Sellars' Chemistianity - Elementymology & Elements Multidict

Elementymology & Elements Multidict

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J.Carrington Sellars, F.C.S. (1840-1914)


(Popular Knowledge of Chemistry);
A Poem; also an Oratorical Verse
on Each Known Chemical Element in the Universe,
Giving Description, Properties, Sources, Preparation, and Chief Uses.
Arranged for Familiar or Memory Reading

Birkenhead: Published by the Author, [1873].

A very peculiar book, linking chemistry to christianity in verse (p. VII):

The title I chose is CHEMISTIANITY
Or, Proofs of Chemist's love for all Humanity;
God-love in Christ - Christianity,
Is to - in and through - Humanity,
Two unequal friends walking, gifting, o'er the Earth,
One Basic Merit, the other, Incomparable Worth.

On an extra page in front of the book, with the handwritten number of the "Copy of the Oratorical Verses" (my copy has number 233) the author says:

This Work, written in the hope that it may be found suitable for the practise of reading aloud (in an elocutionary manner) to acquire a brief knowledge of Chemistry, for impressive reading, is printed with new type, on paper made specially and watermarked "Chemistianity". Each copy is numbered in consecutive order of issue.

Contents and sources

The book consists of four parts and an appendix:
I. The "Prooemium", the foreword, including acknowledgements, dated October 1873 (pp. V-XXXVIII)
II. The "Prologue", the introduction (pp. XLI-LXV)
III. "The Simple Substances, constituting Material Being: with Natural Laws and Art Processes". (pp. 3-28).
IV. "An Oratorical Verse on each of The Elements". (pp. 31-187), with at the end "Names of Elements detected in certain Nodules of Matter observed through the Sea of Space" (pp. 188-191).
Appendix: Alphabetical Composition Names. (pp. 193-201).

In part IV the 63 known elements of his time are described in verse, ordened and structured as follows (pp. 3-4):

The following list,
Is based on Chemists Frankland's division
Of the Elements; twenty Metalloids,
Named in order of their combining weights,
And fort-three known, proved, real Metals,
Arranged under Chemist's Roscoe's system,
By classing them in ten families or Klans;
The bodies appertaining to each Klan
Are writ in order of their combining weight
Or type of their Chemical energy.

Sellars based his text on the works of Frankland, Watts, and Valentin gave him permission to use their works (p. XXI). And the end of his book, Sellars included advertisements for these works, as well as for his own book and for the the Turkish Baths in Mulberry Street, Liverpool (!).

Alphabetical Composition Names

In the appendix Sellars suggests new names for the elements.
To bring minds of the briefest capacity, to the greatest use, we should have simple language; simple words, which - on reflection - contain the largest amount of dilatable thought. It was with that idea, that felt want with many persons, I considered the formation of this (proposed) composition alphabet, to make chemical names more easily understood.
This proposal includes not only the names for the elements, but also for the compounds.

He proposed element names consisting of two syllables:

  1. two letters,
  2. The second syllable describes the condition of the element at common temperature:
The elements are named alphabetically in the order according to Frankland and Roscoe, as explained earlier (p. 3-4), first the 20 metalloids in order of their combined weights, and than the 43 metals, in order of their klans, and within a klan on their combining weights.
First Group
Second Group
AbgenHydrogen 1st Klan 6th Klan
AmyanBoron IbyanLithium SeyanZirconium
AtyanCarbon ImyanSodium StyanNiobium
BagenNitrogen ItyanPotassium TayanTantalum
BegenOxygen JayanRubidium TeyanThorium
BtgenFluorine JeyanCaesium 7th Klan
DayanSilicon 2nd Klan TtyanMolybdenum
DeyanPhosphorus JtyanCalcium UbyanTungsten
DtyanSulphur KayanStrontium 8th Klan
EbgenChlorine KeyanBarium UmyanThallium
EmyanTitanium 3rd Klan UtyanLead
EtyanVanadium KtyanAluminium 9th Klan
FayanArsenic LayanYttrium VayanCopper
FeyanSelenium LeyanCerium VeyanSilver
FtineBromine LtyanLanthanum VtineMercury
GayanTin MayanDidymium 10th Klan
GeyanAntimony MeyanErbium WayanRhodium
GtyanIodine 4th Klan WeyanRuthenium
HayanTellurium MtyanBeryllium WtyanPalladium
HeyanBismuth NayanMagnesium YayanGold
  NeyanZinc YeyanPlatinum
  NtyanIndium YtyanIridium
  ObyanCadmium Zkyan*Osmium
  5th Klan  
  * this name must be erroneous, since in his system, Osmium should be <Zayan>. "Zkyan" is used throughout the book
As is clear from the list, Sellars believed that no further elements would be discovered. There is simply no space for additions (except for <Htyan> (or <Htgen> or <Htine> as the 21th metalloid, and at the end of the 10th klan <Zayan>, <Zeyan>, and <Ztyan> - but then what to do with the odd "Zkyan"?).

Names of the compounds are formed by the names of the different elements, the one with the greatest combining weight at the end, eventually with numerical prefixes (Mon, Di, Tri etc.). In this system, water H2O becomes DiAbBe (Ab is Hydrogen and Be is Oxygen), which is not so different form the presently used system!

Sellars' Alphabetical Composition Names have never been used. His system of normalized names is from the naming point of view very interesting. It resembles somehow Stedman Whitwell’s System of Place-naming of 1826 (place names based on their geographical coordinates) (Cf. Feiba-Peveli community on Utopia Britannica, or write me for more information).

Sellers' ideas never reached a large public. His privately published Chemistianity is nowadays a very rare book. Searching with Google to this name, you only find my site, the Quote of the Week of Robertson Industries (from which I learned of the existence of the book), and the notes of an on-line book Wenn's stinkt und kracht... Facetten populärer Chemie-Literatur by Thomas Hapke. He refers to the article: Michael B. Davies, "Chemistianity - popularising chemistry." Education in chemistry 25(1988) 2, pp. 41-43. (I haven't seen this article yet, who will send me a copy? UPDATE 24 May 2009: Johann Hamberger jun. sent me a copy of this article, thanks).
On Abebooks I found only one copy for sale (Wadard Books, Farningham, Kent, UK) - and that copy is now in my possession!

Sellars had probably printed 1,000 copies of his book, despite this quite large number, it is now quite scarce. Probably since scholarly libraries did not judge the book worth to include it.
I know now the following eight copies:

  1. No. 233. My copy.
  2. No. 471. Birkenhead Reference Library.
  3. No. 868. The copy of Paul Board, Fugro Robertson Ltd.
  4. London, The British Library,
  5. London, The Wellcome Library
  6. Cambridge, Whipple Library.
  7. Manchester, University Library
  8. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, M.53.h;


The work was announced in The Galaxy (Vol. 19, Issue 2, February 1875) under Scientific Miscellany (p. 275):
ONE of the curiosities of technical literature now appearing in England is a poetical work called "Chemistianity." Its author, Mr. J. Carrington Sellars, believes that the best way to impart a knowledge of chemistry is by means of verse.
In another American journal, The Living Age (vol. 120, issue 1543, 3 January 1874) mentions it (p. 64):
PROFESSOR BLACKIE, in his introductory lecture to the Greek classes of the University of Edinburgh the other day, said that "it had been his fortune to dip into various languages, and that the Greek language and the Greek literature are worth them all put together;" and further added that every person who despises Greek literature and language "proves himself to be a conceited puppy and an ignorant fool." Professor Blackie has evidently not read a poem reviewed in the Athenaeum last week entitled "Chemistianity," which, from the extracts given, must contain some passages of rare and exceeding beauty. What, for instance, can be more striking than the following:

Arsenic, the fool and villains poison,
Is a metalloid of steel grey colour,
Crystalline, lustrous, and very brittle.
It tarnishes in water sod air,
Unless they are free from carbonic acid.
Heated in air it volatilizes
Without fusion, hot with rapid oxidation,
And smells like garlic to arsenious oxide,
Called in trade white oxide of arsenic.
Arsenic forms salts in metalloid law.
It oxides in arsen-ious and -ic acids.

Again, the following from the "Chemistian Song" is marvellously beautiful:

Chemistian lore should be
Well known on land and sea,
To sow the seed of chemistry, so heigh, so ho, so bee.

Professor Blackie would be puzzled to discover anything in Homer equal to this; but it is the fashion nowadays to decry modern poetry.

Pall Mall.

A critique in Literary World of November 1873 says:

Mr SELLARS is a bold man, for in undertaking, as he does in the present volume, to arrange two thousand chemical facts relating to inorganic chemistry in 5,000 lines of oratorical verse, he must be fully aware that he is offering a temptation well-nigh irresistible to any critic who may delight to wield the literary scalpel. Chemical nomenclature is so intractable that the most accomplished master of versification might well shrink in despair from such a task.


I haven't found much information about the author. He is baptised as John Carrington Sellars, in the Manchester cathedral, 15 January 1840, son of John Sellars and Eliza (d. Birkenhead 1869). In the census of 1881 he is registered as cement manufacturer, living 62 Bridge Street in Birkenhead. On 20 February 1873 he was elected Fellow of the Chemical Society of London (note), so he could proudly add F.C.S. to his name when he published his book in October of the same year. He was widower, and lived with six children. He appears to have died at the age of 76 in the March Quarter of 1914.
He married in 1861 Elizabeth Anne Orr from Ireland, who d. 1880, age 37. After her dead he is believed to have married in 1882 Sarah Smith in Tranmere St Paul from Ontario, Canada c1860.
He is mentioned on page 100 of Bygone Birkenhead by J R Kaighin:
Along here in Bridge Street lived Mr J C Sellars, an inventor. He brought out a patent cement, which became extensively used. Had he confined himself to that he might have prospered, but one invention succeeded another, and his costly experiments seemed to have drained his resources. He published a book, gorgeously bound and illustrated, called "Chemistianitry". The Liverpool Mercury criticised it in merciless fashion.
For the genealogists among us, his children are, all born in Birkenhead:
  1. Mary Hannah, 14 y d. 1876
  2. Frances Paulina, b. 1863 (17 years), housekeeper,
  3. Barratt Obadiah Carrington, b. 1865 (15y), assistant clerk, around 1912 chemical manufacturer in the Droylsden area of Manchester.
  4. Edith Christina, b. 1867, d. 1869
  5. Charles Singlehurst, b. 1869 (11y),
  6. Amy Eliza, b. 1871 (9y),
  7. John Carrington, b. 1874, d. 1878
  8. Frederick Oswald, b. 1876 (5y),
  9. Ethel Christina, b. 1877 (3y)
  10. Elizabeth Ann, b. 1880
, and a female servant (Martha Garrett, 24, from the Isle of Man) (found with and Cheshire BMD).
Sellars made obviously a special kind of cement, since in the American journal Manufacturer and Builder (vol. 5, no. 11, November 1873) under Notes and Queries the following question was published (p. 263, query 807):
CEMENT FOR GAS RETORTS. I am a German, and am engaged at the gas-works. I remember a cement for stopping cracks and leaks used in Prussia, and called Sellar's Cement. Could you, who appear to have information about so many things, tell me what it consists of, or give me the recipe for something almost as good? C.H., Gas Engineer.

In his Chemistianity he refers a few times to his own patents:

    At Carbon (p. 51-53):
  1. S.P. Moulder's Blacking (British and Foreign Patents. British No. 2479-1866).
  2. Peat Char (British No. 2500-1871; American patent No. 133,894-1872).
  3. Modified Peat Charcoal (British No. 989-1872; French and Belgian Patents: no number filled in).
  4. Brick-Fuel (British No. 100-1872).

© Peter van der Krogt