Long ago when chemistry had not yet attained the full stature of a science, the belief that there existed in nature a substance—a veritable philosophers stone—which would transmute all the baser metals into gold, was generally entertained by the alchemists. It is no wonder that such an opinion should have obtained. Phenomena just as remarkable were known to occur, and still daily occur, in the experience of every chemist. The alchemist, although knowing nothing of the elements as we now recognize them,regarded the baser metals as containing the same elementary substance as gold, associated with impurities which they had not yet learned to separate from them, and at this day no chemist is so bold as to dispute the possibility that the noble metals are composed of substances to be found yet in the baser ones. The late lamented Prof. Faraday professed his belief in the possibility of transmutation, and even asserted that he had experimented with a view to discovering a method whereby it might be accomplished. Although in the present state of science no chemist can say that lead and gold do not contain the same elements, the general belief is that they do not; and we do not assert that any believe tliat the baser metals can be converted into gold or even into other metals, by direct chemical reaction. Then; is good reason to believe, however, that many substances, which 1 hitherto have been treated as elementary in character, simply because it has yet been impossible to prove them otherwise, I will yet be found to bo compounds. j The peculiar property, called by chemists, allotropism, is one of the foundations of this belief. That substances esscn-1 tially the same should be capable of existing in several dis-1 tinct conditions possessing qualities not only widely different, I but sometimes directly opposite, is contrary to all analogy, and it is admitted as a fact only because it appears at present to be true. Charcoal, plumbago, diamond, are called allotro-pic forms of carbon, because all that chemical science has hitherto been able to accomplish is to show that they contain the substance we call carbon. Whether carbon is a compound remains to be proved. That it is not a compound seems, according to all present knowledge, impossible to prove. But carbon is not alone in its manifestation of this remarkable property. Sulphur, phosphorus, silicon, boron, oxygen, are in the same category. Hydrogen, hitherto suspected of being a metal, comes out now in its true colors, and has received the new name of hydrogenium in consequence. Ammonium, known to be a compound, also has the characters of a metal, as is most strikingly shown by its amalgamation with mercury. Such a fact, known as it has been for a long time, to chemists, must have had its influence in restoring the belief that the transmutation of metals is possible. We believe that we express the common opinion entertained by chemists in general, when we say that this consumma-sion is no longer regarded as a chimera, but as something to be expected. We are, doubtless, on the eve of great discoveries. The attention of chemists has been some what diverted from the study of inorganic chemistry by the alluring field of organic research,from which a most abundant and rich harvest of knowledge has been already reaped. We see signs of a reaction in this respect, and shall look for great results during the next decade. The investigations of the real cause of the phenomena of allotropism we believe to be a promising one, and the discovery of that cause would mark the commencement of an era in science brilliant beyond the power of conception. --------. .. -------- Patent Office Contract Swindle. We have before us a printed statement by Messrs. James, Norris & Peters, to explain their action as a Committee appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to examine into the truth of the charges made by the Commissioner of Patents in relation to the swindling stationary contracts to which we referred in a recent number. The committee attempt to exculpate themselves by referring to the peculiar order of the Secretary, which limited them to certain particulars and with out the power to coerce the attendance of witnesses, or to put such as did appear under oath. As might be expected under such circumstances, the report of the committee amounted to nothing, and it was simply a waste of time to set them at work merely to find out that Ex-Commissioner Tho-aker, and Acting Commissioner Stout were paying Dempsey & OToole about the game prices for similar articles supplied by Philip & Solomon. The Committee did not go into an investigation of the market value of the articles supplied in the schedule. Neither did they undertake to find out that the articles had all been delivered. It seems to have been the intention of the Secretary of the Interior to make a farce of this investigation, and he appears to have known how best to reach that result. Patent Case—Giffard's Injector A case is now on trial at Philadelphia, before Judge Cadwalader, for an infringement of the Giffard injector patent, against Samuel Kue and others. The bill sets forth that Henry Giffard invented an improvement in a feed-water apparatus for steam boilers, and on. the 24th of April, 1860, obtained a patent for the sale of it in tht United States. On July 7th, 1860, he sold the patent to the plaintiffs, Sellers,who thereupon had exclusive right to it, and they complain that the defendants have wrongfully obtained a patent for a similar injector/which is simply an infringement upon their patent, and are manufacturing and selling the same; for which reason they prayed the Court to grant an injunction agairist the defendants to restrain them from proceeding in the manufacture and sale of the said articles. The defendants answered and maintained that the patent under which they claimed was genuine, and the article they sold was an invention entirely distinct from that of the plaintiffs. This is an interesting case, and we shall watch for the decision. STEPHEN PBAKL AKDKEWS, of New York, asks our opinion of his so-called science of Universology, the title of a book he is about to publish. From what we gather from his prospectus—the only means of information at hand—we can give no opinion, as that merely states that the author has discovered the foundation of all science, or the science of sciences, and also the elements of a universal language. What benefit either of these discoveries—if made—can be to the race, we cannot conjecture. We hope the book itself will be clearer than its prospectus. _____ COMMISSIONEB FOOTE, in his endeavors to bring about reforms in the Patent Office, should not forget that the greatest source of annoyance to applicants for patents, at the present moment, is the vexatious delay attending the examination of cases. The Patent Office cannot realize the highest hopes of its patrons until examinations are more energetically disposed of.
This article was originally published with the title "Transmutation of Metals"