Severgin, Vasily Mikhaylovich

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(b, St. Petersburg, Russia, 19 September 1765; d, St. Petersburg, 29 November 1826)

mineralogy, chermistry, technology.

The son of a court musician, Severgin was accepted, on his father’s petition, in 1776 at the private Gymnasium of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1784 he enrolled at the Academy’s university, choosing mineralogy as his specialty. The following year he was sent to the University of Göttingen, where he studied the outcrops of basalt near Göttingen and became involved in the controversy between the neptunists and the plutonists.

In 1789 Severgin returned to St. Petersburg and presented two scientific papers to the Academy, on the properties and formation of basalt and on alkaline salts. In the first paper, directed against the neptunists, he argued that basalt originated in a fiery liquid fusion. On 25 June 1789 Severgin was elected adjunct to the chair of mineralogy. His chief orientation was toward mineral chemistry, in which he applied the ideas of Lavoisier.

In his enlarged and supplemented Russian translation of Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy (1791) Severgin classified and described minerals on the basis of their chemical composition. Two years later he was elected professor of mineralogy, a post that carried with it the title of academician. Much of his subsequent work was devoted to the study of Russian minerals, their regional distribution, and methods of extracting and processing them. Severgin disseminated chemical and mineralogical knowledge through his many textbooks and lectures at the Institute of Mines and at the Medical and Surgical Academy.

His Pervye osnovania mineralogii (“Foundations of Mineralogy.” 1798) was the first textbook in Russian on the subject. Besides describing minerals and rocks. Severgin classified petrifactions as “simple” or “complex.” Among the former were marble, jasper, and flint (quartz), which lack foreign particles. He gave detailed descriptions of the physical and chemical properties of minerals, developing “wet” methods of analysis as well as methods using the blowpipe; his techniques of determining the external characteristics of minerals are still used, substantially unchanged. In 1804 Severgin founded Tekhnologichesky zhurnal. A frequent contributor to the journal, he was also its editor until 1824. His mineralogical dictionary (1807) contained detailed explanations and was an important contribution to the literature.

Concentrating on mineral chemistry rather than on crystallography, Severgin reported in 1798 on the significance of mineral associations—galena and sphalerite, for example—on the basis of which he developed a theory of the contiguity of minerals: “What I call the contiguity of minerals is the joint occurrence of two or more minerals in one place...for example, the association of quartz with mica, virgin gold, and others” (Pervye osnovania mineralogii, p. 85–86).

The mineral collections of the Institute of Mines, the Free Economic Society, and the many St. Petersburg amateur collectors, as well as his personal collection, served Severgin as the material for Opyt mineralogicheskogo zemleopisania Rossyskogo gosudarstva (“An Attempt at the Mineralogical Description of the Territory of the Russian State”). The first volume, a physical-geographical survey, describes structures and lithology as well as the hydrographic network; the second volume deals with the geographical distribution of minerals.

In 1819 Severgin published his translation of the book on minerals of Pliny’s Natural History. He also contributed to the development of scientific terminology, introducing Russian terms still used for oxide, silicon dioxide, alkali, and splintery and conchoidal fracture of minerals. His chemical works had a practical orientation and dealt with the extraction of mineral salts, the testing of medicinal chemical substances, assaying, and the production of saltpeter.


I. Original Works. Severgin’s include Nachalnye osnovania estestvennoy istorii...; (“The Foundations of Natural History”), a trans, of Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy, enl. and supp., 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1791): Mineralogicheskie, geograficheskie i drugie smeshannye izvestia o Altayskikh gorakh, prinadlezhashchikh k Rossyskomu vladeniyu (“Mineralogical, Geographical, and Other...Information on the Altai Mountains, Which Belong to the Russian Domain”), trans. from the German of H. M. Renovanz (St. Petersburg, 1792): “Opisanie Dalgrenevoy payalnoy trubki, deystvyushey pomoshchyu mekha s pokazaniem upt(Description of the oreblenia onoy” (“Description of the Dahlgren Blowpipe, Which Works With the Aid of a Bellows. With Instructions for Its Use”), in Trudy Volnogo ekomnomicheskopgo obschestva (1792), nos. 14 and 15: Pervye osnovania mineralogii ...(“Foundations of Mineralogy”), 2 vols. (St. Peterburg, 1798): “O estestve i obrazovanii bazalta, ili stolbchatogo kamnya” (“On the Nature and Formation of Basalt of Basaltiform Rock”), in Akademicheskie sochinenia (1801), no. 1, 332–359; Probirnoe iskusstvo (“Assaying”; St. Peterburg, 1801): zapiski puteshestvia po zapadnym provntsiam Rossyskogo gosudarstva ... 1802 i 1803 (“Notes of a journey Through the Western Provinces of the Russian State ... in 1802 and 1803”: St. Petersburg, 1803).

They also include Prodolzheie zapisok puteshestvia po zapadnym provintsiam Rossyskogo gosudarstva (“Continuation of the Notes of a Journey Thoguh the Western Provinces of the Russian State": St. Petersburg 1804); Obozrenie Rossyskoy Finlyandii (“A Survey of Russian Finland”; St. Peterburg, 1804); Podrobny slovar mineralogichesky ... (A Detailed Mineralogical Dictionary ...”), 2 vols. (St. Peterburg, 1807); Opyt mineralogichekogo zemleopisania Rossyskogo gosudarstva (“An Attempt to Describe Mineralogically the Territory of the Russian State”), 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1809); Slovar khimichesky (“Chemical Dictionary”), trnas, of the work of Charles-Louis Cadet de Gassicourt, 4 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1810–1813); “Obozrenie minerlnogo kabineta imperatorskoy Akademiinauk” (“A survey of the Mineral Cabinet of the Imperial Academy of Sciences”), in Teknologichesky zhurnal, 11 , no. 1 (1814): Novaya sistema mineralov, osnovannayana naruzhnykh otichitelnykh priznakakh (“A New System of Minerals, Based on External Distinctive Characteristics”; St. Peterburg, 1816); and Kaya Plinia sekunda-Estestvennaya istoria iskopaemykh tel, trans. of the mineralogical section from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (St. Petersburg, 1819).

II. Secondary Literature. See G. P. Barsanov, “V. M. Severgin i mineralogia ego vremeni v Rossii” (“Severgin and the Mineralogy of His Time in Russia”), in Lzvestiya Akademiii nauk SSSR, geol. ser (1949), no. 5: Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopedia (“Great Soviet Encyclopedia”), 2nd ed., XXXVII, 303: A. E. Fersman, “Mineralogia v Akademiii nauk za 220 let” (“220 Years of Mineralogy in the Academy of Sciences”), in Ockerki po itstorii Akademii nauk (“Essays on the History of the Academy of Sciences”; Moscow-Leningrad, 1945); D. P. Grigorev and I. I. Shafranovsky, “V. M. Severgin,” in Vydayushchiesya russkie mineralogi (“Outstanding Russian Mineralogists”; Moscow-Leningrad, 1949); A. N. Ivanov, “Vasily Mikhaylovich servergin,” Lyudi russkoy nauki (“People of Russian Science”; Moscow, 1962), 7–15; A. V. Nemilova, and I.I. Shafranovsky,"Akademik ServerginV. M. I. ego rol v istorii russkoy mineralogii (k 120 letiyu so dnya smerti, 1765–1826)” (“Academician Severgin and His Role in the History of Russian Mineralogy [on the 120th Anniversary of His Death]”), in Priroda, 36 (1947), no. 3, 72–75; D. P. Rezvoy, “Akademik Vasily Severgin-Russky mineralog i geognost (1765–1826)” (“Academician Severgin-Russian Mineralogist and Geognost”), in Mineralogicheskii sbornik (1953), no. 7: and M. I. Sukhomlinov, “Ocherk zhizni i deyatelnosti akademika Severgina” (A Essay on the Life and Career of Academician Severgin”), in Istoria Rossyskoy Akademii (“History of the Russian Academy”), appendix to Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 32 , no 1 (1878).

G. D. Kurochkin