DIGBY, Sir Kenelm. A Late Discourse Made in a Solemne Assembly of Nobles and Learned Men at Montpellier in France, By Sir. Kenelme Digby, Knight, Touching the Cure of Wo….

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One of the earliest books to explain the science of pollution

DIGBY, Sir Kenelm. A Late Discourse Made in a Solemne Assembly of Nobles and Learned Men at Montpellier in France, By Sir. Kenelme Digby, Knight, Touching the Cure of Wounds by the Powder of Sympathy; with Instructions how to make the said Powder; whereby many other Secrets of Nature are unfolded. Rendered faithfully out of French into English by R. White. Gent. R. Lowndes and T. Davies, 1658.

12mo. Handsomely rebound in full brown crushed morocco, red morocco gilt lettering piece to spine; pp. 152 + 4 [index] + publisher’s advertisement leaf; very good.
Second edition, same year as first, with corrections. Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), polymath, courtier and founding member of the Royal Society, was the very definition of the Renaissance man. He wrote at length on astrology, science and medicine, and much of this book is devoted to his invention of 'sympathetic powder', an apparently magic salve that cured all ills but probably owed much of its efficacy to the as-yet unknown placebo effect. However, he also turns to the subject of air pollution in London through the burning of coal. His treatment of this subject leads him to an early atomic theory, namely that acids have sharp atoms while alkalines have hollow atoms, and the terrible conditions in London are due to an excess of sharp salt particles descending from the air in the coal smoke. It is true that salt is alkaline but when we realise, thanks to modern science, that the main pollutant in coal smoke is in fact sulphuric acid then Digby's theory of sharp acid atoms is surprisingly close to the mark. This is a remarkably prescient work by man of visionary mind and is one of earliest books to explore the science of man-made pollution.

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