"THE BEGINNING OF A REVOLUTION IN CHEMISTRY AS PROFOUND AS THE REVOLUTION IN PHYSICS": VERY SCARCE FIRST PUBLICATION OF PRIESTLEY'S ACCOUNT OF FURTHER DISCOVERIES IN AIR (1775), FEATURING "THE FIRST PRINTED REFERENCE TO THE GAS THAT WAS ULTIMATELY CALLED OXYGEN"
PRIESTLEY, Joseph. An Account of further Discoveries in Air… in Letters to Sir. John Pringle, Bart. P.R.S. and the Rev. Dr. Price, F.RS. London: W. Bowyer and J. Nichols for Lockyer Davis… Printer to the Royal Society, 1775. Small quarto (7 by 9-1/2 inches), disbound; pp. 383-394. Bound in modern black cloth with title page of Philosophical Transactions Vol. LXV. For the Year 1775. Part I. $1800.
First edition of Priestley's momentous work in which he became "the first person to describe the production of oxygen," containing the first publication of his two March 1775 letters to Sir John Pringle, including the March 15 letter in which Priestley writes of discovering an air "five or six times better than common air," together with the first publication of an extract from his April 1 letter to Richard Price. A landmark scientific work.
Priestley's discovery of oxygen heralded "the beginning of a revolution in chemistry as profound as the revolution in physics that Newton had initiated a century before" (Tanford, Ben Franklin, 47). This copy of Priestley's Account of further Discoveries in Air, disbound from Philosophical Transactions (1775), contains "the first printed reference to the gas that was ultimately called oxygen" (Schoefield, Enlightened Joseph Priestley, 106). "He isolated and characterized eight gases in all including oxygen. This record has not been equaled before or since" (West, Essays, 135). Account leads with Priestley's March 15 letter to Sir John Pringle, read to the Royal Society on March 25. In it Priestley writes of using a "large burning lens" to procure air "five or six times better than common air." With this "historic experiment… [he] thus discovered oxygen… and by suggesting that it would be particularly good for the lungs foreshadowed our use of oxygen tents… Lavoisier repeated the experiment and ultimately gave the substance its modern name—oxygen" (PMM 217). Priestley's second letter to Pringle, dated March 25 (March 24 in manuscript; March 25 in print herein), expands on his experiments that account "for the existence of so much fixed air in the atmosphere." On April 1 "Priestley wrote to Richard Price about 'the pure air I discovered in London.' An extract of that letter was read to the Royal Society on 6 April" and is also featured. While it "is generally agreed that Scheele had discovered the gas sometimes between 1771 and 1773… his work was not published until after Priestley's account" (Schofield, 106-7). West concurs, stating: "Priestley was clearly the first person to describe the production of oxygen" (Essays, 134). He was "also the first historian of electricity" through his 1767 History and Present State of Electricity (Norman 1748).
Priestley, who counted Benjamin Franklin as a mentor, "was probably Franklin's closest associate at the end of his stay in London, when negotiations with the government had broken down… Franklin spent his last day in London along with Priestley before embarking for Philadelphia"—the same March as these Priestley letters (Tanford, 46). Priestley's first paper on "different kinds of air" appeared in 1772, and his many experiments led to his three-volume Experiments and Observations on different kinds of air (1774-1777). Bound with original title page of Philosophical Transactions, Vol. LXV. For the Year, 1775. Part I. DSB, 139-147. Dibner 40. Bindery ticket.
A fine copy.