PRIESTLEY, Joseph, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts



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PRIESTLEY, Joseph (1733-1804). Discoverer of oxygen.
Autograph Letter Signed to the philosophical society of Orleans [France], 1 page folio, Birmingham, 12 May 1785. Thanking the society for electing him a member, commenting on his work, and promising to send a copy of the published account of his recent experiments through the agency of Lavoisier.
The letter bears a note at the foot that it was read to Societé on 27 May 1785.
'I think myself much honoured by being elected a member of the Philosophical Society at Orleans, and I beg you would signify to that body, in the most respectful manner, how sensible I am of it. From the labours of so many persons engaged in the same pursuit, we cannot doubt but that the knowledge of nature will be rapidly advanced; and the pleasing emulation of philosophers of different countries must accelerate those improvements which will be equally beneficial to all.
 An account of some of my late experiments is just printed for our Philosophical Transactions, and I shall beg your acceptance of a copy, which I shall transmit to Mr Lavoisier at Paris'.
It is curious and rather telling that Priestley was to entrust Lavoisier with transmitting his work to Orleans. The following from Oxford DNB describes the troubled relationship of the two great chemists at this time:
'His volumes of Experiments and Observations Relating to . Natural Philosophy were continued (1781, 1786) and in 1790 he published an 'abridged and methodized' version of the six-volume Experiments and Observations. The originality in the earlier volumes had, however, chiefly disappeared and the major theme of his published science during the remainder of his life was his conflict with Antoine Lavoisier, who had used his discovery of oxygen and the work of Watt and Cavendish on the composition of water (started by hints from Priestley) to attack the doctrine of phlogiston. Priestley never accepted Lavoisier's interpretation of oxygen, nor the composite nature of water and his criticisms of Lavoisier's experiments, though frequently correct, could not succeed in face of the systematization and pedagogic usefulness of the Lavoisian taxonomic revolution of chemistry.'
Provenance: Boston University, deaccessioned manuscript.
[No: 24152]

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