemblies and picnics, to staunchly endure cold and heat, fumes and charcoal dust, and all other discomforts of a chemical workshop.” Crell was ready to believe this observation. Since 1783, Martin Heinrich Klaproth’s public lectures on chemistry had indeed attracted a large audience in Berlin, among them many ladies. Furthermore, the impressive number of 424 subscribers to his own journal in the very same year was not least a manifestation of chemistry’s success in Germany. In 1778, when Crell set out to publish the first issue of his chemical periodical, he emphasized that “chemistry’s extended influence on learning and its great utility for the commonweal are so generally recognized that they need no proof.” In Crell’s view, Germany was other nations’ “acknowledged teacher” of chemistry. “Nature itself,” he proclaimed, “seems to have destined us to become chemists; and, as we fulfill this calling, there is perhaps no other country where there are so many chemists (Scheidekünstler), be they true or false, as in Germany.”