Notes of Lectures of Joseph Black

Scope and Content

Notes of chemistry lectures, more specifically focusing on absorbent earths, given by Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh, Joseph Black (1728-1799). The lectures are numbered throughout and begin on lecture 49. It is not clear if this is where Dobson began his notes or if there were once more volumes, however the Radford Library's 1877 catalogue only refers to one volume.

The content of the lectures are as follows: (49) forms of calcareous earths, (50) particular qualities of calcareous earths & effects of fire, (51) formation and properties of quicklime and lime water and action of lime upon alkalis, (52) the volatile alkali, (53) explanatory theories of calcareous earths, (54) purgative power of magnesia, (55) investigations into effect of fire on magnesia and why it loses much of its weight, (56) explanation of the nature of lime arising from his experiments relating to presence of fixed air, (57) experiment of the solubility in water of slaked lime with reference to fixed air and mephitic air, (58) experimentation to prove that air breathed by animals, air required to burn things, air arising from fermenting vegetables, and mephitic air are all the same and comments on the qualities of the caustic alkali, borax, and marl.

There are some additional notes quite distinct from Black's lecture notes on ff.91-96 with comments on the method of making common ink, sympathetic ink, Nicolas Lémery's (1645-1715) method to make an artificial earthquake, and different kinds of earthquake.

The volume bears the bookplate of the Radford Library, Saint Mary's Hospital, Manchester, which also indicates that it was allocated the reference number Q131 viz. their 1877 catalogue. The volume has since been referenced H7 B8 as part of an alternative system. There is no pagination and the writing is largely on the recto only.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Black was born in Bordeaux on 16 April 1728 the son of John Black and Margaret Gordon. After a home education and schooling in Belfast he went to Glasgow University in 1744 where he took an arts course before pursuing medicine 5 years later. He attended the lectures of William Cullen and also acted as his assistant. In 1752 he transferred his studies to the University of Edinburgh and graduated with his MD in 1754 submitting De humore acido o cibis orto et magnesia alba as his thesis. He continued his studies and experiments in Edinburgh for a further two years and returned to Glasgow in 1756 to teach chemistry. Black remained in Glasgow until 1766 and during this time rose to the position of professor. On his return to Edinburgh in 1766 he succeeded William Cullen in the role of Professor of Chemistry and Medicine and committed all his efforts to teaching.

Black's chemical investigations included work related to causticity in alkalis leading to the distinguishing of 'fixed air' from the air that makes up the atmosphere; the differentiation of gases; the properties of heat and introduction of the terms 'latent heat' and 'specific heat'; and alkali production by chemical reaction. He gave advice and conducted work surrounding a great many other issues relating to public health and industrial processes. Later in his career Black was however slow to accept the overturning of phlogiston theory by Lavoisier.

As a qualified physician Black did practise to a degree throughout his career and briefly acted as physician to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as well as serving as manager of the infirmary on four occasions between 1771 and 1794. He was admitted a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1757 and as a fellow of the Edinburgh Royal College in 1767, where he also served as president from 1788 to 1790 and helped to revise the College's Pharmacopoeia Edinburgensis in 1774, 1783, and 1794. Black was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh as well as a member of the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg, the Société Royale de Médecine, and the Académie Royale des Sciences of France.

Black had suffered from weak health all his life and died in Edinburgh in late 1799.


R.G.W. Anderson, 'Black, Joseph (1728-1799)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 29 June 2016]. Victor Boantza, 'The Enlightenment of Joseph Black', Annals of Science, July 2015, p.1-5.