Homberg, William

, a celebrated chemist, was born at Batavia in the island of Java, Jan. 3, 1652, the son of John Homberg, a Saxon gentleman, governor of the arsenal of that place. His father at first put him into the | army, but soon after quitting the service of the Dutch, and a military life, brought him to Amsterdam, where he settled. He was now educated, by paternal indulgence, at Jena and Leipsic, for the law, and was received as an advocate in 1674 at Magdebourg, but the sciences seduced him from the law: in his walks he became a botanist, and in his nocturnal rambles an astronomer. An intimacy with Otto de Guericke, who lived at Magdebourg, completed his conversion, and he resolved to abandon his first profession. Otto, though fond of mystery, consented to communicate his knowledge to so promising a pupil; but as his friends continued to press him to be constant to the law, he soon quitted Magdebourg, and went into Italy. At Padua and Bologna he pursued his favourite studies, particularly medicine, anatomy, botany, and chemistry. One of his first efforts in the latter science was the complete discovery of the properties of the Bologna stone, and its phosphoric appearance after calcination, which Casciarolo had first observed. The efforts of Hombergr in several scientific inquiries, were pursued at Rome, in France, in England with the great Boyle, and afterward in Holland and Germany. With Baldwin and Kunckel he here pursued the subject of phosphorus. Not yet satisfied with travelling in search of knowledge, he visited the mines of Saxony, Hungary, Bohemia, and Sweden. Having materially improved himself, and at the same time assisted the progress of chemistry at Stockholm, he returned to Holland, and thence revisited France, where he was quickly noticed by Colbert. By his interposition, he was prevailed upon to quit his intention of returning to Holland to marry, according to the desire of his father, and fixed himself in France. This step also alienated him from his religion. He renounced the Protestant communion in 1682, and thus losing all connexion with his family, became dependent on Louis XIV. and his minister. This, however, after the death of Colbert in 1683, became a miserable dependence; men of learning and science were neglected as much as before they had been patronized; and Homberg, in 1687, left Paris for Rome, and took up the profession of physic. He now pursued and perfected his discoveries on phosphorus, and prosecuted his discoveries in pneumatics, and other branches of natural philosophy. Finding, after some time, that the learned were again patronized at Paris, he returned there in 1690, and entered into the academy of sciences | tinder the protection of M. de Bignon. He now resumed the study of chemistry, but found his finances too limited to carry on his experiments as he wished, till he had the good fortune to be appointed chemist to the duke of Orleans, afterwards regent. In this situation he was supplied with the most perfect apparatus, and all materials for scientific investigation. Among other instruments, the large burning mirror of Tschirnaus was given to his care, and he made with it the most interesting experiments, on the combustibility of gold and other substances. In examining the nature of borax he discovered the sedative salt, and traced several remarkable properties of that production. Pleased with the researches of his chemist, the duke of Orleans in 1704 appointed him his first physician. About the same time he was strongly solicited by the elector palatine to settle in his dominions, but he was too much attached to his present patron to quit Paris, and was besides not without an inclination of a more tender kind for mademoiselle Dodart, daughter to the celebrated physician of that name. He married her in 1708, though hitherto much averse to matrimony; but enjoyed the benefit of his change of sentiments only seven years, being attacked in 1715 with a dysentery, of which he died in September of that year.

Homberg was indefatigable in application, and his manners were mild and social. Though his constitution was not robust, he was rather addicted to pleasure, and was glad to forget his fatigues in the charms of good company. He did not publish any complete work, the productions he has left being only memoirs in the volumes of the academy. 1


Niceron, vol. XIV. —Chaufepie.