Chap. XII.

A Digression concerning Blackness.

THERE being therefore two opinions repugnant unto each other, it may not be presumptive or skeptical to doubt of both. And because we remain imperfect in the general Theory of colours, we shall deliver at present a short discovery of blackness; wherein although perhaps we afford no greater satisfaction then others, yet shall we Emperically and sensibly discourse hereof; deducing the causes of Blackness from such Originals in nature, as we do generally observe things are denigrated by Art. And herein I hope our progression will not be thought unreasonable, for Art being the imitation of Nature, or Nature at the second hand: it is but a sensible expression of effects dependant on the same, though more removed causes: and therefore the works of the one may serve to discover the other. And though colours of bodies may arise according to the receptions, refraction, or modification of Light; yet are there certain materialls which may dispose them unto such qualities.

And first, Things become black by a sootish and fuliginous matter proceeding from the Sulphur of bodies torrified; not taking fuligo strictly,[1] but in opposition unto ἀτμὶς, that is any kind of vaporous or madefying excretion; and comprehending ἀναθυμίασις, that is as Aristotle defines it, a separation of moist and dry parts made by the action of heat or fire, and colouring bodies objected. Hereof in his Meteors, from the qualities of the subject he raiseth three kinds; the exhalations from ligneous and lean bodies, as bones, hair, and the like he calleth κάπνος, fumus, from fat bodies, and such as have not their fatness conspicuous or separated he termeth λίγνυς, fuligo, as wax, rosin, pitch, or turpentine; that from unctuous bodies, and such whose oyliness is evident, he nameth κνίσσα or nidor. Now every one of these do black bodies objected unto them, and are to be conceived in the sooty and fuliginous matter expressed.

I say, proceeding from the sulphur of bodies torrified, that is the oylie, fat, and unctuous parts wherein consist the principles of flammability. Not pure and refined sulphur, as in the Spirits of wine often rectified; but containing terrestrious parts, and carrying with it the volatile salt of the body, and such as is distinguishable by taste in soot; nor vulgar and usual sulphur, for that leaves none or very little blackness, except a metalline body receive the exhalation.

I say, torrified, sindged, or suffering some impression from fire; thus are bodies casually or artificially denigrated, which in their naturals are of another complexion; thus are Charcoals made black by an infection of their own suffitus,[2] so is it true what is affirmed of combustible bodies. Adusta nigra, perusta alba; black at first from the fuliginous tincture, which being exhaled they become white, as is perceptible in ashes. And so doth fire cleanse and purifie bodies, which will never be mundified[3] by water. Thus Camphire of a white substance, by its fuligo affordeth a deep black. So is pitch black, although it proceed from the same tree with Rosin, the one distilling forth, the other forced by fire. So of the suffitus of a torch, do Painters make a velvet black: so is lamp-black made: so of burnt Harts-horn a sable; so is Bacon denigrated in chimnies: so in Feavers and hot distempers from choler adust is caused a blackness in our tongues, teeth and excretions: so are ustilago,[4] brant[5] corn and trees black by blasting; so parts cauterized, gangrenated, siderated and mortified, become black, the radical moisture, or vital sulphur suffering an extinction, and smothered in the part affected. So not only actual but potential fire: not burning fire, but also corroding water will induce a blackness. So are Chimnies and Furnaces generally black, except they receive a clear and manifest sulphur: for the smoak of sulphur will not black a paper, and is commonly used by women to whiten Tiffanies,[6] which it performeth by an acide vitriolous, and penetrating spirit ascending from it, by reason whereof it is not apt to kindle any thing nor will it easily light a Candle, untill that spirit be spent, and the flame approacheth the match. This is that acide and piercing spirit which with such activity and compunction invadeth the brains and nostrils of those that receive it. And thus when Bellonius affirmeth that Charcoals made out of the wood of Oxycedar are white, Dr. Jordan in his judicious Discourse of mineral waters yeeldeth the reason, because their vapours are rather sulphureous then of any other combustible substance. So we see that Tinby coals will not black linnen being hanged in the smoak thereof, but rather whiten it, by reason of the drying and penetrating quality of sulphur, which will make red Roses white. And therefore to conceive a general blackness in Hell,[7] and yet therein the pure and refined flames of sulphur, is no Philosophical conception, nor will it well consist with the real effects of its nature.

These are the advenient and artificial wayes of denigration, answerably whereto may be the natural progress. These are the wayes wherby culinary and common fires do operate, and correspondent hereunto may be the effects of fire elemental. So may Bitumen, Coals, Jet, Black-lead, and divers mineral earths become black; being either fuliginous concretions in the earth, or suffering a scorch from denigrating Principles in their formation. So men and other animals receive different tinctures from constitution and complexional efflorescences, and descend still lower, as they partake of the fuliginous and denigrating humor. And so may the Æthiopians or Negroes become coal-black, from fuliginous efflorescences and complexional tinctures arising from such probabilities, as we have declared before.

The second way whereby bodies become black, is an Atramentous condition or mixture, that is a vitriolate or copperose[8] quality conjoyning with a terrestrious and astringent humidity; for so is Atramentum Scriptorium, or writing Ink commonly made by copperose cast upon a decoction or infusion of galls. I say a vitriolous or copperous quality; for vitriol is the active or chief ingredient in Ink, and no other salt that I know will strike the colour with galls; neither Alom, Sal-gem, Nitre, nor Armoniack. Now artificial copperose, and such as we commonly use, is a rough and acrimonious kind of salt drawn out of ferreous and eruginous earths, partaking chiefly of Iron and Copper; the blew of copper, the green most of Iron: Nor is it unusual to dissolve fragments of Iron in the liquor thereof, for advantage in the concretion. I say, a terrestrious or astringent humidity; for without this there will ensue no tincture; for Copperose in a decoction of Lettuce or Mallows affords no black, which with an astringent mixture it will do, although it be made up with oyl, as in printing[9] and painting Ink. But whereas in this composition we use only Nut-gals, that is an excrescence from the Oak, therein we follow and beat upon the old receit; for any plant of austere and stiptick parts will suffice, as I have experimented in Bistorte, Myrobolans, Myrtus Brabantica, Balaustium, and Red-roses.[10] And indeed, most decoctions of astringent plants, of what colour soever, do leave in the Liquor a deep and Muscadine red: which by addition of vitriol descends into a black: and so Dioscorides in his receit of Ink, leaves out gall, and with copperose makes use of soot.[11]

Now if we inquire in what part of vitriol this Atramental and denigrating condition lodgeth, it will seem especially to lie in the more fixed salt thereof; For the phlegm or aqueous evaporation will not denigrate; nor yet spirits of vitriol, which carry with them volatile and nimbler Salt: For if upon a decoction of Copperose and gall, be poured the spirits or oyl of vitriol, the liquor will relinquish his blackness; the gall and parts of the copperose precipitate unto the bottom, and the Ink grow clear again; which it will not so easily do in common Ink, because that gum is dissolved therein, which hindereth the separation. But Colcothar or vitriol burnt, though unto a redness containing the fixed salt, will make good Ink, and so will the Lixivium, or Lye made thereof with warm water; but the Terra or Insipid earth remaining, affords no black at all, but serves in many things for a gross and useful red. And though Spirits of vitriol, projected upon a decoction of gals, will not raise a black, yet if these spirits be any way fixed, or return into vitriol again, the same will act their former parts and denigrate as before.

And if we yet make a more exact enquiry, by what this salt of vitriol more peculiarly gives this colour, we shall find it to be from a metalline condition, and especially an Iron Property or ferreous participation. For blew Copperose which deeply partakes of the copper will do it but weakly; Verdigrise which is made of Copper will not do it at all, But the filings of Iron infused in vinegar, will with a decoction of gals make good Ink, without any copperose at all; and so will infusion of Load-stone; which is of affinity with Iron. And though more conspicuously in Iron, yet such a Calcanthous or Atramentous quality, we will not wholly reject in other metals; whereby we often observe black tinctures in their solutions. Thus a Lemmon, Quince or sharp Apple cut with a knife becomes immediatly black: And from the like cause, Artichokes; so sublimate beat up with whites of Eggs, if touched with a knife, becomes immediately black. So Aqua fortis, whose ingredient is vitriol, will make white bodies black. So leather dressed with the bark of Oak, is easily made black by a bare solution of Copperose. So divers Mineral waters and such as participate of Iron, upon an infusion of gals, become of a dark colour, and entering upon black. So steel infused, makes not only the liquor duskie, but in bodies wherein it concurs with proportionable tinctures makes also the excretions black. And so also from this vitriolous quality Mercurius dulcis, and vitriol vomitive occasion black ejections. But whether this denigrating quality in Copperose proceedeth from an Iron participation, or rather in Iron from a vitriolous communication; or whether black tinctures from metallical bodies be not from vitriolous parts contained in their sulphur, since common sulphur containeth also much vitriol, may admit consideration. However in this way of tincture, it seemeth plain, that Iron and Vitriol are the powerful Denigrators.

Such a condition there is naturally in some living creatures. Thus that black humor by Aristotle named θολός, , and commonly translated Atramentum, may be occasioned in the Cuttle-fish. Such a condition there is naturally in some Plants, as Black-berries, Walnut-rinds, Black-cherries; whereby they extinguish inflamations, corroborate the stomack, and are esteemed specifical in the Epilepsie. Such an atramentous condition there is to be found sometime in the blood, when that which some call Acetum, others Vitriolum, concurs with parts prepared for this tincture. And so from these conditions the Moors might possibly become Negroes, receiving Atramentous impressions in some of these wayes, whose possibility is by us declared.

Nor is it strange that we affirm there are vitriolous parts, qualities, and even at some distance Vitriol it self in living bodies; for there is a sower stiptick salt diffused through the Earth, which passing a concoction in plants, becometh milder and more agreeable unto the sence, and this is that vegitable vitriol, whereby divers plants contain a gratefull sharpness, as Lemmons, Pomegranats, Cherries, or an austere and inconcocted roughness, as Sloes, Medlars and Quinces. And that not only vitriol is a cause of blackness, but that the salts of natural bodies do carry a powerful stroke in the tincture and vernish of all things, we shall not deny, if we contradict not experience, and the visible art of Dyars; who advance and graduate their colours with Salts. For the decoctions of simples which bear the visible colours of bodies decocted, are dead and evanid, without the commixture of Alum, Argol, and the like. And this is also apparent in Chymical preparations. So Cinaber becomes red by the acide exhalation of sulphur, which otherwise presents a pure and niveous white. So spirits of Salt upon a blew paper make an orient red. So Tartar or vitriol upon an infusion of violets affords a delightfull crimson. Thus it is wonderful what variety of colours the spirits of Saltpeter, and especially, if they be kept in a glass while they pierce the sides thereof; I say, what Orient greens they will project: from the like spirits in the earth the plants thereof perhaps acquire their verdure. And from such salary irradiations may those wondrous varieties arise, which are observable in Animals, as Mallards heads, and Peacoks feathers, receiving intention or alteration according as they are presented unto the light. Thus Saltpeter, Ammoniack and Mineral Spirits emit delectable and various colours; and common Aqua fortis will in some green and narrow mouthed glasses, about the verges thereof, send forth a deep and Gentianella blew.

Thus have we at last drawn our conjectures unto a period; wherein if our contemplations afford no satisfaction unto others, I hope our attempts will bring no condemnation in our selves (for besides that adventures in knowledge are laudable, and the assayes of weaker heads afford oftentimes improveable hints unto better), although in this long journey we miss the intended end; yet are there many things of truth disclosed by the way: and the collaterall verity, may unto reasonable speculations some what requite the capital indiscovery.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross, Arcana Microcosmi II.14 answers part of this chapter, asserting (1) God isn't bound by philosophical considerations (that is, if he wants black to be white, it is); and (2) Browne's experiments with burning sulfur were not correct.

1 [That is, not literally "ashy".]

2 [Fumes or exhalations.]

3 [Cleansed.]

4 [The fungal disease on barley, oats and other grains that is usually called "smut".]

5 [Blighted; from its appearance (brand or burnt)]

6 [A thin silk, muslin, or lawn.]

7 [St. Thomas Aquinas discusses with the darkness of hell (Summa Supplement 97,4); whether this is what Browne means by "blackness" here admits of doubt.]

8 [Copperas, any protosulphate of copper.]

9 [Wren: There is no copper-rust in printing-ink, which is made of lamp black and oyle.]

10 [Bistorte, Polygonum bistorta, also called Osterick, Oderwort, Snakeweed, Adderwort; its root is twisted (hence the name) and red on the inside.
Myrobalans, the fruits of various species of Terminalia, used in dying.
Myrtus Brabantica, bog myrtle, sweet gale (Myrica gale).
Balaustium, wild pomegranate.]

11 [Wren: But he meant torche or lamp soot.]

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