Origin of Several Valuable Discoveries
IT is certain that many of the most valuable discoveries have found their origin in the most trivial accidents. According to Pliny, the use of GLASS is owing to the following circumstance:—As some merchants were carrying nitre, they stopt near a river which issues from Mount Carmel. As they could not readily find stones to rest their kettles on, they used, for this purpose, some of these pieces of nitre. The fire which gradually dissolved the nitre, and mixed it with the sand, occasioned a transparent matter to flow, which, in fact, was nothing else than GLASS.
Heylin, in his Cosmography, observes, that the RUDDER, HELM, and the ART OF STEERING, was found out by one Typhis; who took his hint from seeing a kite, in flying, guide her whole body by her tail.
Dr. Granger has noticed of Jonas Moore, an eminent mathematician, that when he was employed by the commissioners to survey the fens, he chanced to notice that the sea made a curve line on the beach; from which he took the hint to keep it effectually out of Norfolk.
The dying a purple colour was found out at Tyre, by the simple circumstance of a dog seizing the fish Conchilis, or Purpura, by which his lips were observed to be tinged with that beautiful colour.
The origin of the use of ANTI-MOINE, or Antimony, is a remarkable circumstance. Basil Valentin, Superior of a College of Religionists, having observed that this mineral fattened the pigs, imagined that it would produce the same effect on the holy brotherhood. But the case was seriously different: the unfortunate fathers, who greedily made use of it, died in a very short time. This is the origin of its name, which I have written according to the pure French word. In spite of this unfortunate beginning, Paracelsus resolved to bring this mineral into practice; he thought he could make it useful, by mixing it with other preparations, but he did not succeed according to his hopes. The Faculty, at Paris, were on this occasion divided into two parties: the one maintained, that Antimony was a poison; the other affirmed, that it was an excellent remedy. The dispute became more general, and the Parliament and the Sorbonne interfered in the matter: but some time afterwards, the world began to judge rightly concerning this excellent mineral; and its wonderful effects have occasioned the Faculty to place it among their best remedies.
The use of COFFEE is said to have a similar origin; that, however, was never attended with such dreadful effects. A Prior of a monastery in the part of Arabia where this berry grows, having remarked that the goats who eat of it became extremely brisk and alert, resolved to try the experiment on his Monks, of whom he so continually complained for their lethargic propensities. The experiment turned out successful; and, it is said, it was owing to this circumstance that the use of this Arabian berry came to be so universal.
A casual circumstance discovered that excellent febrifuge, the JESUIT’s BARK. An Indian, in a delirious fever, having been left by his companions by the side of a river, as incurable, to quench his burning thirst, he naturally drank copious draughts of the water, which having long imbibed the virtues of the bark which abundantly floated on the stream, it quickly dispersed the fever of the Indian. He returned to his friends; and having explained the nature of his remedy, the indisposed crouded about the margin of the holy stream, as they imagined it to be, till they perfectly exhausted all its virtues. The sages of the tribe, however, found at length in what consisted the efficacy of the stream. The Americans discovered it, in the year 1640, to the lady of the Viceroy of Peru, who recovered by its use from a dangerous fever. In 1649 the reputation of this remedy was spread about Spain, Italy, and Rome, by the Cardinal de Lugo, and other Jesuits. And thus, like the Antimony, its name is significant of its origin.
Furetiere tells us in his dictionary, at the word Quinquina, that this febrifuge was called, in the beginning, Cardinal de Lugo’s Bark, who distributed it very freely, though it was then extremely dear. Like all new discoveries, it was much opposed in its commencement.
Amongst the opposers of this valuable medicine was Gideon Harvey, an abundant writer, who was physician to James II. He was continually waging war with his brother physicians; and all his writings are replete with virulence and hypothesis. The book of his which made most noise, is the one now lying before me: It bears for title “The Conclave of Physicians, detecting their Intrigues, Frauds, and Plots, against their Patients. Also a peculiar Discourse of the Jesuit’s Bark. 1686.” This writer, who is for ever accounting for things in an uncommon way, has a very strange notion respecting Bark. I shall transcribe his words. “I am of opinion the foresaid drug is artificially prepared, and that the tree spoken of affords nothing but the wood, into which the bitter taste is immitted, by macerating it a convenient time in the juice of a certain Indian plant; to which that penetrating bitterness is peculiar. This having sufficiently insinuated into the pores of the bark, it is exposed to the sun, which knits it together into a solider texture. Hence it is that the bark, being reduced to powder and steeped in any liquor, doth so easily part with its bitterness, as being adventitious to it, and not connate to its essential principles.” I have given this extract to shew what fancies are indulged by certain geniuses against the most valuable discoveries when they are first made.
Instead of an article, a little volume should be composed of similar notices.