ABSTRACT

The Paris Society of Pharmacy had this letter scrupulously copied into its ledgers. The text looks rather incongruous squeezed between the society's monotonous administrative proceedings and the accounts of its interminable struggles against charlatans operating in France's capital city. Perhaps the clearest message that the society received from this letter was the threatened defection of six of its members,

For the purposes of my argument, however, it is the denunciation accompanying the threat of resignation that is of most interest. The statement that pharmacists (and apothecaries before them) were nothing more than 'manipulators' of chemical products was an unusual accusation for pharmacists to level at their own colleagues, and it must have come as a shock for the society. The editors of the newly-constituted Bulletin de pharmacie distinguish themselves from the benighted practitioners of an ancient, but (according to this letter at least) far from venerable art, by referring to themselves as 'observer-pharmacists'. The men who chose this title represented a new scientific vanguard of pharmacy, destined to succeed what they regarded as an ailing, uninformed empirical art. Important to their sense of difference from other pharmacists were the intimate links these observerpharmacists claimed to have with the chemists, and their professed commitment to natural methods and philosophical systems. These key phrases were meant not only to associate their authors with an optimistic Enlightenment view of progress through the sciences, but also, more particularly, they were intended to forge a direct link with the founders of the victorious chemical system that emerged in France at the end of the eighteenth century around the figure of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. The authors of the letter were clearly seeking legitimacy for their view of pharmacy (as intimately connected to the sciences, if not a science itself) beyond the confines of a society whose purpose was the administration of pharmacy in Paris, a society they threatened to abandon in order to pursue their vision of a modern pharmacy. In the end, I will argue, it would be these observer-pharmacists, announcing their existence in this letter who would lead French pharmacy into the nineteenth century as a science, informed and legitimated by the new chemistry. In the course of assuming the scientific mantle, pharmacy would change its relationship with chemistry, eventually orienting itself towards the new chemistry and its characteristic analytical perspective. It was in this transformation that a new pharmaceutical chemistry would find its defmition in the nineteenth century.