A treatise published in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions by Georgii Wedelii on Volatile Salts in 1673 was followed by a notice from the editor, which read:

“So much of this Author; whose way not being here made out and declared, we hope, a Learned and very known Member of the R. Society, Doctor Daniel Coxe, will shortly supply the world with that defect, he being certainly and experimentally master of a sure and easy way of extracting the volatile Salt out of all sorts of Plants.”

Coxe was interested in the properties of herbs and vegetables, all of which had been ascribed various medical uses. He conducted experiments in his own laboratory, not unlike a far better-known gentleman scientist, Robert Boyle. Coxe’s first treatise (in response to Mr. Wedelii) was published in Philosophical Transactions for 1674, titled “A Way of Extracting Volatile Salt and Spirit Out of Vegetables, intimated in Numb. 10. p. 7002; Experimented, and imparted by the Learned and Intelligent Dr. Daniel Coxe, Fellow of the R. Society” [1].

Coxe found that after being fermented and then reduced to ashes, there was little difference between different kinds of vegetable matter. He seems to have tasted a lot of ashes to determine how alkaline they were. Coxe’s article was followed by this statement from the editor of Philosophical Transactions:

“So far our generous Naturalist his Communications for this time; which as they are but a small part of the Analysis of Plants, and but one of the heads of the History about Vegetables, the care of which, divers years ago, the R. Society recommended to him; so we doubt not but he will in compliance with their desires, and the opinion they justly entertain of his known abilities, sedulously prosecute this excellent work, and farther, from time to time, impart to the Philosophical world that great stock, he hath already in store concerning this and many other subjects of Physiology. Mean time, we are obliged to do him that right, as to acquaint the Publick, that this way and these Experiments were made by him about eight years ago [1666], and then most of them by conversation communicated to the Honourable Robert Boyle, who doubtless will be ready, upon occasion to attest it, as well as divers other Member of the R. Society, as will also the Archiva of that Illustrious Body.”

So, Coxe had been working on these experiments ever since he became a member of the Royal Society, and he had been in communication with Robert Boyle. This convinces me that he was more than a mere dabbler in scientific experiments.

Coxe’s second article was “A Discourse Denying the Prae-Existence of Alcalizate or Fixed Salt in Any Subject, before It Were Exposed to the Action of the Fire; To Which is Added a Confirmation of an Assertion, Deliver’d in Numb. 101 p. 5, Section 6 of These Tracts, viz. That Alcalizate or Fixed Salts Extracted out of the Ashes of Vegetables Do Not Differ from Each Other The Same Likewise Affirmed of Volatil Salts and Vinous Spirits, by the learned Dr. Daniel Coxe.” I love how titles in those days pretty much summed up the whole subject.

The “alcalizates” that Dr. Coxe was working with were alkalis. And since I know nothing about chemistry, I will not attempt to explain what he was doing with them. (I’ve appended some definitions in my footnotes [2].) The term alcalizate is surprisingly close to the term ‘alcahest,’ which I found in Carl Zimmer’s Soul Made Flesh [pg 242], “a legendary substance” that was supposed “to turn anything to the water from which it originally came.”

Was Dr. Coxe looking for alcahests in his alcalizates? Probably not, but it interests me that he was studying this substance so closely, and with some pretty awful experiments (he discovered just how stinky rotting vegetable matter can be). He was a man of his age, when the idea that people could come to an understanding of God’s world by using their rational abilities had taken hold. Or at least, it had taken hold of a very enthusiastic group of people, known as the ‘virtuosi,’ who began meeting in Oxford during Cromwell’s Protectorate, and continued to meet in London after the Restoration.

The next article by Dr. Coxe was called “A Continuation of Dr. Daniel Coxe’s Discourse, Begun in Numb. 107, Touching the Identity of All Volatil Salts, and Vinous Spirits: Together with Two Surprizing Experiments Concerning Vegetables Salts, Perfectly Resembling the Shape of the Plants Whence They Had Been Obtained” [3]. What Coxe accidentally discovered was that the ashes of plants like ferns and pine trees crystallized into structures that resembled ferns and pine trees. Unfortunately, those crystals were very unstable and Coxe was not able to preserve them. But his treatise did manage to preserve for us his enthusiasm for his discoveries [4].

This was the last of his published works on “Alcalizates.” His next submission concerned the potential uses of sea sand from the beaches at Cornwall, information he claimed to have come by from a local expert [5]. Typical of the mentality of a 17th-century gentleman scientist, Coxe concluded by suggesting that

“some ingenious Chymist” [ought to] open the body of Sand, thereby to discern its several principles, that are most prevalent; And then for some good Naturalist to consider how it becomes so advantageous to Vegetation, and especially as to that part which concerns the prolifique Seed.”

This seems to be the end of Dr. Daniel Coxe’s scientific career. He published no more treatises with the Royal Society. Instead, he turned his attention to the possibilities offered by England’s new colonies in America.

[1]  The Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions (1665-1678), Vol. 9 (1674) pp. 4-8.
[2] Definitions of Alcalizate(s) from the OED:  alkalizate, adj. and n.

Forms: < post-classical Latin alkalizatus (a1541 in Paracelsus), alcalisatus (from 1652 in British sources), past participle of alkalizare, alcalisare < alkali ALKALI n. + -izare, -isare -IZE suffix. Compare ALKALIZE v. and slightly later ALKALIZED adj. Compare also later ALKALIZATE v.]
A. adj.    Alkaline; alkalized. Now hist. and rare.
1658 [implied in alkalizateness n. at Derivatives]. 1660 R. BOYLE New Exper. Physico-mechanicall 282 Closely tying a little Alcalizate Salt (we us’d the Calx of Tartar, made with Nitre) in a fine Bladder. 1669 Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 4 1055 Of a Volatile and Alcalisate property. 1714 F. SLARE in Philos. Trans. 1713 (Royal Soc.) 28 249 Sweetning and Alkalisate Remedies. 1753 Chambers’s Cycl. Suppl., Alkaline is otherwise written, alcaline, alkaleous, alcalious, alkalizate, and alcalizate, which all amount to the same thing. 1802 Repertory of Arts 2nd Ser. 1 68 An alkalizate caustic ley is prepared in the following manner. 2002 W. R. NEWMAN & L. M. PRINCIPE Alchemy tried in Fire vi. 276 Boyle classifies ‘vulgar’ saline liquors into three types{em}acid ones,..urinous ones (by which he means ammonia and its salts), and alkalizate ones (namely, the ‘fixed’ alkalies, such as potassium and sodium carbonates).
{dag}B. n.    An alkali. Obs. rare.
1666 R. BOYLE Origine Formes & Qual. 328 Moreover, Acids and Alkalizates do also differ exceedingly in tast. 1681 in S. Pordage tr. T. Willis Remaining Med. Wks., Alchalisat, a salt made of the herb kali. Also taken and applyed to salts made of herbs and shells of fishes.

[3]  From Philosophical Transactions (1665-1678), Vol. 9 (1674), pp. 169-182.
[4]   From the Introduction to the 11th volume of Philosophical Transactions, for the year 1675, vol. 10 (1675), pg.254-55:

And these [experiments] do succeed so well that Chymistry, which so long and so lately was obscured with unintelligible Cantings and deluding Vapors, is now in the hands of Worthy Philosophers, become one of the cleerest Interpreters of the most subtile abstrusities in Nature. . . . So that something is done already, and much more may in time be done towards the Explication of the Phaenomena of Nature by the Union of Chymistry, as it is now become sincere, with Optical and other Mechanical aids, and with all the branches of Mathematicks, pure and mixed. Hence we have already obtained a more rational and closer Accompt of some of those, which are reputed Occult, Qualities, than any of the Peripatetick Schools have yet given of those which they acknowledge to be most sensible and obvious.

[5]  “The Improvement of Cornwall by Sea Sand, Communicated by an Intelligent Gentleman Well Acquainted in Those Parts to Dr. Dan. Coxe,” Philosophical Transactions (1665-1678), vol. 10 (1675), p. 293-296.