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Adet, Pierre-Auguste

Adet, Pierre-Auguste

(b, Nevers, Frsance, 17 May 1763; d. Paris, France, 19 March 1834)


Althought Adet was docteur-régent of the Factulty of Medicine in Paris, his life was devoted to politics rather than to science. He was deeply interested in chemistry but it was, nevertheless, only a spare-time pursuit, and he made no important contributions to it. In 1789, however, he did participate in the founding of the Annales de chime, which was designed to permit easy publication of papers on antiphlogistic chemistry since, at that time, the Journal de physique was opposed to the new doctrines. Adet was one of the editors for several years and in this capacity published a number of translations of English papers in the journal and a few original works. He was, then, a keen supporter of the “new chemistry” from his early years; further evidence of this may be found in the appendix that he added to his translation of Priestley’s Considerations on the Doctrine of Pholgiston and the Decomposition of Water, in which he replied to a number of Priestley’s arguments (1797).

Adet was also interested in other reforms in chemistry and, to supplement the new system of chemical nomenclature that was being developed, he and Hassenfratz, Lavoisier’s assistant, proposed a new system of chemical symbols. In it, a symbol indicated not merely the identity of the substance but its physical state, the proporation of oxygen it contained (as in sulfurous and sulfuric acids) and, if it was swalt, the extent to which the acid had been neutralized by the base. The system was never generally adopted, however. Perhaps because of its complexity.

Adet’s last published work before the Revelution, when he become much more involved in politics, was on stannic chloride (1789). He then become a colonial administrator and, while in Santo Domingo in 1791, investigated pineapple juice, in which he believed he had found both citric and malic acids. He could not confirm the presence of citric acid, however, because someone threw away his liquids.

In 1798 Adet investigated “acetous” and acetic acids. When verdigris is heated strongly, one of the products is a very concentrated acetic acid, which was known as “radical vinegar.” No acid as concentrated as this could be obtained from vinegar, so it was thought that two acids existed—acetous acid (vinegar) and acetic acid (radical vinegar). which contained a higher proportion of oxygen. Adet was unable to oxidize “acetous acid” to acetic acid, but obtained acetic acid when he distilled “acetites” with concentrated sulfuric acid. He therefore concluded that the acids differed only in the proportion of water they contained. Although this conclusion was not widely accepted, it was confirmed by Proust in 1802.

After 1803, when he became prefect of the Niévre, Adet seems to have published nothing of consequence apart from his textbook, Leçons élémentaires de chimie (1804). This had the distinction of being translated into modern Greek, but nonetheless was not a work of outstanding merit.


All the articles translated from English by Adet are omitted from the following selection of his works, except those written by Priestley and Kirwan, to which Adet appended notes which show his attitude to the new doctrines of chemistry. The new system of chemical symbols devised by Adet and Hassenfratz is in De Morveau, Lavoisier, Berthollet, and Fourcroy, Méthode de nomenclature chimique (Paris, 1787), pp.253–287 (NB., some of the pages within this range are incorrectly numbered), immediately followed by a report by the Academy on this work, pp.288–312. The English translation, A Translation of the Table of Chemical Nomenclature (London, 1799), contains as an appendix “Explanation of the Table of Symbols of Messrs. Hassenfratz and Ated; With the Additions and Alterations of the Editor.” His text is Leçons élémentaires de chimie (Paris, 1804).

Adet’s articles are “Lettre à M. Ingenhouz sur la décomposition de I’eau,” in Observations sur la physique, 28 (1786), 436–439; “Lettre à M. de La Métherie,” ibid., 30 (1787), 215–218, written with Hassenfratz, and a reply by La Métherie, pp.218–226; “Sur le muriate d’étain fumant ou liqueur de Libavius,” in Annals de chimie, 1 (1789), 5–18: “’An Essai on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids,’ Kirwan. Extrait de I’anglois avec des notes par P. A. Adet,” ibid., 7 (1790), 194–237; “Essai sur I’analyse du suc acide de I’ananas,” ibid., 25 (1798), 32–36; “Mémoire sur I’acide acétique,” ibid., 27 (1798), 299–319; and “Réflexions sur la doctrine du phlogistique et la décomposition de I’eau par J. Priestley etc., traduit de I’anglais et suivi d’une réponse, par P. Adet,” ibid., 26 (1798), 302–309; according to Partington (III,244), this French translation was also published in Philadelphia in 1797.

Nothing in any detail exists on Adet as a chemist, but J. Balteau’s article in Dictionnaire de biographie française, I (1933), 574–575, gives the background of his life as a politician.

E. McDonald

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