Our essay analyses a little-known book, Observations sur les eaux minerales des plusieurs provinces de France (1675), which is a study of French mineral waters, commissioned by and conducted at the French Royal Academy of Science (est. 1666). Its author, Samuel Cottereau Duclos (1598-1685), was a senior founding figure of the Academy, its chief chymist and one of its most influential members. We examine Observations with a focus on the changing attitudes towards chymical knowledge and practice in the French Academy and the Royal Society of London in the period 1666-84. Chymistry was a fundamental analytical tool for seventeenth-century natural historians, and, as the work of Lawrence Principe and William Newman has shown, it is central to understanding the 'long' Scientific Revolution. Much study has also been done on the developing norms of openness in the dissemination and presentation of scientific, and particularly chymical knowledge in the late seventeenth century, norms that were at odds with traditions of secrecy among individual chymists. Between these two standards a tension arose, evidenced by early modern 'vociferous criticisms' of chymical obscurity, with different strategies developed by individual philosophers for negotiating the emergent boundaries between secrecy and openness. Less well studied, however, are the strategies by which not just individuals but also scientific institutions negotiated these boundaries, particularly in the formative years of their public and political reputation in the late seventeenth century. Michael Hunter's recent and welcome study of the 'decline of magic' at the Royal Society has to some extent remedied these omissions. Hunter argues that the Society-as a corporate body-disregarded and avoided studies of magical and alchemical subjects in the late seventeenth century. Our examination problematizes these distinctions and presents a more complex picture.
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© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society.
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- Martin Lister
- Mineral waters
- Samuel Cottereau Duclos
- The French Academy
- The Royal Society