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Paragraph : Alchemy


In the narrow sense of the word, alchemy is the pretended art of making gold and silver, or transmuting the base metals into the noble ones. The idea of such transmutation probably arose among the Alexandrian Greeks in the early centuries of the Christian era; thence it passed to the Arabs, by whom it was transmitted to the Western Europe, and its realization was a leading aim of chemical workers down to the time of Paracelcus and even later. Alchemy in its wider and truer significance stands for the chemistry of the middle ages. The idea of transmutation, in the country of its origin, had a philosophical basis, and was linked up with the Greek theories of matter there current. Thus, supplying a central philosophical principle, it is to some extent unified and focused chemical effort, which previously, so far as it existed at all, had been expended on acquiring empirical acquaintance with a mass of disconnected chemical processes. Alchemy in this sense is merely and early phase of the development of systematic chemistry; in Leibig’s words, it was “never at any time anything different from chemistry”.

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