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Alchemy: Ancient and Modern


formed a further and subsidiary source of alchemistic theory. I have barely, if at all,
touched on this
[vi]
matter in the present work; the reader who is interested will find it dealt with in
some detail in “The Phallic Element in Alchemical Doctrine” in my Bygone Beliefs.
In view of recent research in the domain of Radioactivity and the consequent
advance in knowledge that has resulted since this book was first published, I have
carefully considered the advisability of rewriting the whole of the last chapter, but
came to the conclusion that the time for this was not yet ripe, and that, apart from a
few minor emendations, the chapter had better remain very much as it originally
stood. My reason for this course was that, whilst considerably more is known to -
day, than was the case in 1911, concerning the very complex transmutations
undergone spontaneously by the radioactive elements—knowledge helping further
to elucidate the problem of the constitution of the so -called “elements” of the
chemist—the problem really cognate to my subject, namely that of effecting a
transmutation of one element into another at will, remains in almost the same state
of indeterminateness as in 1911. In 1913, Sir William Ramsay[1] thought he had
obtained evidence for the transmutation of hydrogen into helium by the action of
the electric discharge, and Professors Collie and Patterson[2] thought they had
obtained evidence of the
[vii]
transmutation of hydrogen into neon by similar means. But these observations (as
well as Sir William Ramsay’s earlier transmutational experiments) failed to be
satisfactorily confirmed;[3] and since the death of the latter, little, if anything,
appears to have been done to settle the questions raised by his experiments.
Reference must, however, be made to a very interesting investigation by Sir Ernest
Rutherford on the “Collision of a-Particles with Light Atoms,”[4] from which it
appears certain that when bombarded with the swiftly-moving a-particles given off
by radium-C, the atoms of nitrogen may be disintegrated, o ne of the products being
hydrogen. The other product is possibly helium,[5] though this has not been proved.
In view of Rutherford’s results a further repetition of Ramsay’s experiments would
certainly appear to be advisable.
[1]
See his “The Presence of Helium in the Gas from the Interior of an X-Ray Bulb,”
Journal of the Chemical Society, vol. ciii. (1913), pp. 264 et seq.
[2]
See their “The Presence of Neon in Hydrogen after the Passage of the Electric
Discharge through the latter at Low Pressures,” ibid., pp. 419 et seq.; and “The
Production of Neon and Helium by the Electric Discharge,” Proceedings of the Royal
Society, A, vol. xci. (1915), pp. 30 et seq.
[3]
See especially the report of negative experiments by Mr. A. C. G. Egerton, published
in Proceedings of the Royal Society, A, vol. xci. (1915), pp. 180 et seq.
[4]
See the Philosophical Magazine for June, 1919, 6th Series, vol. xxxvii. pp. 537-587.
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