Final Years and Scandal in the Library!
A few months after the appearance of the second edition of "A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons", a complaint was made to the managers of the Royal Institution, alleging that Accum had been mutilating books in the Institution's library, to which he had been a subscribing Member.
It was claimed that, though this practice had been going on over a period of years, only recently had evidence appeared linking Accum to the missing pages. At first, the managers were inclined to ignore the charge, especially as Accum had at one time served as their librarian. Further complaints led to Accum being visited again in December 1820 by the librarian and two officers, armed with a search warrant. The librarian identified some thirty pages as being the property of the Royal Institution and Accum was arrested and charged with robbery.
He was discharged when the magistrate took the view that though the books might have been valuable, the separate leaves found in Accum's premises were only waste paper. The Royal Institution managers then brought an indictment on the grounds of mutilation of books in their library and a further trial was set for April 1821. Public opinion turned against Accum and public appeals on his behalf by his friends and supporters were in vain. Accum became severely depressed, failed to appear at his trial and forfeited his bail.
He remained only a few months longer in London to wind up his affairs and returned, at the age of 52, to his native Germany. He remained in Berlin until his death on 28th June 1838, so deeply affected by the scandal of 1820 that articles which he contributed to the Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences were published either anonymously or under the pseudonym Mucca. Even his London publishers producing new editions of his works omitted his name from their title pages. Adulteration of food and drink continued virtually unchecked in Britain for a further forty years after Accum's departure, but eventually the Adulteration Act of 1860 brought in the much needed pure food regulation and stands as a belated recognition of but one of Carl Friedrich Accum's activities during his time in London. This eventually paved the way for the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875, which forms the basis of current law although in a much amended form.
Lawson Cockroft 2001
[This article has been edited by staff in the RSC's Library & Information Centre]
- The full article on Accum by Lawson Cockcroft
Biographical information has been compiled mainly from the following two sources:
- Charles Albert Browne, Life and Chemical Services of Fredrick Accum, J Chem Ed, 2, 829-851, 1008-1035, 1925.
- Prof Koch, Ein vergessener Bückeburger, der Chemiker Friedrich Accum, Schaumberg-Lippische Heimat-Blätter, 1932, Nr 10.
Quotations from Accum's books are taken from the originals in the RSC Library & Information Centre's Historical Collection.
It is a great pleasure to record the author's appreciation of the help given in the preparation of this report by the staff of the Library and Information Centre and of Frau Dr Wagener-Fimpel, of the Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv in Bückeburg, Germany.
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