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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 297 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794), French chemist, was born in Paris on the 26th of August 1743. His father, an avocat au parlement, gave him an excellent education at the college Mazarin, and encouraged his taste for natural science; and he studied mathematics and astronomy with N. L. de Lacaille, chemistry with the elder Rouelle and botany with Bernard de Jussieu. In 1766 he received a gold medal from the Academy of Sciences for an essay on the best means of lighting a large town; and among his early work were papers on the analysis of gypsum, on thunder, on the aurora and on congelation, and a refutation of the prevalent belief that water by repeated distillation is converted into earth. He also assisted J. E. Guettard (1715—1786) in preparing his mineralogical atlas of France. In 1768, recognized as a man who had both the ability and the means for a scientific career, he was nominated adjoins chimiste to the Academy, and in that capacity made numerous reports on the most diverse subjects, from the theory of colours to water-supply and from invalid chairs to mesmerism and the divining rod. The same year he obtained the position of adjoins to Baudon, one of the farmers-general of the revenue, subsequently becoming a full titular member of the body. This was the first of a series of posts in which his administrative abilities found full scope. Appointed regisseur des poudres in 1775, he not only abolished the vexatious search for saltpetre in the cellars of private houses, but increased the production of the salt and improved the manufacture of gunpowder. In 1785 he was nominated to the committee on agriculture, and as its secretary drew up reports and instructions on the cultivation of various crops, and promulgated schemes for the establishment of experimental agricultural stations, the distribution of agricultural implements and the adjustment of rights of pasturage. Seven years before he had started a model farm at Frechine, where he demonstrated the advantages of scientific methods of cultivation and of the introduction of good breeds of cattle and sheep. Chosen a member of the provincial assembly of Orleans in 1787, he busied himself with plans for the improvement of the social and economic conditions of the community by means of savings banks, insurance societies, canals, workhouses, &c.; and he showed the sincerity of his philanthropical work by advancing money out of- his own pocket, without interest, to the towns of Blois and Romorantin, for the purchase of barley during the famine of 1788. Attached in this same year to the caisse d'escompte, he presented the report of its operations to the national assembly in 1789, and as commissary of the treasury in 1791 he established a system of accounts of unexampled punctuality. He was also asked by the national assembly to draw up a new scheme of taxation in connexion with which he produced a report De la richesse territoriale de la France, and he was further associated with committees on hygiene, coinage, the casting of cannon, &c., and was secretary and treasurer of the commission appointed in 1790 to secure uniformity of weights and measures. In 1791, when Lavoisier was in the middle of all this official activity, the suppression of the farmers-general marked the beginning of troubles which brought about his death. His membership of that body was alone sufficient to make him an object of suspicion; his administration at the regie des poudres was attacked; and Marat accused him in the Ami du Peuple of putting Paris in prison and of stopping the circulation of air in the city by the mur d'octroi erected at his suggestion in 1787. The Academy, of which as treasurer at the time he was a con- he assigned to dephlogisticated air the name oxygen, or " acid-producer," on the supposition that all acids were formed by its union with a simple, usually non-metallic, body; and having verified this notion for phosphorus, sulphur, charcoal, &c., and even extended it to the vegetable acids, he naturally asked himself what was formed by the combustion of " inflammable air " (hydrogen). This problem he had attacked in 1774, and in subsequent years he made various attempts to discover the acid which, under the influence of his oxygen theory, he expected would be formed. It was not till the 25th of June 1783 that in conjunction with Laplace he announced to the Academy that water was the product formed by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, but by that time he had been anticipated by Cavendish, to whose prior work, however, as to that of several other investigators in other matters, it is to be regretted that he did not render due acknowledgment. But a knowledge of the composition of water enabled him to storm the last defences of the phlogistonists. Hydrogen they held to be the phlogiston of metals, and they supported this view by pointing out that it was liberated when metals were dissolved in acids. Considerations of weight had long prevented Lavoisier from accepting this doctrine, but he was now able to explain the process fully, showing that the hydrogen evolved did not come from the metal itself, but was one product of the decomposition of the water of the dilute acid, the other product, oxygen, combining with the metal to form an oxide which in turn united with the acid. A little later this same knowledge led him to the beginnings of quantitative organic analysis. Knowing that the water produced by the combustion of alcohol was not pre-existent in that sub-stance but was formed by the combination of its hydrogen with the oxygen of the air, he burnt alcohol and other combustible organic substances, such as wax and oil, in a known volume of oxygen, and, from the weight of the water and carbon dioxide produced and his knowledge of their composition, was able to calculate the amounts of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen present in the substance. Up to about this time Lavoisier's work, mainly quantitative in character, had appealed most strongly to physicists, but it now began to win conviction from chemists also. C. L. Berthollet, L. B. Guyton de Morveau and A. F. Fourcroy, his collaborators in the reformed system of chemical terminology set forth in 1787 in the Methode de momenclature chimique, were among the earliest French converts, and they were followed by M. H. Klaproth and the German Academy, and by most English chemists except Cavendish, who rather suspended his judgment, and Priestley, who stubbornly clung to the opposite view. Indeed, though the partisans of phlogiston did not surrender without a struggle, the history of science scarcely presents a second instance of a change so fundamental accomplished with such ease. The spread of Lavoisier's doctrines was greatly facilitated by the defined and logical form in which he presented them in his Traite elementaire de chimie (presente daps un ordre nouveau et d'apres les decouvertes modernes) (1789). The list of simple substances contained in the first volume of this work includes light and caloric with oxygen, azote and hydrogen. Under the head of " oxidable or acidifiable " substances, the combination of which with oxygen yielded acids, were placed sulphur, phosphorus, carbon, and the muriatic, fluoric and boracic radicles. The metals, which by combination with oxygen became oxides, were antimony, silver, arsenic, bismuth, cobalt, copper, tin, iron, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, gold, platinum, lead, tungsten and zinc; and the " simple earthy salifiable sub-stances " were lime, baryta, magnesia, alumina and silica. The simple nature of the alkalies Lavoisier considered so doubtful that he did not class them as elements, which he conceived as substances which could not be further decomposed by any known process of analysis—les molecules simples et indivisibles qui corn posent les corps. The union of any two of the elements gave rise to binary compounds, such as oxides, acids, sulphides, &c. A substance containing three elements was a binary compound of the second order; thus salts, the most important compounds of this class, were formed by the union of acids andoxides, iron sulphate, for instance, being a compound of iron oxide with sulphuric acid. In addition to his purely chemical work, Lavoisier, mostly in conjunction with Laplace, devoted considerable attention to physical problems, especially those connected with heat. The two carried out some of the earliest thermochemical investigations, devised apparatus for measuring linear and cubical expansions, and employed a modification of Joseph Black's ice calorimeter in a series of determinations of specific heats. Regarding heat (matiere de feu or fluide igne) as a peculiar kind of imponderable matter, Lavoisier held that the three states of aggregation—solid, liquid and gas—were modes of matter, each depending on the amount of matiere de feu with which the ponderable substances concerned were interpenetrated and combined; and this view enabled him correctly to anticipate that gases would be reduced to liquids and solids by the influence of cold and pressure. He also worked at fermentation, respiration and animal heat, looking upon the processes concerned as essentially chemical in nature. A paper discovered many years after his death showed that he had anticipated later thinkers in explaining the cyclical process of animal and vegetable life, for he pointed out that plants derive their food from the air, from water, and in general from the mineral kingdom, and animals in turn feed on plants or on other animals fed by plants, while the materials thus taken up by plants and animals are restored to the mineral kingdom by the breaking-down processes of fermentation, putrefaction and combustion. A complete edition of the writings of Lavoisier, Euvres de Lavoisier, publiees par les soins du ministre de l'instruction publique, was issued at Paris in six volumes from 1864-1893. This publication comprises his Opuscules physiques et chimiques (1774), many memoirs from the Academy volumes, and numerous letters, notes and reports relating to the various matters on which he was engaged. At the time of his death he was preparing an edition of his collected works, and the portions ready for the press were published in two volumes as Memoires de chimie in 18o5 by his widow (in that year married to Count Rumford), .who had drawn and engraved the plates in his Traite elementaire de chimie (1789). See E. Grimaux, Lavoisier 1743-1794, d'apres sa correspondance, ses manuscripts, &c. (1888), which gives a list of his works; P. E. M. Berthelot, La Revolution chimique: Lavoisier (1890), which contains an analysis of and extracts from his laboratory notebooks. LA VOISIN. CATHERINE MoNvolsIN, known as "La Voisin " (d. 168o), French sorceress, whose maiden name was Catherine Deshayes, was one of the chief personages in the famous affaire des poisons, which disgraced the reign of Louis XIV. Her husband, Monvoisin, was an unsuccessful jeweller, and she practised chiromancy and face-reading to retrieve their fortunes. She gradually added the practice of witchcraft, in which she had the help of a renegade priest, Etienne Guibourg, whose part was the celebration of the " black mass," an abominable parody in which the host was compounded of the blood of a little child mixed with horrible ingredients. She practised medicine, especially midwifery, procured abortion and provided love powders and poisons. Her chief accomplice was one of her lovers, the magician Lesage, whose real name was Adam Ceeuret. The great ladies of Paris flocked to La Voisin, who accumulated enormous wealth. Among her clients were Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, who sought the death of the king's mistress, Louise de la Valliere; Mme de Montespan, Mme de Gramont (la belle Hamilton) and others. The bones of toads, the teeth of moles, cantharides, iron filings, human blood and human dust were among the ingredients of the love powders concocted by La Voisin. Her knowledge of poisons was not apparently so thorough as that of less well-known sorcerers, or it would be difficult to account for La V alliere's immunity. The art of poisoning had become a regular science. The death of Henrietta, duchess of Orleans, was attributed, falsely it is true, to poison, and the crimes of Marie Madeleine de Brinvilliers (executed in 1676) and her accomplices were still fresh in the public mind. In April 1679 a commission appointed to inquire into the subject and to prosecute the offenders met for the first time. Its proceedings, including some suppressed in the official records, are preserved in the notes of one of the official rapporteurs, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie. The revelation of the treacherous intention of Mme de Montespan to poison Louis XIV. and of other crimes, planned by personages who could not be attacked without scandal which touched the throne, caused Louis XIV. to close the chambre ardente, as the court was called, on the 1st of October 1680. It was reopened on the 19th of May 1681 and sat until the 21st of July 1682. Many of the culprits escaped through private influence. Among these were Marie Anne Mancini, duchesse de Bouillon, who had sought to get rid of her husband in order to marry the duke of Vendome, though Louis XIV. banished her to Nerac. Mme de Montespan was not openly disgraced, because the preservation of Louis's own dignity was essential, and some hundred prisoners, among them the infamous Guibourg and Lesage, escaped the scaffold through the suppression of evidence insisted on by Louis XIV. and Louvois. Some of these were imprisoned in various fortresses, with instructions from Louvois to the respective commandants to flog them if they sought to impart what they knew. Some innocent persons were imprisoned for life because they had knowledge of the facts. La Voisin herself was executed at an early stage of the proceedings, on the 20th of February 168o, after a perfunctory application of torture. The authorities had every reason to avoid further revelations. Thirty-five other prisoners were executed; five were sent to the galleys and twenty-three were banished. Their crimes had furnished one of the most extraordinary trials known to history. See F. Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, vols. iv.-vii. (187o–1874) ; the notes of La Reynie, preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale; F. Funck-Brentano, Le Drame des poisons (1899); A. Masson, La Sorcellerie et la science des poisons an X VIP siecle (1904). Sardou made the affair a background for his Affaire des poisons (1907). There is a portrait of La Voisin by Antoine Coypel, which has been often reproduced.
End of Article: ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794)

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