CHAPTER XI. THE EXAMINATION OF THE PHENOMENA OF COMBUSTION.
Other experiments led Lavoisier to suspect that the portion of the air which had united with the tin was different from the portion which had not combined with that metal. He, therefore, set himself to discover whether there are different kinds of "airs" in the atmosphere, and, if there is more than one kind of "air," what is the nature of that "air" which combines with a metal in the process of calcination. He proposed to cause a metallic calx (that is, the substance formed by calcining a metal in the air) to give up the "air" which had been absorbed in its formation, and to compare this "air" with atmospheric air.
About this time Priestley visited Paris, saw Lavoisier, and told him of the new "air" he had obtained by heating calcined mercury. Lavoisier saw the great importance of Priestley's discovery; he repeated Priestley's experiment, and concluded that the air, or gas, which he refers to in his Laboratory Journal as "l'air dephlogistique de M. Priestley" was nothing else than the purest portion of the air we breathe. He prepared this "air" and burned various substances in it. Finding that very many of the products of these combustions had the properties of acids, he gave to the new "air" the name oxygen, which means the acid-producer.
At a later time, Lavoisier devised and conducted an experiment which laid bare the change of composition that happens when mercury is calcined in the air. He calcined a weighed quantity of mercury for many days in a measured volume of air, in an apparatus arranged so that he was able to determine how much of the air disappeared during the process; he collected and weighed the red solid which formed on the surface of the heated mercury; finally he heated this red solid to a high temperature, collected and measured the gas which was given off, and weighed the mercury which was produced. The sum of the weights of the mercury and the gas which were produced by heating the calcined mercury was equal to the weight of the calcined mercury; and the weight of the gas produced by heating the calcined mercury was equal to the weight of the portion of the air which had disappeared during the formation of the calcined mercury. This experiment proved that the calcination of mercury in the air consists in the combination of a constituent of the air with the mercury. Fig. XVII. (reduced from an illustration in Lavoisier's Memoir) represents the apparatus used by Lavoisier. Mayow's supposition was confirmed.
Lavoisier made many more experiments on combustion, and proved that in every case the component of the atmosphere which he had named oxygen combined with the substance, or with some part of the substance, which was burned. By these experiments the theory of Phlogiston was destroyed; and with its destruction, the whole alchemical apparatus of Principles and Elements, Essences and Qualities, Souls and Spirits, disappeared.