The Alchemist magazine, Vol. 2.1
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Vol. 2. No. I. NOVEMBER, 1926
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Telephone No. DOUGLAS 2046
The Official Organ of the Glasgow University Alchemists' Club
Editor C. BUCHANAN, B.Sc., Ph.D.
Sub Editors JOHN McLINTOCK, B.Sc.
T. S. STEVENS, B.Sc., D.Phil.
Business Manager R. K. MUNRO, B.Sc.
VOL. 2. No. 1.NOVEMBER, 1926.
IT is a well established fact than an editorial in the opening number for
the year of any magazine always contains an urgent request for contributions.
Now it was our fond wish to go down to history as the
exception which, according to theory, should prove the rule. But, alas!
our wastepaper basket is well nigh empty, and we have no need to turn
over piles of manuscript, awaiting the next issue, in searching for pipe or
matches on a littered desk. Need we say more?
That last year's Magazine was a success is due mainly to the valuable
advice and useful suggestions given by several members of the Club.
Certain suggestions could not be carried out because of the expense
entailed. This year, since the Club's membership has increased, a larger
circulation is naturally expected, and it is intended, for example, that
The Alchemist this session will always be at least of the dimensions of
this number. Five issues will be published, two in each of the Winter
Terms and one in the Summer Session.
A suggestion frequently given is the institution of a column similar
to that in the G.U.M. under the heading "The Three-Legged Chair."
But read again the first paragraph. Of course this could be done without
any scrap heap, but that would surely be a cheap way to make copy.
However, the time has perhaps come to disillusion those of last year's
contributors who are still fondly thinking that their articles are being
held over for further consideration. Remorse seizes us as the thought
intrudes that they have been robbed of sundry fourpences on buying
the Mag. to look for their precious offspring.
To "U-tube " and others we would like to say that the storekeepers
are due a rest from publicity. Can you not aim higher and we will see
about it ? But "Delta" surely you did not expect your Wail beginning
"Oh, T. S. P., when will you see, That I am not a Recherchee," to be
printed? Now, did you? The supply of verse has run very short. Perhaps
"Senex" will try his hand again and look to his rhymes. For
instance, "Senex," take the first verse of your " Lecturer's Lament" :
Oh, Nanette, how I regret
That you are not B.Sc. yet,
For I could go with you to Palais
And give the go-bye to dear Alice.
"B.R. Ightidea " your idea is certainly bright, but you drag it out
too long. Send some more "howlers," however. "Nuncky's" children's
column was a promising scheme and had several pars. we liked immensely.
Why not try another, but don't write to your "Dear Young Stinkies."
It's bad enough to be called names on going home reeking of carbylamine
without having such a name bestowed, as it were, officially in the Mag.
"Auntie P. Irene" in a similar children's letter gives some hints on
how to smash apparatus. Her methods are also already too well known
and only recall painful memories. So, too, do your recollections "Azole,"
and, besides, Scots students do not speak of "my ain wee bench" —
we suspect you are an Englishman.
Several articles have been of too narrow an interest. Such for instance
as that of "M. A. Y. Be," which we were very loth to refuse. It referred
to an experiment which few have carried out, and would, in spite of its
clarity of style and sustained interest have been unintelligible to the
average student. We would like him, and those others, and several
more whom we have no space to mention, to try again. And, finally,
a word to those who feel that their gifts do not lie in the way of flippancy.
Need all the contributions be humorous? Surely our former students
can supply articles of general interest of a more serious nature.
It is with mixed feelings that we report the departure to other lands
of two members of the Departmental Staff. Dr. J. D. Fulton has crossed
the Border and now dwells in the land of the Sassenach, while Dr. Jas.
Sword is somewhat farther away — in New Zealand. The Club suffers
in the departure of these two enthusiastic members, but we hope that
our loss may be but temporary. Our best wishes go with them to their
new posts. May all their compounds crystallise.
The vacant office of Junior Vice-President — vacant through Dr.
Fulton's resignation — the Council have decided, shall be filled by Miss
Chrissie Davies, who has rendered the Club such yeoman service in the
past and who, we know, will fill her new office with a grace and competency
equal to, if not surpassing, that of her distinguished predecessors.
At the time of going to press, the Council have not carried out the
invidious task set them by the timidity of the second year students.
SCIENCE EDUCATION IN ULSTER—PAST AND PRESENT.
By R. WRIGHT, M.A., D.Sc.
Outside of Scotland itself there is probably no more Scotch district
in the world than the Province of Ulster, the relationship between the
two countries dating very far back. During the Middle Ages raiders
and missionaries passed frequently from one shore to the other, moved
by the hope of conquest or converts, and these early Scots settlers left
a more or less permanent mark on the north-east corner of Ireland.
Indeed the most successful rebels against English rule in Ireland — Shane
and Hugh O'Neil — were the descendants of a Scotch raiding party, so
that it was not only on her own border that Scotland proved a thorn
in the side of her southern neighbour. The present Scotchness of Ulster
is however of more recent date, as it owes its origin to the Scotch plantation
of the province by James I. and VI. Irish history, since the conquest,
is a repetition of the simple cycle — rebellion, suppression, confiscation
and plantation — rebellion occurring once more as soon as the planted
settlers had become absorbed in the native Irish population. The difference
in the case of Ulster lies in the fact that women as well as men took
part in the Scotch colonisation, so that north-east Ireland retains its
Scotch character to the present day.
The Scotch nature of Ulster is easily seen in her dialect, Scotch
words and phrases being in common use. Children are "bairns," and as
such are often promised and sometimes get "a good sorting"; and a
"nice wee girl " may be taken as an Ulster compromise between a "bonnie
wee lass" and a "pretty young lady." But Ulster is Scotch with a
difference, due of course to her close relationship with the rest of Ireland.
A well-known story may be used to illustrate this point: — During the
somewhat trying time when Carson's army was preparing for eventualities,
an English visitor asked a member of the U.V.F. to inform him against
whom these preparations were being made. "Do you intend to fight
the British Army?" he asked. "We have no quarrel with the soldiers
of King George, God bless him," was the reply. "Will you then attack
your southern neighbours?" "No. If they let us alone we will not
touch them." "But you must expect to fight someone. Who is your
enemy?" "The Lord will provide," was the answer: a reply composed
of Scotch Presbyterianism combined with Irish flippancy.
In politeness the Ulsterman does not compare favourably with his
neighbour from the south of Ireland. There is no more kindly audience
than that found in a Dublin music-hall or theatre (so long as political
feelings are not touched), whilst Belfast is noted for its harsh treatment
of artistes. Two Ulster students found themselves in the same compartment
with an Irish horse-dealer, who discoursed to a number of Englishmen
on the subject of Irish hunters, and waxed eloquent on the length
of Irish miles. Indicating the Ulstermen he said, "There are two young
fellows who, I bet, will know what an Irish mile is." "How did. he spot
that we were Irish?" one student asked of the other later in the evening.
"Oh, he knew we came from Ulster," was the reply, "for when he handed
you a paper you didn't really thank him, you only grunted."
A decided characteristic of the Ulster student is his desire "to make
a cod of things," to use one of his own expressions. It is — or used to
be — quite a common event for a students' meeting to pass a unanimous
vote on a motion and then proceed to pass a second motion, also unanimous
but directly opposed to the first, simply to see how the chairman
would extricate himself. Some years ago the Belfast Students' Union
ejected their entire committee of management and proceeded to elect
a fresh one composed entirely of novices, moved by scientific curiosity
to see what would happen.
The Ulster educational system has — especially since the formation
of the Irish. Free State — closely followed the Scotch model. Science
teaching is practically non-existent in the Primary Schools. Irish Secondary
Schools are linked together under the Irish Intermediate Education
System. This System was founded by Gladstone, the money resulting
from the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. being devoted to
secondary education. The "Intermediate Board " is simply an examining
body. Papers in various "Grades " are issued simultaneously to all the
secondary schools, and the results are corrected by a staff of examiners
who have no other connection with the schools. On the results of the
examinations, exhibitions, prizes and passes are awarded to the candidates
and a grant paid to the school. This sytem, somewhat modified, still
obtains in the Free State, but Ulster has since set up an examination
system of her own. Passes in the higher grades of the "Inter." correspond
to the Scotch "Leaving Certificate," and are accepted as qualifying for
entrance to the University. It is difficult to compare the Scotch and
Ulster standards, but the following reply to a question by an Irish boy
of about fourteen is probably unique:—
Describe what happens when dilute nitric acid is gradually added to a solution
of caustic soda to which a few drops of litmus have been added. What class
of substance is formed and how would you obtain a pure dry specimen of it?
"What happens caustic soda is put into litmus. The litmus turns it blue.
The caustic soda when it is put in litmus it turns blue. It turns every other
substance the same colour. It turns red litmus paper blue. It is red itself.
But it changes every other substance blue. No matter what the substance is it
turns it blue. It changes all substances blue no matter what colour the substance
is it turns it blue. It is a most wonderful substance for this reason.
When it can turn any other substance blue it does it to every substance. The
colour of litmus is red it turns anything else blue. No matter how heavy or
how light the substance is it turns it blue. It is a very dear substance, also it is
very hard to get it at all. It is to be got in the big chemists shops here in the
city. But it is a very expense and dear substance. It is used for many purposes
for turning red litmus blue and purple litmus blue. Sometimes it turns things
different colours but very seldom. It is blue."
The oldest Irish University is Dublin University — or Trinity College,
Dublin, to give it its more usual title. Trinity was founded by Queen
Elizabeth, and is in a sense the University of the Pale, the term applied
to Dublin and the surrounding district which always remained under
English rule when the rest of Ireland was in a state of chronic rebellion.
Trinity was to Ireland what Oxford or Cambridge is to England, and
a large number of the most famous Irishmen have been trained within
its walls. What its ultimate fate will be under the Free State is a matter
Early in Queen Victoria's reign the need was felt for a University at
once more democratic and less attached to the Church of Ireland, so the
Queen's Colleges, of Belfast, Cork and Galway were founded in 1849,
the three together composing the Queen's University of Ireland. Later,
in the early seventies, the Queen's Colleges, together with the Catholic
University College, Dublin, were united to form the Royal University
of Ireland, whose degrees were to some extent comparable to the extern
degrees of London University in that its students were not compelled
to study at any definite college. In one way the Royal University was
a most suitable institution for Ireland, as it brought together, if only
for examination purposes, the Protestant and Catholic youth of the country.
The primary degree in science of the R.U.I. was — in true Irish manner —
the arts degree of B.A. This might be taken three years after entrance
to the University, and the course in Chemistry consisted of a practical
examination in Inorganic Chemistry, volumetric and gravimetric analysis,
together with a theoretical paper on Organic Chemistry. After graduating
as B.A. the aspiring student might attempt either M.A. or B.Sc., the
examinations being identical though both degrees could not be obtained
at the same time. The course for the M.A. (or B.Sc.) was the complement
of that for the B.A., there being theoretical papers in Inorganic and
Physical Chemistry and a practical test in Organic.
Since the Royal University did not provide any endowment for the
higher education of Catholics (University College received no State grant,
and the Queen's Colleges had been banned by the Catholic bishops as
"godless colleges" as their teaching was strictly secular), it was abolished
in 1908 and a Catholic University known as the National University
of Ireland founded. The National comprises the old Queen's Colleges
of Cork and Galway, together with. University College, Dublin. At the
same time Queen's University, Belfast, was founded for the Province
of Ulster. The science courses at the new Universities compare favourably
with those of similar institutions in Great Britain, the pecularities of the
old Royal University having been done away with.
CHEMIST AND GENTLEMAN.
It is our purpose to explain one or two obscure points of laboratory
etiquette and of chemist-like conduct to those second year students who,
perhaps, have not yet grasped the apparently complicated, though in
reality ridiculously simple, rules and regulations which govern this most
illustrious department, this home of genius, this wort on the otherwise
unblemished face of Gilmorehill.
As in the army, so in our department, the question of paying proper
compliments to superiors often presents nice problems for the tyro. As
a first step, then, in the elucidation of such knotty points, we append
a list of the "great ones of this " Hall of Smells and Glassware," in
their order of seniority, viz., (1) Storekeepers; (2) President of Alchemists'
Club; (3) Vice-Presidents of Alchemists' Club; (4) All Demonstrators
(especially Mr. S—v—le); (5) Lab-boys; (6) Lecturers; (7) Professors
(8) Treasurer of Alchemists' Club.
Matters, fortunately, are simplified for the chemist in that there is
only one type of compliment that need be paid. If the complimentor is a
gentleman he raises his hat twice, or if a lady she curtsies three times.
The sex of the complimentee makes no difference. Second year students
must thus salute all of the above persons. Third year students need
only worry about Nos. (1), (2), (3) and (8). While those learned ones
who being in their fourth year, therefore know all things, may politely
but firmly ignore everyone on the list save the first and the last, because
from neither shall ye escape.
We may note here that the form of acknowledgment of the above
compliments is generally a matter of the personal taste of the complimentee,
the usual ones adopted, however, being either a passionate
reciprocation or a sheepish grin.
A certain knowledge of laboratory formalities is useful also when
paying a visit to the store. Should the enthusiastic young student desire
.5 gm. of common salt he must first of all obtain from his demonstrator
three forms, marked respectively Schedule S. Chem.Dept. /NACL 1,
Schedule S. Chem.Dept. /NACL 2, and Schedule S. Chem.Dept. /NACL 3.
These are carefully filled up and handed in at the store. In the course
of the next three weeks they are duly presented before the Senatus
Academicus. At this meeting the applicant must be present to state
his claims, and must be accompanied by those persons (two) who witnessed
his signature of the forms. Having sworn by the ghosts of his ancestors
that the salt is to be utilised in a scientific investigation only and is not
to season Wednesday's mince, he is permitted to retire. Ten days later
a specially guarded delivery van arrives with .25 gm. of salt in a silver
tube in a Milner safe, with a note to the effect that, owing to the great
expense, no more sodium chloride can be provided at the moment.
Finally, a word or two on the etiquette of the lecture room would
possibly not be amiss. All the best chemists consider it their duty to lift
up their voices in song and rejoicing during a lecture. The staff encourage
this. "What is more delightful," said an eminent lecturer to us, "than
to hear the dear students singing at their work?" It should be remembered,
however, that continuous singing is unmannerly. Songs should
be judiciously mixed with the tramping of feet, the clicking of tongues,
and general farmyard noises. We must live up to our ancient lecture--
room motto : "A welle aymed flaske causeth angre and a wittie remarke
bryngeth aboute counfusion."
It is the custom in some classes of this University, when a lecturer
does not make himself quite clear, for some vulgar and ignorant youth
to rise to his feet and actually interrupt the work of the class while he
demands that the said lecturer repeat his statements. The Chemistry
Department (thank heaven!) is run on stronger, sterner, lines than these.
Our lecturers are men, not nurse-maids. When a chemistry class, as
a whole, considers that a lecturer is tolerably useless, etiquette demands
that he be politely requested to put the following motion before the
students: "That this House deplores my conduct and method of teaching
and will now adjourn." There is usually no difficulty about finding a
seconder, and the odds are that the motion is carried unanimously. The
class then rises to its feet, sings the National Anthem, and solemnly
files from the room with condensers drawn and at the slope, the lecturer
standing the while with bowed head.
Thus do we change the flippant, rude and ofttimes disgusting, procedures
of the majority of classes into dignified and sacred rites redolent
of Elizabethan times, combined with a modicum of that modern business
efficiency which present-day chemists have found it necessary to study
in order to acquire accuracy, not only in their scientific investigations
but in their methods of placing their hard-earned cash, or even certain
of their under-garments, on some equine quadruped.
THE RAMSAY CHEMICAL DINNER (1926).
This year's "Ramsay" will be held in the Grosvenor Restaurant
on Wednesday, 8th December, at 6 for 6-30 p.m. The Club representation
at last year's function was numerically a record ; and even though only
one-half of the subsequent yarns were true, it is quite obvious that those
who attended had few causes of regret.
On this occasion Sir Max Muspratt will preside, and Sir Gregory
Foster will propose the toast of "Sir William Ramsay and his Profession."
After the more serious business of the evening is despatched the assembled
multitudes will dance until midnight to the strains of Mr. T. George's
"Arcadian " Orchestra. Student tickets are 10s. each, and all enquiries
should be made to Mr. Kent (convener), Dr. Stevens, or the Hon. Secretary.
LAB. LEGENDS, No. 1.
Then the Old Man who was a grocer and drank a great deal of whiskey
sent for his son John, and said John what are you going to do when you
are a Man. And John said Father I am going to be a grocer and drink
a great deal of Whiskey but his father said no you are not clever enough
you will have to adopt a Profession, go away and be a Chemist. So John,
said yes Father and went out and bought a small Cohen. And the Old
Man bought two small Sodas.
After this John went to the university and he didn't like the smell
of a lovely laboratory which was full of climbing ivy and spiders webs.
But he heard a great many lectures from the Wise Men and he wrote
his in a lab. book, which amused the Demonstrators. Before long he
noticed Gladys who wore a jazzy overall and carried her head so high
so very high, yes he noticed Gladys.
He lent her a Beaker one morning and spent all afternoon beside
her taking it back for he thought her eyes were Prussian blue and her
neck as fine as a Liebig condenser. Besides she thought John was big
and strong like a Retort-stand. So after that he lent her a Beaker every
morning and they fell in love, which amused the Demonstrators. Also
John gave Gladys half of all his Yields and said he would swot like billy-o
to be a Wise Man himself one day or maybe the Master of Works.
Then he told his father who said well you are a dashfool my Boy no
man should marry a woman in his own line of business, they know too
much anyway. But John said Gladys doesn't know any Chemistry as
she is just going to be a school Teacher and I don't know any either.
And his father said again, you are a dashfool and drank a great deal of
Whiskey. Well I dont care if I am a dashfool John said, I love her just
the same and he cried like anything which made his father say well, you'd
better bring her along till I see what's what.
Now when he saw Gladys he said my word that's a fine Line, which
is a grocer's remark and he thought John was not such a fool as he looked
and he asked is there any money in Chemistry John. And John said
no Father it all goes to the Demonstrators. Then his father told him he
had better be a grocer after all and have Gladys as his groceress. So
John said yes Father and went out and sold a small Cohen. And the
Old Man bought two small Sodas.
Also John took back his Deposit to buy an engagement ring for Gladys
who said this is better than any old benzene ring what. And John said
not half. So they were married and after a bit a Traveller brought them
a brand new Sideline which made John's father say I'm proud of you
my Boy. And John said yes Father and went out and bought a small
And the Old Man bought two small Sodas.
"I. O. Dean."
From Blackie's List
MANUALS OF PURE AND APPLIED CHEMISTRY
General Editor R. M. CAVEN, D.Sc. (Lond.), F.I.C.
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COMPLEX SALTS. By WILLIAM THOMAS, B.A. (Cantab.),
M.Sc. (Wales), Ph.D. (Aberdeen), A.I.C., Lecturer in Chemistry,
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THE STRUCTURE OF MATTER. By J. A. CRANSTON, D.Sc.,
A.I.C., Lecturer in Chemistry, Royal Technical College, Glasgow.
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To Hell with chemistry, I say,
Exams, examiners and their prey,
Preps, profs, precipitates, prudes — to these
(And Cohen's valued volumes, please),
Add work and weary play.
Along with which some day will hop off
Constitutional Rule of Popoff,
Theories of van't Hoff, Le Bel,
Chatelier and Becquerel
Research men who with manner suave,
Of new-found compounds proudly rave,
The fool who first found carbazole
The devil take him, life and soul.
Lecturers like for speed test set,
And borrowers who oft forget,
Berichte, Senter, Cumming and Kay,
(I'm happier far with Thomas Jay),
And you yourself, dear reader, g'way
"Oh, Professor Gottlieb, I'd like awfully to take bacteriology this fall instead
of next year. I've had a lot of Chemistry —"
"No, you are too young, come back next year."
" But honestly, with my Chemistry —"
"Have you taken Physical Chemistry?"
"No sir, but I did pretty well in Organic."
"Organic Chemistry! Puzzle Chemistry! Stink Chemistry! Drug Store
Chemistry! Physical Chemistry is power, it is exactness, it is life. But Organic
Chemistry — that is a trade for pot-washers. No, you are too young, come back in
Sinclair Lewis in "Martin Arrowsmith"
An American weekly says " the modern burglar is ungallant in preferring
the hold-up of a mail-train to the more spectacular feat of cracking
In U.S.A. the people say
The favourite kind of swag,
Beloved by crooks, outside of books
Is robbing the mail-bag.
But in this land, men understand
That this crime never flags;
For while they snore, the wife's afloor,
Fast robbing the male-bags!
LEONARDO DA VINCI.
By T. S. STEVENS, D.Phil.
(Report of Presidential Address delivered 10th November, 1926.)
Although to us, as chemists, Leonardo is of most interest in his scientific
speculations, it is necessary in order to comprehend the man as a whole
to consider the events and the many-sided interests of his life. He was
the son of a notary, and born near Florence in 1452; and it would seem
desirable to consider briefly the historical and cultural background against
which he is to be viewed. His birth took place in the middle of the barren
XVth. Century, but the intellectual interregnum, which was so evident
in the history of European culture as a whole, was represented in Italy
only by a generation's arrest of development. The great impetus given
to Italian painting by Giotto and Cimabue was spent and signs of decadence
were setting in. It is Da Vinci's great achievement to have founded a
new epoch in Florentine art, and to have been in some degree the master
of Raphael and of Michel Angelo.
Leonardo received his early education in Florence, and Vasari, one
of his earliest biographers, has recorded doubtfully authentic examples
of his precocity: "In arithmetic he made such rapid progress that he
confounded the master he sang to that instrument (the
lute) most divinely, improvising both the verses and the music." He
studied painting under Verrocchio, and came into contact with his older
contemporaries, Perugino and Botticelli. Vasari asserts that Leonardo
so surpassed his master that Verrocchio was unwilling to touch colours
again, indignant that a stripling should know more than he.
About 1482 Leonardo was sent by Lorenzo de' Medici to the court at
Milan, where his services as a military engineer were very valuable to
the Duke. The principal work of art on which he was engaged was a
colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, which was never completed.
In 1496 the Duke commissioned da Vinci to paint the celebrated picture
of the Last Supper; partly owing to Leonardo's experimenting with
new pigments, partly owing to the carelessness and destructiveness of
later generations, and partly as a result of the impious attempts at restoration,
this, the greatest picture of the Renaissance, is now almost a total
loss. After the fall of the Duke of Milan in 1500, Leonardo led rather
a wandering life. First he returned to Florence, and while there painted
the famous Mona Lisa. In 1501 we find him in the service of the notorious
Caesar Borgia, and later employed by the Florentine Republic, where
a rather discredible rivalry sprang up between him and Michel Angelo.
During a brief stay at Pavia, da Vinci, who was convinced of the necessity
to the painter of a thorough knowledge of anatomy, joined forces with
Marc' Antonio della Torre, one of the foremost anatomists of the time,
in a series of investigations which led to the production of the most accurate
anatomical diagrams of the day.
The embroiled state of Italian politics, and the jealousy of Raphael
and Michel Angelo, led Leonardo, in 1516, to attach himself to the court
of Francis I. of France. He went to Paris and settled down near Amboise.
His health now gradually deteriorated, and it is probable that he painted
no further pictures and merely completed a few of his writings. At about
this time Leonardo lost the use of his right hand, and, after an illness
of several months, he died in 1519 at the age of 67.
In these early days of the Renaissance that dilettantism, which has
so frequently been the besetting sin of Italian culture, was not in evidence,
and in Leonardo's case his infinite variety is the result, not of a careless
lack of perseverance but of a determination to realise each problem in
all its aspects before attempting a solution, e.g., he made an elaborate
investigation into the mathematical theory of perspective as a preparation
for his writings on art. He combined a terrifying industry with all the
arts of an accomplished courtier and an adequate warming of both hands
at the fire of life. Like Emile Zola, who annotated his characters with
references to the original criminal statistics out of which they were synthesised,
Leonardo was a realist, and laid great stress on the study of
the mensuration of the human frame. But, unlike Zola, he had a keen
eye for individual idiosyncracy and exercised a just subordination of
imitation to the creative faculty.
Besides a few completed works, Leonardo left some five thousand
pages of hopelessly chaotic manuscript. The problem of their arrangement
was not made easier by the fact that, being left-handed and possessing
a logical mind, he always wrote backwards. Consequently, as much of
his work is difficultly accessible, it is only possible to illustrate his scientific
enquiries by a series of scattered notes.
A full century before Bacon and Galileo he insisted on the necessity
of basing science on observation and experiment. His writing son mechanics
are difficult of access but show that Da Vinci anticipated Galileo
and Newton in formulating the First Law of Motion. He also clearly
asserts that the laws of mechanics govern the processes of organic life
— this at a time when Paracelsus and Co. were postulating a presiding
demon to carry out the processes of digestion.
From time to time he devoted much attention to astronomy. He
has a clear idea of the explanation of the moon's phases, and maintains
repeatedly, chiefly on negative evidence, that the stars merely reflect
the light of the sun. Leonardo may be considered as having, to some
extent, anticipated Copernicus in his assertion (without comment or explanation)
that "the sun does not move." It is difficult to determine to what
extent his views on astronomy had been arrived at independently, but
his views on geology and palaeontology were definitely of an original
nature, and if they had been published during his lifetime they might
have led the Church to bring his career to an untimely end. His interest
was attracted by the existence of fossil shells and remains of fishes remote
from the sea, and, on various grounds, he attacks the view that these
were washed up by the Deluge. He asserts that the valley of the Po
was once a sea and has been silted up by the river, which would in time
fill the Adriatic also.
Leonardo had some considerable interest in natural history. His
anatomical studies have already been mentioned, and he paid much
attention to plant morphology in connection with his art. It may be
worth noting that in a classification of the animal kingdom he associates
man with the ape. At the same time a large part of his writings on natural
history recall a mediaeval "Bestiary" rather than a sober description
In optics, Leonardo has left an elaborate work on perspective, and
is credited with the discovery of the camera obscura, of which he gives
a clear description, and whose principle he applies to the eye. He is not
at all perturbed by the deduction that the image on the retina must be
He was also an untiring student of the application of chemistry to
the preparation of pigments, a study which posterity would rather he
had left alone. He knew of the possibility of obtaining fresh water from
salt by distillation, and of the test for copper by the formation of a green
solution in aqua fortis. He has also recorded a recipe for Greek fire and
one for removing black spots from white horses.
Into applied mechanics Leonardo's excursions were varied and.extensive,
though it is often difficult to decide where mere proposals end and
actual practice begins. It is certain that he was a thorough student of
hydraulics and superintended the construction of canals. At Florence
he was occupied with a scheme to divert the Arno and so cut off the Pisans
from the sea. His mechanical inventions are somewhat varied : submarines
had occupied a great deal of his thought, for he notes, "How
by means of a certain machine many people may stay under water …
and I do not divulge these by reason of the evil nature of men who would
use them as means of destruction." He designed a cannon in which the
propellant was water introduced into a red-hot chamber. He even left
drawings of breech-loading ordnance.
The problem of mechanical flight was one which interested him greatly.
"An object," he observes, "offers as much resistance to the air as the
air does to the object. You may see that the beating of its wings supports
a heavy eagle in the highest and rarest atmosphere." He was also acquainted
with the parachute. It may be noted in passing that the angels
in Leonardo's pictures have more adequate wings than most.
It is only fitting that the tale of the life and works of this remarkable
man be concluded with a reflection on alchemists: — "I teach you to
preserve your health, and in this you will succeed better in proportion
as you shun physicians, because their medicines are the work of alchemists!"
HOW TO DEAL WITH OUR SURPLUS POPULATION.
By a Demon.
It is a sacred and fragrant memory of our youth, in the days when
there were giants on earth, that Hugh Bankhead bestrid our narrow
world like a Colossus. In those days a superabundance of first-year
medicals appeared at a time when three strong men could scarce secure
a fibula to carve in the dissection-room; and Hugh, being a Man-of--
Infinite-Resource-and-Sagacity, advocated a simultaneous solution of both
problems by the formation of a Redskin Club. Seed-time and harvest,
matriculation and examination, have come and gone, and it is the turn
of our sacred department to be flooded by a crooked and perverse generation
that knoweth not on what side it's bread is like to be buttered.
Now the admirable measures proposed by Bankhead were not put
into effect, on account of that wave of ignorant sentimentality which
threatened, and still threatens, to neutralise every serious effort to bring
prosperity to our unhappy university. Moreover, our difficulties are
greater, in that we have no such ready solution as his to the problem
which has baffled the greatest minds of all time, from Cain to Dr. Crippen
— how to dispose of the body. It would appear, therefore, that we must
model our technique on that of the late Cesare Borgia, so justly celebrated
in the noble lines of Giamborini: —
Borgia administra al suo rivale,
Con macaroni e spaghetti, andante finale."
The fact that even the most inexperienced students do not stoke up
on the premises presents an initial difficulty, and the obvious solution —
that the professors should stand a dinner to the student body — appears
to us both expensive and unsafe. There is also a certain specious attractiveness
about the proposal to employ a hypodermic syringe, but no
procedure has yet been devised consistent with the eleventh commandment,
which reads in the R.V., "It is expedient that a man do good by
stealth, lest he die of an hempen fever." On the whole, we are disposed
to recommend that the new member from the Antipodes be invited to
place his knowledge of native arrow-poisons at our disposal, and that
tin-tacks be placed in an inverted position on the seats in the lecturetheatre.
Suspicion would thus inevitably be directed towards the technical
staff, and Brayson himself could not disavow the possession of tacks
on the ground that they were organic chemicals. In any case, a death
in the lecture-theatre would be attributed, on a priori grounds, to gas
We do not suggest that these proposals have any measure of finality,
but we commend them to higher authority in the hope that they will
receive sympathetic consideration.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR,
Sir, — The attempt which is being made to restore the wearing of red
gowns by undergraduates is one which merits the support of all who
have a regard for the fostering of a corporate spirit amongst us. It is all
the more deplorable, then, that at this time the Chemistry Department
should be distinguished by the systematic neglect of academic dress which
has been shown by its junior staff during the Rectorial celebrations. Both
at the Address and at the luncheon which followed it, the two professors
were the only representatives of the department who could be distinguished
by their garb from the stranger within our gates. The fact that several
of the offenders are office-bearers of the Club makes this matter one
which affects our common honour as Alchemists, and prompts us to express
the hope that the omission, once pointed out, will not be repeated. —
I am, etc.,
"Dulce et decorum est."
Sir, — Might I crave a little of your valuable space in order to bring
to the notice of your many readers the great cultural benefits which have
already accrued from the compulsory language qualifications demanded
in the new science regulations for Honours Graduates in Chemistry?
I hail it, sir, as the dawning of a bright era in the study of linguistics,
that every year tens of students should be sent forth from your department
with at least a "passing" knowledge of French and German. To
those baser minds who would see in the language studies but the material
considerations of examination achievement, let me present a personal
testimony that will surely demonstrate the great cultural advantages
to be derived from this course.
I am myself a recent Honours graduate in Chemistry (of the Third
Order, albeit), and last year, armed with my new linguistic powers, I
set out on holiday to tour France and Germany without the aid of Mr.
Cook or his Sons. I soon found that I could so converse with the natives
that my holiday became anthropologically an interesting education. Perhaps,
Mr. Editor, it would be best that, in order to illustrate the exceeding
usefulness of our chemistry language course, I should give herewith two
delightful conversations which I carried on with foreigners, and which,
I may say, were typical of all my holiday experiences: —
The first was with a railway porter at Dover.
"Bonjour, Monsieur le facteur," I exclaimed with confidence when
I first saw him, "avez-vous vu le chat de ma grand'mere qui s'appelle
"Ah, non," he replied most knowingly, "mais j'ai vu la plume de
ma tante, qui est plus grande que votre tante."
"Impossible," I retorted, indignantly, "car il ne fait pas bon aujourd'
hui et votre oncle a bien faim."
At this, the porter scowled as if he were peeved at my remarks, and in
order to appear more amiable I quickly turned the trend of our conversation
by excitedly shouting out: —
"Regardez, regardez, monsieur; voilà la porte!"
"C'est bein ça," replied the Frenchman, "la porte est jaune, grosse
"Et faite de bois," I interposed in the frenzy of original discovery.
And, thereupon we both laughed loudly at our little joke — or rather,
his little joke — for, truth to tell, I didn't see what caused half his laughter.
However, I felt so pleased with my first efforts in "parlez-vous-ing"
that I generously slipped a ten 'centime piece into his open hand. He
looked at it twice and at me a like number of times ; then in a most surly
voice shouted out a few words the significance of which I didn't quite
comprehend. I suppose now that they must have been colloquial expressions
that the examiners don't expect to be included under the scientific
vocabulary of the Honours student.
Another equally interesting conversation I carried on in Berlin with
a rather ignorant cabby who didn't know his German as well as one night
expect. In order to get him to talk, I inquiringly demanded:
"Mein Herr, was its braun — der Stuhl oder der Bleistift?"
"Der Stuhl ist braun ober das Gras ist nicht schwarz," was his answer.
"Ja, ich kenne," I replied, "ich habe heute einen Brief von meiner
Mutter erhalten. Sie ist nut meinen Tanten and zwei Freundinnen nach
.. I would have continued, but the silly fellow did not seem to be interested
at all in my confidences. He kept looking across the road.
"Was sehen Sie?" I inquired.
"Einen Café," was the prompt reply.
"Anworten Sie wahrhaftig," I commanded, "Sind Sic nicht gegen das
Bier? Ich wohne in Kirkintilloch."
"Nein, nein," he shouted pleadingly, "ich bin dafur."
At this we repaired to the pub. across the road, and there, den ganzen
Tag, exchanged those guttural vocalities that arise in drinking, no matter
what language you speak.
These, Sir, are but illustrative instances of the cultural value of the
present Chemistry course. In my own case, my ambitions have carried
me even further, for I have been lately commissioned by the editor of
that distinguished French journal — Les Coupes Amusantes — to contribute
a leading article on the present British coal situation, entitled — "à la
Carte ou Cul-de-Sac: Lequel?" — Yours, etc.,
The Ideal Present
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Cite this Document
The Alchemist magazine, Vol. 2.1. 2023. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved March 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=653.
"The Alchemist magazine, Vol. 2.1." The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. March 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=653.
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, s.v., "The Alchemist magazine, Vol. 2.1," accessed March 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=653.
If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. 2023. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/.