Mineralogy becomes a science during the Enlightments Century




During the XVIIth century, scientists were still ignoring the limits between vegetal kingdom, animal kingdom and mineral kingdom. As an example, they filed the products having an organic origin such as calcium carbonate pearls, stones secreted by animals (e.g. bézoards) and lichens as belonging to the mineral kingdom. But very soon at the end of the XVIIth century, a large movement of scientific curiosity appeared and after having initially touched the physics and chemistry domains, e.g.: propagation of sound, nature and properties of gases, or techniques (thermometers, pneumatic pumps) it reached the " Mineralogia ", limited until that period to the study of the salts and stones used as drugs. During the beginning of the XVIIIth century, a general interest for minerals became obvious and amateurs begun to follow lessons of Natural History in museums. In Paris, such lessons were given by Daubenton, or Valmont de Bomare and were highly regarded. In the margin of academies, rich lords were building cabinets of curiosities. These collections were developing very quickly and, thus, required classification, labelling and inventories. Opened to men of science they became quickly true files where scientists will come to study the productions of Mother Nature. The work of scientists in that cabinet provided the foundations of modern mineralogy and at the end of the XVIIIth century one can consider that mineralogy is established as a real science.



Although all the mineralogists of the time are sharing the same concerns and lend much attention to the morphology of crystals, two schools seem to appear: the first one of physical - chemical inspiration, whereas the other is rather geometrical - crystallographical.

Wallerius and Werner developed the knowledge in the domains of the identification and classification of minerals while Bergman, Cronstedt, Von Born, etc. explored the domain of the chemical composition of the minerals.

In France Jean Baptiste Louis Romé de l'Isle (1736-1790), after the work done by Linné, enriched the crystallography. In 1783 with its assistant Arnould Carangeot he rediscovered (after Stenon) the law of the "constancy of the dihedral angles in crystals of the same species". He also introduced the concept of truncation and enriched the crystallographic language. He is one of those who elevated Crystallography at the level of a major science. Haüy (1743-1822) studied the geometry of the crystals and after having discovered the basics laws governing the symmetry of crystals he tried to precise their classification. He defined the main mineral species and divided them into five classes: stones, salts, non-metallic fuels, metallic, of igneous and volcanic origin. He also studied mineral associations and this quite naturally turns his attention towards the study of rocks and ores.



In parallel to the work of the mineralogists, the cabinets of natural history became more and more rigorously organised and, practically in all Europe, evolved into specialised collections. Initially those collection are belonging to private persons but as times goes on, more and more often, they became naturally owned by universities and will be the basis for the further major national museum's collections.

In France, in 1745, Buffon had the idea to constitute a mineral collection in the cabinet of medicines of the King's Garden; this collection will have a remarkable development and is at the origin of the National Natural History Museum. Always in Paris, in 1778, a royal decree created a chair of mineralogy and docismastic metallurgy at the "Hôtel de la Monnaie"; then, in 1783 this chair will be transformed and will give place to the first Royal School of Mines.

In Germany, particularly in Saxony, already existing private collections evolved into major collections as in Freyberg's Bergakademie, which one will become under the direction of Werner, one of the most complete orictognostic collection (ores collection). In the same way, the origin of the Berlin 's collection, officially created in 1809 should be found in the Royal Cabinet of minerals created as soon as 1781.

In Bohemia, as proven by the famous "de Re Metallica" written in the 16th century by Georg Bauer known as Agricola, the interest for the mineral collections is ancient and remains constant along centuries. That interest reached also various regional museums like the Museum of the University of Prague and the mineralogical collection of the School of Mines of Pribram. In Budapest the original collection of the National Natural History Museum derived from Prince Lobkowitz's private collection. In Austria the Imperial Cabinet originated from the time of the Lord de Baillou and was mainly enriched by Emperor François Joseph de Lorraine. During the XIXth century famous scientists as Mohs, Partsch, Tschermak will organise it and will enrich that important collection.

In Italy numerous museums were created as in Padoue under the influence of Vallisneri, a famous naturalist, or in Bologna under the influence of Count Malvezzi. The Turin Museum of Natural History originated from the ancient collections of the University created around 1730 by the Duke of Savoy and Emmanuel III, the King of Sardinia. In Rome finally Pope Pius VII established the Natural History Museum of Rome in 1804 and installed it in the Palace of Sapienza.

In Spain the Academy of Mines was created in Almaden in 1777. Nearly at the same time, in Russia, were established the collection of the Institute of Mines in Saint Petersburg and later the collection of the Academy of Sciences and then Nicolas von Leuchtenberg's private collection.

In England, Robert Hooke considered the foundation of what would become the British Museum since 1676 and was thinking to install it in Montagu House in Bloombury. A lottery was organised to finance the purchase of the building and the organisation of the new institution. The Repository of the Royal Society was then transferred to the new Museum in 1781 but it was Sir Hans Sloane who bequeathed his rich collections (and 20,000 pounds to preserve them) which has to be considered as the true founder of the Museum.

During the XIXth century descriptive mineralogy will enrich a lot, it begun with the ancient heritage of reference treatises of mineralogy, organised collections and the founding of a true mineralogical teaching.