How did Lavoisier classify elements known in his time?

How did Lavoisier classify elements known in his time? Did Lavoisier include anything in his classification scheme that we would not now consider an element? Was Lavoisier's scheme of classification based in any way on periodicity of the properties of elements?
ozilion 6/26/1999

Lavoisier defined an element as any substance which could not be decomposed into simpler substances. Several of the elements he lists in his introductory chemistry text are now known to be compounds. Two of his elements (heat and light) are not considered matter at all. Lavoisier anticipated that his list was necessarily limited to an 18th century perspective,

    Not that we are entitled to affirm, that these substances we consider as simple may not be compounded of two, or even of a greater number of principles; but, since these principles cannot be separated, or rather since we have not hitherto discovered the means of separating them, they act with regard to us as simple substances, and we ought never to suppose them compounded until experiment and observation have proved them to be so." [1]

He classified the known elements into four groups:

Elastic fluids
Lavoisier included light, heat, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen in this group.
This group includes "oxidizable and acidifiable nonmetallic elements". Lavoisier lists sulfur, phosphorus, carbon, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and boric acid.
These elements are "metallic, oxidizable, and capable of neutralizing an acid to form a salt." They include antimony and arsenic (which are not considered metals today), silver, bismuth, cobalt, copper, tin, iron, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, gold, platinum, lead, tungsten, and zinc.
Lavoisier's salt-forming earthy solid "elements" included lime, magnesia (magnesium oxide), baryta (barium oxides), alumina (aluminum oxide), and silica (silicon dioxide).

The list of elements was neither complete enough nor accurate enough to suggest periodic behavior at this point in history.

Here is Lavoisier's original table of elements, adapted from his Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in Paris in 1789. Note that the metallic elements should be listed as "salifiable", (salt-forming), not acidifiable.
    Noms nouveaux   Noms anciens correspondans

Subftances fimples qui appartiennent aux trois règnes & qu'on peut regarde comme les élémens des corps. brace Lumière   Lumière
Calorique vbrace-top
Principe de la chaleur.
Fluide igné.
Matière du feu & de la chaleur.
Oxygène vbrace-top

Air déphlogiftiqué
Air emiréal.
Air vital.
Bafe de l'air vital.
Azote vbrace-top
Gaz phlogiftiqué
Bafe de la mofete.
Hydrogène vbrace-top
Gaz inflammable
Bafe du gaz inflammable.
Subftances fimples non métalliques oxidables & acidifiables brace Soufre   Soufre
Phofphore   Phofphore
Carbone   Carbone
Radical muriatique   Inconnu
Radical fluorique   Inconnu
Radical boracique   Inconnu
Subftances fimples métalliques oxidables & acidifiables brace Antimoine   Antimoine
Argent   Argent
Arfenic   Arfenic
Bifmuth   Bifmuth
Cobolt   Cobolt
Cuivre   Cuivre
Etain   Etain
Fer   Fer
Manganèfe   Manganèfe
Mercure   Mercure
Molybdène   Molybdène
Nickel   Nickel
Or   Or
Platine   Platine
Plomb   Plomb
Tungftène   Tungftène
Zinc   Zinc
Subftances fimples falifiables terreufes brace
Chaux   Terre calcaire, chaux
Magnéfie   Magnéfie, bafe du fel d'Epfom
Baryte   Barote, terre pefante
Alumine   Argile, terre de l'alun, bafe de l'alun
Silice   Terre filiceufe, terre vitrifiable


  1. Table and quote from Antoine Lavoisier's Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, 1789, as quoted in J. R. Partington's A Short History of Chemistry (Dover, 1989, ISBN 0486659771). The preface to Lavoisier's text is available in HTML at Carmen Giunta's Classical Chemistry site. Giunta has also provided an English translation of Lavoisier's table.

Author: Fred Senese

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