Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

being inclosed, the temperature of the air is always considera. by hig er.

It is also worth noticing, that between the highest and lowest points of its appearance in every part of the building there are intercepted spaces entirely and always free from the least de. position.

I may here mention that the occasional formation of nitre is observable in many other buildings and parts of Oxford, besides the laboratory of the Ashmole Museum; as on the wall, called Long Wall, which bounds the park of Magdalene College to the west-on the exterior surface of the south wall of the Theatre on the exterior surface of the three walls of the quadrangular projecting part of the Ashmole Museum-very abundantly on the inclined base of the windows of the Examination school, looking to the north-and also very abundantly on the west side of the wall, which separates the square of the schools from the arched way leading from thence to the Theatre and Convocation House.

It has been observed repeatedly, that the presence of lime is necessary to the natural production of saltpetre; and in all the foregoing instances the stone on which the saline efflorescence tak place is the common limestone of Oxfordshire. I have only once observed its formation on the surface of a brick wall: but in that instance the substance of those bricks on which the nitre appeared had crumbled away to some depth; and if this destruction of their texture be owing to the presence of an unusual proportion of lime in the clay of which they are made, (a supposition not improbable, since many parts of the stratum of clay from which the bricks in this neighbourhood are made do contain an unusual proportion of lime,) the reason of the exception in the case of this brick wall will correspond with the truth of the general observation above stated.

The following circumstance is particularly deserving of notice. A part of the north wall of the laboratory, on which saltpetre usually effloresced, having been covered with wainscot some months since, and the wainscot having been painted with common white paint, I was surprised after a time in observing an efflorescence on particular parts of the paint, similar to what might have been expected on the wall itself. Where this efflorescence had taken place the paint was loosened from the wainscot, and might be readily peeled off in small flakes. The saline particles of which this efflorescence consisted I at first supposed to be nitrate of lead; but upon examination in various ways no trace of lead could be found in them, and they exhibited the principal characters of common nitre: they deflagrated, for instance, with charcoal, leaving a deliquescent alkaline residuum. Many weeks have elapsed since that saline efflorescence was brushed off, but I have not yet observed any renewal of it.

Though the production of saltpetreshad been pointed out to me in the laboratory of the Ashmole Museum as long since as the year 1802, I was prevented by many circumstances from observing with any degree of regularity or precision the phenomena of this natural process previously to the commencement of last year; about which time having carefully brushed away the whole of the saline efflorescence from a part of the north wall situated below the level of the street, and very imperfectly exposed to the light, I was surprised by the fact of its quick re-appearance. It was brushed away at the end of January; but within three days it had again effloresced in sufficient quantity to present that appearance of hoar frost, or down, or mould, which is very characteristic of the manner in which naturally formed saltpetre is often accumulated; and which a person, utterly incapable of judging of the real nature of the substance, described at the time by the term “damp."

I was still more surprised, however, in observing after a few days, that the quantity of the saltpetre was apparently very much diminished; and that at the end of eight or ten days there was scarcely any appearance of it remaining: though there was no reason to suppose a particle had either accidentally fallen to the ground or been intentionally removed.

The same part of the wall was again brushed perfectly clean, and I continued to make daily observations in expectation of a renewal of the process; but no new collection was percepti. ble, excepting in the form of a very few detached and minute capillary crystals, till the 16th of March; on which day, having been absent during the whole of the 14th and 15th, I found a more abundant accumulation than in the preceding instances.

It was an obvious supposition that the reproduction of the nitre was connected with some change in the state of the atmosphere: and it is to be remarked, that its first-mentioned appearance took place in frosty weather, and that its re-appearance about the 16th of March had been preceded by a frost of a few days: whereas during the intervals in which it disappeared and was not again produced, the weather had been mild. The wall was again brushed quite clean on the 16th of March; between which day and the 4th of April a considerable quantity had again collected on the same part; the process having been more rapid during the last four or five days, which were cold.

On April the 12th the front of this part of the wall was renewed by scraping, for the purpose of observing what would be the effect of a fresh surface, and before the 25th of April nitre had formed on many parts of this new surface; but having first increased and then continued stationary for some days, it began to diminish about the beginning of May, the state of the air having been very moist during the two or three preceding days.

About the middle of May 1813, I selected several distinct parts on which the spontaneous formation of nitre usually takes place, some within and some without the building of the Museum, and began to make daily observations on the phenomena of that process, which I noted down at the time: but as a register of this kind would be unnecessarily tedious in its recital, I shall beg leave to give the following general results of those observations; requesting it may be kept in mind, that I do not presume to lay a greater stress on them than is proportional to the short period of time and the circumscribed space in which they were made.

It appears then from the observations I have hitherto been able to make, that the spontaneous formation of saltpetre is, generally speaking, much more extensive and rapid in winter than in summer, whether it take place on the interior or exterior of a building: thus during the period of the cold weather in January 1814, it became visible not only on parts of the walls where I had never before obseryed it, but even on the pavement of the laboratory. The part of the pavement on which it appeared is adjacent to the north wall; but as the greater part of the pavement is covered by a flooring of wood, it is impossible to say whether or not it took place on other parts also. The

2

stone forming the pavement is the same kind of limestone as that of which the walls are built.

Again, whereas in summer its reproduction is most rapid and extensive in proportion to the degree of light present, the reverse of this (though not universally) takes place in winter. Wherever the saline efflorescence in question occurs, the surface of the stone becomes permanently discoloured, as if from the effect of damp; but this discoloration is merely superficial. If these discoloured parts be whitewashed, the process still goes on; and the whitewash is gradually detached in flakes: but it is difficult to ascertain whether the nitre is formed on the whitewash, or on the wall which it covers; though probably the latter.

When the spontaneous formation of nitre takes place slowly and in a sheltered situation, it is at first visible in the form of minute prismatic crystals, which usually project from the surface of the wall nearly at right angles; but sometimes they are scattered in different directions, lying upon its surface so lightly as scarcely to appear in contact with it. In general, however, the saline efflorescence makes its appearance in extremely minute capillary crystals, either accumulated in groups, which resemble recently fallen flakes of snow, or investing the wall like a fine down.

During the severely cold weather of January 1814, it appeared in some places in the form of minute dense grains closely aggregated; while in others it still continued to wear the appearance of down or wool: and the local circumstances most obviously connected with this difference in the manner of crystallization, were the presence of a greater degree of light, where the granular deposition took place, and a less degree of shelter from the influence of cold air.

In some instances the production of the saltpetre is accompanied with a disintegration of the substance of the stone on which it is formed; but this circumstance is only observable on stones of a loose texture.

The shortest interval I have observed between the time of its having been brushed away and its re-appearance, is four hours: but it was then in full efflorescence, and would probably have been visible much earlier. The observation was made

a

on November the 17th, about midnight: there had been snow in the middle of the day, and the night was frosty.

The spontaneous formation of nitre takes place indifferently on the surface of the stones composing a wall, and of the mortar by which those stones are cemented; and near the close of the late frost, I observed it for the first time on the surface of a partition consisting entirely of laths plastered over with the mortar or stucco commonly used for that purpose.

It accumulates in greater quantity on some parts of a given surface than on others; and this difference in the degree of its accumulation, is probably connected with some slight difference in the texture or composition of the stone on which it is formed: for I have repeatedly observed that after a careful removal of it, its reproduction takes place to the same proportional extent in the same parts: and this difference in the degree of the efflorescence often takes place not by a gradual transition, but as abruptly as if the line of separation had been marked by a graver; so that the part of the surface on one side of the line shall be almost totally devoid of any efflorescence, while on the other side it shall resemble the accumulation of hoar frost on the small branches of a tree.

The saltpetre formed in summer scarcely appears to contain a particle of any calcareous salt: that formed in winter contains most evident traces of such a salt, though probably even in winter the amount of this is not much above one part in two hundred of the whole mass.

A frosty, clear, and dry state of the atmosphere is particularly favourable to the natural production of nitre: but there seems to be a limit to its formation, on the same spot, even under the most favourable circumstances; the quantity of the nitre not continuing to increase after it has proceeded to a certain extent.

In a moist state of the atmosphere the formation either does not take place at all, or goes on slowly: and if that state of the atmosphere which is unfavourable to the production of nitre continue a sufficient length of time, the nitre already formed gradually disappears. At the commencement of these observations I attributed the occasional disappearance of the nitre to its mechanical removal from the wall, and supposed that it must have been by accident brushed off: but repeated observa

[ocr errors]

a

« AnteriorContinua »