Matthew BellIn hmolscience, Matthew Bell (c.1963-) is an English German literature and Goethean scholar, an EA | IAD scholar (Ѻ), noted for his 2014 “In Retrospect: Elective Affinities”, wherein he digresses on Goethe's famous 1809 so-labeled "haunting" chemical romance, as described in his Elective Affinities.

In 2014, Bell, in his “In Retrospect: Elective Affinities”, published in Nature, the famous science journal whose debut article was Thomas Huxley’s choice of the reprint of Goethe’s poem “On Nature”, digressed on the human chemical theory of Goethe’s Elective Affinities, the opening page of which is as follows: [1]

Bell 1f
Bell 2

To correct a few things in Bell’s article, firstly: the photo shown, mislabeled as: “the protagonists of Goethe’s science novel compare their changing attractions to chemical bonding”, is that of P1:C6 illustration of “the chart was brought and spread out”, a photoengraving after the drawing by F. Simon, showing the pairings Eduard + Ottilie then Captain + Charlotte reading the survey maps of the estate, not the photo of “Charlotte glancing over Edward’s book”, shown in P1:C4 of the illustrate Elective Affinities, drawn by Philipp Johann, reading, supposedly, Torbern Bergman’s A Dissertation on Elective Attractions (or another affinity chemistry book like it) [2] Secondly, Bergman’s affinity table was not the forerunner of the periodic table—a semi-common assertion found in the literature—but rather the forerunner to the free energy tables, which began to appear in the early 20th century after it was found that each affinity reaction changed with temperature, meaning that one would have to new Bergman-type affinity table, a thousand times over, to capture all the possibilities of reaction types, at each temperature.

Thirdly, on the "Ott" cipher, Bell postulates:

“Bergman’s theory of ‘elective affinity’ seems to describe the shifting relationships of the protagonists, Eduard, Charlotte, Ottilie and the Captain. In this sense, the novel can be read as an exercise in reductionism: like elements, the characters seem to have no choice but to make new bonds when a reagent is introduced. Even their names reinforce this. Both Eduard and the Captain were christened Otto, so the repletion of the ‘ott’ in the names of the characters emerges as a sign of affinity.”

Here, correctly, while in the neighborhood, Goethe employed the OTT-cipher for his four main characters as a code way to say that each person was a type of chemical, or "CHNOPS combination" as Wilhelm Ostwald came to "see" himself and others in 1926, according to the logic that the three characters: Charlotte, Eduard, Mittler, form CHEM (see: chemistry etymology), as John Williams (1998) discerned, and the OTT is a reference to St Ottilia, the patron saint of vision restoration, meaning that when one comes to view people as different types of "chemicals", via some type of "molecular goggles" the true-to-nature "vision" of humanity would be restored, or something along these lines.

In the mid 1980s, Bell studied ancient Greek, Latin, and German at Balliol College, Oxford, then completed his PhD in German in 1991 under Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Thomas Mann scholar Terence Reed (Ѻ) at Oxford.

1. Bell, Matthew. (2014). “In Retrospect: Elective Affinities” (abs) (Ѻ), Nature, 516:168-69.
2. (a) Goethe, Johann. (1902). Works: The Sorrows of Young Werther, Elective Affinities (Werther translation By R. Dillon Boylan, Elective Affinities translation by James Froude) (List of Illustrations, pg. front matter; “Ottilie’s Favorite Walk … was along a Pleasant Footpath”, cover and pg. 376; “the Chart … was brought and Spread out”, pg. 195; “She Sank Down Upon Her Knees”, pg. 412). F.A. Niccolls & Co.
(b) The chart was brought and spread out (by F. Simon) – Wikipedia Commons.

External links
Matthew Bell (faculty) – King’s College London.

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