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Title: Makers of Electricity
Author: Potamian, Brother, Walsh, James Joseph
Language: English
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 Makers of Electricity







 Copyright, 1909,
 New York.


This volume represents an effort in the direction of what may be called
the biographical history of electricity. The controlling idea in its
preparation was to provide brief yet reasonably complete sketches of the
lives of the great pioneer workers in electricity, the ground-breaking
investigators who went distinctly beyond the bounds of what was known
before their time, not merely to add a fringe of information to previous
knowledge, but to make it easy for succeeding generations to reach
conclusions in electrical science that would have been quite impossible
until their revealing work was done. The lives of these men are not only
interesting as scientific history, but especially as human documents,
showing the sort of men who are likely to make great advances in science
and, above all, demonstrating what the outlook of such original thinkers
was on all the great problems of the world around us.

In recent times, many people have come to accept the impression that
modern science leads to such an exclusive occupation with things
material, that scientists almost inevitably lose sight of the deeper
significance of the world of mystery in which humanity finds itself
placed on this planet. The lives of these great pioneers in electricity,
however, do not lend the slightest evidence in confirmation of any such
impression. They were all of them firm believers in the existence of
Providence, of a Creator, of man's responsibility for his acts to that
Creator, and of a hereafter of reward and punishment where the sanction
of responsibility shall be fulfilled. Besides, they were men
characterized by some of the best qualities in human nature. Their
fellows liked them for their unselfishness, for their readiness to help
others, for their devotedness to their work and to their duties as
teachers, citizens and patriots. Almost without exception, they were as
far above the average of mankind in their personal ethics as they were
in their intellectual qualities.

The lives of such men, who were inspiring forces in their day, are as
illuminating as they are instructive and encouraging. Perhaps never more
than now do we need such inspiration and illumination to lift life to a
higher plane of purpose and accomplishment, than that to which it is so
prone to sink when material interests attract almost exclusive



 Peregrinus and Columbus                                1

 Norman and Gilbert                                    29

 Franklin and some contemporaries                      68

 Galvani, discoverer of animal electricity            133

 Volta, the founder of electrical science             162

 Coulomb                                              188

 Hans Christian Oersted                               205

 André Marie Ampère                                   232

 Ohm, the founder of mathematical electricity         258

 Faraday                                              299

 Clerk Maxwell                                        334

 Lord Kelvin                                          361



 The double pivoted needle of Petrus Peregrinus        19

 First pivoted compass, Peregrinus, 1269               17

 Magnetic Declination at New York                      21

     "        "       "  San Francisco                 21

     "        "       in London, in 1580 and 1907      23

 First dip-circle, invented by Norman in 1576          29

 Norman's illustration of magnetic dip                 31

 Gilbert's orb of virtue, 1600                         32

 Behavior of compass-needle on a terrella or
     spherical lodestone                               44

 Gilbert's "versorium" or electroscope                 69

 Gordon's electric chimes, 1745                        75

 Modern form of Leyden jar, with movable coatings      87

 Three coated panes in series                          89

   "   panes in parallel                               89

   "   jars in parallel                                90

   "   jars in cascade                                 90

 Discharge by alternate contacts                       94

 Tassel of long threads or light strips of paper      101

 Procopius Divisch (1696-1765)                        108

 The Divisch lightning conductor (1754)               111

 Set of pointed rods                                  112

 Galvani (portrait) opposite page                     133

 Volta        "        "      "                       162

 Oersted      "        "      "                       205

 Ampère       "        "      "                       232

 Faraday      "        "      "                       299

 Clerk Maxwell (portrait) opposite page               334

 Lord Kelvin        "        "      "                 361




The ancients laid down the laws of literary form in prose as well as in
verse, and bequeathed to posterity works which still serve as models of
excellence. Their poets and historians continue to be read for the sake
of the narrative and beauty of the style; their philosophers for breadth
and depth of thought; and their orators for judicious analysis and
impassioned eloquence.

In the exact sciences, too, the ancients were conspicuous leaders by
reason of the number and magnitude of the discoveries which they made.
You have only to think of Euclid and his "Elements," of Apollonius and
his Conics, of Eratosthenes and his determination of the earth's
circumference, of Archimedes and his mensuration of the sphere, and of
the inscription on Plato's Academy, _Let none ignorant of geometry enter
my door_, to realize the fondness of the Greek mind for abstract truth
and its suppleness and ingenuity in mathematical investigation.

But the sciences of observation did not advance with equal pace; nor was
this to be expected, as time is an essential element in experimentation
and in the collection of data, both of which are necessary for the
framing of theories in explanation of natural phenomena.

The slowness of advance is well seen in the development of the twin
subjects of electricity and magnetism. As to the lodestone, with which
we are concerned at present, the attractive property was the only one
known to ancient philosophy for a period of six hundred years, from the
time of Thales to the age of the Cæsars, when Lucretius wrote on the
nature of things in Latin verse.

Lucretius records the scant magnetic knowledge of his predecessors and
then proceeds to unfold a theory of his own to account for the phenomena
of the wonder-working stone. Book VI. of "De Natura Rerum" contains his
speculations anent the magnet, together with certain observations which
show that the poet was not only a thinker, but somewhat of an
experimenter as well. Thus he recognizes magnetic _repulsion_ when he
says: "It happens, too, at times that the substance of the iron recedes
from the stone as if accustomed to start back from it, and by turns to
follow it."

This recognition of the repelling property of the lodestone is
immediately followed by the description of an experiment which is
frequently referred to in works on magnetic philosophy. It reads: "Thus
have I seen raspings of iron, lying in brazen vessels, thrown into
agitation and start up when the magnet was moved beneath"; or

    And oft in brazen vessels may we mark
    Ringlets of Samothrace, or fragments fine
    Struck from the valid iron bounding high
    When close below, the magnet points its powers.

This experiment, seen and recorded by Lucretius, is of special interest
to the student of magnetic history because of the use which is made of
iron filings and also because it has led certain writers to credit the
poet with a knowledge of what is known to-day by the various names of
magnetic figures, magnetic curves, magnetic spectrum. We do not,
however, share this view, because we see no adequate resemblance between
the positions assumed by the bristling particles of iron in the one
case, as described by the Roman poet, and the continuous symmetrical
curves of our laboratories in the other. If Lucretius noticed such
curves in his brazen vessels, he does not say so; nor does the meagre
description of magnetic phenomena given in Book VI. warrant us in
assuming that he did.

The use of iron filings to map out the entire field of force that
surrounds a magnet was unknown to classical antiquity; it was not known
to Peregrinus or Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century or even to
Gilbert in the sixteenth. The credit for reviving the use of filings and
employing them to show the direction of the resultant force at any point
in the neighborhood of a magnet, belongs to Cabeo, an Italian Jesuit,
who described and illustrated it in his "Philosophia Magnetica,"
published at Ferrara in the year 1629. On page 316 of that celebrated
work will be found a figure, the first of the kind, showing the position
taken by the filings when plentifully sifted over a lodestone: thick
tufts at the polar ends with curved lines in the other parts of the

The Samothracian rings mentioned in the passage quoted above were light,
hollow rings of iron which, for the amusement of the crowd, the jugglers
of the times held suspended one from the other by the power of a

Writing of the lodestone, Lucretius says:

       Its viewless, potent virtues men surprise,
       Its strange effects, they view with wond'ring eyes,
       When without aid of hinges, links or springs
       A pendent chain we hold of steely rings.
       Dropt from the stone--the stone the binding source--
       Ring cleaves to ring and owns magnetic force;
       Those held above, the ones below maintain;
       Circle 'neath circle downward draws in vain
       Whilst free in air disports the oscillating chain.

Though the Roman poet was acquainted with two of the leading properties
of the lodestone, viz., attraction and repulsion, there is nothing in
the lines quoted above or in any other lines of his great didactic poem
to indicate that he was aware of the remarkable difference which there
is between one end of a lodestone and the other. The polarity of the
magnet, as we term it, was unknown to him and remained unknown for a
period of 1200 years.

During that long period nothing of importance was added to the magnetic
lore of the world. True, a few fables were dug out of the tomes of
ancient writers which gained credence and popularity, partly by reason
of the fondness of the human mind for the marvelous, and partly also by
reason of the reputation of the authors who stood sponsors for them.

Pliny (23-79 A. D.) devotes several pages of his "Natural History" to
the nature and geographical distribution of various kinds of lodestones,
one of which was said to repel iron just as the normal lodestone
attracts it. Needless to say that the mineral kingdom does not hold such
a stone, although Pliny calls it _theamedes_ and says that it was found
in Ethiopia.

Pliny is responsible for another myth which found favor with subsequent
writers for a long time, when he says that a certain architect intended
to place a mass of magnetite in the vault of an Alexandrian temple for
the purpose of holding an iron statue of Queen Arsinoe suspended in
mid-air. Of like fabulous character is the oft-repeated story about
Mahomet, that an iron sarcophagus containing his remains was suspended
by means of the lodestone between the roof of the temple at Mecca and
the ground.

As a matter of fact, Mahomet died at Medina and was buried there in the
ordinary manner, so that the story as currently told of the suspension
of his coffin in the "Holy City" of Mecca, contains a twofold error, one
of place and the other of position. By a recent (1908) imperial irade of
the Sultan of Turkey, the tomb is lit up by electric light in a manner
that is considered worthy of the "Prophet of Islam."

Four centuries after Pliny, Claudian, the last of the Latin poets as he
is styled, wrote an idyl of fifty-seven lines on the magnet, which
contains nothing but poetic generalities. St. Ambrose (340-397) and
Palladius (368-430), writing on the Brahmans of India, tell how certain
magnetic mountains were said to draw iron nails from passing ships and
how wooden pegs were substituted for nails in vessels going to
Taprobane, the modern Ceylon. St. Augustine (354-430) records in his "De
Civitate Dei" the wonder which he felt in seeing scraps of iron
contained in a silver dish follow every movement of a lodestone held

With time, the legendary literature of the magnet became abundant and in
some respects amusing. Thus we read of the "flesh" magnet endowed with
the extraordinary power of adhering to the skin and even of drawing the
heart out of a man; the "gold" magnet which would attract particles of
the precious metal from an admixture of sand; the "white" magnet used as
a philter; magnetic unguents of various kinds, one of which, when
smeared over a bald head, would make the hair grow; magnetic plasters
for the relief of headache; magnetic applications to ease toothaches and
dispel melancholy; magnetic nostrums to cure the dropsy, to quell
disputes and even reconcile husband and wife. No less fictitious was the
pernicious effect on the lodestone attributed in the early days of the
mariner's compass to onions and garlic; and yet, so deeply rooted was
the belief in this figment that sailors, while steering by the compass,
were forbidden the use of these vegetables lest by their breath they
might intoxicate the "index of the pole" and turn it away from its true
pointing. More reasonable than this prohibition was the maritime
legislation of certain northern countries for the protection of the
lodestone on shipboard. According to this penal code, a sailor found
guilty of tampering with the lodestone used for stroking the needles,
was to have the guilty hand held to a mast of the ship by a dagger
thrust through it until, by tearing the flesh away, he wrenched himself

It was only at the time of the Crusades that people in Europe began to
recognize the _directive_ property of the magnet, in virtue of which a
freely suspended compass-needle takes up a definite position relatively
to the north-and-south line, property which is serviceable to the
traveler on land and supremely useful to the navigator on sea.

It is commonly said that the compass was introduced into Europe by the
returning Crusaders, who heard of it from their Mussulman foes. These,
in turn, derived their knowledge from the Chinese, who are credited with
its use on sea as far back as the third century of our era.[1]

Among the earliest references to the sailing compass is that of the
trouvère Guyot de Provins,[2] who wrote, about the year 1208, a
satirical poem of three thousand lines, in which the following passage

    The mariners employ an art which cannot deceive.
    An ugly stone and brown,
    To which iron joins itself willingly
    They have; after applying a needle to it,
    They lay the latter on a straw
    And put it simply in the water
    Where the straw makes it float.
    Then the point turns direct.
    To the star with such certainty
    That no man will ever doubt it,
    Nor will it ever go wrong.
    When the sea is dark and hazy,
    That one sees neither star nor moon,
    Then they put a light by the needle
    And have no fear of losing their way.
    The point turns towards the star;
    And the mariners are taught
    To follow the right way.
    It is an art which cannot fail.

The author was a caustic and fearless critic, who lashed with equal
freedom the clergy and laity, nobles and princes, and even the reigning
pontiff himself, all of whom should be for their subjects, according to
the satirist, what the pole-star is for mariners--a beacon to guide them
over the stormy sea of life.

Guyot traveled extensively in his early years, but later in life retired
from a world which he despised, and ended his days in the peaceful
seclusion of the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny.

An interesting reference, of a similar nature to that of the minstrel
Guyot, is found in the Spanish code of laws known as Las Siete Partidas
of Alfonso el Sabio, begun in 1250 and completed in 1257. It says:

"And even as mariners guide themselves in the dark night by the needle,
which is their connecting medium between the lodestone and the star, and
thus shows them where they go alike in bad seasons as in good; so those
who are to give counsel to the king ought always to guide themselves by
justice, which is the connecting medium between God and the world, at
all times to give their guerdon to the good and their punishment to the
Wicked, to each according to his deserts."[5]

It will be necessary to give a few more extracts from writers of the
first half of the thirteenth century in order to show how little was
known about the magnet and how crude were the early appliances used in
navigation when Peregrinus appeared on the scene.

Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, who lived in the East for some years, wrote
his "History of the Orient" between the years 1215 and 1220, in which he

"An iron needle after touching the lodestone, turns towards the north
star, so that such a needle is necessary for those who navigate the

This passage of the celebrated Cardinal seems to indicate that even then
the compass was widely known and commonly used in navigation.

Neckam (1157-1217), the Augustinian Abbot of Cirencester, wrote in his

"Among the stores of a ship, there must be a needle _mounted on a dart_
which will oscillate and turn until the point looks to the north; the
sailors will thus know how to direct their course when the pole-star is
concealed through the troubled state of the atmosphere."

This passage is of historical value, as it contains what is probably the
earliest known reference to a mounted or pivoted compass. Prior to the
introduction of this mode of suspension, the needle was floated on a
straw, in a reed, on a piece of cork or a strip of wood, all of which
modes of flotation, when taken in conjunction with the unsteadiness of
the vessel in troubled waters, must have made observation difficult and

Brunetto Latini (1230-1294) makes a passing reference to the new
magnetic knowledge in his "Livres dou Tresor," which he wrote in 1260,
during his exile in Paris.

"The sailors navigate the seas," he says, "guided by the two stars
called tramontanes; and each of the two parts of the lodestone directs
the end of the needle that has touched it to the particular star to
which that part of the stone itself turns."

Though a statesman, orator and philosopher of ability, the preceptor of
Dante in Florence and guest of Friar Bacon in Oxford, Brunetto has not
got the philosophy of the needle quite right in this passage; for the
part that has been touched by the north end of a lodestone will acquire
south polarity and will not, therefore, turn towards the same
"tramontane" as the end of the stone by which it was touched.

Dante himself admitted the occult influence on the compass-needle that
emanates from the pole-star when he wrote:

    "Out of the heart of one of the new lights
    There came a voice that, needle to the star,
    Made me appear in turning thitherward.
                            _Paradise_, XII., 28-30.

The next writer on the compass is Raymond Lully (1236-1315), who was
noted for his versatility, voluminous writings and extensive travels as
well as for the zeal which he displayed in converting the African
Moors. Lully writes in his "De Contemplatione": "As the needle after
touching the lodestone, turns to the north, so the mariners' needle
directs them over the sea."

This brings us to the last of our ante-Peregrinian writers who make
definite allusions to the use of the compass for navigation purposes,
viz., Roger Bacon, one of the glories of the thirteenth century as he
would be of the twentieth. It was at the request of his patron, Pope
Clement IV., that Bacon wrote his "Opus Majus," a work in which he
treats of all the sciences and in which he advocates the experimental
method as the right one for the study of natural phenomena and the only
one that will serve to extend the boundaries of human knowledge. In a
section on the magnet, a clear distinction is drawn between the physical
properties of the two ends of a lodestone; for "iron which has been
touched by a lodestone," he says, "follows the end by which it has been
touched and turns away from the other." Besides being a recognition of
magnetic polarity, this is equivalent to saying that unlike poles
attract while like poles repel each other. Bacon further remarks, by way
of corroboration, that if a strip of iron be floated in a basin, the end
that was touched by the lodestone will follow the stone, while the other
end will flee from it as a lamb from the wolf. There is, however, an
earlier recognition known of the polarity of the lodestone; for Abbot
Neckam, fifty years before, called attention to the dual nature of the
physical action of the lodestone, attracting in one part (say) by
sympathy and repelling at the other by antipathy. It was the common
belief in Bacon's time and for centuries after, that the compass-needle
was directed by the pole-star, often called the sailor's star; but Bacon
himself did not think so, preferring to believe with Peregrinus, that it
was controlled not by any one star or by any one constellation, but by
the entire celestial sphere. Other contemporaries of his sought the
cause of the directive property not in the heavens at all, but in the
earth itself, attributing it to hypothetical mines of iron which,
naturally enough, they located in regions situated near the pole.
Peregrinus records this opinion, which he criticises and rejects, saying
in Chapter X. that persons who hold such a doctrine "are ignorant of the
fact that in many different parts of the globe the lodestone is found;
from which it would follow that the needle should turn in different
directions, according to the locality, which is contrary to experience."
A little further on he gives his own view, saying: "It is evident from
the foregoing chapters that we must conclude that not only from the
north pole (of the world), but also from the south pole rather than from
the veins of mines, virtue flows into the poles of the lodestone."

Observations had to accumulate and much experimentation had to be done
before it was finally established that the cause of the directive
property of the magnet is not to be sought in the remote star depths at
all, but in the earth itself, the whole terrestrial globe acting as a
colossal magnet, partly in virtue of magnetic ore lying near the surface
and partly also in virtue of electrical currents, due to solar heat,
circulating in the crust of the earth.

Of the early years of Pierre le Pélérin (Petrus Peregrinus), nothing is
known save that he was born of wealthy parents in Maricourt, a village
of Picardy in Northern France. From his academic title of Magister, we
infer that he received the best instruction available at the time,
probably in the University of Paris, which was then in the height of its
fame. His reputation for mathematical learning and mechanical skill
crossed the Channel and reached Friar Bacon in the University of Oxford.
In his "Opus Tertium," the Franciscan Friar records the esteem in which
he held his Picard friend, saying: "I know of only one person who
deserves praise for his work in experimental philosophy, because he does
not care for the discourses of men or their wordy warfare, but quietly
and diligently pursues the works of wisdom. Therefore it is that what
others grope after blindly, as bats in the evening twilight, this man
contemplates in all their brilliancy because he is master of

Continuing the appraisal of his Gallic friend's achievements, he says:
"He knows all natural sciences, whether pertaining to medicine and
alchemy or to matters celestial and terrestrial. He has worked
diligently in the smelting of ores and also in the working of minerals;
he is thoroughly acquainted with all sorts of arms and implements used
in military service and in hunting, besides which he is skilled in
agriculture and also in the measurement of lands. It is impossible to
write a useful or correct treatise on experimental philosophy without
mentioning this man's name. Moreover, he pursues knowledge for its own
sake; for if he wished to obtain royal favor, he could easily find
sovereigns to honor and enrich him."

This is at once a beautiful tribute to the work and character of
Peregrinus and an emphatic recognition of the paramount importance of
laboratory methods for the advancement of learning. It is evident from
such testimony, coming as it does from an eminent member of the
brotherhood of science, that the world had not to wait for the advent of
Chancellor Bacon or for the publication of his _Novum Organum_ in 1620,
to learn how to undertake and carry out a scientific research to a
reliable issue. Call the method what you will, inductive, deductive or
both, the method advocated by the Franciscan friar of the thirteenth
century was the one followed at all times from Archimedes to Peregrinus
and from Peregrinus to Gilbert, none of whom knew anything of Lord
Bacon's pompous phrases and lofty commendation of the inductive method
of inquiry for the advancement of physical knowledge. Be it said in
passing, that Bacon, eminent as he undoubtedly was in the realm of the
higher philosophy, was, nevertheless, neither a mathematician nor a man
of science; he never put to a practical test the rules which he laid
down with such certitude and expectancy for the guidance of physical
inquiry. Moreover, there is not a single discovery in science made
during the three centuries that have elapsed since the promulgation of
the Baconian doctrine that can be ascribed to it; it has been steadily
ignored by men renowned in the world for their scientific achievements
and has been absolutely barren of results.

Peregrinus, on the other hand, does not stop to enumerate opinions, he
does not even quote Aristotle; but he experiments, observes, reasons and
draws conclusions which he puts to the further test of experiment before
finally accepting them. Then and then only does he rise from the order
of the physicist to that of the philosopher, from correlating facts and
phenomena to the discovery of the laws which govern them and the causes
that produce them. Furthermore, he was in no hurry to let the world know
that he was grinding lodestones one day and pivoting compass-needles the
next; what he cared for supremely was to discover facts, new phenomena,
new methods. Peregrinus was not an essayist, nor was he a man of mere
book-learning. He was a clear-headed thinker, a close and resourceful
worker, a man who preferred facts to phrases and observation to

At one period of his life, Master Peter applied his ingenuity to the
solution of a problem in practical optics, involving the construction of
a burning-mirror of large dimensions somewhat after the manner of
Archimedes; but though he spent three years on the enterprise and a
correspondingly large sum of money, we are not told by Friar Bacon, who
mentions the fact, what measure of success was achieved. Bacon, however,
avails himself of the occasion to insinuate a possible cause of failure,
for he says that nothing is difficult of accomplishment to his friend
_unless it be for want of means_.

Centuries later, the French naturalist Buffon took up the same optical
problem, with a view to showing that the feat attributed to Archimedes
during the siege of Syracuse by the Romans was not impossible of
accomplishment. For this purpose, he used 168 small mirrors in the
construction of a large concave reflector, with which he ignited wood at
a distance of 150 feet and succeeded in melting lead at a distance of
140 feet. As this was done in the winter time in Paris, it was concluded
that it would have been quite possible to set a Roman trireme on fire
from a safe distance by the concentrated energy of a Sicilian sun.

If Peregrinus was alert in mind, he appears to have been very active in
body. Prompted, no doubt, by the higher motives of Christian faith and
perhaps a little, too, by his fondness for travel and adventure, he took
the cross in early life and joined one of the crusading expeditions of
the time. That he went to the land of the paynim, we have no direct
evidence; but we infer the fact from the title of Peregrinus or Pilgrim,
by which he is known, his full name being Pierre le Pélérin de
Maricourt, or, in the Latinized form, Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt.

In 1269, we find him engaged in a military expedition undertaken by
Charles Duke of Anjou, for the purpose of bringing back to his
allegiance as King of the Two Sicilies the revolted city of Lucera in
Southern Italy. He served in what might be called the engineering corps
of the army, and was engaged in fortifying the camp and constructing
engines of defense and attack. Unlike his companions in arms, Peregrinus
does not allow himself to be wholly absorbed with military duties, nor
does he waste his leisure hours in frivolous amusements; his mind is on
higher things; he is engrossed with a problem in practical mechanics
which required him to devise a piece of mechanism that would keep an
armillary sphere in motion for a time.

In outlining the necessary mechanism, as he conceived it, he was
gradually led to consider the general and more fascinating problem of
perpetual motion itself, with the result that he waxed somewhat
enthusiastic when he thought that he saw the possibility of constructing
an ever-turning wheel in which the motive power would be magnetic
attraction, the attraction of a lodestone for a number of iron teeth
arranged at equal distances on the periphery of a wheel. The device
looked well on paper, beyond which stage it was not carried, perhaps for
want of leisure, or more probably for want of the necessary material and
tools. Had Peregrinus been able to test his theoretical views on the
_magnetic motor_ by actual experiment, the delusive character of
perpetual motion would have been recognized at an early epoch in the
world's history, and much time and money spared for more profitable

This very wheel, which was designed in the trenches before Lucera in
1269, was probably the cause of the withering rebuke which Justin Huntly
McCarthy administers in his "History of the French Revolution," Vol. I.,
p. 256, where he says: "In the long record of rascaldom from
_Peregrinus_ to Bamfylde Moore Carew, no single rascal stands forward
with such magnificent effrontery, such majestic impudence, such
astonishing success as Cagliostro." To say the least, this is a very
serious slip of the pen on the part of the Irish historian of the French
Revolution, in which a scientific pioneer of the first rank and a
patriot of exalted type is mistaken for a charlatan of the deepest dye.

Although Peregrinus puts the burden of constructing his wheel on others,
he does not appear to have considered it a vain conceit; for, in the
beginning of the last chapter of the "Epistola" he says: "In this
chapter, I will make known to you the construction of a wheel which, in
a remarkable manner, moves continuously." He is writing from Southern
Italy to his friend Siger (Syger, Sygerus), at home in Picardy; and that
this friend may the better comprehend the mechanism of the wheel, he
proceeds to describe in a systematic manner the various properties of
the lodestone, all of which he had investigated and many of which he had
discovered. The "Epistola" of Peregrinus is, therefore, the first
treatise on the magnet ever written; it stands as the first great
landmark in magnetic philosophy.

The work is divided into two parts--the first contains ten chapters and
the latter three. "At your request," he says to his friend, "I will
make known to you in an unpolished narrative the undoubted though hidden
virtue of the lodestone, concerning which philosophers, up to the
present time, give us no information. Out of affection for you, I will
write in simple style about things entirely unknown to the ordinary

  [Illustration: FIG. 1 The double pivoted needle of Petrus Peregrinus, A.
  D., 1269]

After this declaration as to the original character of his work
Peregrinus proceeds: "You must know that whoever wishes to experiment
should be acquainted with the nature of things; he must also be skilled
in manipulation, in order that by means of this stone, he may produce
those marvelous results."

The titles of the chapters will give an idea of the comprehensive
character of the magnetic work accomplished by the author and, at the
same time, will serve to show how much was known about the lodestone in
the thirteenth century.


Chap. I. Purpose of this work.
     II. Qualifications of the experimenter.
    III. Characteristics of a good lodestone.
     IV. How to distinguish the poles of a lodestone.
      V. How to tell which pole is north and which south.
     VI. How one lodestone attracts another.
    VII. How iron touched by a lodestone turns towards the
            poles of the world.
   VIII. How a lodestone attracts iron.
     IX. Why the north pole of one lodestone attracts the south
            pole of another, and _vice versa_.
      X. An inquiry into the natural virtue of the lodestone.


Chap. I. Construction of an instrument for measuring the azimuth
            of the sun, the moon or any star when in
            the horizon.
     II. Construction of a better instrument for the same purpose.
    III. The art of making a wheel of perpetual motion.

An attentive reading of the thirteen chapters of this treatise of 3,500
words will show that:

(1) Peregrinus assigns a definite position to what he calls the _poles_
of a lodestone and gives practical directions for determining which is
north and which south.

(2) He establishes the two fundamental laws of magnetism, that like
poles repel and unlike poles attract each other.

(3) He demonstrates by experiment that every fragment of a lodestone is
a complete magnet, and shows how the fragments should be put together in
order to reproduce the polarity of the unbroken stone.

(4) He shows how a pole of a lodestone may neutralize a weaker one of
the same name and even reverse its polarity.

(5) He pivots a magnetized needle and surrounds it with a circle divided
into 360 degrees.

This brief summary shows the great advance made by the author on what
was known about the lodestone before his time. Most of the salient facts
in magnetism are clearly described and some of their applications
pointed out. So thorough and complete was this apprehension and
explanation of magnetic phenomena that nothing of importance was added
to it for the next three hundred years.

  [Illustration: FIG. 2 First pivoted compass, Peregrinus, 1269]

In the compass which Peregrinus devised for use in navigation, a light
magnetic needle was thrust through a slender vertical axis made of wood,
which axis also carried a pointer of brass or silver at right angles to
the needle. According to the belief of the time, the magnetic needle
gave the north and south points of the horizon, while the brass pointer
determined the east and west points. This compass, double pivoted be it
noticed, was provided with a graduated circle and a movable arm, having
a pair of upright pins at its extremities, which movable arm enabled the
navigator to determine the magnetic bearing of the sun, moon or any star
at the time of rising or setting. "By means of this instrument," the
author says in Chap. II., "you can direct your course towards cities and
islands and any other place wherever you may wish to go, by land or by
sea, provided you know the latitude and longitude of the place which you
want to reach."

The invention of the compass has been attributed to one Flavio Gioja, a
seafaring man of Amalfi, a flourishing maritime town in Southern Italy.
If we admit that Gioja was a real and not a fictitious person, we
cannot, however, admit the claim which is made by his countrymen, when
they say that he gave to the mariner the use of the compass in the year
1302; for we have seen that Peregrinus distinctly states that his
compass, described in 1269, could be relied upon for guidance by the
traveler on land as well as by the voyager on sea.

To Gioja may belong the merit of having simplified and improved the
compass. It is likely that he suspended the needle on one pivot instead
of the two used by Peregrinus, and that he added the compass-card with
its thirty-two divisions, attaching it to the needle itself, thereby
adding materially to the practical character of the compass as a
nautical instrument.

On the other hand, a claim has been made for Peregrinus which cannot be
admitted. It was put forward by his itinerant countryman Thévenot, in
the seventeenth century, to the effect that the author of the "Epistola"
was acquainted with magnetic declination, in virtue of which a freely
suspended magnet does not point north and south, but cuts the
geographical meridian at a definite angle.

Writing in 1681, Thévenot says in his "Recueil de Voyages" that: "It was
a matter of general belief down to the present day, that the declination
of the magnetic needle was first observed sometime in the beginning of
the last (16th) century. I have found, however, that there was a
declination of five degrees in the year 1269, having found it recorded
in a manuscript with the title "Epistola Petri Adsigerii," etc.

The title of the manuscript seen by Thévenot is not, however, as he
gives it above, but "Epistola Petri ad Sygerium," etc., which is quite a
different reading.

There are twenty-eight manuscript copies of the "Epistola" known to
exist; and only one of them, that of the University of Leyden, contains
the passage alluded to by Thévenot. This manuscript was the object of
careful study and critical examination by Wenckebach (1865) and other
competent scholars, who pronounced it a spurious addition made some time
in the early part of the 16th century.[4]

In the time of Peregrinus, it is probable that the declination did not
exceed three degrees in Paris or on the shores of the Mediterranean, a
quantity so small that it would have been difficult of detection; and,
if detected, would have been attributed either to errors in the
construction of the instrument used or to inaccuracy on the part of the
observer. This is what happened to Columbus when, on his return to
Spain, having reported the many and definite observations on the
variation of the compass which he had made on his outward voyage, he was
told by the learned ones of the day that _he_ was in error and not the
needle, because the latter was everywhere true to the pole.

  [Illustration: FIG. 3]

This oft-stated and widely-believed fidelity of the needle to the pole
is not, however, founded on fact; it is the exception, the rare
exception, not the rule, despite the couplet of the poet:

    Th' obedient steel with living instinct moves
    And veers for ever to the pole it loves;

or this other,

    So turns the faithful needle to the pole,
    Though mountains rise between and oceans roll.

That the magnet does not turn to the pole of the world is common
knowledge to-day, when the High School tyro will tell you that in New
York it points 9° _west_ of north, while in San Francisco it points 15°
_east_ of north. If he happens to be well up, he may refer to the
position of the agonic line on the globe along which the needle stands
true to the pole, while all places to the east of that line in our
hemisphere have westerly declination and those to the west have easterly
declination. Indeed, magnetic charts show places where the needle points
east and west instead of north and south, and others where the
north-seeking end points directly south. Such varying and conflicting
behavior of the compass-needle serves to show the irregular manner in
which the earth's magnetism is distributed and also the intensity of
distributing forces which exist at certain places.

It is one of the gems in the crown of Columbus, that he observed,
measured and recorded this strange behavior of the magnetic needle in
his narrative of the voyage. True, he did not notice it until he was far
out on the trackless ocean. A week had elapsed since he left the lordly
Teneriffe, and a few days since the mountainous outline of Gomera had
disappeared from sight. The memorable night was that of September 13th,
1492. There was no mistaking it; the needle of the _Santa Maria_ pointed
a little west of north instead of due north. Some days later, on
September 17th, the pilots, having taken the sun's amplitude, reported
that the variation had reached a whole point of the compass, the
alarming amount of 11 degrees.

The surprise and anxiety which Columbus manifested on those occasions
may be taken as indications that the phenomenon was new to him. As a
matter of fact, however, his needles were not true even at the outset
of the voyage from the port of Palos, where, though no one was aware of
it, they pointed about 3° _east_ of north. This angle diminished from
day to day as the Admiral kept the prow of his caravel directed to the
west, until it vanished altogether, after which the needles veered to
the _west_, and kept moving westward for a time as the flag-ship
proceeded on her voyage.

  [Illustration: FIG. 4 Magnetic Declination in London in 1580 and in

Columbus thus determined a place on the Atlantic in which the magnetic
meridian coincided with the geographical and in which the needle stood
true to the pole. Six years later, in 1498, Sebastian Cabot found
another place on the same ocean, a little further north, in which the
compass lay exactly in the north-and-south line. These two observations,
one by Columbus and the other by Cabot, sufficed to determine the
position of the _agonic line_, or line of no variation, for that
locality and epoch.

The _Columbian_ line acquired at once considerable importance, in the
geographical and the political world, because of the proposal that was
made to discard the Island of Ferro and take it for the prime meridian
from which longitude would be reckoned east and west, and also because
it was selected by Pope Alexander VI. to serve as a line of reference in
settling the rival claims of the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile with
regard to their respective discoveries. It was decided that all recently
discovered lands lying to the east of that line should belong to
Portugal; and those to the west, to Castile.

The line of no variation, like all other isomagnetic lines, has shifted
its position with time, so that it runs to-day considerably to the west
of the place assigned to it by Columbus in 1492 and by the Papal Bull of
the following year.

Columbus did not speak of the disquieting observation which he made on
the night of the 13th of September; he thought of it, and wondered
greatly what might be the cause of such an unexpected and untoward
phenomenon. His silence on the matter did not avail, for the keen-eyed
sailors noticed the westerly deflection of the needle when, after a few
days, it became quite apparent. They grew alarmed, believing that the
laws of nature were changing as they advanced farther and farther into
the unknown. It was a trying moment for the Admiral, but his ingenuity
and tactfulness rose to the occasion. He told his seamen that the needle
did not point to the _cynosure_ or last star in the tail of the Little
Bear, as commonly supposed, but to a fixed point in the celestial sphere
at which there was no star, adding that the "cynosure" itself, the
Polaris of our days, was not stationary, but had a rotational movement
of its own like all other heavenly bodies.

We do not know what Columbus thought of his explanation, born of the
stress of the moment, but the esteem in which he was held by pilots and
sailors alike for his knowledge of astronomy and cosmography led them to
accept it. Their fears were allayed, a mutiny was averted and a
successful termination to their voyage rendered possible.

Captains of ocean-liners would give to-day a different answer to a
passenger who might consult them about the splinter of steel which
serves to guide their fleet vessels in darkest nights, through howling
tempests and over billowy seas. The mysterious influence that controls
it, they would say, comes neither from Polaris nor the pole of the
world, nor from the heavens above, but from the earth beneath.

Such an explanation was not thought of until it was clearly shown a
hundred years later that this globe of ours acts like a colossal
lodestone, controlling every magnet in our laboratories and
observatories, and every needle on board the merchantmen and
fighting-monsters that plough our seas and oceans.

Without any intuition of modern theory, Columbus made two discoveries in
terrestrial magnetism, as we have seen, each of fundamental importance,
whether considered from the view-point of pure science or that of
practical navigation, viz., (a) that the needle is not true to the pole
and (b) that the angular displacement of the needle from true
orientation, the _variation of the compass_, as it is called in nautical
parlance, differs with the place of the observer. These two discoveries
as well as the location of a place of no variation on the Atlantic Ocean
entitle Columbus to a prominent place among the founders of the
_science_ of terrestrial magnetism.

Later observers discovered that even for a given place this element of
magnetic declination has not a constant value, but undergoes changes
which complete their cycle, some in a day, others in a year, and others
again in centuries. The last or _secular_ change in the direction of the
magnetic needle was discovered by Gellibrand, of London, in 1634
(published in 1635); the _annual_, by Cassini, at Paris, 1782-1791; and
the _diurnal_, by Graham, of London, in 1722.

The first observation of magnetic declination on _land_ appears to have
been made about the year 1510 by George Hartmann (1489-1564), Vicar of
the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg, who found it to be 6° east in
Rome, where he was living at the time. Hartmann's observation of the
declination in Rome and also in Nuremberg, where the needle pointed 10°
east of north, will be found in a letter which he wrote in 1544 to Duke
Albert of Prussia and which remained unpublished until the year 1831.

Returning to the treatise of Peregrinus on the magnet, it should be said
that for several centuries the twenty-eight manuscript copies lay
undisturbed on the dusty shelves of city and university libraries. In
1562, four years after the appearance of the first printed edition
(Augsburg, 1558), Taisnier, a Belgian writer on magnetics, who is also
described as poet-laureate and Doctor "utriusque juris," was among the
earliest to discover the "Epistola," from which he copied extensively in
his little quarto on the magnet and its effects, thus showing that there
were literary pirates in those days. It was also well known to Gilbert,
to Cabeo and Kircher; but despite the references of these writers, the
"Epistola" remained practically unknown until Cavallo, of London, called
attention to the Leyden manuscript in the third edition of his "Treatise
on Magnetism,"[3] 1800, by giving part of the text and accompanying it
with a translation.

Later, in 1838, Libri, historian of the mathematical sciences in Italy,
gave excerpts from the Paris codex with translation; but the scholar who
contributed most of all to make the work of Peregrinus known is the
Italian Barnabite, Timoteo Bertelli, who published in 1868 a critical
study of the various manuscripts of the letter, principally those which
he found in Rome and in Florence, adding copious notes of historic,
bibliographic and scientific value. Father Bertelli was Professor of
Physics in the Collegio della Quercia, in Florence, where he took an
active interest in Italian seismology besides carrying on investigations
in meteorology, telegraphy and electricity. Born in Bologna in 1826, he
died in Florence in March, 1905.

The following list of manuscript copies of the "Epistola" is taken from
a scholarly paper by Professor Silvanus P. Thompson, of London, which
appeared in the "Proceedings of the British Academy" for 1906:--

     The Bodleian Library               seven
     Vatican                             four
     British Museum                       one
     Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris        two
     Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence     one
     Trinity College, Dublin              one
     Gonville and Caius, Cambridge        one
     The University of Leyden             one
     Geneva                               one
     Turin                                one
     Erfurt                             three
     Vienna                             three
     S. P. Thompson                       two

The first printed edition of the "Epistola" was prepared for the press
in 1558 by Achilles Gasser, a man well versed in the science and
philosophy of his day; another edition, which will probably be
considered the _textus receptus_, is that which was prepared and
published by Bertelli in 1868.

No complete translation in any language of this historical work on
magnetism was made until 1902, when Prof. Silvanus P. Thompson, of
London, published his "Epistle of Peter Peregrinus of Maricourt to
Sygerus of Foncaucourt, soldier, concerning the Magnet." Unfortunately,
this translation was printed for private circulation and limited to 250
copies. Two years later, 1904, Brother Arnold, F. S. C., presented a
memoir on Peregrinus, including a translation of the "Epistola," for the
M. Sc. degree of Manhattan College, New York City, which translation was
published some months later by the McGraw Publishing Company, New York.
These are the only complete translations of the "Letter" of Peregrinus
on the Magnet which have yet appeared.



[1] See Klaproth, "Lettre à M. le Baron A. de Humbolt sur
l'Invention de la Boussole." 1834; also Encyc. Brit., article

[2] Provins, town 57 miles southeast of Paris.

[3] Southey, "Omniana," Vol. I., p. 213, ed. 1812.

[4] Annali di Matematica pura ed applicata. Rome, 1865.

[5] Also in _Rees_ Encyclopedia, article _Compass_.



We have seen that in the thirteenth century the directive property of
the lodestone was recognized by Peregrinus and used by him in his
pivoted compass; and that in the fifteenth, Columbus discovered magnetic
declination on sea as well as its variation with place.

The next cardinal fact in terrestrial magnetism, magnetic dip, was
discovered in 1576 by Robert Norman, a compass-maker of Limehouse,
London. Norman possessed many of the fine qualities of mind, hand and
disposition that are indispensable in the make-up of the original
investigator. In pivoting his compass-needles, he soon noticed that,
however carefully they were balanced before being magnetized, they did
not remain horizontal after magnetization, the north-seeking end always
going down through a small angle. He next had the happy idea of swinging
a needle on a horizontal axis, so that it might be free to move up and
down in a vertical plane, with the result that the north-seeking end
again went down through a constant but much greater angle.

  [Illustration: FIG. 5 The first dip-circle, invented by Norman in 1576]

Like declination, the first discovered of the three magnetic elements,
the dip was found to vary with place on the earth's surface, being 0° at
the magnetic equator and 90° at either pole. It was with a Norman
dip-circle, greatly improved, that Ross in 1831 found the north magnetic
pole of the earth to be in Boothia Felix in latitude 70° 5'.3 N., and
longitude 96° 45'.8 W.; and it was with a similar instrument that
Amundsen recently studied the magnetic conditions of that Arctic region,
the exact location of the pole itself being finally determined by an
earth-inductor or spinning coil of the latest make. Though the results
of his observations have not yet been made public, it is generally known
that they indicate a spot for the magnetic pole close to that found by
Sir James Ross. It is not expected, however, that the location of the
pole by the Norwegian Commander shall exactly coincide with that of the
English Captain, because the magnetic pole is believed to have nomadic
tendencies of its own like our geographical pole, only much more
pronounced in magnitude. After moving westward for some time at the rate
of a mile per year, it retraced its steps and is now back again in the
vicinity of its starting place.

Besides his dip-circle, Norman also devised a simple and very apt
illustration of magnetic inclination. Thrusting a steel needle through a
round piece of cork, he pared the latter down until the system,
consisting of the needle and the cork, sank to a certain depth in a
glass vessel containing water, and there took up a horizontal position.
The needle was next removed from the water and magnetized with great
care, so as not to disturb its position in the cork. When placed again
in the water, the needle sank to its former depth and settled down at an
angle of 71° to the horizon.

The same illustration shows another experiment which Norman made in
order to determine whether the earth exerts a force of translation on a
magnet, in virtue of which the magnet would tend to move bodily toward
the pole. For this purpose, he floated a magnetized piece of steel wire
on the surface of the water and noticed that, wherever placed, it merely
swung round into the magnetic meridian without showing any tendency to
move northward or southward toward the rim of the vessel. Hartmann, who
observed the declination of the needle on land as stated on p. 26,
appears also to have been the first to notice magnetic inclination.
Having balanced a steel needle with great precision, he found that,
after magnetization, it did not remain horizontal, the north-seeking end
invariably dipping through an angle of 9°. The smallness of the angle in
this experiment was due to the fact that the needle used by the
Nuremberg Vicar could move only in a horizontal plane, whereas Norman's
was free to move in a vertical circle. Had Hartmann used such a device,
he would have obtained more than 60° for the dip instead of the 9° which
he records.

  [Illustration: FIG. 6 Norman's illustration of magnetic dip]

As already remarked, the letter in which Hartmann consigns these capital
observations was written in 1544, but was not published until the third
decade of the nineteenth century, so that Norman has clearly the full
merit of independent discovery.

In the directions which Norman gives for making observations of dip, he
states explicitly that the instrument must be adjusted "duley according
to the variation of the place," which means that the plane of the circle
must be turned into what was called after his time "the magnetic

The discovery of magnetic dip led Norman to discard the view generally
held in his time, which placed the controlling influence of the
compass-needle in far-off celestial space; for he says that the _poynt
respective_ which the magnet indicates, but to which it is not bodily
drawn, is not in the heavens above, but in the earth itself. His words
are: "And by the declining of the needle is also proved that the poynt
respective is rather in the earth than in the heavens, as some have
imagined; and the greatest reason why they so thought, as I judge, was
because they were never acquainted with this declining in the needle."

Here we have a radical departure from the scientific creed of the time,
a notable advance in scientific theory, an entirely new philosophy
founded by Norman, the compass-maker, and greatly developed twenty-four
years later by his fellow-citizen, Gilbert, the physician.

  [Illustration: FIG. 7 Gilbert's _orb of virtue_, 1600]

Norman made another remark of great importance in the new philosophy,
the justness of which was appreciated by Gilbert, his contemporary, but
more so by Faraday and Clerk Maxwell, two centuries later. It refers to
the space surrounding a magnet, natural or artificial, which cubical
space Gilbert, following Norman, called an _orb of virtue_. That the
influence or "effluvium" of the magnet extends throughout the entire
space may readily be seen by carrying a compass-needle round a magnet
from point to point, far away as well as close by. The phrase "orb of
virtue," or sphere of magnetic influence, appears to describe the actual
magnetic condition of the space in question more pertinently than our
modern equivalent of "magnetic field."

The words of Norman are very remarkable: "I am of opinion that if this
vertue could by anie means be made visible to the eie of man, it would
be found in a sphericall forme, extending round about the stone in great
compasse and the dead bodie of the stone in the middle thereof." The
lines which immediately follow this statement, pregnant with
significance, show the deep religious feeling of the author. They read:
"and this I have partly proved and made visible to be seene in some
manner, and God sparing mee life, I will herein make further experience
and that not curiouslie but in the feare of God as neere as He shall
give me grace and meane to annexe the same unto a booke of navigation
which I have had long in hand."--Chap. VIII.

It is evident from the pages of the _Newe Attractive_ (1581) that Norman
was animated with the right spirit of inquiry, which is calm, deliberate
and judicious, which leads to the discovery of facts, to their
coordination and experimental illustration before explanations are
thought of and long before new theories are propounded. The style in
which this little treatise is written has a charm of its own, mainly by
reason of its quaintness. At the end of his address to the candid
reader, which, after the manner of the times, was somewhat belabored and
rhetorical in character, Norman breaks away from common inadequate
prose; and, giving wings to his imagination, writes a lyric on the
magnet which is the first metrical composition in English that we have
on such a subject. It reads:--


           Give place ye glittering sparks,
            ye glimmering Diamonds bright,
           Ye Rubies red, and Saphires brave
            wherein ye most delight.

           In breefe, yee stones inricht,
            and burnisht all with golde,
           Set forth in Lapidaries shops,
            for Jewells to be sold.

           Give place, give place I say,
            your beautie, gleame and glee,
           Is all the vertue for the which,
            accepted so you bee.

           Magnes, the Loadstone I,
            your painted sheath defie,
           Without my help in Indian seas,
            the best of you might lie.

           I guide the Pilot's course,
            his helping hand I am,
           The Mariner delights in me,
            so doth the Marchant man.

           My vertue lies unknowne,
            my secrets hidden are,
           By me, the Court and Commonweale,
            are pleasured very farre.

           No ship could sail on Seas,
            her course to run aright,
           Nor Compass shew the ready way
            were Magnes not of might.

           Blush then, and blemish all,
            bequeath to mee thats due,
           Your seats in golde, your price in plate,
            which Jewellers do renue.

           Its I, its I alone,
            whom you usurp upon,
           Magnes my name, the Loadstone cal'd,
            the prince of stones alone.

           If this you can deny,
            then seem to make reply,
           And let the painfull sea-man judge,
            the which of us doth lie.


           The Loadstone is the stone,
            the onely stone alone,
           Deserving praise above the rest
             whose vertues are unknown.


           The Diamonds bright, the Saphires brave,
            Are stones that bear the name,
           but flatter not, and tell the troath,
            Magnes deserves the same.
    (Edition of 1720.)

Norman's _Newe Attractive_ was well known to Gilbert, as were also the
_Epistola_ of Peregrinus, the _Magiae Naturalis_ of Porta, and indeed
all books treating of the lodestone, the magnet, or the compass-needle.
His own work _De Magnete_, published in the year 1600, is a compendium
of the world's knowledge of magnetism and electricity at the time. In
its pages, he not only discusses the opinions of others, but describes
discoveries of his own made during the twenty years which he ardently
devoted to the pursuit of experimental science, crowning his
investigations with theories in electricity and magnetism as became a
true philosopher.

Impressed by the originality of Gilbert's treatise, the practical
ingenuity and philosophic acumen displayed throughout, Hallam wrote in
his _Introduction to the Literature of Europe_: "Gilbert not only
collected all the knowledge which others had possessed on the subject,
but became at once the father of experimental philosophy in this island;
and, by a singular felicity and acuteness of genius, the founder of
theories which have been received after the lapse of ages and are almost
universally received into the creed of science."

At a period when natural science was taught in the schools of Europe
mainly from text-books, we find Gilbert proclaiming by example and
advocacy the paramount value of experiment for the advancement of
learning. He was unsparing in his denunciation of the superficiality
and verbosity of mere bookmen, and had no patience with writers who
treated their subjects "esoterically, reconditely and mystically." For
him, the laboratory method was the only one that could secure fruitful
results and contribute effectively to the advancement of learning.

It is true that men of unusual ability and strong character strove
before his time to adjust the claims of authority in matters scientific.
While respectful of the teachings of recognized leaders, they were not,
however, awed into acquiescence by an academical "magister dixit." On
the contrary, they wanted to test with their eyes in order to judge with
reason; believing in the importance of experiment, they sought to
acquire a knowledge of nature from nature herself.

Such were Albert the Great and Friar Bacon. Albert did not bow
obsequiously to the authority of Aristotle or any of his Arabian
commentators; he investigated for himself and became, for his age, a
distinguished botanist, physiologist and mineralogist.

The Franciscan monk of Ilchester has left us in his _Opus Majus_ a
lasting memorial of his practical genius. In the section entitled
"Scientia Experimentalis," he affirms that "Without experiment, nothing
can be adequately known. An argument proves theoretically, but does not
give the certitude necessary to remove all doubt, nor will the mind
repose in the clear view of truth, unless it find it by way of
experiment." And in his _Opus Tertium_: "The strongest arguments prove
nothing, so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience.
Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all

No one, even in our own times, wrote more strongly in favor of the
practical method than did this follower of St. Francis in the
thirteenth century. Being convinced that there can be no conflict
between scientific and revealed truths, he became an irrepressible
advocate for observation and experiment in the study of the phenomena
and forces of nature.

The example of Peregrinus, of Albert and Friar Bacon, not to mention
others like Vincent of Beauvais, the Dominican encyclopedist, was,
however, not sufficient to wean students from the easy-going routine of
book-learning. A few centuries had to elapse before the weaning was
effectively begun; and the man who contributed in a marked degree to
this result was Gilbert the Philosopher of Colchester (1544-1603).

Having received the elements of his education in the Grammar School of
Colchester, his native town, Gilbert entered St. John's College,
Cambridge, from which university he took his B. A. degree in 1560, M. A.
in 1564 and M. D. in 1569. In all, he appears to have been connected
with the University for a period of eleven or twelve years, as student,
Fellow, and examiner.

On leaving Cambridge, Gilbert traveled for four years on the Continent,
principally in Italy, visiting medical schools and studying methods of
treatment under the leading physicians and surgeons of the day as well
as discussing scientific theory with the leaders of thought. On his
return to England in 1573, he practised medicine in London "with great
applause and success." He was elected President of the Royal College of
Physicians in 1599, and appointed Physician to Queen Elizabeth in 1601
and to her successor, James I., in 1603.

On one occasion, he hears that Baptista Porta, whom he calls "a
philosopher of no ordinary note," said that a piece of iron rubbed with
a diamond turns to the north. He suspects this to be heresy. So,
forthwith he proceeds to test the statement by experiment. He was not
dazzled by the reputation of Baptista Porta; he respected Porta, but
respected truth even more. He tells us that he experimented with seventy
diamonds in presence of many witnesses, employing a number of iron bars
and pieces of wire, manipulating them with the greatest care while they
floated on corks; and concludes his long and exhaustive research by
plaintively saying: "Yet never was it granted me to see the effect
mentioned by Porta."

Though it led to a negative result, this probing inquiry was a
masterpiece of experimental work.

Gilbert incidentally regrets that the men of his time "are deplorably
ignorant with respect to natural things," and the only way he sees to
remedy this is to make them "quit the sort of learning that comes only
from books and that rests only on vain arguments and conjectures," for
he shrewdly remarks that "even men of acute intelligence without actual
knowledge of facts and in the absence of experiment easily fall into

Acting on this intimate conviction, he labored for twenty years over the
theories and experiments which he sets forth in his great work on the
magnet. "There is naught in these books," he tells us, "that has not
been investigated, and again and again done and repeated under our
eyes." He begs any one that should feel disposed to challenge his
results to repeat the experiments for himself "carefully, skilfully and
deftly, but not heedlessly and bunglingly."

It has been said that we are indebted to Sir Francis Bacon, Queen
Elizabeth's Chancellor, for the inductive method of studying the
phenomena of nature. Bacon's merit lies in the fact that he not only
minutely analyzed the method, pointing out its uses and abuses, but also
that he showed it to be the only one by which we can attain an accurate
knowledge of the physical world around us. His sententious eulogy went
forth to the world of scholars invested with all the importance,
authority and dignity which the high position and worldwide fame of the
philosophic Chancellor could give it. But while Bacon thought and wrote
in his study, Gilbert labored and toiled in his workshop. By his pen,
Bacon made a profound impression on the philosophic mind of his age; by
his researches, Gilbert explored two provinces of nature and added them
to the domain of science. Bacon was a theorist, Gilbert an investigator.
For twenty years he shunned the glare of society and the throbbing
excitement of public life; he wrenched himself away from all but the
strictest exigencies of his profession, in order to devote himself
undistractedly to the pursuit of science. And all this forty years
before the appearance of Bacon's _Novum Organum_, the very work which
contains the philosopher's "large thoughts and lofty phrases" on the
value of experiment as a means for the advancement of learning. During
that long period Gilbert haunted Colchester, where he delved into the
secrets of nature and prepared the materials for his great work on the
magnet. The publication of this Latin treatise made him known in the
universities at home and especially abroad: he was appreciated by all
the great physicists and mathematicians of his age; by such men as Sir
Kenelm Digby; by William Barlowe, a great "magneticall" man; by Kepler,
the astronomer, who adopted and defended his views; by Galileo himself,
who said: "I extremely admire and envy the author of _De Magnete_."

The science of magnetism owes more to Gilbert than to any other man,
Peregrinus (1269) excepted. He repeated for himself the numerous and
ingenious experiments of the medieval philosopher, and added much of his
own which he discovered during the long period of a life devoted to the
diligent exploration of this domain in the world of natural knowledge.

The ancients spoke of the lodestone as the Magnesian stone, from its
being found in abundance in the vicinity of Magnesia, a city of Asia
Minor. In his Latin treatise of 254 (small) folio pages, Gilbert uses
the adjective form of the term, but never the noun "Magnetismus" itself.
Our English term _magnetism_ appears for the first time on page 2 of
Archdeacon Barlowe's "Magneticall Advertisements," published in 1616;
while the surprising compound, "electro-magnetismos," is the title of a
chapter in Father Kircher's "Magnes, sive de Arte Magnetica," printed in
the year 1641.

Gilbert showed that a great number of bodies could be electrified; but
maintained that those only could exhibit magnetic properties which
contain iron. He satisfies himself of this by rubbing with a lodestone
such substances as wood, gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, glass, etc.,
and then floating them on corks, quaintly adding that they show "no
poles, because the energy of the lodestone has no entrance into their

To-day we know that nickel and cobalt behave like iron, whilst antimony,
bismuth, copper, silver and gold are susceptible of being influenced by
powerful electro-magnets, showing what has been termed diamagnetic
phenomena. Even liquids and gases, in Faraday's classical experiments,
yielded to the influence of his great magnet; and Professor Dewar, in
the same Royal Institution, exposed some of his liquid air and liquid
oxygen to the influence of Faraday's electromagnet and found them to be
strongly attracted, thus behaving like the paramagnetic bodies, iron,
nickel and cobalt.

Gilbert observes in all his magnets two points, one near each end, in
which the force, or, as he terms it, "the supreme attractional power,"
is concentrated. Like Peregrinus, he calls these points the _poles_ of
the magnet, and the line joining them its magnetic axis. With the aid of
his steel versorium, he recognizes that similar poles are mutually
hostile, whilst opposite poles seize and hold each other in friendly
embrace. He also satisfies himself that the energy of magnets resides
not only in their extremities, but that it permeates "their inmost
parts, being entire in the whole and entire in each part." This is
exactly what Peregrinus said in 1269 and what we say to-day; it is
nothing else than the molecular theory proposed by Weber, extended by
Ewing and universally accepted.

At any rate, Gilbert is quite certain that whatever magnetism may be, it
is not, like electricity, a material, ponderable substance. He
ascertained this by weighing in the most accurate scales of a goldsmith
a rod of iron before and after it had been rubbed with the lodestone,
and then observing that the weight is precisely the same in both cases,
being "neither less nor more."

Without referring to the prior discovery of Norman, whom he calls "a
skilled navigator and ingenious artificer," Gilbert satisfies himself
that not only the magnet, but all the space surrounding it, possesses
magnetic properties; for the magnet "sends its force abroad in all
directions, according to its energy and quality." This region of
influence Norman called a sphere of "vertue," and Gilbert an "orbis
virtutis," which is the Latin equivalent; we call it a "magnetic field,"
or field of force, which is less expressive and less appropriate. With
wonderful intuition, Gilbert sees this space filled with lines of
magnetic virtue passing out radially from his spherical lodestone, which
lines he calls "rays of magnetic force."

Clerk Maxwell was so fascinated with this beautiful concept that he made
it the work of his life to study the field of force due to electrified
bodies, to magnets and to conductors conveying currents; his powerful
intellect visualized those lines and gave them accurate mathematical
expression in the great treatise on electricity and magnetism which he
gave to the world in 1873.

Gilbert observes that the lodestone may be spherical or oblong;
"whatever the shape, imperfect or irregular, verticity is present; there
are poles," and the lodestones "have the selfsame way of turning to the
poles of the world." He knows that a compass-needle is not drawn bodily
towards the pole, and does not hesitate in this instance to give credit
to his countryman, Robert Norman, for having clearly stated this fact
and aptly demonstrated it. Following Norman, he floats a needle in a
vessel by means of a piece of cork, and notices that on whatever part of
the surface of the water it may be placed, the needle settles down after
a few swings invariably in the same direction. His words are: "It
revolves on its iron center and is not borne towards the rim of the

Gilbert knew nothing about the mechanical couple that came into play,
but he knew the fact; and, with the instinct of the philosopher, tested
it in a variety of ways.

We explain the orientation of the compass-needle by saying that it is
acted upon by a pair of equal and opposite forces due to the influence
of the terrestrial magnetic poles on each end of the needle and by
showing that such a couple can produce rotation, but not translation.

We find Gilbert working not only with steel needles and iron bars, but
also with rings of iron. He strokes them with a natural magnet and feels
certain that he has magnetized them. He assures us that "one of the
poles will be at the point rubbed and the other will be at the opposite
side." To show that the ring is really magnetized, he cuts it across,
opens it out, and finds that the ends exhibit polar properties.

A favorite piece of apparatus with Gilbert, as with Peregrinus, was a
lodestone ground down into globular form. He called it a terrella, a
miniature earth, and used it extensively for reproducing the phenomena
described by magnetizers, travelers and navigators. He breaks up
terrellas, in order to examine the magnetic condition of their inner
parts. There is not a doubtful utterance in his description of what he
finds; he speaks clearly and emphatically. "If magnetic bodies be
divided, or in any way broken up, each several part hath a north and a
south end"; _i.e._, each part will be a complete magnet.

  [Illustration: FIG. 8 Behavior of compass-needle on a _terrella_ or
  spherical lodestone]

We find him also comparing magnets by what is known to us as the
"magnetometer method." He brings the magnetized bars in turn near a
compass-needle and concludes that the magnet or the lodestone which is
able to make the needle go round is the best and strongest. He also
seeks to compare magnets by a process of weighing, similar to what is
called, in laboratory parlance, the "test-nail" method. He also inquires
into the effect of heat upon his magnets, and finds that 'a lodestone
subjected to any great heat loses some of its energy.' He applies a
red-hot iron to a compass-needle and notices that it 'stands still, not
turning to the iron.' He thrusts a magnetized bar into the fire until it
is red-hot and shows that it has lost all magnetic power. He does not
stop at this remarkable discovery, for he proceeds to let his red-hot
bars cool while lying in various positions, and finds: (1) that the bar
will acquire magnetic properties if it lie in the magnetic meridian; and
(2) that it will acquire none if it lie east and west. These effects he
rightly attributes to the inductive action of the earth.

Gilbert marks these and other experiments with marginal asterisks; small
stars denoting minor and large ones important discoveries of his. There
are in all 21 large and 178 small asterisks, as well as 84 illustrations
in _De Magnete_. This implies a vast amount of original work, and forms
no small contribution to the foundations of electric and magnetic

Gilbert clearly realized the phenomena and laws of magnetic induction.
He tells us that "as soon as a bar of iron comes within the lodestone's
sphere of influence, though it be at some distance from the lodestone
itself, the iron changes instantly and has its form renewed; it was
before dormant and inert; but now is quick and active." He hangs a nail
from a lodestone; a second nail from the first, a third from the second
and so on--a well-known experiment, made every day for elementary
classes. Nor is this all, for he interposes between the lodestone and
his iron nail, thick boards, walls of pottery and marble, and even
metals, and he finds that there is naught so solid as to do away with
its force or to check it, save a plate of iron. All that can be added to
this pregnant observation is that the plate of iron must be very thick
in order to carry all the lines of force due to the magnet, and thus
completely screen the space beyond.

But Gilbert is astonishing when he goes on to make thick boxes of gold,
glass and marble; and, suspending his needle within them, declares with
excusable enthusiasm that, regardless of the box which imprisons the
magnet, it turns to its predestined points of north and south. He even
constructs a box of iron, places his magnet within, observes its
behavior, and concludes that it turns north and south, and would do so
were "it shut up in iron vaults sufficiently roomy." In this, he was in
error, for experiments show that if the sides of the box are thin, the
needle will experience the directive force of the earth; but if they are
sufficiently thick--thick as the walls of an ordinary safe--the inside
of such a box will be completely screened; none of the earth's magnetic
lines will get into it so that the needle will remain indifferently in
any position in which it is placed. Some years ago, the physical
laboratory of St. John's College, Oxford, was screened from the
obtrusive lines of neighboring dynamos by building two brick walls
parallel to each other and eight inches apart and filling in the space
with scrap iron. A delicate magnetometer showed that such a structure
allowed no leakage of lines of force through it, but offered an
impenetrable barrier to the magnetic influence of the working dynamos.

Gilbert's greatest discovery is that the earth itself acts as a vast
globular magnet having its magnetic poles, axis and equator. The pole
which is in our hemisphere, he variously calls north, boreal or arctic.
Whilst that in the other hemisphere he calls south, austral or
antarctic. He sought to explain the magnetic condition of our globe by
the presence, especially in its innermost parts, of what he calls true,
terrene matter, homogeneous in structure and endowed with magnetic
properties, so that every separate fragment exhibits the whole force of
magnetic matter. He is quite aware that his theory is a grand
generalization; and admits that it is "a new and till now unheard-of
view," and so confident is he in its worth that he is not afraid to say
that "it will stand as firm as aught that ever was produced in
philosophy, backed by ingenious argumentation or buttressed by
mathematical demonstration."

In developing his theory of terrestrial magnetism, Gilbert fell into
certain errors, chiefly for want of data, but partly also by reason of
his adherence to the view that the earth exactly resembled his terrella
in its magnetic action. Accordingly, he believed that the magnetic poles
of the earth were diametrically opposite each other and that they
coincided with the poles of rotation, whence it followed that the
magnetic meridian everywhere coincided with the geographical, and that
the magnet, unless influenced by local disturbances, stood true to the

It was, however, well known from the thrilling experience of Columbus
and the constant report of travelers that this was not the case. Gilbert
himself says that at the time of writing, in the year 1600, the needle
pointed 11-1/3° east of north in London; but what he did not know and
could not have known was that this easterly deviation was decreasing
from year to year, to vanish altogether in 1657, after which the needle
began to decline to the west.

This magnetic declination sorely perplexed Gilbert, as it did not fit in
with his theory. Yet an explanation was needed; and as the earth must be
considered a normal and well-behaved magnet, though of cosmical size,
Gilbert turns the difficulty by saying that this variation is nothing
else than "a sort of perturbation of the directive force" caused by
inequalities in the earth's surface by continents and mountain masses:
"Since the earth's surface is diversified by elevations of land and
depths of seas, great continental lands, oceans and seas differing in
every way while the power that produces all magnetic movements comes
from the constant magnetic earth-substance which is strongest in the
most massive continent and not where the surface is water or fluid or
unsettled, it follows that toward a massive body of land or continent
rising to some height in any meridian, there is a measurable magnetic
leaning from the true pole toward the east or the west."

So convinced is Gilbert of the true and satisfactory character of his
explanation that he goes on to say that, "In northern regions, the
compass varies because of the northern eminences; in southern regions,
because of southern eminences. On the equator, if the eminences on both
sides were equal, there would be no variation." In a later chapter of
Book IV., he adds that, "in the heart of great continents there is no
variation; so, too, in the midst of great seas."

As continents and mountain-chains are among the permanent features of
our planet, Gilbert concluded that the misdirection of the needle was
likewise permanent or constant at any given place, a conclusion which
observations made after Gilbert's time showed to be incorrect. Gilbert
writes: "As the needle hath ever inclined toward the east or toward the
west, so even now does the arc of variation continue to be the same in
whatever place or region, be it sea or continent; so, too, will it be
forever unchanging."

This we know to be untrue, and Gilbert, too, could have known as much
had he brought the experimental method, which he used with such
consummate skill and fruitful results in other departments of his
favorite studies, to bear on this particular element of terrestrial
magnetism. He labored with incredible ardor and persistence for twenty
years in his workshops at Colchester over the experiments in
electricity, magnetism and terrestrial magnetism which he embodies and
discusses in his original and epoch-making book, _De Magnete_, published
in the year 1600; a period of twenty years was long enough for such a
careful observer as he was to detect the slow change in magnetic
declination discovered by his friend Gellibrand in 1634, published by
him in 1635, and known to-day as the "secular variation." It is true the
quantity to be measured was small; but what is surprising is that such
an industrious and resourceful experimenter as Gilbert was does not
record in his pages any observations of his own on declination or dip,
elements of primary importance in magnetic theory.

Shortly after the voyage of Columbus it was thought that the _longitude_
of a place could be found from its magnetic declination. Gilbert,
however, did not think so, and accordingly scores those who championed
that view. "Porta," he says, "is deluded by a vain hope and a baseless
theory"; Livius Sanutus "sorely tortures himself and his readers with
like vanities"; and even the researches of Stevin, the great Flemish
mathematician, on the cause of variation in the southern regions of the
earth are "utterly vain and absurd."

With regard to dip, Gilbert erroneously held that for any given latitude
it had a constant value. He was so charmed with this constancy that he
proposed it as a means of determining _latitude_. There is no diffidence
in his mind about the matter; he is sure that with his "inclinatorium"
or dip-circle, together with accompanying tables, calculated for him by
Briggs, of logarithmic fame, an observer can find his latitude "in any
part of the world without the aid of the sun, planets or fixed stars in
foggy weather as well as in darkness."

After such a statement, it is no wonder that he waxes warm over the
capabilities of his instrument and allows himself to exclaim: "We can
see how far from idle is magnetic philosophy; on the contrary, how
delightful it is, how beneficial, how divine! Seamen tossed by the waves
and vexed with incessant storms while they cannot learn even from the
heavenly luminaries aught as to where on earth they are, may with the
greatest ease gain comfort from an insignificant instrument and
ascertain the latitude of the place where they happen to be."

Gilbert dwells at length on the inductive action of the earth. He
hammers heated bars of iron on his anvil and then allows them to cool
while lying in the magnetic meridian. He notes that they become
magnetized, and does not fail to point out the polarity of each end. He
likewise attributes to the influence of the earth the magnetic condition
acquired by iron bars that have for a long time lain fixed in the
north-and-south position and ingenuously adds: "for great is the effect
of long-continued direction of a body towards the poles." To the same
cause, he attributes the magnetization of iron crosses attached to
steeples, towers, etc., and does not hesitate to say that the foot of
the cross always acquires north-seeking polarity.

In a similar manner, every vertical piece of iron, like railings,
lamp-posts, and fire-irons, becomes a magnet under the inductive action
of the earth. In the case of our modern ships, the magnetization of
every plate and vertical post, intensified by the hammering during
construction, converts the whole vessel into a magnetic magazine, the
resulting complex "field" rendering the adjustment of the compasses
somewhat difficult and unreliable. The unreliable character of the
adjustment arises mainly from the changing magnetism of the ship with
change of place in the earth's magnetic field, the effect increasing
slightly from the magnetic equator to the poles.

With luminous insight into the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism,
Gilbert observes that in the neighborhood of the poles, a
compass-needle, tending as it does to dip greatly, must in consequence
experience only a feeble directive power. To which he adds that "at the
poles there is no direction," meaning, no doubt, that a compass-needle
would remain in any horizontal position in which it might be placed when
in the vicinity of the magnetic pole.

This is precisely the experience of all Arctic explorers, who find that
their compasses become less and less active as they sail northward, the
reason being that the horizontal component of the earth's magnetic
force, which alone controls the movements of the compass-needle,
decreases as the ship advances and vanishes altogether at the magnetic
pole. When once a high latitude is reached, captains do not depend upon
their compasses for their bearings, but have recourse to astronomical
observations. In his account of magnetic work carried on in the
neighborhood of the magnetic pole, Amundsen says: "At Prescott Island
the compass, which for some time had been somewhat sluggish, refused
entirely to act, and we could as well have used a stick to steer by."

As a physician, Gilbert valued iron for its medicinal properties, but
denounced quacks and wandering mountebanks who practised "the vilest
imposture for lucre's sake," using powdered lodestone for the cure of
wounds and disorders. "Headaches," he said, "are no more cured by
application of a lodestone than by putting on an iron helmet or a steel
hat"; and again: "To give it in a draught to dropsical persons is either
an error of the ancients or an impudent tale of their copyists."
Elsewhere he condemns prescriptions of lodestone as "an evil and deadly
advice" and as "an abominable imposture."

In the sixth and last book of _De Magnete_, Gilbert sets forth his views
on such astronomical subjects as the figure of the earth, its
suspension in space, rotation on its axis and revolution around the sun.

As to the figure of our planet, the primitive view widely credited in
early times was that the earth is a flat, uneven mass floating in a
boundless ocean. The Hindoos, however, did not accept the flatland
doctrine, but taught that the earth was a convex mass which rested on
the back of a triad of elephants having for their support the carapace
of a gigantic tortoise. Of course, they did not say how the complaisant
chelonian contrived to maintain his wonderful state of equilibrium under
the superincumbent mass.

Aristotle (384-322, B. C.) taught that the earth, fixed in the center of
the universe, is not flat as a disk, but round as an orange, giving as
proofs (1) the gradual disappearance of a ship standing out to sea and
(2) the form of the shadow cast by the earth in lunar eclipses, to which
others added (3) the change in the altitude of circumpolar stars readily
noticeable in traveling north or south. Aristarchus of Samos (310-250),
one of the great astronomers of antiquity, went further, not fearing to
teach that the earth is spherical in form, that it turns on its axis
daily and revolves annually around the sun. Such orthodox teaching did
not, however, commend itself to people generally, as they did not
exactly like the idea of being whisked round with their houses and
cities at a dangerous speed, preferring to explain celestial phenomena
by the rotation of the vast celestial sphere, with all the starry host,
round a flat, immovable earth. For them such a system of cosmography
recommended itself by its simplicity and reasonableness as well as by
the sense of stability, rest and comfort which it brought along with it.

Ptolemy, who flourished at Alexandria about 150 A. D. and whose name is
associated with a system of the world, also held that the earth is
spherical in form, giving at the same time some very ingenious proofs of
his belief. St. Augustine, in the fourth century, was not opposed to the
doctrine of a round earth, though he felt the religious difficulty
arising from the existence of the antipodes, which difficulty reached
its acute stage four hundred years later.

It is well to remember that the Church did not condemn the existence of
an antipodean world; what it did condemn was the teaching of Virgilius,
Bishop of Salzburg, to the effect that this world, lying under the
equator, was inhabited by a race of men not descended from Adam.
Virgilius also taught that the antipodes had a sun and moon different
from ours, an astronomical opinion for which he was never molested by
ecclesiastical authority.

Boethius, the worthy representative of the natural and the higher
philosophy of the sixth century, wrote of the earth as globe-like in
form, but small in comparison with the heavens. Isidore of Seville, in
the seventh century, "the most learned man of his age," and the
encyclopedic Bede, in the eighth, rejected the theory of a flat,
discoidal earth and returned to the spherical form of the early Greek
astronomers. But again, centuries had to elapse before people could be
brought to tolerate views of the world that seemed so directly opposed
to the daily testimony of their senses.

The strong, conclusive arguments which alone establish this theory on a
firm basis were, however, not known to Copernicus and could not have
been known in an age that preceded the invention of the telescope and in
which the astronomer had to be the constructor of his own crude wooden
instruments. The wonder is that Copernicus did such excellent
observational work on the banks of the Vistula with the rough appliances
at his disposal. The arguments which he put forward and urged with
consummate skill for the acceptance of his revolutionary theory were its
general simplicity and probability. Of proofs clear and decisive, he
gave none; yet, while he was working on his epoch-making treatise, begun
in 1507 and published in 1543 with dedication to Pope Paul III., a
direct proof of the earth's spherical form was given by the return
(1528) from the Philippines along an eastern route of one of Magellan's
ships, which had reached those distant isles after crossing the western
ocean, which the Portuguese navigator called the "Pacific," from the
tranquility of its waters. For a direct proof of the earth's _annual_
motion, the world had to wait two hundred years more, until Bradley
discovered the "aberration of light" in 1729; and for a direct
demonstration of its _diurnal_ motion until Foucault made his pendulum
experiment in the Panthéon, in 1851.

We cannot let Gilbert's reference to a "weightless earth" pass without a
few remarks to justify our approval of the statement.

The idea connoted by the term weight is the pull which the earth exerts
on the mass of a body; thus, when we say that an iron ball weighs six
pounds, we mean that the earth pulls it downwards with a force equal to
the weight of six pounds. That the weight of a given lump of matter is
not a constant but a dependent quantity may be seen from a number of
considerations. Its weight in vacuo, for instance, is different from its
weight in air, and this latter differs considerably from its weight in
water or in oil. Again, if we take our experimental ball down the shaft
of a mine, the spring-balance used to measure the pull of the earth on
it will not record six pounds but something less; and the further we
descend, the less will the spring-balance be found to register. At a
depth of two thousand miles below the surface, the ball would be found
to have lost half its weight; and at a depth of four thousand, all its
weight. At the earth's center a "box of weights" would still be called a
"box of weights," though neither the box itself nor its enclosed
standards singly or collectively would have any weight whatever. It has
been shown experimentally that two masses weigh slightly less when
placed one above the other than when placed side by side, because in the
latter case their common mass-center is measurably nearer to the center
of the earth. Every mother knows that when a boy is sent to buy a pound
of candy, it is the mass of the sweet stuff that makes him happy, and
not its weight, for this acts more like an incumbrance while he is
bringing it home. Of course, weight is every day used, and correctly, as
a measure of mass, for every student of mechanics writes without the
least hesitation,


by which he simply means that the weight of a body is directly
proportional to its mass (M), which is constant wherever the body may be
taken, and to the intensity of gravity (g), which varies slightly with
geographical position. As both scale-pans of an ordinary balance are
equally affected by the local value of _g_, it follows that equilibrium
is established only when the two _masses_--that of the body and that of
the standards--are themselves equal: hence weighing is in reality only a
process of comparing masses, _i.e._, a process of "massing."

If we bring our experimental ball to the top of a hill or to the summit
of a mountain or aloft in a balloon, we find the pull on the registering
spring growing less and less as we go higher and higher, from which we
naturally conclude that if we could go far enough out into
circumterrestrial space, say, towards the moon, the ball would lose its
weight entirely; it would cease to stretch the spring of the measuring
balance, its weight vanishing at a definite, calculable distance from
the earth's center. If carried beyond that point the ball would come
under the moon's preponderating attraction and would begin to depress
anew the index of the balance until at the surface of our satellite it
would be found to weigh exactly _one_ pound. If transferred to the
planet Mars the ball would weigh _two_ pounds, and if to the surface of
the giant planet Jupiter, _sixteen_ pounds. But while its weight thus
changes continually, its mass or quantity of matter, the stuff of which
it is made, remains constant all the while, being equally unaffected by
such variables as motion, position or even temperature.

Returning from celestial space to our more congenial terrestrial
surroundings, we find a similar inconstancy in the weight of the ball as
we travel from the equator toward either pole, the weight being least at
the equator and slightly greater at either end of our axis of rotation.
This change is fully accounted for by the spheroidal figure of the earth
and its motion of rotation, in virtue of which, while going from the
equator toward the pole, our distance from the center of attraction
undergoes a slight diminution, as does also the component of the local
centrifugal force, which is in opposition to gravity.

From all this, it will be seen that the weight of a body is more of the
nature of an accidental rather than an essential property of matter,
whereas its mass is a necessary and unvarying property. Hence we speak
with propriety of the conservation of mass just as we speak with equal
propriety of the conservation of energy; but we may never speak or write
of the conservation of weight. The mass of our iron ball is precisely
the same away from the surface of the earth as it is anywhere on the
surface, whether a thousand miles below the surface or a thousand miles
above it; and the same it would be found in any part of the solar system
or of the starry universe to which it might be taken.

Since weight is nothing else than the pull which the earth exerts on a
body, it follows that, big and massive as our planet is, it must,
nevertheless, be weightless; for it cannot with any degree of propriety
be said to pull itself. It is incapable of producing even an
infinitesimal change in the position of its mass-center, or center of
gravity, as this centroid is sometimes called. The earth attracts
_itself_ with no force whatever; but is attracted and governed in its
annual movement by the sun, the central controlling body of our system,
while the moon and planets play only the part of petty disturbers.

It would, however, be right to speak of the _weight_ of the earth
_relatively_ to the sun; for the sun attracts the mass of our planet
with a certain definite force, readily calculable from the familiar
formula for central force, viz., mv^2/r., in which _m_ is the mass of
the earth, _v_ its orbital velocity and _r_ its distance from the sun.
Supplying the numbers, the weight of the earth relatively to the sun,
comes out to be

3,000000,000000,000000 or 3×10^{18} tons weight,

or, in words, three million million million tons weight.

It may here be noted that the velocity _v_ of the earth in its orbit is
a varying quantity, depending on distance from the sun. As this distance
is least in December and greatest in June, it follows that the earth is
heavier relatively to the sun in winter than it is in summer.

The _mass_ of the earth, on the other hand, is not a relative and
variable quantity, but a constant and independent one, which would not
be affected either by the sudden annihilation of all the other members
of the solar system or by the instantaneous or successive addition of a
thousand orbs. Mass being the product of volume by density, that of the
earth is 6000,000000,000000,000000 or 6×10^{21} tons mass, which reads
six thousand million million million tons mass.

The number which expresses the mass of the earth is thus very different
from that which represents its weight relatively to the sun. It is
obvious that the latter would be a much greater quantity if our planet
were transferred to the orbit of Venus and very much less if transferred
to that of far-off Jupiter, but the number which expresses its _mass_
would remain precisely the same in both cases, viz., the value given

In elaborating his theory of magnetism, and especially his magnetic
theory of the earth, Gilbert made extensive use of lodestone-globes,
which he called "terrellas," _i.e._, miniature models of the earth. In
pursuing his searching inquiry, he was gradually led from these
"terrellas" to his great induction that the earth itself is a colossal,
globe-like magnet. Following Norman, "the ingenious artificer," of
Limehouse, London, he also showed that the entire cubical space which
surrounds a lodestone is an "orb of virtue," or region of influence,
from which he inferred that the earth itself must have its "orb of
virtue," or magnetic field, extending outward to a very great distance.

Gilbert does not, for a moment, think that this theory of terrestrial
magnetism, the first ever given to the world, is a wild speculation. Far
from it; he is convinced that "it will stand as firm as aught that ever
was produced in philosophy, backed by ingenious argumentation or
buttressed by mathematical demonstration."

If the earth has a magnetic field, he argued, why not the moon, the
planets and the sun itself, "the mover and inciter of the universe"?
Given these planetary magnetic fields, Gilbert seems to have no
difficulty in finding out the forces necessary to account for the
crucial difficulties of the Copernican doctrine. Nor is the medium
absent that is needed for the mutual action of magnetic globes, for we
are assured that it is none other than the universal _ether_, which, he
says "is without resistance."

Gilbert disposes of the cosmographic puzzle of the "suspension" of the
earth in space by saying, and saying justly, that the earth "has no
heaviness of its own," and, therefore, "does not stray away into every
region of the sky." To emphasize the statement, he continues: "The
earth, in its own place, is in no wise heavy, nor does it need any
balancing"; and again, "The whole earth itself has no weight." "By the
wonderful wisdom of the Creator," he elsewhere says, "forces were
implanted in the earth that the globe itself might with steadfastness
take direction."

Gilbert holds that the daily rotation of the earth on its axis is also
caused, and maintained with strict uniformity, by the same prevalent
system of magnetic forces, for "lest the earth should in divers ways
perish and be destroyed, she rotates in virtue of her _magnetic energy_,
and such also are the movements of the rest of the planets."

Just how this magnetic energy acts to produce the rotatory motion of a
massive globe Gilbert does not say. Nor was he able to solve such a
magnetic riddle, for there was nothing in his philosophy to explain how
a lodestone-globe in free space should ever become a perpetual magnetic
motor. Oddly enough he disagrees with Peregrinus, who maintained in his
_Epistola_, 1269, that a terrella, or spherical lodestone, poised in the
meridian, would turn on its axis regularly every 24 hours. He naively
says: "We have never chanced to see this; nay, we doubt if there is such
a movement." Continuing, he brings out his clinching argument: "This
daily rotation seems to some philosophers wonderful and incredible
because of the ingrained belief that the mighty mass of earth makes an
orbital movement in 24 hours; it were more incredible that the moon
should in the space of 24 hours traverse her orbit or complete her
course; more incredible that the sun and Mars should do so; still more
that Jupiter and Saturn; more than wonderful would be the velocity of
the fixed stars and firmament."

Here he finds himself obliged to berate Ptolemy for being "over-timid
and scrupulous in apprehending a break up of this nether world were the
earth to move in a circle. Why does he not apprehend universal ruin,
dissolution, confusion, conflagration and stupendous celestial and
super-celestial calamities from a motion (that of the starry sphere)
which surpasses all imagination, all dreams and fables and poetic
license, a motion ineffable and inconceivable?"

Gilbert is not clear and emphatic on the other doctrine of Copernicus,
the revolution of the earth and planets around the sun. He does,
however, say that each of the moving globes "has circular motion either
in a great circular orbit or on its own axis, or in both ways." Again:
"The earth by some great necessity, even by a virtue innate, evident and
conspicuous, is turned circularly about the sun." Elsewhere he affirms
that the moon circles round the earth "by a magnetic compact of both."
He returns to this point in his _De Mundo Nostro_, saying, "The force
which emanates from the moon reaches to the earth; and, in like manner,
the _magnetic virtue_ of the earth pervades the region of the moon."

We have here an implied interaction between two magnetic fields, rather
a clever idea for a magnetician of the sixteenth century. In one case,
the reaction is between the field of the earth and that of the moon,
compelling the latter to rotate round its primary once every month; and
the second, between the field of the earth and that of the sun,
compelling our planet to revolve round the center of our system once
every year.

Though an inefficient cause of the annual motion of our planet, this
interaction of two magnetic fields had, nevertheless, something in
common with the idea of the mutual action of material particles
postulated in the Newtonian theory of universal gravitation.

This magnetic assumption by which Gilbert sought to defend the theory of
the universe propounded by Copernicus was a very vulnerable point in
his astronomical armor which was promptly detected and fiercely assailed
by a galaxy of continental writers; all of them churchmen, physicists
and astronomers of note. They accepted Gilbert's electric and magnetic
discoveries and warmed up to his experimental method; they did not
discard his theory of terrestrial magnetism, but rejected and scoffed at
the use which he made of it to justify the heliocentric theory. They
poked fun at the English philosopher for his magnetic hypothesis of
planetary rotation and revolution, and succeeded in discrediting the
Copernican doctrine. Error prevailed for a time, but Newton's
_Principia_, published in 1687, gave the Ptolemaic system the _coup de
grâce_. Gilbert's hypothesis of the interaction of planetary magnetic
fields gave way to universal gravitation, and Copernicanism was finally

Throughout the pages of Gilbert's treatise, he shows himself remarkably
chary in bestowing praise, but surprisingly vigorous in denunciation.
St. Thomas is an instance of the former, for it is said that he gets at
the nature of the lodestone fairly well; and it is admitted that "with
his godlike and perspicacious mind, he would have developed many a point
had he been acquainted with magnetic experiments." Taisnier, the
Belgian, is an example of the latter, whose plagiarism from Peregrinus
wrings from our indignant author such withering words as "May the gods
damn all such sham, pilfered, distorted works, which so muddle the minds
of students!"

Besides his treatise on the magnet, Gilbert is the author of an
extensive work entitled, "De Mundo Nostro Sublunari," in which he
defends the modern system of the universe propounded by Copernicus and
gives his views on important cosmical problems. This work was published
after the author's death, first at Stettin in 1628, and again at
Amsterdam in 1651.

Chancellor Bacon was well acquainted with this treatise of our
philosopher; indeed he had in his collection the only two manuscript
copies ever made, one in Latin and the other in English, a very singular
and significant fact in view of the Chancellor's attitude toward
Gilbert. Putting it crudely, one would like to know how he obtained
possession of the manuscripts and what was his motive in keeping them
hidden away from the philosophers of the day. "It is considered
surprising," writes Prof. Silvanus P. Thompson, "that Bacon, who had the
manuscripts in his possession and held them for years unpublished,
should have written severe strictures upon their dead author and his
methods, while at the very same time posing as the discoverer of the
inductive method in science, a method which Gilberd (Gilbert) had
practised for years before."[7]

That Bacon was no admirer of Gilbert's physical and cosmical theories
the following passages will show. In the "Novum Organum" the Chancellor
wrote: "His philosophy is an instance of extravagant speculation founded
on insufficient data"; again, "As the alchemists made a philosophy out
of a few experiments of the furnace, Gilbert, our countryman, hath made
a philosophy out of the lodestone" ("The Advancement of Learning");
lastly, "Gilbert hath attempted a general system on the magnet,
endeavoring to build a ship out of materials not sufficient to make the
rowing-pins of a boat" ("De Augmentis Scientiarum").

One is tempted to ask how this strange disregard which Bacon entertained
for the scientific views of the greatest natural philosopher of his age
and country came to exist? Was it due to a feeling of jealousy that
could not brook a rival in the domain of the higher philosophy, or was
it because Bacon, the anti-Copernican, wanted to write down Gilbert, the
defender of the heliocentric theory, in the British Isles?

When reading Bacon's depreciatory remarks we have to remember that his
mathematical and physical outfit was very limited even for the age in
which he lived; from which it is safe to infer that he was but little
qualified to pass judgment on the value of the electric and magnetic
work accomplished in the workshops at Colchester or on the theories to
which they gave rise.

Bacon deserves praise for denouncing the prevalent system of natural
philosophy which was mainly authoritative, speculative and syllogistic
instead of experimental, deductive and inductive, but he was
inconsistent and forgetful of his own principles when he belittled the
greatest living enemy of mere book-learning, and the most earnest
advocate, by word and example, of the laboratory methods for the
advancement of learning.

To avoid misapprehension, it should be here stated that Bacon was not
always censorious in his treatment of his illustrious fellow-citizen,
for in several places he writes approvingly of the electric and magnetic
experiments contained in _De Magnete_, which he calls in his
_Advancement of Learning_, "a painfull (_i.e._, painstaking)
experimentall booke." In other places he draws so freely on Gilbert
without acknowledgment as to come dangerously near the suspicion of

Gilbert died, probably of the plague, in the sixtieth year of his age,
on December 10th, 1603, and was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity
Church, Colchester, where a mural tablet records in Latin the chief
facts of his life.

Dr. Fuller in his "Worthies of England" (1662) describes Gilbert as tall
of stature and cheerful of "complexion," a happiness, he quaintly
remarks, not ordinarily found in so hard a student and retired a
person." Concluding his appreciation of the philosopher, Fuller writes:
"Mahomet's tomb at Mecha[6] is said strangely to hang up, attracted by
some invisible loadstone; but the memory of this Doctor will never fall
to the ground, which his incomparable book _De Magnete_ will support to

Animated by a similar spirit of national pride, Dryden wrote

    Gilbert shall live till loadstones cease to draw,
    Or British fleets the boundless ocean awe.

We shall close these remarks by Hallam's estimate of Gilbert as a
scientific pioneer, contained in his _Introduction to the Literature of
Europe_. "The year 1600," he says, "was the first in which England
produced a remarkable work in physical science; but this was one
sufficient to raise a lasting reputation for its author. Gilbert, a
physician, in his Latin treatise on the magnet, not only collected all
the knowledge which others had possessed on the subject, but became at
once the father of experimental philosophy in this island; and, by a
singular felicity and acuteness of genius, the founder of theories which
have been revived after a lapse of ages and are almost universally
received into the creed of science."

For well-nigh three hundred years, _De Magnete_ remained untranslated,
being read only by the scholarly few. The first translation was made by
P. Fleury Mottelay, of New York, and published by Messrs. Wiley and Sons
in the year 1893. Mr. Mottelay has given much attention to the
bibliography of the twin sciences of electricity and magnetism, as the
foot-notes which he has added to the translation abundantly prove.

A second translation appeared in the tercentenary year, 1900, and was
the work of the members of the Gilbert Club, London, among whom were Dr.
Joseph Larmor and Prof. Silvanus P. Thompson. It is a page-for-page
translation with facsimile illustrations, initial letters and

As one would infer from the numerous references contained in _De
Magnete_, Gilbert had a considerable collection of valuable books,
classical and modern, bearing on the subject of his life-work; but
these, as well as his terrellas, globes, minerals and instruments,
perished in the great fire of London, 1666, with the buildings of the
College of Physicians, in which they were located.

A portrait of Gilbert was preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for
many years; but has long since disappeared from its walls. On the
occasion of the three hundredth anniversary (1903) of Gilbert's death, a
fine painting representing the Doctor in the act of showing some of his
electrical experiments to Queen Elizabeth and her court (including Sir
Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Cecil, Lord Burleigh, famous
Secretary of State), was presented to the Mayor of Colchester by the
London Institute of Electrical Engineers. A replica of the painting was
sent to the St. Louis Exposition, 1904, where it formed one of the
attractions of the Electricity Building.

The house in which Gilbert was born (1544) still stands in Holy Trinity
Street, Colchester, where it is frequently visited by persons interested
in the history of electric and magnetic science.



[6] "Souvenir of Gilberd's Tercentenary," p. 6.

[7] See magnetic myths, page 5.



As already seen, the writers of Greece and Rome knew little about the
lodestone; we have now to add that the knowledge of electricity which
they possessed was of the same elementary character. They knew that
certain resinous substances, such as amber and jet had, when rubbed, the
property of attracting straws, feathers, dry leaves and other light
bodies; beyond this, their philosophy did not go. The Middle Ages added
little to the subject, as the Schoolmen were occupied with questions of
a higher order. The Saxon Heptarchy came and went, Alcuin taught in the
schools of Charlemagne, Cardinal Langton compelled a landless and
worthless king to sign Magna Charta, universities were founded with
Papal sanction in Italy, France, Germany, England and Scotland,
Copernicus wrote his treatise on the revolution of heavenly bodies and
dedicated it to Pope Paul III., Tycho Brahé made his famous astronomical
observations at Uranienborg and befriended at Prague the penniless
Kepler, and Columbus gave a New World to Castile and Leon--all this
before the man appeared who, using amber as guide, discovered a new
world of phenomena, of thought and philosophy. This man was no other
that Gilbert, whose discoveries in magnetism were described in an
earlier chapter. The trunk line of his work was magnetism; electricity
was only a siding. One was the main subject of a life-long quest while
the other was only a digression. It was a digression in which the
qualities of the native-born investigator are seen at their very best:
alertness and earnestness, resourcefulness and perseverance, all
rewarded by a rich harvest of valuable results. It is refreshing and
inspiring to read the Second Book of Gilbert's treatise, _De Magnete_,
in which are recorded in quick succession the twenty important
discoveries which he made in his new field of labor.

  [Illustration: FIG. 9 Gilbert's "versorium" or electroscope]

At the very outset, he found it necessary to invent a recording
instrument to test the electrification produced by rubbing a great
variety of substances. This he appropriately called a _versorium_; we
would call it an electroscope. "Make to yourself," he says, "a rotating
needle of any sort of metal three or four fingers long and pretty light
and poised on a sharp point." He then briskly rubs and brings near his
versorium glass, sulphur, opal, diamond, sapphire, carbuncle,
rock-crystal, sealing-wax, alum, resin, etc., and finds that all these
attract his suspended needle, and not only the needle, but everything
else. His words are remarkable: "All things are drawn to electrics."
Here is a great advance on the amber and jet, the only two bodies
previously known as having the power to attract "straws, chaff and
twigs," the usual test-substances of the ancients. Pursuing his
investigations, he finds numerous bodies which perplex him, because when
rubbed they do not affect his electroscope. Among these, he enumerates:
bone, ivory, marble, flint, silver, copper, gold, iron, even the
lodestone itself. The former class he called _electrica_, electrics; the
latter was termed _anelectrica_, non-electrics.

To Gilbert we, therefore, are indebted for the terms electric and
electrical, which he took from the Greek name for amber instead of
succinic and succinical, their Latin equivalents. The noun electricity
was a coinage of a later period, due probably to Sir Thomas Browne, in
whose _Pseudodoxia Epidemica_, 1646, it occurs in the singular number on
page 51 and in the plural on page 79. It may interest the reader to be
here retold that we owe the chemical term _affinity_ to Albertus Magnus,
_barometer_ to Boyle, _gas_ to van Helmont, _magnetism_ to Barlowe,
magnetic _inclination_ to Bond, electric _circuit_ to Watson, electric
_potential_ to Green, _galvanometer_ to Cumming, _electro-magnetism_ to
Kircher, _electromagnet_ to Sturgeon, and _telephone_ to Wheatstone.

Gilbert was perplexed by the anomalous behavior of his non-electrics. He
toiled and labored hard to find out the cause. He undertook a long,
abstract, philosophical discussion on the nature of bodies which, from
its very subtlety, failed to reveal the cause of his perplexing
anomaly. Gilbert failed to discover the distinction between conductors
and insulators; and, as a consequence, never found out that similarly
electrified bodies repel each other. Had he but suspended an excited
stick of sealing-wax, what a promised land of electrical wonders would
have unfolded itself to his vision and what a harvest of results such a
reaper would have gathered in! From solids, Gilbert proceeds to examine
the behavior of liquids, and finds that they, too, are susceptible of
electrical influence. He notices that a piece of rubbed amber when
brought near a drop of water deforms it, drawing it out into a conical
shape. He even experiments with smoke, concluding that the small carbon
particles are attracted by an electrified body. Some years ago, Sir
Oliver Lodge, extending this observation, proposed to lay the poisonous
dust floating about in the atmosphere of lead works by means of large
electrostatic machines. He even hinted in his Royal Institution lecture
that they might be useful in dissipating mists and fogs, and recommended
that a trial be made on some of our ocean-steamers.

Gilbert next tries heat as an agent to produce electrification. He takes
a red-hot coal and finds that it has no effect on his electroscope; he
heats a mass of iron up to whiteness and finds that it, too, exerts no
electrical effect. He tries a flame, a candle, a burning torch, and
concludes that all bodies are attracted by electrics save those that are
afire or flaming, or extremely rarefied. He then reverses the
experiment, bringing near an excited body the flame of a lamp, and
ingenuously states that the body no longer attracts the pivoted needle.
He thus discovered the neutralizing effect of flames, and supplied us
with the readiest means that we have to-day for discharging

He goes a step further; for we find him exposing some of his electrics
to the action of the sun's rays in order to see whether they acquired a
charge; but all his results were negative. He then concentrates the rays
of the sun by means of lenses, evidently expecting some electrical
effect; but finding none, concludes with a vein of pathos that the sun
imparts no power, but dissipates and spoils the electric effluvium.

Professor Righi has shown that a clean metallic plate acquires a
positive charge when exposed to the ultraviolet radiation from any
artificial source of light, but that it does not when exposed to solar
rays. The absence of electrical effects in the latter case is attributed
to the absorptive action of the atmosphere on the shorter waves of the
solar beam.

Of course Gilbert permits himself some speculation as to the nature of
the agent with which he was dealing. He thought of it, reasoned about
it, pursued it in every way; and came to the conclusion that it must be
something extremely tenuous indeed, but yet substantial, ponderable,
material. "As air is the effluvium of the earth," he says, "so
electrified bodies have an effluvium of their own, which they emit when
stimulated or excited"; and again: "It is probable that amber exhales
something peculiar that attracts the bodies themselves."

These views are quite in line with the electronic theory of electricity
in vogue to-day, which invests that elusive entity with an atomic
structure. It is held that the tiny particles or electrons that are shot
out from the cathode terminal of a vacuum tube with astounding velocity
are none other than particles of negative electricity, pure and simple.
They have mass and inertia, both of which properties are held to be
entirely electrical, though quite analogous to the mass and inertia of
ordinary, ponderable matter.

History shows that scientific theories have their periods of infancy,
maturity and decay. When they have served their purpose, like the
scaffolding of a building, they are removed from sight and stored away,
say, in a limbo of discarded philosophy, for use of the historian of
science or of the metaphysician writing on the nature of human
knowledge. Such was the fate of Gilbert's "effluvium" theory of
electricity, of the fluid theories of Dufay and Franklin, and the
ether-strain theory of recent years. "Each physical hypothesis," says
Prof. Fleming, "serves as a lamp to conduct us a certain stage in the
journey. It illumines a limited portion of the path, throwing light
before and behind for some distance; but it has to be discarded and
exchanged at intervals because it has become exhausted and because its
work is done."

It is a little surprising that the phenomenon of electrical repulsion
should have escaped the attention of one so skilled in experimentation
as Gilbert. Yet such was the case; and Gilbert even went so far as to
deny its very existence, saying, "Electrics attract objects of every
kind; they never repel." This error reminds one of Gilbert's own saying
that "Men of acute intelligence, without actual knowledge of facts, and
in the absence of experiment, easily slip and err." Just twenty-nine
years after Gilbert had penned this aphorism, there appeared in Ferrara
an extensive work on electric and magnetic philosophy, by the Jesuit
Cabeo, in which this electrical repulsion was recognized and described.
Having rubbed one of his electrics, Cabeo noticed that it attracted
grains of dust at first and afterward repelled them suddenly and
violently. In the case of threads, hairs or filaments of any kind, he
observed that they quivered a little before being flung away like
sawdust. This self-repelling property of electricity, described in the
year 1629, opened up a new field of inquiry, which was actively explored
by a number of brilliant electricians in England and on the Continent.

This was especially the case after the building of the first frictional
machine by Otto von Guericke in 1672. The burgomaster of Magdeburg had
already acquired European fame by the original and sensational
experiments on atmospheric pressure which he made in presence of the
Emperor and his nobles in solemn diet assembled (1651). Von Guericke
seems to have been of a mind with Gilbert concerning writers on natural
science who treat their subjects "esoterically, miracle-mongeringly,
abstrusely, reconditely, mystically"; for he affirms that "oratory,
elegance of diction or skill in disputation avails nothing in the field
of natural science."

Von Guericke's machine consisted of a ball of sulphur, with the hand of
the operator or assistant as rubber. Some years later, the sulphur ball
was replaced by Newton (some say Hauksbee) by a glass globe, which, in
turn, was exchanged for a glass cylinder by Gordon, a Scotch
Benedictine, who was Professor of natural philosophy in the University
of Erfurt. In 1755, Martin de Planta, of Sus, in Switzerland,
constructed a plate-machine which was subsequently improved by Ramsden
of London. The frictional machine, as it was rightly called, has been
superseded by the influence machine, a type of static generator which is
at once efficient, reliable and easy of operation. The best known form
for laboratory use is that of Wimshurst (1832-1903), of London.

Andrew Gordon, the Scotch Benedictine to whom reference has just been
made, was a man of an inventive turn of mind. Besides, the cylindrical
electric machine which he constructed, he devised several ingenious
pieces of electrical apparatus, among which are the _electric chimes_
usually ascribed to Franklin. They are fully described in his _Versuch
einer Erklärung der Electricität_, published in 1745. On page 38, he
says that he was led to try an electrical method of ringing bells; and
then adds: "For this purpose I placed two small wine-glasses near each
other, one of which stood on an electrified board, while the other,
placed at a distance of an inch from it, was connected with the ground.
Between the two, I suspended a little clapper by a silk thread, which
clapper was attracted by the electrified glass and then repelled to the
grounded one, giving rise to a sound as it struck each glass. As the
clapper adhered somewhat to the glasses, the effect on the whole was not
agreeable. I, therefore, substituted two small metallic gongs suspended
one from an electrified conductor and the other from a grounded rod, the
gongs being on the same level and one inch apart. When the clapper was
lowered and adjusted, it moved at once to the electrified bell, from
which it was driven over to the other, and kept on moving to and fro,
striking the bell each time with pleasing effect until the electrified
bell lost its charge." In the illustration, _a_ is connected with the
electrified conductor; _b_ is the insulated clapper; _c_ the grounded

  [Illustration: FIG. 10 Gordon's electric chimes, 1745]

Gordon's book was published in Erfurt in 1745, while the year 1752 is
that in which Franklin applied the chimes to his experimental rod to
apprise him of the approach of an electric storm, an application which
was original and quite in keeping with the practical turn of mind that
characterized our journeyman-printer, philosopher and statesman.
Unquestionably, Franklin had all the ingenuity and constructive ability
needed to make such an appliance; but there is no evidence that he
actually invented it. Though Franklin neither claimed nor disclaimed the
chimes as his own, all his admirers would have preferred less reticence
on his part when the discoveries and inventions of contemporary workers
in the electrical field were concerned. He had attained sufficient
eminence to permit him to look appreciatingly and encouragingly on the
efforts of others.

Gordon also invented a toy electric motor in which rotation was effected
by the reaction of electrified air-particles escaping from a number of
sharp points. One of these motors consisted of a star of light rays cut
from a sheet of tin and pivoted at the center, with the ends of the rays
slightly bent aside and all in the same direction. When electrified,
Gordon noticed that the star required no extraneous help to set it in
motion. It was a self-starting electric-motor. In the dark, the points
were tipped with light, and as they revolved traced out a luminous
circle which "could neither be blown out nor decreased."

The reader will recognize in this description taken from Gordon's
_Versuch_, page 45, the _electric whirl_ of the lecture-table; Gordon's
name is never associated with it, but that of Hamilton (Hamilton's "fly"
or Hamilton's "mill") sometimes is!

This irrepressible monk seems to have been one of the earliest
electrocutors, for it is said that many an innocent chaffinch fell
victim to discharges from his machine; and we would be disposed to think
of him as a wizard on learning that he ignited spirits by using an
electrified stream of water, to the astonishment and mystification of
the spectators.

Abbé Menon was kinder to the feathered tribe than his black-cowled
brother of Erfurt; he did not subject them to a powerful discharge, but
rather to a gentle electrification for the purpose of determining what
physical or physiological effect the agent would have on the animal
system. The Abbé found that cats, pigeons, sparrows and chaffinches lost
weight by being electrified for five or six hours at a time, from which
he concluded that electricity augments the slow, continuous perspiration
of animals. The same was found to take place with the human body itself.
The reader will remember that Stephen Gray in 1730 suspended a boy by
means of silken cords for the purpose of electrification; Abbé Nollet
did the same, and doubtless his friend Abbé Menon adopted a similar mode
of insulation for complacent electrical subjects. An easier mode of
operating would have been to make the child stand on a cake of resin,
the insulating property of which had been discovered by Stephen Gray.

About this time, 1746, Franklin appears on the scene, and though he
devoted but nine years (1746-1755) of his life to the study of
electricity, he made discoveries in that fascinating branch of human
knowledge that will hand his name down the centuries.

Franklin's life is interesting and instructive on account of the
difficulties which he met and overcame, for his strength of will,
tenacity of purpose, the philosophy which he followed, his devotedness
to science, and the success which he achieved.

Our philosopher's moral code comprised the thirteen virtues of
temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity,
justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. To
each of these virtues Franklin attached a precept which makes edifying
reading even at the present day: _temperance_, eat not to dullness,
drink not to elation; _silence_, speak not but what may benefit others
or yourself, avoid trifling conversation; _order_, let all your things
have their places, let each part of your business have its time;
_resolution_, resolve to perform what you ought, perform without fail
what you resolve; _frugality_, make no expense, but do good to others or
yourself, _i.e._, waste nothing; _industry_, lose no time, be always
employed in something useful, cut off all unnecessary actions;
_sincerity_, use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly, and if
you speak, speak accordingly; _justice_, wrong no one by doing injury or
omitting the benefits that are your duty; _moderation_, avoid extremes,
forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve;
_cleanliness_, tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation;
_tranquility_, be not disturbed by trifles or accidents common or
unavoidable; _chastity_ (no remark); _humility_, imitate Jesus.

This last virtue seems to have given Franklin very much concern; for he
admits that he had the appearance of humility, and immediately adds that
in reality there is no passion of the human breast so hard to subdue as
pride. He is shrewd enough to say that "even if I could conceive that I
had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."
Like many another, the virtue which gave him the most trouble was
_order_, and this never became conspicuously apparent at any time of his
long life.

In his endeavors after the higher life, he seems to have been animated
with the earnest spirit of the ascetic who binds himself to strive after
perfection as laid down in the maxims and counsels of the Gospel. It is
not without surprise and perhaps a feeling too of self-condemnation,
that we read the means which he adopted to reach a high moral standard.
Taking for granted that he had a true appreciation of right and wrong,
he did not see why he should not always act according to the dictates of
conscience. To improve himself morally and advance in the higher life,
he adopted a means that should have proved effective. Taking the first
of the thirteen fundamental virtues, he applied himself to its
acquisition for a whole week together, after which he took the second,
then the third, and so on with the rest. He thought that by making daily
acts of the virtue, it would become habitual with him at the end of the
week. When the last of the thirteen virtues had received its share of
attention, he returned to the first one on the list and proceeded round
the cycle again. Being a man of purpose and tenacity, he completed the
circle of his chosen virtues four times a year; subsequently he extended
the time of individual practise so as to take a whole year for the
course; and later on, he devoted several years to the completion of his

As an aid in this work of self-betterment, Franklin examined himself
daily, registering his failures in a little book which was ruled for
the purpose, a column being allowed for each day and a line for each of
the thirteen virtues. He naively tells us the result of this exercise of
daily introspection in these words: "I am surprised to find myself so
much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of
seeing them diminish."

The evening examination of conscience was always concluded by the
following prayer written by Franklin himself: "O powerful Goodness!
bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which
discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what
that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to Thy other children as
the only return in my power for Thy continual favors to me."

An extensive reader, Franklin found in Thomson's poems some lines that
appealed to him very strongly by the beauty of the sentiment expressed.
He called them "a little prayer," which he recited from time to time:

    "Father of light and life, Thou Lord Supreme,
    Oh, teach me what is good; teach me Thyself.
    Save me from folly, vanity and vice;
    From every low pursuit; and fill my soul
    With knowledge, conscious peace and virtue pure;
    Sacred, substantial, never-failing bliss!"

His was a praiseworthy attempt at emancipating himself from the thraldom
of passion and raising himself to the high plane of perfection required
by the Master when He said "Follow Me." Doubtless, as time wore on, he
must have felt as many before and since, that the spirit is willing but
the flesh is weak.

In his autobiography, Franklin attributes his success in business not
only to his self-control, uniformity of conduct, philosophical
indifference to slight or pique, but also to his habits of frugality,
the result in part of his early training. "My original habits of
frugality continuing," he says, "and my father having frequently
repeated a proverb of Solomon, 'Seest thou a man diligent in his
business? he shall stand before kings,' I from thence considered
industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction, which
encouraged me, tho' I did not think that I should ever literally _stand
before kings_, which, however, has since happened." Our aged philosopher
proceeds to tell us of his good fortune with a little bit of pardonable
vanity, to which, by the way, he was never a great stranger, despite his
philosophy, acquired virtue, and staid character. Referring to the kings
of the earth, he informs us that he "_stood_ before five, and even had
the honor of _sitting down_ with one to dinner."

An important event in Franklin's life was the founding by him of the
first public library in the country in the year 1732. Though but
twenty-six years of age, he seems to have been as well aware as any of
the millionaire philanthropists of to-day, of the good that may be
accomplished among common people by providing them with suitable reading
matter. He watched with eagerness the progress of his experiment and was
pleased with the success that crowned it. He observes that such
libraries "tend to improve the conversation of Americans and to make
common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent (well-informed?) as most
gentlemen from other countries."

Peter Collinson, Fellow of the Royal Society of London, who had
dealings with some Philadelphia merchants, was led to take an active
interest in the library. This he did by sending over a number of books
and papers relating to electricity together with an "electrical tube"
with instructions for its use.

These literary and scientific contributions sent from London from time
to time, excited much interest among the charter members of the Library
Company, and principally that of Franklin himself. He had heard
something of the new order of phenomena which was just then engaging the
attention of European physicists. In the summer of 1746, while on a
visit to Boston, his native place, he assisted at a lecture on
electricity by a certain Dr. Spence, a Scotchman, who sought to
illustrate the properties of electrified bodies by such experiments as
could be made with glass tubes and suitable rubbers, the rudimentary
apparatus available at the time. Franklin was impressed by what he saw
and heard, even though he indulged in a little destructive criticism
when he said that the experiments were "imperfectly made," because the
lecturer was "not very expert." When Franklin wrote those words, he knew
by repeated and painful experience the difficulty of getting
satisfactory results from rubbing glass tubes or rotating glass globes,
owing to the provoking attraction which plain, untreated glass has for
moisture. Knowing this, he might have been less severe in his strictures
on his friend, the peripatetic electrician.

It is evident, however, that the experiments which he witnessed
surprised and pleased him, for, having shortly afterward received some
electrical tubes together with a paper of instructions, from his London
friend, Peter Collinson, he set to work for himself without delay. We
may well say of him that what his right hand found to do, he did
calmly, but with all his might. A twelve-month had not elapsed before he
wrote: "I never was engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my
attention and time as this has lately done; for, what with making
experiments when I can be alone and repeating them to my friends and
acquaintance who, from the novelty of the thing, come continually in
crowds to see them, I have had little leisure for anything else."

Here we see the calm, persistent character of the philosopher united
with the affability and communicativeness of the gentleman.

For the sake of encouraging others as well, perhaps, as through a sense
of personal relief, Franklin had a number of long tubes of large bore
blown at the local glass-house, which tubes he distributed to his
friends that they, too, might engage in research work. In this way,
rubbing and rubbing of an energetic kind became quite an occupation in
the Franklin circle. Kinnersley, whose name still survives in works on
static electricity in connection with an electric "thermometer" which he
devised, was among the band of ardent workers who ungrudgingly
acknowledged Franklin's superior acumen, comprehensive grasp of detail
and wondrous insight into the mechanism of the new phenomena. If we say
that Franklin was not a genius, it is only for the purpose of adding
that even in those early electrical studies he displayed an uncommon
amount of the unlimited capacity for taking pains which is said to be
associated with that brilliant gift. He tested all his results with
great care and in a variety of ways before accepting any of them as
final; and considered his explanations of them provisional, being ever
ready to modify them or give them up altogether if shown to conflict
with the simple workings of nature.

As early as 1733, the refined and tactful Dufay, in France, showed by
numerous experiments on woods, stones, books, oranges and metals that
all solid bodies were susceptible of electrification. This was a notable
advance which swept away Gilbert's classification of bodies into
electrics and non-electrics. The French physicist soon drew from his
observations the conclusion that electrification produced by friction is
of two kinds, to which he applied the terms vitreous and resinous, the
former being developed when glass is rubbed with silk and the latter
when amber or common sealing-wax is rubbed with flannel. He noticed,
too, that silk strings repelled each other when both were touched either
with excited glass or sealing-wax; but that they attracted each other
when touched one with glass and the other with sealing-wax. From these
observations, he deduced the electrostatic laws, that similarly
electrified bodies attract while dissimilarly electrified bodies repel
each other.

The law of distance was discovered later by Coulomb, who, in 1785,
showed that the law of repulsion as well as of attraction between two
electrified particles varies inversely as the square of the distance. In
the year 1750, the law of the inverse square for magnets was stated by
John Michell, who expressed it by saying that the "attraction and
repulsion decrease as the square of the distance from the respective
poles increases." Michell was fourth wrangler of his year (1748-9),
Fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge, and inventor of the _torsion
balance_, which, however, he did not live to use; but which, in the
hands of Cavendish, yielded important results on the mean density of
the earth. Coulomb probably re-invented the "balance" and applied the
practical, laboratory instrument which he made it, to the study of the
quantitative laws of electricity and magnetism.

To observe and correlate phenomena is the special work of the physicist;
to speculate on ultimate causes is the privilege of the philosopher.
Dufay was both. The theory which he offered was a simple one, even if
untrue to nature. It was a good working hypothesis for the time being.

According to this theory, there are two distinct, independent electrical
fluids mutually attractive but self-repelling. With that postulate,
Dufay was able to offer a plausible explanation of a great many
phenomena that puzzled the electricians of the time.

Franklin, however, held a different view; rejecting the dual nature of
electricity, he propounded his one-fluid theory, which was found equally
capable of explaining electrical phenomena. A body having an excess of
the fluid was said to be _positively_ charged, while one with a deficit
was said to be _negatively_ charged. The sign plus was used in one case
and the sign minus in the other; and just as two algebraical quantities
of equal magnitude but opposite sign give zero when added together, so a
conductor to which equal quantities of positive and negative electricity
would be given would be in the neutral state. The Franklinian theory was
welcomed in England, Germany and Italy, but it met with opposition in
France from the brilliant Abbé Nollet and the followers of Dufay.

Each of the rival theories affords a mental conception of the forces in
play and also a consistent explanation of the resulting phenomena. Their
simplicity, and, at the same time, the comprehensiveness of explanation
which they afford, will continue to give them a place in our text-books
for many years to come.

Efforts are being made to apply the _electronic_ theory to the various
phenomena of electrostatics, the electron being the smallest particle of
electricity that can have separate, individual existence. It is many
times smaller than the hydrogen atom, the smallest of chemical atoms,
and it possesses all the properties of negative electricity. By the loss
of one or more electrons, a body becomes positively electrified, whereas
by the acquisition of one or more electrons it becomes negatively
electrified. The electron at rest gives rise to the phenomena of
electrostatics; in motion, it gives rise to electrical currents,
electromagnetism and electric radiation.

We do not know what led Franklin to call positive the electrification of
glass when rubbed with silk, and negative that of sealing-wax when
rubbed with flannel. If he meant to imply that positive is the more
important of the two, he erred, for many reasons can be given to show
the preponderating influence of negative electricity; but it is too late
now to change the terminology.

If asked to point out differences between the physical effects of
positive and negative electrification, we would refer to the positive
brush, which is finer and much more developed than the negative; to the
Wimshurst machine, with its positive brushes on one side and negative
"beads" on the other; to the positive charge acquired by a clean plate
of zinc when exposed to ultraviolet light; to the ordinary vacuum tube
in which there is a violet glow at the cathode end or negative terminal;
to Crookes's tubes, X-ray tubes and other high vacuum tubes, in which
electrified particles, Kelvin's _molecular torrent_, are shot out from
the negative electrode with great velocity; and to arc-lamps using a
direct current in which the plus carbon is hollowed out crater-like, has
the higher temperature and wastes away twice as fast as the negative.

The year 1746 is an _annus mirabilis_ in the history of electricity, for
it was in the January of that year that an attempt to electrify water by
Musschenbroek, of Leyden, led to the discovery of the principle of the
electrostatic condenser. Whatever may be thought of the claim for
priority put forward in favor of Dean von Kleist, of Cammin in
Pomerania, or of Cunæus, of Leyden, it is certain that the discovery
became known throughout Europe by the startling announcement and
sensational description given of it by Musschenbroek, a renowned
professor of a renowned university. He was not only surprised but
terror-stricken by the effect of the electric energy which he had
unconsciously stored up in his little phial; for after telling his
French friend Réaumur, the physicist, that he felt the commotion in his
arms, shoulders and chest, he added that he would not take another shock
for the whole kingdom of France! A resolution destined to be broken,
like so many others before and since.

  [Illustration: FIG. 11 Modern form of Leyden jar with movable coatings]

Very different was the sentiment of Bose, Professor of Physics in the
University of Wittenberg, who is credited with saying that he would like
to die by the electric shock, that he might live in the memoirs of the
French Academy of Sciences.

The Leyden jar became at once the scientific curiosity and universal
topic of discussion of the time; and not only was it the curiosity, but
also the _crux_ of the day, puzzling investigators, perplexing
philosophers and giving rise to animated controversies. The mystery was
soon dispelled, however, when Franklin began in 1747 his searching
inquiry into the electric conditions of each element of the jar. Nothing
escaped his subtle mind and nothing was left undone by his deft hand.
The evidence of experiment and the logic of facts carried at last
conviction even with Londoners and Parisians, who were wont to look upon
Americans as mere colonists, who had neither time nor opportunity for
scientific pursuits, being obliged to hew their way through virgin
forests or drive the roving Indian back from their frontiers into the
wilds of the West. The theory of the Leyden jar given by Franklin 160
years ago has stood the test of time. It has met with universal
acceptance; and, despite our manifold advances, but little of permanent
value has been added to it.

It is very interesting to follow the main lines of this magnificent
research. Franklin electrifies, in the usual way, water contained in a
small flask, complaisantly taking the shock on completing the circuit.
To find where the charge resides, whether in the hand of the operator,
as some said, or in the water, as others maintained, he again
electrifies the water and pours it into another flask, which fails,
however, to give a shock, thus showing that the charge had not been
carried over with the water. Convinced that the charge was still
somewhere in the first phial, he carefully poured water into it again;
and found, to his intense satisfaction, that it was capable of giving an
excellent shock. It was now clear to him that the energy of the charge
was either in the hand of the experimenter or in the glass itself, or in
both. To determine this nice point, he proceeds to construct a "jar"
which could easily be taken to pieces. For this purpose, he selected a
pane of glass; and, laying it on the extended hand, placed a sheet of
lead on its upper surface. The leaden plate was then electrified; and
when touched with the finger, a spark was seen and a shock felt. By the
addition of another plate to the lower surface, the shocking power of
this simple condenser was increased. In this efficient form he had a
readily dissectible condenser, which allowed him to throw off and
replace the coatings at will, and thereby to prove beyond cavil that the
seat of the stored-up electric energy is not in the conductors, but in
the glass itself. This was a discovery of the first magnitude and one
destined to associate the name of Franklin with those of the most
eminent electricians down the ages. Fig. 11 shows the modern form of the
jar with movable coatings.

  [Illustration: FIG. 12 Three coated panes in _series_]

  [Illustration: FIG. 13 Three panes in _parallel_]

In the "fulminating" pane, as it came to be called, we have one of the
eleven elements of Franklin's historic battery of 1748. It is
interesting to notice that he was accustomed to connect his "panes" in
series while charging (Fig. 12), but that he preferred to join similar
coatings together, that is, to couple them in "parallel" (Fig. 13), for
powerful discharges. Fig. 14 shows three jars in "parallel."

Later on, he arranged Leyden jars so that the inside coating of one
could be hooked to the outside coating of another, the first of the
series hanging down from the prime conductor of the machine, while the
last one was grounded. "What is driven out of the tail of the first," he
quaintly says, "serves to charge the second; what is driven out of the
second serves to charge the third, and so on." This has become known as
the "cascade" method of charging a battery, owing to the flow of
electricity from one jar to the next (Fig. 15). Electricians, however,
have discarded the picturesque "cascade" for the prosaic term of
"series" or "tandem" arrangement.

  [Illustration: FIG. 14 Three jars in _parallel_]

  [Illustration: FIG. 15 Three jars in _cascade_]

Franklin also noticed that a phial cannot be charged while standing on
wax or on glass, or even while hanging from the prime conductor, unless
communication be formed between its outer coating and the floor, the
reason given being that "the jar will not suffer a charging unless as
much fire can go out of it one way as is thrown in by the other."

Following his very ingenious Philadelphia friend and co-worker,
Kinnersley, he varies the mode of charging by electrifying the outside
of the jar and grounding the inner coating; for "the phial will be
electrified as strongly if held by the hook and the coating applied to
the globe as when held by the coating and the hook applied to the
globe." (1748.)

The globe here referred to is the glass globe of Franklin's frictional
machine of American make, which, when rotated, was electrified
positively by contact with the hand or with a leather rubber. Franklin
also used a sulphur ball or "brimstone" globe, and observed that the
electrification produced on it differed in kind from that developed on
the glass globe. (1752.)

It may here be stated that the first to use a _leather cushion_ as a
substitute for the hand in the frictional machine, was Winkler, of
Leipzig (1745); the efficiency of the rubber was increased by Canton, of
London, who covered it with an _amalgam_ of tin and mercury (1762).
Bose, of Wittenberg, had previously added the _prime-conductor_, which
greatly augmented the electrical capacity and output of the machine.

In 1750 Franklin imitated the effect of lightning on the compasses of a
ship by the action of a jar discharge on an unmagnetized steel needle.
"By electricity," he says, "we have frequently given polarity to needles
and reversed it at pleasure."

Similar experiments are made to-day in every lecture-course on static
electricity; but the experimenter, when wise, does not announce
beforehand which end of the needle will be north and which south, as he
is just as likely to be wrong as right, the uncertainty being due to the
fact that the discharge of a Leyden jar is not a current of electricity
in one direction, but rather a few sudden rushes or rapid surgings of
electricity to and fro; in other words, it is oscillatory in character
instead of being continuous in one direction.

Franklin did not know this; although he made a very pertinent remark in
1749 when he likened the mechanical condition of the glass of a charged
jar to that of a bent rod or a stretched spring. "So, a straight
spring," he says, "when forcibly bent must, to restore itself, contract
that side which in the bending was extended, and extend that side which
was contracted." Franklin knew, of course, that the bent rod, when
released, would swing to and fro a few times before settling down to its
state of rest; but he failed to see the analogy between it and the
strained glass of the charged Leyden jar.

It is to Joseph Henry (1799-1878), the Faraday of America, that we owe
the recognition and statement of the oscillatory character of the
discharge from Leyden jars and condensers generally. He discovered and
published this cardinal fact in 1842. His words deserve recording. "The
discharge, whatever may be its nature, is not correctly represented
(employing for simplicity the theory of Franklin) by the single transfer
of an imponderable fluid from one side of the jar to the other; the
phenomenon requires us to admit _the existence of a principal discharge
in one direction and then several reflex actions backward and forward,
each more feeble than the preceding, until equilibrium is
attained._"[10] The italics are Prof. Henry's.

It is precisely this oscillatory character of the spark-discharge that
enables us to send out trains of electric waves into the all-pervading
ether, and thus to communicate, by "wireless," with remote stations.

Having conclusively proved that the energy of a charged condenser
resides in the dielectric, Franklin next tries to find whether "the
electric matter" in the case of conductors is limited to the surface or
whether it penetrates to an appreciable depth. To ascertain this, he
insulates a silver fruit-can and brings a charged ball, held by a silk
thread, into contact with the outer surface. On testing after removal,
he found that the ball retained some of its charge, whilst it lost all
if allowed to touch the bottom of the vessel. Surprised at this
unexpected difference, he repeated the experiment again and again, only
to find the ball every time without a trace of charge after contact with
the interior of the vessel. This perplexed and puzzled him. "The fact is
singular," he says, "and you require the reason? I do not know it. I
find a frank acknowledgment of one's ignorance is not only the easiest
way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain
information, and therefore I practice it. I think it an honest policy.
Those who affect to be thought to know everything, often remain long
ignorant of many things that others could and would instruct them in, if
they appeared less conceited."

This was in 1755. Cavendish in 1773 and Coulomb in 1788 independently
attacked the same problem; and having proved by their classic
experiments that a static charge is limited to the surface of
conductors, it was but a step to infer that such a distribution of
electricity implies that the law of force between two elements of
charge, or between two point-charges, is the law of the inverse square
of the distance.

It will also be remembered that Faraday, not knowing what had been
accomplished eighty years before in Philadelphia, used for one of his
best-known experiments an ice-pail, into which he lowered an electrified
ball for the purpose of showing the exact equality of the induced and
the inducing charge. The similarity of apparatus and mode of procedure
are remarkable.

In pursuing his work, Franklin placed a charged jar on a cake of wax and
other insulating materials, and drew sparks from it by touching
successively the knob and the outer coating, repeating the process a
great number of times to his infinite delight. He next attached a brass
rod to the outside, bending it and bringing the other end close to the
knob (Fig. 16) connected with the inner coating. Between these two he
suspended a leaden ball by a silk thread and found, as he expected, that
it played to and fro between the terminals for a considerable time.
Observe that we have here a definite mass maintained in a state of
reciprocating motion by a series of electric attractions and repulsions.
We have in fact an electro-motor, closely resembling the star and the
chimes of Gordon, the Benedictine, 1745; a mere toy, if you will, but
still a remarkable invention. We repeat the same experiment to-day only
with a little more harmony, by substituting for the knobs two little
bells, which emit a soft, musical note when struck by the interhanging

  [Illustration: FIG. 16 Discharge by alternate contacts]

This experiment has further significance, for, like Gordon's chimes, it
is an instance of the conveyance of electricity from one point of space
to another by means of a material carrier, a mode of transfer which has
since been called "electric convection," the full meaning of which was
not revealed until Rowland (1848-1901), made his famous experiment of
1876 in the laboratory of the University of Berlin with a
highly-charged, rapidly-revolving, ebonite disc. It was apropos of this
experiment that the illustrious Clerk Maxwell, of the University of
Cambridge, wrote to his friend, Professor Tait, of Edinburgh, saying

    "The mounted disc of ebonite
       Had whirled before, but whirled in vain;
     Rowland of Troy, that doughty knight,
       Convection currents did obtain,
     In such a disc, of power to wheedle
     From its loved north, the needle."

We may here say that Franklin was no stranger to the work done by the
electrical pioneers of the Old World, his diligent London friend, Peter
Collinson, keeping him advised by means of letters, books and pamphlets,
in which inspiration and practical hints must have been found. He
certainly was well acquainted with the achievements of Dr. Watson and
Dr. Bevis, of London, as well as with the theories and experiments of
Dufay and Abbé Nollet in Paris. It is germane to the subject to say that
Dr. Bevis used mercury and iron filings for the inner coating of his
jars, as well as sheet lead for both. He also experimented with coated
panes of glass instead of jars. About this, Franklin wrote to Collinson:
"I perceive by the ingenious Mr. Watson's last book, lately received,
that Dr. Bevis had used, before we had, panes of glass to give a shock;
though till that book came to hand, I thought to have communicated it to
you as a novelty." (1748.)

Franklin gave way to a little pleasant humor when, in 1748, he proposed
to wind up the "electrical season" by a banquet à la Lucullus, to be
given to a few of his friends and fellow-workers, not in a sumptuously
decorated hall, but _al fresco_, on the banks of the Schuylkill. "A
turkey is to be killed for our dinner by the electrical shock," he
wrote, "and roasted by the electrical jack before a fire kindled by the
electrical bottle, when the healths of all the famous electricians in
England, Holland, France and Germany are to be drunk in electrified
bumpers under the discharge of guns fired from the electrical battery."

It is hardly to be supposed that such an elaborate program was carried
out. Indeed the difficulty of preparing the apparatus and getting it
ready for action on the banks of a river were formidable enough to say
the least. Franklin, however, had a Leyden battery capable of doing
considerable electrocution, for with two jars of six gallons capacity
each, he knocked six men to the ground; the same two jars sufficed to
kill a hen outright, whereas it required five, he tells us, to kill a
turkey weighing ten pounds.

The "electrical bumper" was a wine-glass containing an allowance, let us
say, of some favorite brand and charged in the usual way. On approaching
the lips the two coatings would be brought within striking-distance and
a spark would take place, if not to the delight of the performer, at
least to the amusement of the on-lookers. It was subsequently remarked
that guests whose upper lip was adorned with a moustache could quaff the
nectar with impunity, as every bristle would play the part of a filiform
lightning-rod and prevent the apprehended, disruptive discharge!

Not quite so humorous was his suggestion of a hammock to be used by
timid people during an electric storm: "A hammock or swinging-bed,
suspended by silk cords equally distant from the walls on every side,
and from the ceiling and floor above and below, affords the safest
situation a person can have in any room whatever; and which, indeed, may
be deemed quite free from danger of any stroke of lightning." (1767.)

In his experiments on puncturing bodies by the spark-discharge, Franklin
does not fail to notice the double burr produced when paper is used.[9]
His words are:

"When a hole is struck through pasteboard by the electrified jar, if the
surfaces of the pasteboard are not confined or compressed, there will be
a bur raised all round the hole on both sides the pasteboard, for the
bur round the outside of the hole is the effect of the explosion every
way from the centre of the stream and not an effect of direction."
(1753.) The spelling is Franklin's _unreformed_.

The to-and-fro nature of the discharge was thought, at a time, to
account satisfactorily for the burr raised on each side of the
pasteboard; but Trowbridge, of Harvard, has shown that even a
unidirectional discharge, such as can be obtained by inserting a wet
string or any high resistance in the circuit, would produce a double
burr, from which we infer, confirming Franklin, that this effect of the
discharge is caused by the sudden expansion of air within the paper

By the year 1749, Franklin had reached the conclusion that the lightning
of the skies is identical with that of our laboratories, basing his
belief on the following analogies which he enumerates in the notes or
"minutes" which he kept of his experiments: "The electric fluid agrees
with lightning in these particulars: (1) Giving light; (2) color of the
light; (3) crooked direction; (4) swift motion; (5) being conducted by
metals; (6) crack or noise in exploding; (7) rending bodies it passes
through; (8) destroying animals; (9) melting metals; (10) firing
inflammable substances; and (11) sulphurous smell."

But although he felt the full force of the analogical argument, Franklin
knew that the matter could not be finally settled without an appeal to
experiment; and accordingly he adds: "The electric fluid is attracted by
points; we do not know whether this property is in lightning. But since
they agree in all the particulars wherein we can already compare them,
is it not probable that they agree likewise in this? Let the experiment
be made." (1749.)

In writing to Collinson in July, 1750, he tells his London friend how
the experiment may be made: "On the top of some high tower or steeple,
place a kind of sentry-box--big enough to contain a man--and an
electrical stand. From the middle of the stand let an iron rod rise and
pass, bending out of the door, and then upright 20 or 30 feet, pointed
very sharp at the end. If the electrical stand be kept clean and dry, a
man standing on it, when such clouds are passing low, might be
electrified and afford sparks, the rod drawing fire to him from the

Collinson brought some of Franklin's letters to the notice of
fellow-members of the Royal Society with a view to their insertion in
the _Philosophical Transactions_ of that learned body; but even his
epoch-making letter to Dr. Mitchell, of London, on the identity of
lightning and electricity, was dismissed with derisive laughter. The
Royal Society made amends in due time for their contemptuous treatment
of the American philosopher by electing him member of the Society and by
awarding him the Copley medal in 1753.

Disappointed as he was, Collinson collected Franklin's letters and
published them under the title of _New Experiments and Observations on
Electricity made at Philadelphia in America_. The pamphlet appeared in
1751, and was immediately translated into French by M. d'Alibard at the
request of the great naturalist Count de Buffon.

The experiments described in the pamphlet, and especially that of the
pointed conductor, were taken up in Paris with great enthusiasm by de
Buffon himself, by d'Alibard, a botanist of distinction, and by de Lor,
a professor of physics. Following out the instructions given by
Franklin, they were all able to report success: d'Alibard on May 10th,
de Lor on May 18th, and de Buffon on May 19th, 1752.

De Buffon erected his rod on the tower of his château at Montbar; de
Lor, over his house in Paris, and d'Alibard, at his country seat at
Marly, a little town eighteen miles from Paris. D'Alibard was not at
home on the eventful afternoon of May 10th; but before leaving Marly, he
had drilled a certain Coiffier in what he should do in case an electric
storm came on during his absence. Though a hardy and resolute old
soldier and proud of the confidence placed in him, Coiffier grew alarmed
at the long and noisy discharges which he drew from the _insulated_ rod
on the afternoon of May 10th. While the storm was still at its height he
sent for the Prior of the place, Raulet by name, who hastened to the
spot, followed by many of his parishioners. After witnessing a number of
brilliant and stunning discharges, the priest drew up an account of the
incident and sent it, at once, by Coiffier himself to d'Alibard, who was
then in Paris. Without delay d'Alibard prepared a memoir on the subject
which he communicated to the Académie des Sciences three days later,
viz.: on May 13th. In the concluding paragraph, the polished academician
pays a graceful tribute to the philosopher of the Western World:

"It follows from all the experiments and observations contained in the
present paper, and more especially from the recent experiment at
Marly-la-ville, that the matter of lightning is, beyond doubt, the same
as that of electricity; it has become a reality, and I believe that the
more we realize what he (Franklin) has published on electricity, the
more will we acknowledge the great debt which physical science owes

We may, in passing, correct the error of those who credit French
physicists with having originated the idea of the pointed conductor.
Such writers should read the words of d'Alibard in the beginning of his
memoir, where he says: "En suivant la route que M. Franklin nous a
tracée, j'ai obtenu une satisfaction complète"; that is, "In following
the way traced out by Franklin, I have met with complete success." To
Franklin, therefore, belongs the idea of the pointed rod of 1750, which
became the lightning conductor of subsequent years; to the Parisian
savants belongs the great distinction of having been the first to make
the experiment and verify the Franklinian view of the identity of the
lightning of our skies with the electricity of our laboratories.

Franklin had precise ideas on the action of his pointed conductors,
clearly recognizing their twofold function: (1) that of preventing a
dangerous rise of potential by disarming the cloud; and (2) that of
conveying the discharge to earth, if struck. In some of his letters, he
complains of people who concentrate their attention on the preventive
function, forgetting the other entirely. "Wherever my opinion is
examined in Europe," he wrote in 1755, "nothing is considered but the
probability of these rods preventing a stroke, which is only a part of
the use I proposed for them; and the other part, their conducting a
stroke which they may happen not to prevent, seems to be totally
forgotten, though of equal importance and advantage."

A favorite illustration of Franklin's showing the discharging power of
points, consisted in insulating a cannon ball against which rested a
pellet of cork, hung by a silk thread. On electrifying the ball, the
cork flies off and remains suspended at a distance, falling back at
once, as soon as a needle is brought near the ball. (1747.)

He also used tassels consisting of fifteen or twenty long threads (Fig.
17), and even cotton-fleece, the filaments of which stand out when
electrified, but come together when a pointed rod is held underneath. He
also noticed that the filaments do not collapse when the point of the
rod is covered with a small ball. (1762.)

  [Illustration: FIG. 17 Tassel of long threads or light strips of paper]

Franklin's views on lightning-rods met with some opposition in France
from the brilliant Abbé Nollet, and in England from Dr. Benjamin Wilson.
The latter was mainly instrumental in bringing about the famous
controversy of "Points _vs._ Knobs." In 1772, a committee was appointed
by the Royal Society to consider the best means of protecting the
powder-magazines at Purfleet from lightning. On the committee with Dr.
Wilson were Henry Cavendish, the distinguished chemist and physicist,
and Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society. The report favored
sharp conductors against blunt ones advocated by Dr. Wilson. Five years
later, in 1777, the question was again brought up, and again the new
committee decided in favor of pointed terminals, convinced "that the
experiments and reasons made and alleged to the contrary by Mr. Wilson
were inconclusive."

Dr. Wilson, being a man of influence, succeeded in having his views
taken up by the Board of Ordnance. It has been remarked that this
controversy would never have attracted attention but for the fact that
the discoverer of the effect of points was Franklin. He was an American
and the dispute with the colonies was then at its height. The war of the
Revolution had begun, and the British forces had already met with
serious reverses. No patriot could, therefore, admit any good in points.
George III. took sides, decreed that the points on the royal conductors
at Kew should be covered with balls, and ordered Sir John Pringle to
support Dr. Wilson. Sir John gave the dignified answer: "Sire, I cannot
reverse the laws and operations of nature"; to which the King, incensed
that so incompetent a man should hold such an important office, replied:
"Then, Sir John, perhaps you had better resign," which Sir John did.

A wit of the time put the matter epigrammatically when he wrote:

    "While you, great George, for knowledge hunt
    And sharp conductors change to blunt,
        The nation's out of joint;
    Franklin a wiser course pursues,
    And all your thunder useless views
        By keeping to the point."

It was in connection with this heated controversy that Franklin wrote
the following admirable words:

"I have never entered into any controversy in defence of my
philosophical opinions. I leave them to take their chance in the world.
If they are _right_, truth and experience will support them; if _wrong_,
they ought to be refuted and rejected. The King's changing his _pointed_
conductors for _blunt_ ones is, therefore, a matter of small importance
to me."

It was not until September, 1752, that Franklin raised a rod over his
own house. This experimental conductor was made of iron fitted with a
sharp steel point and rising seven or eight feet above the roof, the
other end being buried five feet in the ground. In order to avoid
useless personal displacement, Franklin, the economist of time, made an
automatic annunciator similar to that devised by Gordon in 1745, and
described by Watson in his _Sequel_, 1746, to apprize him of the advent
of a good thunder-gust. Instead of making the rod of one continuous
length, it was divided on the staircase, opposite his chamber door, the
ends being drawn apart to a horizontal distance of a few inches.
Screwing a pair of tiny gongs to the ends, he suspended between them a
brass ball, held by a silk thread, to act as clapper. Whenever a
thundercloud came hovering by, the bells began to ring, thereby
summoning the philosopher to his "laboratory" on the staircase.

Franklin's rod, erected over his house in the summer of 1752, was
evidently intended by him for experimental rather than protective
purposes. There is no doubt whatever in his mind about the use of such
pointed conductors for the protection of buildings and ships against the
destructive effects of lightning. He expressly says, in an article
printed in _Poor Richard's Almanack_ for 1753, that "It has pleased God
in His infinite goodness to mankind, to discover to them the means of
securing their habitations and other buildings from mischief by thunder
and lightning. The method is this: provide a small iron rod (it may be
made of the rod-iron used by the nailers), but of such a length, that
one end being 3 ft. or 4 ft. in the moist ground, the other may be 6 ft.
or 8 ft. above the highest part of the building. To the upper end of the
rod fasten about a foot of brass-wire, the size of a common knitting
needle, sharpened to a fine point; the rod may be secured to the house
by a few small staples. If the house or barn be long, there may be a rod
and point at each end, and a middling wire along the ridge from one to
the other. A house thus furnished will not be damaged by lightning, it
being attracted by the points and passing through the metal into the
ground without hurting anything. Vessels also, having a sharp-pointed
rod fixed on the top of their masts, with a wire from the foot of the
rod reaching down round one of the shrouds to the water, will not be
hurt by lightning."

It is well known, as Dr. Rotch, Director of the Blue Hill Observatory,
recently pointed out, that the matter for these almanacs was prepared by
Franklin himself under the pen-name of Richard Saunders. As the above
passage appeared in the almanac for 1753, it is obvious that it must
have been ready sometime toward the end of 1752. Furthermore, we know
that it was actually in the hands of the printer in the middle of
October of that year, for the _Pennsylvania Gazette_ of Oct. 19th says
that the almanac was then in press and that it would be on sale shortly.
Whence it follows that the year 1752 is the year of the invention of the
lightning rod, and not 1753 or 1754 as often stated.

The instructions given by Franklin include all the essentials necessary
for the erection of a lightning conductor. It may be made of iron or
copper, flat or round, but must make good "sky" and good "earth." The
former condition is secured by screwing to the top of the rod either
copper or platinum terminals ending in sharp points; and the latter, by
burying the lower end deep in moist soil. Between "sky" and "earth" the
rod must be continuous.

The function of the rod is twofold, as Franklin well recognized,
preventive and preservative. It prevents the stroke, under ordinary
conditions, by the action of the points, which send off copious streams
of air and dust particles electrified oppositely to that of the cloud.
Even at a distance, the dangerous potential of the cloud is reduced by
these convection currents and the stroke ordinarily averted. It is clear
that ten points are more efficacious than one, and fifty more than five.
Hence the number of points which we see distributed over the higher and
more conspicuous parts of a building, all of which are carefully
connected with the lightning conductor.

However well a building may theoretically be protected, conditions will
occasionally arise when the rod will inevitably be struck; its
preservative function then comes into play, by which it carries the
energy of the disruptive discharge safely to earth.

The experience of more than a century shows that the lightning-rod
affords protection in the great majority of cases; but it would be at
least a mild exaggeration to say that it never failed, even when
properly constructed.

At first, the erection of lightning-rods was opposed in the New World as
well as in the Old: some based their opposition to the novelty on
religious grounds, saying that, as lightning and thunder are tokens of
divine wrath, it would be impious to interfere in any way with their
manifestations. This objection was met by saying that for a parity of
reason we should avoid protecting ourselves against the inclemencies of
the weather.

Others opposed the use of the rods on the score that they invited or
attracted the flash, which was answered by saying that they attract
lightning as much as a rain-pipe attracts a shower, and no more.

The death of Professor Richmann, of the University of St. Petersburg,
also tended to retard the adoption of the rod for the protection of
buildings; but the invalidity of that objection became apparent when the
circumstances of the accident became known. Richmann's conductor was
like d'Alibard's (1751), an experimental rod, and as such was insulated
at the lower end. It was, therefore, not a lightning-rod at all,
inasmuch as it was not grounded. On August 6th, 1753, during a violent
electric storm, Richmann happened to be close to his exploring rod
observing the indications of a roughly-made electrometer, when a sharp
thunder-clap was heard, and at the same instant a ball of fire was seen
by Richmann's assistant to dart from the apparatus and strike the head
of the unfortunate Professor, who fell over on a near-by chest and
expired instantly. His assistant was stunned for a while. On regaining
consciousness, he ran to the aid of the Professor; but it was too late,
the body was lifeless.

In recording this tragic event, Priestley, the historian of electricity,
says that, "It is not given to every electrician to die in so glorious a
manner as the justly envied Richmann."

For one, we do not "envy" Professor Richmann's fate, and we think that
the phrase "tragic manner" would better suit the circumstances of his
death than the "glorious manner" of Dr. Priestley.

Risks of a similar character were taken by Franklin in Philadelphia, de
Romas in Bordeaux, and d'Alibard's representative at Marly, when
experimenting with kites and insulated rods; they took their lives in
their hands, though they may not have thought so.

A few years ago, Sir William Preece said that a man might with impunity
"clasp a copper rod an inch in diameter, the bottom of which is well
connected with moist earth, while the top of it receives a violent flash
of lightning; the conductor might even be surrounded by gunpowder in the
heaviest storm without risk or danger."

It is not on record that the English electrician ever clasped a
lightning conductor or even stood in close proximity to one during an
electric storm. The above statement was as sensational as it was unwise
and foolhardy. The neighborhood of a rod during a storm is a zone of
danger, owing to the electrical surgings which are set up in it, and, as
such, is to be avoided.

The death of Richmann caused quite a sensation throughout Europe, and
naturally the lightning-rod came in for severe condemnation. Among the
memoirs to which the fatality gave rise was one written in the heart of
Moravia and addressed to the celebrated Euler, Director of the Academy
of Sciences at Berlin. The writer was a monk of the Premonstratensian
Order, whose field of labor was at Prenditz.

In the year 1754, this country priest made experiments with lightning
conductors on a scale that transcended anything done in Paris, London or
Philadelphia. The accompanying illustrations show the conductor which
Divisch (also Diwisch) raised at Prenditz (also Brenditz) in the summer
of that year to demonstrate publicly the efficacy of such apparatus in
breaking up thunder-clouds and neutralizing the destructive energy pent
up in their electric charges. Prenditz, it would appear, suffered
severely from electric storms; and it was mainly for the safety of the
locality that the good priest devoted himself with earnestness to the
study of electrical phenomena.

As such a man deserves to live in the memory of posterity, we have
sought out the leading facts of his career mainly from Father Alphons
Zák, of Pernegg, in Lower Austria, a distinguished writer of the Order
to which Divisch belonged, and have woven such details as we obtained
from him and others into the simple narrative that follows.

  [Illustration: FIG. 18 Procopius Divisch (1696-1765)]

Procopius Divisch (Prokop Diwisch) was born on Aug. 1st, 1696, at
Helkowitz-Senftenberg in Bohemia. He spent his youth at Znaim, where he
studied the humanities and philosophy at the College conducted by the
Jesuit fathers in that Moravian city. In 1719, when in his twenty-third
year, he decided to quit the common ways of the world in order to lead
the higher life in the Premonstratensian Order at Kloster-Bruck. At the
ripe age of 30, Divisch was ordained priest, in 1726, after which he
taught philosophy and theology to classes of young aspirants to the
ecclesiastical state. In 1733 he went to the University of Salzburg and
won his double Doctorate in theology and philosophy. Three years later,
in 1736, he was appointed parish priest of Prenditz, a small Moravian
town on the road to Austerlitz, since of Napoleonic fame. Here he
remained for five years, returning in 1741 to Bruck as Prior of the
Kloster or monastery situated there. At the end of the Seven Years' War
of the Austrian succession, he quitted Bruck, in 1745, for his parish at
Prenditz, where he spent the last twenty years of his life in the
pastoral ministrations of his sacred office and in electrical
experimentation, of which he was very fond.

The curative property of the new agent was heralded throughout Europe
about this time in terms of unmeasured praise. Some of Divisch's ailing
parishioners, believing him to be an expert in electrical manipulation,
applied to him for a little alleviation of their woes. The good-hearted
priest did not turn them away, but thought it desirable to treat them to
the therapeutic effect of such sparks as he could get from his homemade
frictional machine. The results were various, depending probably on the
confidence and imagination of the patient. Several remarkable cures
seem to have been effected either by the electric spark or by the
persuasive powers of the operator, or by both combined, with the result
that people far and wide were divided in their opinion of the Pastor of
Prenditz. Some physicians said that he was interfering with their
practice, and even clergymen found fault with him for indulging in work
which they thought unsuited to the cloth. A general impression, too,
seems to have prevailed that his electrical experiments, especially
those with his lightning conductor, were likely to prove harmful in more
ways than one.

On the other hand, Divisch had admirers in high places, among whom were
the Emperor Francis I. of Germany and his imperial consort, Maria
Theresa. Having been invited to Vienna, Divisch repaired to the Austrian
capital, where, with the aid of Father Franz, another electrical
devotee, he gave a demonstration of the wonderful capability of the new
form of energy before the grandees of the empire.

When he came to the electrical property of points, he showed their
discharging power in a very original way, one which must have made his
assistant uneasy for a while. At times, the machine worked by Father
Franz gave excellent results; at others, it failed to generate. It was
noticed by the critical few that when the machine failed, Divisch was
close by; while when it worked normally, he was at some distance away.
After a number of such alternations of success and failure which sorely
perplexed the assistant, himself a man of renown in Vienna, Divisch
explained the occurrence by saying, with a merry twinkle in his eye,
that the failure of the machine to generate when he was close to it,
apparently seeking out the cause of the breakdown, was due to a number
of pin-like conductors which he had concealed for the purpose in his
peruke and which neutralized the charge on the rotating generator!

The identity of the lightning of our skies with the artificial
electricity of our laboratories was suspected by many before the middle
of the eighteenth century. Englishmen like Hauksbee, Hall, Gray, Freke,
Martin and Watson; Germans like Bose and Winkler, and Frenchmen like
Abbé Nollet, had already published their suspicions and conjectures
anent the matter. Franklin, too, had indicated twelve points of analogy
between the two, in 1749, in his letter to Collinson, of London. Though
he felt the force of the analogical agreement, he also felt that the
matter could not be definitely settled without an appeal to experiment.
Accordingly, he added: "The electric fluid is attracted by points; we do
not know whether this property is in lightning. But since they agree in
all the particulars wherein we can already compare them, is it not
probable that they agree likewise in this? Let the experiment be made."

  [Illustration: FIG. 19 The Divisch lightning conductor (1754)]

  [Illustration: FIG. 20]

The experiment was made by Franklin himself by means of his kite two
years later, in the summer of 1752, and also by the lightning-rod which
he erected over his own house in the autumn of the same year. Doubtless
Divisch heard of the marvelous effects obtained from d'Alibard's
insulated conductor at Marly; at any rate, he erected in an open space
at some little distance from his rectory at Prenditz, a lightning
conductor 130 feet in height. As will be seen from the illustration, it
bristled with points, for the Bohemian wizard argued rightly that five
points would be more efficient than one, and 50 more efficacious than
five. The weird-looking structure destined to ward off the lightning of
heaven had no less than 325 well-distributed points. Lodge says in his
_Lightning Conductors_: "Points to the sky are recognized as correct;
only I wish to advocate more of them, any number of them, like barbed
wire along ridges and eaves. If you want to neutralize a thunder-bolt,
three points are not as effective as 3000." This was written in 1892;
nearly 140 years before that date, we find a simple parish priest of an
obscure village in Moravia using precisely such a multiple system of
short, pointed conductors for the protection of life and property. This
lightning conductor or _meteorological machine_, as Divisch called it,
was erected by him at Prenditz on June 15th, 1754. On the top of the rod
will be seen three light vanes, which were added in the interest of the
feathered race in order to prevent incautious members from incurring the
risk of electrocution by alighting on the apparatus during a storm. The
wind whirled the vanes round like the cups of an anemometer, and thus
kept the birds away from the zone of danger.

  [Illustration: FIG. 21 Set of pointed rods]

Several trials came to the electrical Pastor, and from quarters least
expected. It happened in the second year after the erection of the
apparatus that the summer was unusually dry, in consequence of which the
crops failed almost completely. The farmers of the neighborhood were
always suspicious of the strange-looking mast of Prenditz; and, be it
said, that they were more than diffident about the propriety of
interfering with the forces of nature even under the plea of protection,
forgetting that they took great care to protect themselves against heat
and cold, rain, snow and hail. The country ladies, no doubt, used
parasols for one kind of protection; and the gentry, umbrellas for
another. Anyhow, the people of Prenditz and the good folk around did not
like the lofty mast, with its outstretched arms and bristling rows of
suspicious-looking iron points connected to the ground by means of four
long, heavy chains. For the nonce, they deemed their Pastor a queer
fellow, who thought that he could avert the anger of heaven by the
oddest kind of a machine which they ever laid their eyes on. It was
argued in the councils of the hamlets that, whatever advantages Divisch
claimed for his "machine," they were all of a negative character. It
_prevented_ the lightning stroke, he said; that might be, but they did
not _see_ the prevention. What they did see and keenly realize was the
failure of their crops. That affected them very closely; and if, as they
supposed, the apparatus of Prenditz had anything to do with it, the
sooner they got rid of the machine the better. Divisch, it must be said,
was liked by his people; but despite his popularity, the men of violence
carried the day and the machine was doomed. Popular passion, excited by
personal interest, got the better of the consideration due to the
Pastor. On an appointed day, a band of bellicose farmers came down on
the village and wrecked the apparatus which had cost the priest so much
thought and manual labor and on which, knowingly and justly, he relied
for the protection of the homesteads of his rustic flock.

This recalls a similar incident of mob violence which occurred at St.
Omer in the north of France, where a manufacturer of that quaint old
town, who had been in America and seen the usefulness of lightning
conductors, proceeded to erect one over his own house. Hardly was it
completed before the populace gathered together; and, when passion was
sufficiently aroused by inflammatory remarks of the demagogues, the
house was attacked and the conductor torn down. The manufacturer
complained of the inaction of the "gardiens de la paix" and appealed to
the courts to uphold his right to protect his home against lightning. He
entrusted his case to a young, brilliant lawyer, as yet unknown to fame,
but one destined to achieve unenviable notoriety during the
revolutionary period. This, the first defender of the lightning-rod in a
court of justice, was Robespierre.

The news of the untoward event soon reached the ears of the
Premonstratensian's superiors at Kloster-Bruck; and, as they very wisely
considered that the duty of a country priest is primarily to attend to
the spiritual welfare of his people, rather than to invent machines for
their protection against the bolts of heaven, they advised him to yield
to the prejudice of his people and not reconstruct the objectionable

Father Divisch accepted the friendly advice of his superiors and obeyed
like a good Premonstratensian monk. The remains of the shattered
"meteorological machine" were sent to the abbey at Bruck, where they
could be seen for many years afterward. As a consequence of this act of
vandalism, Divisch gave up experimenting with lightning-rods and with
electricity itself. The villagers were satisfied, but the world at large
lost the benefit that might accrue from the researches on atmospheric
electricity which Divisch would have carried on during the remaining
nineteen years of his life.

In giving up electricity, the disappointed priest turned his attention,
first, to acoustics and then, practical man as he was, to the
construction of musical instruments. It was not long before his genius
brought out an orchestrion of wind and stringed instruments which was
played like an organ with hands and feet, and which was capable of 130
different combinations. Prince Henry of Prussia offered a considerable
sum of money for the invention, but Divisch died while the preliminaries
of sale were arranging, and negotiations were broken off. The instrument
remained for many years in the abbey at Bruck, where it was in daily use
for the canonical office.

It is a curious coincidence that Franklin was also interested in musical
instruments. He is credited with having devised an improved form of
glass harmonica, one of which he presented to Queen Marie Antoinette.

Despite the bitter experience of Divisch, the introduction of lightning
conductors into Italy was warmly advocated some years later by Padre
Toaldo (1719-1797), an admirer and correspondent of Franklin. It was
through his influence and personal activity that the magnificent
thirteenth-century Cathedral of Siena was protected with lightning
conductors after having been repeatedly struck during the centuries and
seriously damaged. Toaldo published in 1774 his celebrated work on the
protection of public edifices and private buildings against lightning;
it contributed greatly to reassure public opinion on the value of
"Franklinian rods," as the conductors were commonly called.

It is a matter of regret that Franklin used the words "the electric
fluid is attracted by the points" in the passage quoted above, inasmuch
as in the popular mind such "attraction" courts rather than averts
danger. As already said, the rod no more "attracts" lightning than a
rain-pipe attracts a downpour. Franklin knew very well the twofold
function of his rods, the _preventive_, by which they tend to ward off
the stroke by gradually and silently neutralizing the excessive energy
of the cloud; and the other, the _preservative_, by which they convey
the discharge safely to earth when struck. He even complains of people
who concentrate their attention on the preventive function, forgetting
the other entirely, adding that, "Wherever my opinion is examined in
Europe, nothing is considered but the probability of these rods
preventing a stroke, which is only a part of the use which I proposed
for them; and the other part, their conducting a stroke which they may
happen not to prevent, seems to be totally forgotten, though of equal
importance and advantage." (1755.)

At a time, it was customary to make the rods rise to a considerable
height above the building, in the belief that the diameter of the circle
of protection was four times the height of the rod. Such a rule was an
arbitrary one which facts soon showed to be unreliable and unsafe. It is
now recognized that there is no such thing as a definite area of

Were this a literary chapter, we would point out that either of the
expressions "electric" storm or "lightning" storm is preferable to
_thunder-storm_, because electricity or lightning is the active agent or
principal feature of the impressive phenomenon. No one thinks of calling
a hailstorm by the descriptive term of _patter-storm_; yet that would be
just as logical and appropriate an appellative in one case as
thunder-storm is in the other.

_Thunder-tube_ is certainly a startling misnomer applied to the long,
narrow, glazed tubes formed in siliceous materials by the fervid heat of
the flash, but not in any way by the sound-waves produced by the crash.
_Thunder-bolt_ does not mean, despite the common opinion, a white-hot
mass that accompanies the discharge; it is purely and simply the flash
itself. A glowing mass that happens to come down in the track of the
discharge is a _meteorite_, a body of cosmic not terrestrial origin, a
visitor from space that chose the rarefied path of the flash for its
descent to earth.

Again, there are no _thunder-clouds_ in nature, only electric clouds or
lightning clouds; nor is there ever _thunder in the air_ save when the
lightning breaks from cloud to cloud, or leaps from cloud to earth, or
strikes from earth to cloud. But though thunder is only occasionally in
the air, electricity always is. We have a normal electrical field in all
seasons, times and places.

Though it is the lightning that kills and not the thunder, we would not,
however, object to the following inscription which we found on a

    "Here lies (so and so), oh! what a wonder,
    She was killed outright by a peal of thunder,"

because the suddenness of the peal may have given the aged lady a shock
from which her failing heart was unable to recover.

We are well aware that such criticism of technical terms in popular use
will have no reform effect whatever; because as long as people will say
"the sun rises" and "the stars set," they will continue to speak of
thunder-clouds and thunder-storms, thunder-tubes and thunder-bolts.
Though containing an element of error, these expressions have the
sanction of the centuries; and so, they have come to stay.

Returning to Divisch, that worthy priest and pioneer electrician died at
Prenditz in his sixty-ninth year, on Dec. 21st, 1765, and was buried in
the little churchyard where he had blessed many a grave during the
twenty-five years of his ministration. A simple inscription marks the
place of his interment, but a monument will soon be erected to his
memory which will tell the passerby where sleeps the Premonstratensian
pioneer of the lightning-rod.

About three months before the erection of his rod, _i.e._, in June,
1752, the idea occurred to Franklin that he could approach the region of
clouds just as well by means of a common kite. Here are his words anent
the novel and famous experiment with the "lightning kite":

     "Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long
     as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief
     when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the
     extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite, which,
     being properly accommodated with a tail, loop and string, will
     rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this, being of silk,
     is fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder-gust without
     tearing. To the top of the upright stick is to be fixed a very
     sharp-pointed wire, rising a foot or two above the wood. In the end
     of the twine, next the hand, is to be held a silk ribbon, and where
     the silk and cord join a key may be fastened. This kite is to be
     raised when a thunder-gust appears to be coming on, and the person
     who holds the string must stand within a door or window, or under
     some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must
     be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or
     window. As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the kite,
     the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the
     kite with all the twine will be electrified, and the loose
     filaments of the twine will stand out every way and be attracted by
     an approaching finger. And when the rain has wetted the kite, so
     that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it
     stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your
     knuckle. At this key the phial may be charged, and from electric
     fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled and all the other
     electric experiments be performed which are usually done by the
     help of a rubbed glass globe or tube, and thereby the sameness of
     the electric matter with that of lightning completely

Here we have the electric kite and manner of using it fully described
without, however, any direct statement that the author himself actually
experimented with it, although he does say that the experiment was
successfully carried out. This is strictly true, but it may be safely
contended that the precautions enumerated, the observation about the
fibres of the cord, its improved conductivity when wetted by the rain
and the like, all bespeak a knowledge of practical conditions that could
be obtained only by way of experiment.

But if Franklin is not outspoken on the matter, some of his
contemporaries are. Here is the kite incident as related in the
_Continuation of the Life of Dr. Franklin_, by Dr. Stuber, a
Philadelphian and intimate friend of the Franklins:

     "While Franklin was waiting for the erection of a spire, it
     occurred to him that he might have more ready access to the region
     of clouds by means of a common kite. He prepared one by fastening
     two cross-sticks to a silk handkerchief, which would not suffer so
     much from the rain as paper. To the upright stick was affixed an
     iron point. The string was, as usual, of hemp, except the lower
     end, which was silk. Where the hempen string terminated, a key was
     fastened. With this apparatus, on the appearance of a thunder-gust
     approaching, he went out into the commons, accompanied by his son,
     to whom alone he communicated his intentions, well knowing the
     ridicule which, too generally for the interest of science, awaits
     unsuccessful experiments in philosophy. He placed himself under a
     shed to avoid the rain. His kite was raised. A thunder-cloud passed
     over it. No sign of electricity appeared. He almost despaired of
     success, when suddenly he observed the loose fibres of his string
     move toward an erect position. He now presented his knuckle to the
     key and received a strong spark. Repeated sparks were drawn from
     the key, the phial was charged, a shock given, and all the
     experiments made which are usually performed with electricity."

This testimony of a man who enjoyed the unlimited confidence of Franklin
has a very matter-of-fact ring about it; there is not a note of
uncertainty, not a word indicating doubt that his friend and neighbor
went out to the fields accompanied by his robust son, carrying along
with them a queer assortment of electrical impedimenta. This son,
William by name, was twenty-two years of age at the time; and as he died
in 1813, eleven years after the publication of Dr. Stuber's
biographical sketch, he had ample time to contradict the kite story if
instead of being a fact it were a mere romance. Nor is this all, for Dr.
Stuber's narrative, given above, appears textually in the "Memoirs of
the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin," edited by his grandson
William Temple Franklin. The Doctor, be it remarked, was very fond of
his grandson, whose "faithful service and filial attachment" he warmly
commends in several of his letters, and whose regard for the memory of
the statesman led him to undertake the task of preparing his works for
publication. On page 211, Vol. I., he tells us that "As Dr. Franklin
mentioned his electrical discoveries only in a very transient way, and
as they are of a most important and interesting nature, it has been
thought that a short disgression on the subject would be excusable and
not void of entertainment. For this purpose the following account of the
same, including the first experiment of the lightning kite, as given by
Dr. Stuber, is here given."

In these concluding lines we have the testimony of Franklin's grandson
to the authenticity of the "lightning kite" story. Moreover, the account
as given by Stuber evidently meets with his cordial approval, since he
transcribes it verbatim; and, as if to invest the quotations with
unimpeachable authority, he tells us in the preface, p. viii., that
"they deserve entire dependence because of the accuracy of the
information imparted."

A word now from Priestley, also one of Franklin's intimate friends. In
his _History of Electricity_, fourth edition, p. 171, he says that "Dr.
Franklin, astonishing as it must have appeared, continued actually to
bring lightning from the heavens by means of an electrical kite which he
raised when a storm of thunder was perceived to be coming on." Then
follows a description taken almost word for word from Dr. Stuber, whom
he styles "the best authority on the subject."

If, perchance, the above testimony should not be deemed conclusive and
final, all lingering doubt must be removed by Franklin's own words, for
in his _Autobiography_, after briefly referring to the experiments made
in France with pointed conductors, he adds: "I will not swell this
narrative with an account of that capital experiment (the pointed
conductor), nor of the infinite pleasure which I received on the success
of a similar one I made soon after with a kite at Philadelphia, as both
are to be found in histories of electricity."

Here, at last, we have Franklin's own word for it, that he made the kite
experiment, and that he made it "soon after" the demonstration of his
electrical discoveries which M. de Lor gave, by request, before Louis
XV. and his court.

The "lightning kite" is, therefore, not a myth, as some have ventured to
think, having been fully described by Franklin in his letter to Peter
Collinson, dated October 19th, 1752, and having been made by him some
time in June of the same year.

We have now to see whether Franklin was anticipated in the idea of the
kite or in its use for electrical purposes. There are some who hold that
he was anticipated by M. de Romas as to the idea, but not the actual
experiment; while others credit the French magistrate with both. Let us
examine the evidence which there is for these opinions.

M. de Romas lived in Nérac, a small town some seventy-five miles south
of Bordeaux. He was a member of the bar; and at the time of the
Franklinian furor in Europe was a judge of the district court. He took
an interest in scientific matters quite unusual for men of his
profession, proceeding, as soon as he had read of the efficiency of
pointed conductors, to study their behavior for himself. His experiments
met with surprising success, and were as much admired by the local
savants as they were dreaded by the common folk. Letters containing his
observations were regularly sent to the Academy of Bordeaux, where they
were read with lively interest on account of their character and
novelty. From the published _Actes_ of that body we learn that the first
kite used by de Romas was raised by him on May 14th, 1753.
Disappointment, however, attended this attempt, no electrical
manifestation being observed, although rain fell and wetted the hempen
cord. The magistrate of Nérac attributed his failure to the resistance
of the string; and, like a good electrician, surprisingly good for the
time, determined to improve its conductivity by wrapping a fine copper
wire round its entire length. When this long and tedious operation was
completed, he went out again to the fields on a stormy day, when,
assisted by two of his friends, he raised the kite and soon got torrents
of sparks from the wire-wound cord. This was on June 7th, 1753. The
experiment was repeated from time to time, both for his own satisfaction
and that of his assistants as well as for the entertainment of his
ever-growing class of admiring spectators. Kites 7-1/2 ft. long and 3
ft. wide were raised 400 and even 550 ft. above ground when flashes nine
feet long and an inch thick were drawn, so the account says, with the
report of a pistol. The effect must have been truly spectacular. The
kite was held by a silk ribbon fastened to the end of the hempen cord.

It is then a matter of history vouched for by the _Actes_ of the Academy
of Bordeaux that May 14th, 1753, is the day on which the first use of a
kite for electrical purposes was made in France; on the other hand, it
is to be remembered that Franklin flew his "lightning kite" in June,
1752, almost a year earlier. As far, then, as the _fact_ is concerned,
the Philadelphia philosopher was not anticipated by the Justice of

From facts let us pass to writings. Franklin's letter to Collinson, in
which he describes the electric kite, is dated October 19th, 1752, while
that of M. de Romas, on which the claim for priority is founded, was
addressed by him to the Academy of Bordeaux on July 12th, 1752, three
months earlier. After a lengthy and interesting account of his
experiments with pointed conductors, he concludes his communication as

"C'est là, Monsieur, ce qu'il y a de plus important, car j'aurais bien
d'autres particularités à vous communiquer; mais ma lettre, devenue
d'une excessive longueur, m'avertit de finir. Je me réserve de mettre au
jour la dernière (quoiquelle ne soit qu'un jeu d'enfant) lorsque je me
serai assuré de la réussite par l'expérience que je me propose d'en
faire et que je ne negligerai pas."

In English this would read: "Such, Sir, are the more important points
which I have to communicate, and to which many others might be added,
were it not for the excessive length of this letter, which warns me that
it is time to bring it to a close. I will, however, give publicity to
the last one of all (though it is only a child's plaything) as soon as I
shall have assured myself of its success by an experiment which I have
devised and which I shall not fail to make."

The words in brackets--"though it is only a child's plaything"--are all
important, for it is on them and on them alone that the claim for
priority has been put forth and maintained. It will be seen that the
word kite (_cerf-volant_), does not occur in the letter, so that there
can be no absolute certainty as to the nature of the _jeu d'enfant_
which the author had in mind, though it is very likely that the kite was
meant. In his _Mémoire sur les moyens de se garantir de la foudre dans
les maisons_, he says, after describing some experiments that he had
made with pointed rods: "Néanmoins toujours plein du désir d'augmenter
le volume du feu électricque, il fallut chercher le moyen pour y
parvenir. En conséquence, je me plongeai dans de nouvelles méditations.
Enfin une demi-heure après, tout au plus, le cerf-volant des enfants se
présenta tout à coup à mon esprit, et il me tardait de la mettre à
l'épreuve. Par malheur, je n'en avais pas le temps." In English: "Being
anxious to augment the quantity of electric fire, I began to think of
some means to effect my purpose, and soon became quite absorbed with the
subject. Not more than half an hour elapsed before the idea of the kite
suddenly occurred to me, and I longed for an opportunity to try it; but
unfortunately I had not sufficient leisure at the time." The work in
which this passage occurs was published at Bordeaux in 1776, shortly
after the death of the author. De Romas always maintained that he did
not borrow the idea of the kite from any one, but that it occurred to
him while pursuing his experiments with pointed conductors.

It must be admitted that de Romas could not have been acquainted with
Franklin's performance of June, 1752, when he sent to the Bordeaux
Academy his letter of July 12th, of the same year, for we cannot suppose
that in an age of sailing vessels such news would cross the Atlantic and
reach an obscure provincial town in the southwest of France in the space
of a month. On the other hand, it is equally improbable that a vague
allusion to the electrical use of a kite made at Nérac on July 12th, by
a man entirely unknown to fame as was de Romas, should be talked of on
the banks of the Schuylkill before October 19th, the date of Franklin's
memorable letter to Collinson. Moreover, the "_jeu d'enfant_" allusion
as well as the very use of the kite by de Romas failed so completely to
attract the attention of scientific men of his own country that he
frequently and bitterly complained down to the end of his life, in 1776,
of their persistent neglect of his claims to recognition.

From all this, we conclude:

(_a_) That Franklin's "lightning kite" is not a myth, the experiment
having been made by him in June, 1752, and fully described by him in a
memorable letter written to Peter Collinson, of London, dated October
19th of the same year:

(_b_) That de Romas independently had the idea of using a kite for
electrical purposes as early as July 12th, 1752; but that he did not
carry out his idea until May 14th, 1753; and, furthermore, that he did
not succeed in getting any electrical manifestations until June 7th,
1753, his success then being due, at least in part, to the clever idea
which he had of entwining the cord with a fine copper wire. Therefore,
_suum cuique_.

In conclusion, we would say that the cardinal and enduring achievements
of Franklin are:

(1) His rejection of the two-fluid theory of electricity and
substitution of the one-fluid theory; (2) his coinage of the
appropriate terms _positive_ and _negative_, to denote an excess or a
deficit of the common electric fluid; (3) his explanation of the Leyden
jar, and, notably, his recognition of the paramount role played by the
glass or dielectric; (4) his experimental demonstration of the identity
of lightning and electricity; and (5) his invention of the lightning
conductor for the protection of life and property, together with his
clear statement of its preventive and protective functions.

If Franklin was well acquainted with electrical phenomena, it is safe to
say that his knowledge of human nature was wider and deeper still. This
appears continually in his _Autobiography_, in his political writings,
in business transactions and diplomatic relations.

On one occasion, while his re-election as clerk of the General Assembly
was pending, a certain member made a long speech against him. Franklin
listened with calm, dignified composure; and after his election, instead
of resenting the opposition of the offending member, he determined that
it would be better to disarm his antagonism and win his friendship. For
this purpose he sent the assemblyman a courteously-worded request for
the loan of a very scarce book which was in his library. The book was
sent to Franklin, who returned it within a week with a note of thanks,
which had the desired effect. Commenting on the event, our philosopher
says that "it is more profitable to remove than to resent inimical

Some of Franklin's views on general political economy are tersely set
forth in the following passage: "There seem, in fine, to be but three
ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by _war_, as the
Romans did in plundering their conquered neighbor; this is _robbery_.
The second is by _commerce_, which is generally _cheating_. The third is
by _agriculture_, the only _honest way_ wherein man receives a real
increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual
miracle wrought by the hand of God in his favour, as a reward for his
innocent life and virtuous industry."

Franklin asserts his religious convictions in many passages of his
"Autobiography" as well as on many occasions of his public life. Shocked
by "Tom" Paine's views of fundamental religious truths, he says: "I have
read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument which it
contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general
Providence, you strike at the foundation of all religion. For, without
the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards and guides,
and may favour particular persons, there is no motive to worship a
Deity, to fear His displeasure, or to pray for His protection. I will
not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to
desire it. At present, I shall only give you my opinion that, though
your reasonings are very subtile and may prevail with some readers, you
will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on
that subject; and the consequence of printing this piece will be a great
deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to
others. He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face."

This aphorism recalls the ripe wisdom contained in many of the sayings
of "Poor Richard," for Franklin was a deep thinker, shrewd observer and
quaint expositor of his own philosophy. Continuing, he fleeces Paine in
the following noble words: "But were you to succeed, do you imagine any
good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a
virtuous life without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a
clear perception of the advantages of virtue and the disadvantages of
vice, and possessing strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to
resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind
consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced,
inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of
religion to restrain them from vice, to support them to virtue, and
retain them in the practice of it till it becomes _habitual_, which is
the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her
originally, that is, to your religious education for the habits of
virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily
display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous
subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors.
For among us, it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a
youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by
beating his mother."

Franklin concludes this magnificent expression of his religious faith by
the solemn warning: "I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt
unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any
other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of
mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a
good deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked _with_
religion, what would they be _without_ it?"

Franklin's belief in the cardinal doctrine of the resurrection of the
body is well expressed in the epitaph which he wrote for himself in
1728, when in his twenty-second year. It reads

                   The Body
               Benjamin Franklin
         (Like the cover of an old book
              Its contents torn out
     And stript of its lettering and gilding)
           Lies here, food for worms.
          But the work shall not be lost
   For it will (as he believed) appear once more
        In a new and more elegant edition
              Revised and corrected
                   The Author.

However, when the statesman and philosopher was laid at rest beside his
wife in the Cemetery of Christ Church, Philadelphia, in 1790, the marble
slab which marked the grave bore no other inscription than Franklin's
name and the date of his death.

Appreciating the great loss which the country sustained by the death of
Franklin, Congress ordered a general mourning for one month throughout
the fourteen States of the Union; and the French National Assembly
decreed three days of public mourning at the instance of Mirabeau, who
said in his address that "The genius that gave freedom to America and
scattered torrents of light upon Europe, has returned to the bosom of
the Divinity. Antiquity would have erected altars to that mortal who for
the advantage of the human race, embracing both heaven and earth in his
vast mind, knew how to subdue both thunder and tyranny."

The fugitive apprentice boy of 1723 turned out to be one of the most
esteemed and eminent Americans of his day. Of an even temper and
well-balanced mind, he was plain in dress, simple in manner, easy of
approach and friendly to all. The success which he achieved during his
long career of eighty-five years, shows what may be done by seizing the
opportunities which come to every one, by concentration of mind,
application to duty and tenacity of purpose. He attained distinction in
science, in letters, in diplomacy; he stood for good government and true
liberty. His name is a household one in his own country, where
monuments, institutions and cities will bear it down to posterity.


_The Lightning Kite._

Fully described by Franklin in a letter to Peter Collinson, of London,
dated October 19th, 1752.

Stuber in his "Continuation of the Life of Dr. Franklin," and Priestley
in his "History of Electricity," affirm that Franklin made the
experiment in June, 1752.

Franklin's son, William, never denied the story, although he figured in
it as an active character.

William Temple Franklin, who prepared for publication his grandfather's
works, gives the kite story almost verbatim from Stuber.

Finally, Franklin himself states that he made the experiment: Memoirs,
Vol. I., p. 164.

_Franklin and de Romas._

June, 1752: Franklin raises his kite in a field near Philadelphia.

July 12, 1752: Letter of de Romas to the Academy of Bordeaux, in which a
probable reference is made to the kite as _un jeu d'enfant_.

October 19th, 1752: Franklin describes the "lightning kite" in a letter
to Peter Collinson, of London.

May 14th, 1753: First use by de Romas of the electric kite in the fields
around Nérac; no result.

June 7th, 1753: First success by de Romas with his electric kite.

_Pointed Conductor._

Suggested by Franklin in letter to Peter Collinson, of London, dated
July 29th, 1750.

D'Alibard, following Franklin's instructions, gets torrents of
discharges from his iron rod 40 feet high at Marly, May 10th, 1752.

De Lor gets good results from his conductor 99 feet high, erected over
his house in Paris, May 18th, 1752.

De Buffon succeeds with his rod on May 19th, 1752.

Franklin erected the first rod over his house in Philadelphia in
September, 1752. It was made of iron with a sharp steel point rising
seven or eight feet above the roof, the other end being sunk five feet
in the ground. Franklin charged a Leyden Jar from his rod in April,
1753. Professor Richmann, of St. Petersburg, was killed by a flash from
his apparatus on August 6th, 1753.


  [Illustration: ALOISIO GALVANI]


[8] Scientific Writings of Joseph Henry, Vol. I., p. 201.

[9] Frequently referred to as Lullin's experiment.

[10] Every schoolboy knows that the electricity which passed
down the kite-string was not drawn from the clouds, but was due to their
inductive action on the pointed conductor attached to the kite. Kant
calls Franklin the "Modern Prometheus."



It is a well-known fact, often commented on in the history of medicine,
that Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, did not
give the details of his discovery to the public for some twenty years
after he had first reached it. The reason for his delay was twofold.
With the characteristic patience of a real investigator in science,
Harvey wanted to work out the details of his discovery for himself
before giving it to the public, and wished to be sure of all he would
have to say about it before committing it to print. He had not, as had
indeed none of the really great discoverers in science, that intense
desire for publicity which causes smaller men to rush into print with
their embryonic discoveries, or oftener, their supposed discoveries, the
moment they get their first distant glimpse of a new truth or see some
mirage of a distant scientific principle, perhaps already well known, in
their heated imaginations. Small men squabble about priority in small
discoveries, and rush headlong into print, lest some one should
anticipate their wonderful observation. The example of Harvey can
scarcely be commended too highly, for if followed, it would save the
world of science a lot of bother and obviate the necessity of taking
back many things that have been proclaimed in the name of science.
Fortunately, it has been the rule among genuine students of science, not
because of any deliberate imitation of their great predecessors, but
because of modest assurance of the worth of their work and honest desire
to perfect it before giving it to the world.

Luigi, or, as he preferred to be known himself, Aloysio Galvani, for the
young prince of the house of Gonzaga whose canonization made him St.
Aloysius was his patron in baptism and a favorite in life, presents an
interesting exemplification of this characteristic trait of the really
great discoverer in science, to wait calmly and work faithfully for
thorough confirmation of his views before publishing them. His admirable
patience in reaching the real significance of his discovery before
proclaiming the results of his investigations is only a typical
illustration of the modest thorough scientist that he was. It used to be
said that Galvani's discovery of the twitchings of the frog's legs,
which led him to give himself to serious investigations into animal
electricity, was made more or less by accident in 1786. His views on the
subject of animal electricity were not formally published until the
appearance of his treatise, De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari
Commentarius, in the eighth volume of the Memoirs of the Institute of
Science of Bologna, published in 1791. This would seem to indicate that
only five years elapsed between his original observation and the
publication of his views. Even this interval may seem long enough to our
modern notions of at least supposed rapidity of scientific progress,
but we know now, from documents in the possession of the Institute of
Science at Bologna, that, twenty years previous to the publication of
this commentary, Galvani was deeply interested in the action of
electricity upon the muscles of frogs, and was diligently and fruitfully
occupied during his spare time with investigations upon this subject.

When, in Makers of Modern Medicine,[18] I called special attention to
the fact that practically all of the greatest discoverers in medicine
had made their cardinal discovery, or at least the far-reaching
observation that opened up for them the special career in investigation
that was to make them famous, before they were thirty-five, one of my
critics doubted the assertion and suggested the case of Galvani as a
distinct exception. Ordinarily, it is presumed that his discovery of the
twitchings of frogs' legs under the influence of electricity was made in
1786, when he was in his forty-ninth year. As a matter of fact, however,
his first observations were made and his attention attracted to the
importance of the subject when he was scarcely more than thirty. His
career is indeed a striking example of the earliness in life at which a
great man's work is likely to come to him, and yet illustrates very
aptly the patience with which he devotes himself to it, without seeking
the idle reputation to be derived from immediate announcement, if he
really has the true spirit of the scientific investigator.

Galvani began original work of a high order very early in his medical
career. His graduation thesis on the human skeleton treated especially
of the formation and development of bone, and attracted no little
attention. It is noteworthy because of the breadth of view in it, for it
touches on the various questions relative to osteology, from the
standpoint of physics and chemistry, as well as medicine and surgery. It
was sufficient to obtain for its author the place of lecturer in anatomy
in the University of Bologna, besides the post of director of the
teaching of anatomy in the Institute of Sciences, a subsidiary
institution. Here, from the very beginning, Galvani's course was
popular. He was not, as we note elsewhere, a fluent talker, but he was
one of the first who introduced experimental demonstrations of his
subject into his lectures, and this made his teaching very attractive
and drew crowds to his university courses.

Galvani's work as an anatomist, however, was done much more in
comparative anatomy than in the study of the human being. He selected
birds for the special subject of his first investigations in the field,
and his monograph on the kidneys of birds attracted widespread attention
among the scientists of Europe. As the farthest removed from man of the
beings that are warm-blooded, these creatures have always attracted
particular attention, and, quite apart from any interest in evolution,
were the subject of special investigation. Owing to the facility with
which they can be studied in embryonic stages in the hatching egg, most
of the peculiarities of their structure and development are very well
known now. The kidneys of the bird are especially interesting, because
they represent a different phase of development from that of human
beings. Galvani had selected, then, one of the cardinal or turning-point
subjects in comparative anatomy. As he pointed out very clearly, the
kidneys of birds differ very much among themselves, and the intense
muscular action of this creature makes a large amount of excretory
material, that must be disposed of, and consequently demands much more
active kidney function than occurs in most other classes of animals.
Galvani studied every feature--the vessels, the nerves, the canals--and
almost necessarily pointed out many new points or added hitherto unknown

He next devoted himself to the study of the ear of the bird. This might
seem to be of little special interest, since hearing is not one of the
most characteristic qualities of the winged species. It so happens,
however, that the semi-circular canals which are closely connected with
the auditory apparatus in all animals are extremely large in birds. As a
consequence of this, the avian auditory structures assume an importance
in comparative anatomy quite like that of the kidneys in the same
species. After Galvani had completed his studies, he found that he had
been anticipated by another great Italian anatomist of the time, Antonio
Scarpa (of Scarpa's triangle in human anatomy), who afterwards became
the Chief Surgeon to Napoleon. Galvani abandoned the idea of publishing
his book then, but published a short article, in which he added much to
Scarpa's details and conclusions. His additions were particularly with
regard to the semi-circular canals, which are probably the organ of
direction, the necessity for which, in this species, for the purpose of
flying, is so easy to understand. He also described with great care the
single ossicle or small bone, which replaces the chain of little bones
that exist in mammal ears, and pointed out that the shape of this bone
and its appendages enabled it to fulfil, though single, all the
functions of the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup bones in human

Galvani's careful study of the semi-circular canals of various species
of birds can perhaps be better appreciated from the fact that he made it
a point to measure their size exactly, as compared to the semi-circular
canals of most other creatures. He found that the semi-circular canals
of the hawk, for instance, were larger than the corresponding structures
in man or even in the cow or the horse. As these latter animals are many
hundred times larger than the largest birds, the special significance of
the canals in birds becomes manifest. In certain of the birds, as he
pointed out, these structures are not semi-circles, nor indeed of
circular form at all, but take on much more the shape of an ellipse,
and, indeed, sometimes the arc of curvature of the ellipse is quite
acute. He seems to have had no hint, however, of the function that we
have in modern times assigned to these structures, that of presiding
over direction and equilibrium, and discusses in his rather vigorous
Latin what the physiological significance of them may be as regards
hearing. He thinks that they add something to the acuity of hearing, and
would seem to imply that in birds flying rapidly through the air, there
was the necessity for a more perfect hearing apparatus than among other
creatures, and that this was the reason for the huge development of
their semi-circular canals.

At this time the science of comparative anatomy was just beginning to
attract widespread attention. John Hunter, in London, was doing a great
work in this line, which placed him in the front rank of contributors to
biology and collectors of important facts in all the sciences allied to
anatomy and physiology. Galvani's work on birds, then, made him a
pioneer in the biological sciences that were to attract so much
attention during the nineteenth century. His experimental work in
comparative anatomy, strange as it might seem, and apparently not to be
expected, led him into the domain of electricity, through the
observation of certain phenomena of animal electricity and the effects
of electrical currents on animals.

Like so many other great discoveries in science, Galvani's first
attraction to his subject of animal electricity is often said to have
been the result of a happy accident. Of course it is easy to talk of
accidents in these cases. Archimedes and his bath; the fall of the apple
for Newton; Laennec's observation of the boys tapping on a log in the
courtyard of the Louvre and the ready conduction of sound, from which he
got his idea for the invention of the stethoscope; Lord Kelvin's
eye-glass falling and showing him how a weightless arm for his
electrometer might be obtained in a beam of light,--may all be called
happy accidents if you will. Without the inventive scientific genius
ready to take advantage of them, however, these accidents would not have
been raised to the higher plane of important incidents in the history of
science. These phenomena had probably occurred under men's eyes hundreds
of times before, but there was no great mind ready to receive the seeds
of thought suggested, nor to follow out the conclusions so obviously
indicated. Galvani's observation of the twitching of the muscles of the
frog under the influence of electricity, may be called one of the happy
accidents of scientific development, but it was Galvani's own genius
that made the accident happy.

There are two stories told as to the method of the first observation in
this matter. Both of them make his wife an important factor in the
discovery. According to a popular but less authentic form of the
history, Galvani was engaged in preparing some frogs' legs as a special
dainty for his wife, who was ill and liked this delicacy very much. He
thought so much of her that he was doing this himself, in the hope that
she would be thus more readily tempted to eat them. While so engaged, he
exposed the large nerve of the animal's hind legs, and at the same time
split the skin covering the muscles. In doing this he touched the nerve
muscle preparation, as this has come to be called, with the scalpel and
the forceps simultaneously, with the result that twitchings occurred.
While seeking the cause of these twitchings, the idea of animal
electricity came to him.

The other form of the story is told a little later in Galvani's own
words in the analysis of his monograph on animal electricity. He does
not mention his wife in it, but there is a tradition that she was
present in the laboratory when the phenomenon of the twitching of the
frog's legs was first noticed, and indeed that it was she who called his
attention to the curious occurrence.

She was a woman of well-developed intellect, and her association with
her father and also with her husband made her well acquainted with the
anatomy and physiology of the day. She realized that what had occurred
was quite out of the ordinary. She is even said to have suggested their
possible connection with the presence and action of the electric
apparatus. Husband and wife, then, together, by means of a series of
observations determined that, whenever the apparatus was not in use the
phenomenon of the convulsive movements of the frog's legs did not take
place, notwithstanding irritation by the scalpel. Whenever the electric
apparatus was working, however, then the phenomenon in question always
took place. According to either form of the story, if we accept the
traditions in the matter, Madame Galvani had an important part in the

Galvani's most important contribution to science is undoubtedly his De
Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari Commentarius--Commentary on the
Forces of Electricity in Their Relation to Muscular Motion. Like many
another epoch-making contribution to science, it is not a large work,
but in his collected works in the edition of 1841, occupies altogether
sixty-four pages, of scarcely more than two hundred and fifty words to
the page. There are probably not more than fifteen thousand words in it
altogether. It was published originally in the eighth volume of the
Memoirs of the Institute of Science at Bologna, in 1791, but a reprint
of it, with some modifications, was issued at Modena in the following
year. This Modenese edition, published by the Societa Typographica, was
annotated by Professor Giovanni Aldini, who also wrote an accompanying
dissertation, De Animalis Electricae Theoriae Ortu Atque Incrementis, On
the Rise and Development of the Theory of Animal Electricity. In this
volume was also published a letter from Galvani to Professor Carminati,
in Italian, on the Seat of Animal Electricity. These two editions are
the sources to which we must turn for whatever Galvani tried to make
known with regard to animal electricity.

This little volume consists of four parts: the first of which is devoted
to a consideration of the effects of artificial electricity on muscular
motion; the second is on the effect of atmospheric electricity on
muscular motion; the third is on the effect of animal electricity on
muscular motion; and the fourth consists of a series of conjectures and
some conclusions from his observations. The arrangement of the work, as
can readily be understood from this, is thoroughly scientific. Galvani
proceeds from what was best known and most evident to what he knew less
about, trying to enlarge the bounds of knowledge and then suggesting the
conclusions that might be drawn from his work and offering a number of
hints as to the possible significance of many of the phenomena that
might form suggestive material for further experimentation along this
same line. In spite of the forbiddingness of the Latin to a modern
scientist, as a rule, the little work is well worthy of study because of
its eminently scientific method and the excellent evidence it affords of
the way serious students of science approached a scientific thesis
before the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The first paragraph of this dissertation is of such fundamental
significance, because it represents the primal work done in animal
electricity, that it has seemed to me worth while presenting entire. The
original Latin from which the translation is made, and from which a good
idea of Galvani's Latin style may be obtained, is given in a note.[17]

"I had dissected a frog and had prepared it, as in Figure 2 of the fifth
plate (in which is shown a nerve muscle preparation), and had placed it
upon a table on which there was an electric machine, while I set about
doing certain other things. The frog was entirely separated from the
conductor of the machine, and indeed was at no small distance away from
it. While one of those who were assisting me touched lightly and by
chance the point of his scalpel to the internal crural nerves of the
frog, suddenly all the muscles of its limbs were seen to be so
contracted that they seemed to have fallen into tonic convulsions.
Another of my assistants, who was making ready to take up certain
experiments in electricity with me, seemed to notice that this happened
only at the moment when a spark came from the conductor of the machine.
He was struck with the novelty of the phenomenon, and immediately spoke
to me about it, for I was at the moment occupied with other things and
mentally preoccupied. I was at once tempted to repeat the experiment, so
as to make clear whatever might be obscure in it. For this purpose I
took up the scalpel and moved its point close to one or the other of the
crural nerves of the frog, while at the same time one of my assistants
elicited sparks from the electric machine. The phenomenon happened
exactly as before. Strong contractions took place in every muscle of the
limb, and at the very moment when the sparks appeared, the animal was
seized as it were with tetanus."

Galvani then explains in detail how he made observations on control
frogs at moments when there were no electric sparks, and decided that
the contact with the scalpel was only effective in producing twitchings
when there was a simultaneous electric spark. He noted, also, that
occasionally the contractions did not occur, in spite of the fulfilment
of the conditions mentioned. He traced this to fatigue. He then
proceeded to vary the experiment in many ways, decreasing the size of
the scalpel, increasing and decreasing the size of the electric machine
and varying the method of preparation of the frog, so as to decide just
what the significance of the phenomenon was. In a general way, it may be
said that this study shows Galvani as one of the most careful of
experimentalists, though he has often been declared to be a theorizer,
rather than an observer.

A very interesting anticipation of Galvani's original experiment, made
long before his time by a great naturalist, the story of which serves to
show that discoveries made before their time, that is, before people are
ready to follow them up, fail to attract attention, has been called to
my attention by Brother Potamian. In the second volume of the Dutch
Naturalist Swammerdam's Works, page 839, is to be found the following
passage:[14] "Another experiment that is at once very curious and
suggestive can be made if one separates the largest of the muscles of
the thigh of the frog and so prepares it with its adherent nerve as to
leave it unhurt. If after this has been done you take the tendons of
this muscle, one in each hand, and irritate the hanging nerve by a
little forceps or other instrument, the muscle will recover the former
motion which it had lost. You will see at once that it contracts and
that there will be an effort as it were to bring together the two hands
which hold its tendons. This I demonstrated, in the year 1658, to the
illustrious Duke of Tuscany then reigning, when he was at the moment in
a state of mind that prompted him not to favor me. This same experiment
can be repeated with the same muscle as often and for as long a time as
any portion of the nerve remains uninjured, so that we may, therefore,
irritate the muscle to its former contraction as often as we wish."

As a foundation classic in electricity, Galvani's De Viribus
Electricitatis deserves more detailed analysis. The first part of the
monograph is taken up with experiments of many kinds, with what may be
called artificial sources of electricity--the electric machine, the
Leyden jar, and other modes of electrical development. The second part
treats of the effects of atmospheric electricity upon muscular motion,
by which expression Galvani means lightning, though he also observed
various electrical manifestations in the muscles of his frogs when there
was no actual lightning but only darkening of the heavens, without
actual passage of the current flash from one cloud to another or from
the clouds to the earth. In this matter, Galvani displayed quite as much
courage as patient observation. He knew the fate of Richmann, the
Russian scientist, who had been struck dead by a lightning-bolt while
making experiments not very different, yet he dared to place a lightning
conductor on the highest point of his house, and to this conductor he
attached a wire, which ran down to his laboratory. During a storm, he
suspended on this metallic circuit, by means of their sciatic nerves,
frogs' legs and the legs of other animals prepared for the purpose. To
the feet of the animals he attached another Wire sufficiently long to
reach down to the bottom of a well, thus grounding the circuit.

Not satisfied with this study of the influence of lightning and large
electrical disturbances in the air on the preparation of the frog as he
had made it, Galvani set about discovering whether even the slight
differences in electrical potential which occur during the day in
atmospheric electricity might not give rise, even in fair weather, to
certain contractions of the frog's muscles. He made his observations for
many days at many different hours and under varying conditions of light
and shade, of heat and cold, without finding anything. There were
occasional contractions, but they bore no definite relation to
variations in the atmosphere, or the electric state of the atmosphere.
Galvani satisfied himself of this very thoroughly, and with a patience
and diligence worthy of emulation by a Fellow at a modern university
working on a foundation for the determination of a particular question.

The third part of the work is the most important as well as the
longest, and contains the ideas which are original with Galvani, but
which met most opposition in his time and have only been properly
appreciated in recent years. Galvani came to the conclusion that there
is such a thing as animal electricity. This led to a famous controversy
with Volta, in which their contemporaries judged that Galvani had the
worst of it; but, as so often happens, their successors a century later
would judge that Galvani's views were more in accord with what we know
at the present time. Criticism is always easier than scientific advance,
and in a controversy it is usually the man who writes most forcibly,
rather than the one who thinks most deeply, who secures the assent of
readers. This makes controversy in matters of science always
unfortunate, for it does much more to retard than to help scientific

Galvani insists, at the end of this chapter on animal electricity, that
what he writes is entirely the result of experiment, and that he has
tried in every way to make his experiments from a thoroughly critical
standpoint. Those who repeat his observations will find this to be true,
though he confesses that there are times when conditions not well
understood seem to hinder the results that he usually obtained.

The fourth part of his commentary is taken up with certain conjectures,
as he calls them, and some conclusions from his work. In this he
suggests the use of electricity for the cure of certain nervous
diseases, and especially for the treatment of the various forms of
paralysis. The use of electricity for these cases had been previously
suggested, and Bertholinus had told the story of patients who were
utterly unable to move and who had recovered after having been in the
neighborhood where a lightning-bolt had struck. To the minds of
physicians of that time, this must have seemed proof positive of the
curative value of lightning, and, therefore, of electricity, for
paralytic conditions. The remedy was heroic, if not indeed positively
risky, but its good effect could not be doubted. Unfortunately, as is
always true in medical matters, the real question at issue in these
cases is not so much the value of the remedy as the propriety of the
diagnosis. Paralysis, in the sense of inability to use one or more
limbs, may be due to many causes. There are a number of forms of
functional or hysterical palsy, that is, of incapacity to use certain
groups of muscles not dependent on any organic lesion, but upon some
curious state of the nervous system which may pass away entirely, and
which, indeed, seem to be dependent on the patient's state of mind. A
number of so-called paralytic patients were cured by the earthquake in
San Francisco; some are made to do the apparently impossible every year;
they get up and walk because of the shock due to a fire or burglars. We
know now that the electrical status of the individual is very carefully
protected from disturbance by external electrical forces. What Galvani
began has borne fruit in diagnosis more than treatment, so that his
prophecy has been amply fulfilled. "The application of this method may
throw light on the subject and experience may help us to understand it."

Among his conclusions, Galvani hints that electricity may not only
proceed from the clouds during electrical disturbances, but also may
proceed from the earth itself, and that living beings may be affected by
this. He suggests, therefore, that plants and animals may be influenced
in their growth and in their health by such electrical changes. He adds
the suggestion that there may be some intimate connection between
electrical phenomena and earthquakes, and suggests that, in countries
where earthquakes are frequent, observations should be made by means of
frogs' limbs in order to see whether there may not be some definite
change in the electrical conditions of the atmosphere before and during
the earthquake. He seems to have had some idea that the curious feelings
which at times come before an earthquake to human beings, though they
seem even more noticeable in animals, may be due to this change in
atmospheric electricity.[13]

We are rather prone to think that news of scientific discoveries
traveled slowly in Europe in the eighteenth century. There is abundant
evidence of the contrary in these sketches of electricians, and
Galvani's case is one of the most striking. How much attention Galvani's
discovery attracted and how soon definite details of it spread to the
other end of Europe may be judged from the fact that, in 1793, Mr.
Richard Fowler published a small book at Edinburgh bearing the title,
Experiments and Observations Relative to the Influence Lately
Discovered by M. Galvani, and commonly called Animal Electricity.[15]
This little book, which may be seen at the Surgeons General Library,
Washington, and in the Library of the American Institute of Electrical
Engineers, New York, details a large number of experiments that Fowler
had made during the preceding year or more, so that Galvani's work must
have reached him within a few months after its publication. Fowler
mentions the fact that Galvani had been occupied many years before this
in the study of electric fishes, especially the _torpedo_, the
_gymnotus electricus_ and _silurus electricus_. He also mentions a
curious observation of Cotugno, who, a few years before, had received a
shock from a mouse while dissecting the little animal, which makes it
clear that imagination played a role in helping to the introduction of
the newer ideas with regard to animal electricity.[16]

But before his discovery was to attract so much attention, Galvani had
to work it out, and this is the merit of the man.

It is almost needless to say, these experiments upon frogs were not
accomplished in a few days or a few weeks. Galvani had his duties as
Professor of Anatomy to attend to besides the obligations imposed upon
him as a busy practitioner of medicine and surgery. At that time, it was
not nearly so much the custom as it is at the present, to use frogs for
experiments, with the idea that conclusions might be obtained of value
for the biological sciences generally, and especially for medicine.
There has always been such an undercurrent of feeling, that such
experiments have been more or less a beating of the air. Galvani found
this opposition not only to his views with regard to animal electricity
as enunciated after experimental demonstration, but also met with no
little ridicule because of the supposed waste of time at occupations
that could not be expected to lead to any practical results. It was the
custom of scientific men to laugh somewhat scornfully at his patient
persistence in studying out every detail of electrical action on the
frog, and one of the supposedly prominent scientists of the time even
dubbed him "the frog dancing master." This did not, however, deter
Galvani from his work, though some of the bitter things must have proved
cutting enough, and might have discouraged a smaller man, less confident
of the scientific value of the work that he was doing.

His relations with his patients--for during all of his career he
continued to practice, especially surgery and obstetrics--were of the
friendliest character. While his distinction as a professor at the
University gave him many opportunities for practice among the rich, he
was always ready and willing to help the poor, and, indeed, seemed to
feel more at home among poor patients than in the society of the wealthy
and the noble. Even toward the end of his life, when the loss of many
friends, and especially his wife, made him retire within himself much
more than before, he continued to exercise his professional skill for
the benefit of the poor, though he often refused to take cases that
might have proved sources of considerable gain to him. Early in life,
when he was very busy between his professorial work and his practice, he
remarked more than once, on refusing to take the cases of wealthy
patients, that they had the money with which to obtain other physicians,
while the poor did not, and he would prefer to keep some time for his
services to them. When ailing and miserable toward the end of his life,
he still continued his practice, and was especially ready to spend his
time with the poor. He was dying himself, as one of his biographers
says, when he got up from a sick bed to see a dying woman who sent for

He was one of the most popular professors that the University of Bologna
ever had. He was not, in the ordinary sense of the word, an orator, but
he was a born teacher. The source of the enthusiasm which he aroused in
his hearers was undoubtedly his own love for teaching and the power it
gave him to express even intricate problems in simple, straightforward
language. More than any of his colleagues, he understood that
experiments and demonstrations must be the real groundwork of the
teaching of science. Accordingly, very few of his lectures were given
without the aid of these material helps to attract attention. Besides,
he was known to be one who delighted to answer questions, and was
perfectly frank about the limitations of his knowledge whenever there
was no real answer to be given to a question that had been proposed.
Though an original discoverer of the first rank, he was extremely
modest, particularly when talking about the details of his discoveries
or subjects relating to them.

Galvani was not a good talker, though he seems to have been a good
teacher. He had little of that facility which wins friends easily and
enables a man to shine with a borrowed lustre of knowledge, often enough
quite superficial. What he said was almost sure to have a very serious
meaning. While there is no doubt that Galvani was a genius, in the sense
that he was one of the precious few who take the step across the
boundary of the unknown and make a path along which it is easy for
others to follow in reaching hitherto trackless regions in human
speculation, he also had what is undoubtedly the main element in talent,
for he was possessed to a high degree of the faculty for hard work. For
this he regulated the hours of his labor very carefully. Only thus could
he have accomplished what he did. It must not be forgotten that he was
teaching anatomy and obstetrics at the University of Bologna, and,
surprising as it may seem, doing both these tasks well. He was besides
accomplishing good work in comparative anatomy and physiology by
original investigations of a high order. In spite of all this, which
would seem occupation enough and more for any one man, he was able to
keep up a rather demanding practice.

He did not have many friends, but those whom he admitted to his intimacy
were bound to him with the proverbial hoops of steel. With two men in
Bologna he spent most of his leisure. They were Dr. Julio Cæsare
Cingari, a distinguished physician of the city, and the well-known
astronomer who held the chair of astronomy at the University, Francisco
Sacchetti. With these he passed many a pleasant hour, and week after
week they met at one another's houses to discuss scientific questions
and the lighter topics of the day. Galvani was thoroughly respected by
all the members of the Faculty at Bologna, though he did not seek many
friendships, and indeed probably would have more or less resented the
intrusions of acquaintances, because of the time that it would take from
him. He was a very retiring man, caring not at all for social things,
and least of all for that personal fame which has been so well defined
as the being known by those whom one does not know. His happiness in
life came to him from his work and from his domestic relations. His wife
was one of those marvelous women, rarer than they should be, one is
tempted to say, who are enough interested in their husband's
intellectual work to add to the zest of discovery in the discussion of
it with them, and who yet realize that it is by minimizing the little
worries of life that they can best help their husbands.

A very interesting phase of the Italian University life of that time is
revealed in two important incidents of Galvani's university career. One
of his professors--one, by the way, for whom he seems to have had a
great deal of respect, and to whose lectures he devoted much attention,
was Laura Caterina Maria Bassi, the distinguished woman Professor of
Philosophy at the University of Bologna, about the middle of the
eighteenth century. It is doubtless to her teaching that Galvani owes
some of his thorough-going conservatism in philosophic speculation, a
conservatism that was of great service to him later on in life, in the
midst of the ultra-radical principles which became fashionable just
before and during the French Revolution. Madame Bassi seems to have had
her influence on him for good not only during his student career, but
also later in life, for she was the wife of a prominent physician in
Bologna, and Galvani was often in social contact with her during her
years of connection with the University.

As might, perhaps, be expected, seeing that his own happy domestic life
showed him that an educated woman might be the center of intellectual
influence, Galvani seems to have had no spirit of opposition to even the
highest education for women. This is very well illustrated by the first
formal lecture in his course on anatomy at the University, which had for
its subject the models for the teaching of anatomy that had been made by
Madame Manzolini.[12] In the early part of the eighteenth century,
Madame Manzolini had been the Professor of Anatomy at the University of
Bologna, and in order to make the teaching of this difficult subject
easier and more definite, she modeled with great care and delicate
attention to every detail, so that they imitated actual dissections of
the human body very closely, a set of wax figures, which replaced the
human body for demonstration purposes, at least at the beginning of the
anatomical course.

Galvani, in taking up the work of lecturer in anatomy, appreciated how
much such a set of models would serve to make the introduction to
anatomical study easy, yet at the same time without diminishing its
exactness, and accordingly introduced his students to Madame Manzolini's
set of models in his very first lecture. At the time, not a few of the
teachers of anatomy at the Italian universities were inclined to
consider the use of these models as rather an effeminate proceeding.
Galvani's lack of prejudice in the matter shows the readiness of the man
to accept the best, wherever he found it, without regard to persons or

Galvani's personal character was very pleasant, yet rather grave and
serious. His panegyrist, Professor Giuseppe Venturoli, in the eulogium
of Galvani, delivered in the Public Academy of the Institute of Bologna
(1802) within five years after Galvani's death, says that Galvani was
far from that coldness or lack of interest which sometimes characterizes
scientists in their social relations, and which, as he naïvely says, is
sometimes praised and sometimes blamed by those who write about them.
Another side of Galvani's character is more interesting. He was ready to
do all in his power for the poor. He conducted his obstetrical clinic
particularly with a liberal benevolence and charity that deserve to be
mentioned. When it is considered how much time his teaching and his
charity took from him, it is rather surprising to find that he had
enough left to enable him to devote himself with so much success to the
difficult tasks he set himself in research and to the time-taking labors
of controversy, which occupied many years after the announcement of his

The most striking proof of the thorough conscientiousness with which he
faced the duties of life is to be found in his conduct after the
establishment of the so-called Cis-Alpine Republic in Italy. This was a
government established merely by force of arms, maintained through
French influence, without the consent of the people, and a plain
usurpation of the rights of the previous government. Galvani considered
himself bound in duty to the authority under which he had lived all his
previous life and to which he had sworn fealty. When the University of
Bologna was reorganized under the new government, the first requirement
of all those who were made professors was that they should take the oath
of allegiance to the new government. This he refused to do. His motives
can be readily understood, and though practically all the other
professors of the University had taken the oath, he did not consider
that this freed him from his conscientious obligations in the matter.

Accordingly he was dropped from the roll of professors and deprived of
the never very large salary which he had obtained from this chair. On
this sum he had practically depended for his existence, and he began to
suffer from want. While he had been a successful practitioner of
medicine, especially of surgery, he had always been very liberal, and
had spent large sums of money in demonstrations for his lectures and
personal experimentation and in materials for the museums of the
University. He began to suffer from actual want, and friends had to come
to his assistance. He refused, however, to give up his scruples in the
matter and accept the professorship which was still open to him.
Finally, at the end of two years, influence was brought to bear on the
new government, and Galvani was allowed to accept his chair in the
University without taking the oath of allegiance. This tribute came too
late, however, and within a short time after his restoration to his
professorship he died.

Galvani's conduct in this affair is the key-note to his character and
conduct through life. For him duty was the paramount word, and success
meant the accomplishment of duty. For getting on in the world and
material rewards he had no use unless they came as the consequence of
duty fulfilled. His action in the matter of the University professorship
has of course been much discussed by his biographers.

His eulogist, Professor Venturoli, whom we have already quoted, and
whose eulogium is to be found in the complete edition of Galvani's works
issued at Bologna in 1841,[11] has much to say with regard to Galvani's
religious sentiments.

He says: "The great founder in electricity was deeply religious, and his
piety clothed a heart that was not less affectionate and sensitive to
affection than it was intrepid and courageous. When called upon to take
the civic oath in a formula involved in ambiguous words, he did not
believe that he ought, on so serious an occasion, to permit himself
anything but the clear and precise expression of his sentiments, full as
they were of honesty and rectitude. Refusing to take advantage of the
suggestion that he should modify the oath by some declaration apart from
the prescribed formula, though it might still be generally understood
that he had taken the oath, he refused constantly to commit himself to
any such subterfuge. It is not our duty here to ask whether his
conclusion was correct or not. He followed the voice of his conscience,
which ever must be the standard of duty, and it certainly would have
been a fault to have deviated from it. It is sad to think that this
great man, deprived of his position, saw himself, for an instant at
least, exposed to the danger of ending his career, deprived of the
recompense which he so richly deserved and to which his past services to
the State and the University had given him so just a title. This is all
the more sad when we realize that the vicissitudes of his delicate
health, much more than his age, now rendered such recompense doubly
necessary. It is a gracious thing to recall, however, the noble firmness
with which he maintained himself against so serious a blow. His courage
is all the more admirable as one can see how absolutely without
affectation it is. He was not ostentatious in his goodness, and did not
permit himself to be cast down by the unfortunate conditions, but
constantly preserved in the midst of adverse fortune that modest,
imperturbable and dignified conduct which had always characterized him
in the midst of his prosperity and his glory."

That his action in this matter was very properly appreciated by his
contemporaries, and that the moral influence of his example was not
lost, can be realized from the expressions used by Alibert, the
Secretary-General of the Medical Society of Emulation, in the historical
address on Galvani which he delivered before that society in Paris in

"Galvani constantly refused to take the civil oath demanded by the
decrees of the Cis-Alpine Republic. Who can blame him for having
followed the voice of his conscience--that sacred, interior voice which
alone prescribes the duties of man and which has preceded all human
laws? Who could not praise him for having sacrificed all such exemplary
resignation, all the emoluments of his professorship, rather than
violate the solemn engagements made under religious sanction?"

In the same panegyric there is a very curiously interesting passage with
regard to Galvani's habit of frequently closing his lectures by calling
attention to the complexity yet the purposefulness of natural things,
and the inevitable conclusion that they must have been created with a
definite purpose by a Supreme Being possessed of intelligence. At the
time that Alibert wrote his memoir, it was the fashion to consider, at
least in France, that Christianity was a thing of the past, and that
while theism might remain, that would be all that could be expected to
survive the crumbling effect of the emancipation of man.

He says: "We have seen already what was Galvani's zeal and his love for
the religion which he professed. We may add that, in his public
demonstrations, he never finished his lectures without exhorting his
pupils to a renewal of their faith, by leading them always back to the
idea of the eternal Providence which develops, preserves and causes life
to flow among so many different kinds of things. I write now," he
continues, "in the age of reason, of tolerance and of light. Must I then
defend Galvani in the eyes of posterity for one of the most beautiful
sentiments that can spring from the nature of man? No; and they are but
little initiated in the saner mechanism of philosophy who refuse to
recognize the truths established on evidence so strong and so authentic.
_Breves haustus in philosophia ad atheismum ducunt, longiores autem
reducunt ad Deum_--Small draughts of philosophy lead to atheism, but
longer draughts bring one back to God"--(which may be better translated,
perhaps, for English readers by Pope's well known lines, "A little
learning [in philosophy] is a dangerous thing; drink deep or touch not
the Pierian spring").

Galvani has been honored by his fellow-citizens of Bologna as one of
their greatest townsmen, and by the University as one of her worthiest
sons. In 1804, a medal was struck in his honor, on the reverse of which,
surrounding a figure of the genius of science, were the two legends:
"Mors mihi vita," "Death is life for me," and "Spiritus intus alit,"
"The spirit works within," which were favorite expressions of the great
scientist while living, and are lively symbols of the spirit which
animated him. In 1814, a monument was erected to him in the courtyard of
the University of Bologna. It is surmounted by his bust, made by the
most distinguished Bolognian sculptor of the time, De Maria. On the
pedestal there are two figures in bas-relief, executed by the same
sculptor, which represent religion and philosophy, the inspiring genius
of Galvani's life.

Before he died, he asked, as had his favorite poet Dante, whose Divina
Commedia had been one of the pleasures of life and above all one of the
consolations of his times of adversity, to be buried in the humble habit
of a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. He is said to have valued
his fellowship with the sons of the "poor little man of Assisi" more
than the many honorary fellowships of various kinds which had been
conferred upon him by scientific societies all over Europe. With him
passed away one of the great pioneers of modern science and one of the
most lovable men in all the history of science. His death took place
just before the close of the eighteen century, Dec. 4, 1798, but his
work was destined to be one of the harbingers of a great period of
electrical development.


[11] Fordham University Press, 1906.

[12] Ranam dissecui, atque praeparavi ut in fig. 2 Tab. V.
eamque in tabula, omnia mihi alia proponens, in qua erat mechina
electrica fig. 1, collocavi ab ejus conductore penitus sejunctam, atque
haud brevi intervallo dissitam; dum scalpelli cuspidem unus ex iis, qui
mihi operam dabant, cruralibus hujus ranae internis nervis DD casu vel
leviter admoveret, continuo omnes artuum musculi ita contrahi visi sunt,
ut in vehementiores incidisse tonicas convulsiones viderentur. Eorum
vero alter, qui nobis electricitatem tentantibus praesto erat,
animadvertere sibi visus est, rem contingere dum ex conductere machinae
scintilla extorqueretur fig. 1 B. Rei novitatem ille admiratus de eadem
statim me alia omnino molientem ac mecum ipso cogitantem admonuit. His
ego incredibili cum studio, et cupiditate incensus idem experiundi, et
quod occultum in re esset in lucem pro ferendi admovi propterea et ipse
scalpelli cuspidem uni vel alteri crurali nervo, quo tempore unus
aliquis ex iis, qui aderant, scintillam eliceret. Phoenomenon eadem
omnino ratione contigit; vehementes nimirum contractiones in singulos
artum musculos, perinde ac si tetano praeparatum animal esset correptum,
eodem ipso temporis momento inducebantur, quo scintillae

[13] For the sake of those who might care to see how the great
Dutch naturalist expressed these curious scientific notions in Latin,
the original text seems worth while giving.

"Jucundissimum porro juxta ac utilissimum experimentum aliud institui
potest, si quidam e maximis Musculis de Ranae Femore separetur, atque
una cum adhaerente suo Nervo ita praeparetur, ut hic illaesus permaneat.
Quodsi enim, hoc peracto, utrumque Musculi hujus Tendinem a, a manibus
prehenderis. Nervumque ejus propendentem forsicula aliove quodam
instrumento de in irritaveris b; pristinum, quem amiserat, motum suum
mox recuperabit Musculus. Videbis hinc ilico eum contrahi, binasque
manus, quae Tendines ejus adtinent, ad se mutuo veluti adducere: prout
olim jam, anno 1658, Illustrissimo Duci Hetrusco, cummaxime regnanti,
demonstravi; quum Is immerito sane favore ad me invisere non
dedignaretur. Hoc ipsum veto experimentum eodem in Musculo tam crebro &
diu reiterari potest, donec ulla Nervi pars illaesa fuerit: ut ideo
toties sic ad pristinam contractionem suam lacessere Musculum valeamus,
quoties nobis libuerit."

[14] With Galvani's attention to medical electricity, it is not
surprising that for several years, beginning with 1873, an Italian
medical journal called Il Galvani, with the sub-title Giornale di
Elettro-Idro-ed Aero Terapia, was published at Milan. Its directors were
the brothers Themistocles and Ulysses Santopadre. Those who think that
an exaggeration of claims for electrical influence on various diseases
is of comparatively recent date, will do well to consult that journal.
The prophylaxis of yellow-fever is suggested by means of static
electricity. The cause of yellow-fever is declared to be a disturbance
of the electro-magnetic conditions of the body. Everything, from skin
diseases to uterine inertia, chloroform asphyxia, aphasia, and the
various forms of paralysis, and Basedow's disease, are described as
cured by electrical treatment. So does science become the nursing mother
of quackery.

[15] Edinburgh, 1793.

[16] In 1795, one of the theses presented for the Fellowship of
the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was on the subject of
Galvanism, or at least on Galvani's work, by Francis Barker, who signs
himself Hibernicus, an evidence of the fact that Irishmen often went to
Edinburgh for their scientific training. This thesis serves to show that
Galvani's work was already attracting the attention even of the most
distant of Western Universities.

[17] It is interesting to note that the two successful
inventions for lessening the necessity for deterrent dissecting work are
due to women--Professor Manzolini and her wax models, and Alessandra
Giliani, the assistant of Mondino, Father of Dissection, (d. 1320), who
knew how "to fill the veins with various colored fluids which would
harden, and paint these same vessels and color them so naturally that
they brought Mondino great fame and credit." (Old Chronicler.)

[18] Opere Edite ed Inedite del Professore Luigi Galvani
Raccolte e Pubblicate Per Cura Dell'Accademia Delle Scienze
Dell'Instituto Di Bologna, Bologna Tipografia Di Emilio Dall'Olmo.



Up to the end of the eighteenth century, discoverers in electrical
science had usually been students of science in other departments, whose
attention to electricity had been attracted in passing as it were.
Occasionally, indeed, they had been only interested amateurs,
inquisitive as to the curious phenomena of magnetism. It is surprising
how many of these pioneers in electricity were clergymen, though that
fact is seldom realized. It can be seen very readily in my chapter on
Clergymen Pioneers in Electricity, in Catholic Churchmen in Science
(Second Series, Dolphin Press, Phila., 1909). With Volta's career,
however, was initiated the story of the electrical scientists who
devoted themselves almost exclusively to this department of physics,
though more or less necessarily paying some attention to related
subjects. Volta's discovery of a practical instrument for measuring
electricity, as well as of comparatively simple apparatus producing a
continuous current, changed the whole face of the science of
electricity. After these inventions, regular work could be readily done
in the investigation of problems in the science of electricity without
discouragement or inadequate instruments, discontinuous electrical
phenomena, disturbances of experiments by the weather, and other
conditions which had been hitherto so unfavorable to electrical
experimentation. Volta's invention of the pile, or battery, so
deservedly called after him, caused electrical science to take on an
entirely new aspect, and the modern development of electricity was
assured. It has been well said that no other invention, not even the
steam-engine, meant so much for the transformation of modern life as
this new apparatus for the production of a continuous electric current.

  [Illustration: ALESSANDRO VOLTA]

The man who worked this revolution in electrical science was no mere
inventor who, by a happy chance, brought together practical factors that
had been well known before but had never been combined. He was one of
the greatest scientists of a period particularly rich in examples of
original scientific genius of a high order. Before his death, he came to
be acknowledged by the scientific world of his time as one of the
greatest leaders of thought, not alone in electricity, but in all
departments of the physical sciences. His life forms for this reason an
important chapter in the history of science and scientific development.

Like most of the distinguished scientific discoverers of the last two
centuries, Alessandro Volta was born in very humble circumstances. His
father was a member of the Italian nobility, but had wasted his
patrimony so completely that the family was in extreme poverty when the
distinguished son was born, on the eighteenth of February, 1745. This
poverty was so complete that Volta said of it, later in life: "My father
owned nothing except a small dwelling worth about fourteen thousand
lire; and as he left behind him seventeen thousand lire of debt, I
was actually poorer than poor." A good idea of the circumstances in
which Volta's childhood was passed may be gathered from the fact that he
could not even secure copy-books for his first school exercises except
through the kindness of friends.

Volta had shown signs of genius from early boyhood, and yet had been
discouragingly slow in his intellectual development as a child. In fact,
it was feared that he was congenitally lacking in intelligence to a
great degree. It is said that he was more than four years old before he
ever uttered a word. This does not mean before he learned to talk
connectedly, but before he could utter even such familiar expressions as
"father," "mother," and the like. He was considered to be dumb; and, as
is not infrequently the mistaken notion with regard to children dumb for
any reason, he was thought to be almost an idiot. The first word he ever
uttered is said to have been a vigorous "No!" which was heard when one
of his relatives insisted on his doing something that he did not wish to
do. At the age of seven, however, he had so far overcome all
difficulties of speech as to be looked upon as a very bright child.
Owing to this late, unexpected development, his parents seem to have
regarded him as a sort of living miracle, and felt certain that he was
destined to accomplish great things. His father said of him later, "We
had a jewel in the house and did not know it."

Fortunately for Volta, one of his uncles was archdeacon of the
Cathedral, and another was one of the canons. These relatives helped him
to obtain an education, the way being made especially easy by the fact
that at this time all the Jesuit Colleges subsisted on foundations and
collected no fees from any of their students; so that all that was
necessary for his uncles to do for him was to contribute to his expenses
outside of college. According to tradition, the Jesuits not only helped
Volta in his education, but assisted him in obtaining his books and
even in his living expenses while at their college. At the age of about
sixteen, his education was complete, even including a year of
philosophy. This is probably an indication of his talent as a student;
though it was not an unusual thing in the southern countries for
students to graduate at sixteen, or even younger, after a course
equivalent to that now required for the bachelor's degree in arts.

We have gotten far away from this early graduation, although it is still
sometimes possible in Italian universities; and one of the brightest men
I ever knew was an Italian who had graduated with a degree equivalent to
our A. B. before he was sixteen. When Volta graduated, however, such
early completion of the undergraduate course was not at all unusual in
Italy, and boys of thirteen and fourteen, almost as a rule, entered the
undergraduate department to complete their course for a degree at
seventeen or eighteen. One of our greatest physicians in this country,
Benjamin Rush, was only seventeen when he completed his college course,
and such examples were not at all rare. Indeed, the possibility for
these men to devote themselves much earlier than is possible now to
their serious life-work, yet with the development of mind which comes
from a University course in the arts, was probably a distinct help to
the success of their scientific careers. One is tempted to think that
possibly such justification of earlier graduation, as we find among the
distinguished scientists of a century ago, might make us reflect deeply
before lending ourselves to what Herbert Spencer thought a phase of
evolution, the lengthening of childhood, for it is just possible that
the earlier recognition of manhood may mean more for individual
development. Of course, geniuses are exceptions to rule, and an
argument founded on their careers may mean very little for the
generality of students.

Like many another of the great scientists, Volta was not that constant
source of satisfaction to his teachers while at school that might
possibly be expected. He had little interest in the conventional
elementary education of the time, he was frequently distracted during
school hours, and even as a mere boy often asked questions with regard
to natural phenomena that were puzzlers to his masters, and sometimes
complained of their lack of knowledge. He fortunately outgrew this
priggishness, for in later childhood he seems to have been one of those
talented children who learn rapidly and who are impatient at being kept
back while their slower fellow-pupils are having drilled into them what
came so easy to readier talents.

In his classical studies, however, Volta was deeply interested. He was
especially enthusiastic over poetry, and at school devoted the spare
time that his readiness of acquisition left him to the reading of Virgil
and Tasso. These favorite authors became so familiar to him that he
could repeat much of them by heart, and even in old age could cap verses
from them better than any of his friends, even those all of whose lives
had been devoted exclusively to literary occupations. During his walks,
when an old man, he often entertained himself by repeating long passages
from the classic Latin and Italian poets.

Even at this time, Volta's interest in the physical sciences was very
marked. There is still extant a Latin poem of about five hundred verses,
in which he sets forth the observations of Priestley, the discoverer of
oxygen, whom it used to be the custom to call the Father of Modern
Chemistry. This poem shows his thorough familiarity with the work of the
great English investigator. Volta's model was Lucretius. Lest it should
be a source of surprise that an Italian scientist had recourse to Latin
for even a poetic account of scientific discoveries, it may be well to
recall that Latin was still the universal language of science at that
time, and Volta's great contemporary in electricity, Galvani, wrote his
original monograph on animal electricity in that language, and even the
Father of Pathology wrote his first great treatise, De Causis et Sedibus
Morborum, in that tongue. As to his adoption of verse as a vehicle for
scientific writing, it must not be forgotten that, at the time when
Volta was writing his poem, another distinguished writer on scientific
subjects, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin of the last
generation, was composing his "Zoonomia; or, Animal Biography," in
English verse. Didactic verse was quite the fashion of the time, and
some of it, even when it came from acknowledged poets, had not more
poetry than Volta's effusion.

As if to make up for his lack of linguistic faculty when young, Volta
seems to have had a special gift for languages when he grew older.
Before the age of twenty, he knew French as well as his mother tongue,
read German and English fluently, and Low Dutch and Spanish were not
beyond his comprehension. Besides his verses in Latin he wrote poetry
also in French and Italian, always with cleverness at least, and at
times with true poetic feeling.

While attending the Jesuit school, he expressed, it is said, a desire
to enter the Order. As his father, however, had been with the Jesuits
for eleven years and had then given up his studies, his family feared a
repetition of such an experience; and so his clergymen uncles took him
away from the school and sent him for a while to the Seminary at Benzi.
After a time Volta abandoned the idea of becoming a priest, but would
not consent to follow the wishes of the family council further, at least
not to the extent of becoming a lawyer. Though he studied law for a
time, he constantly wandered away to the reading of books on the natural
sciences and to the study of natural objects. Finally he was allowed to
give up law to devote himself exclusively to science.

Fortunately, one of the canons of the Cathedral of Como, a former
fellow-student of his and a man of considerable means, was also
interested in the natural sciences, and obtained the books and
instruments necessary to enable Volta and himself to continue their
studies. Father Gattoni seems to have realized at once the possibilities
for great advances in science that lay in Volta's wonderful powers of
observation, and encouraged him in every way. As a consequence, some of
the important experiments that laid the foundation of the modern science
of electricity and proved the beginning of Volta's world-wide reputation
were carried on in Gattoni's rooms.

As a young man, Volta was so completely devoted to scientific
investigations that there could be no doubt of the bent of his genius
for original work of a high order. His power of concentration of
attention on a subject was supreme. Biographers emphasize that there was
no time, much less inclination, for the levities that so often appeal to
the growing youth. He was almost too staid and preoccupied with his
work for his own health and the comfort of his friends. When he became
interested in a series of experiments, he often forgot the flight of
time, and was known to miss meals, and inadvertently to put off going to
bed--apparently quite unconscious of his physical necessities. This
intense concentration of mind had its disadvantages. One of his friends
complained playfully that he made a rather disagreeable traveling
companion on account of his tendency to become abstracted; and on
occasions this friend was deeply mortified to see Volta, when in
company, take out a pocket-handkerchief that had been used for some
purpose in the laboratory--which showed unmistakable signs of its
previous employment as a cleansing agent for dirty instruments or hands,
though its possessor was evidently unconscious of its appearance. More
than once, too, his handkerchief proved, when taken out for its natural
uses, to be as preoccupied as its owner: specimens of rocks or natural
curiosities that he had gathered and inadvertently allowed to remain in
his pocket came with it.

All during his life he retained an unusual faculty for concentrating his
attention, which at times amounted to complete abstraction from his
surroundings. It is related that, one cold morning his students at the
University of Pavia found him in his shirt sleeves, so intent on
arranging the experiments that were to illustrate his morning lecture
that he was unconscious of the time, and even did not notice their
coming into the room until they had been for some time in their seats
and he had finally completed the arrangement for the demonstrations. He
was constantly occupied with problems in natural science, looking for
the explanation of phenomena that he did not understand as well as
gathering new data by observation and experiment. He was gifted with
the supremely inquisitive spirit, in the scientific sense of the
epithet, and could not be satisfied with accepting things as he found
them without knowing the reasons for them.

Volta furnishes another excellent illustration of how soon genius gets
at its life-work. We have his own authority for the fact that he had
come to certain conclusions with regard to the explanation of electrical
phenomena, which, when he was only nineteen years of age, he set forth
in a letter to the Abbé Nollet, who was then one of the best known
experimenters and writers on electrical phenomena in Europe. Though so
young, Volta had tried to simplify Franklin's theory of electricity by
assuming that there was an action only between a (supposed) electrical
substance and matter. It is curious to see how much he anticipated what
was to be the thinking for more than a century after his time and
practically down to the present day. He considers that all bodies, in
their normal state, contain electricity in such proportion that
electrical equilibrium is established within them. Electrical phenomena,
then, are due to disturbances of this equilibrium. Such disturbances may
be produced by physical means, as by friction or by chemical means, and
even atmospheric electricity may be explained in the former way.

Volta's first formal paper on electricity, bearing the title _De Vi
Attractiva Ignis Electrici_, was published in 1769, when he was
twenty-four years of age. His second paper, _Novus Ac Simplicissimus,
Electricorum Tentaminum Apparatus_--New and Very Simple. Apparatus for
Electrical Tests, shows that Volta was getting beyond the stage of
theorizing about electricity into the experimental work, which was to
form the foundation of his contributions to electrical science. It is
not surprising, then, that when he was just past thirty, in 1775, he was
able to announce to Priestley his invention of the electrophorus.
Priestley is usually thought of as one of the founders of modern
chemistry, but he was known to his own generation, especially at this
time, as the writer of a very interesting and complete history of
electricity. It is characteristic of Volta's careful ways, that the
reason for his letter to Priestley was in order to obtain information
from him as to what extent this invention, which Volta knew, as far as
he was concerned, to be original with himself, was novel in the domain
of electrical advance.[20]

With the intense interest in his work that we have noted, it is not
surprising to find Volta's investigations proving fruitful. His active
inventive genius stood him in good stead in enabling him to demonstrate
principles by working instruments. The electrophorus is but one of the
instruments that show the very practical character of the man. He was
especially taken with the idea of securing some method of measuring
electricity. Among other things, he invented the condensing
electroscope, in which, instead of the ribbons of gold leaf now
employed, he used straws. With this instrument he was able to
demonstrate the presence of minute quantities of electricity developed
under circumstances in which ordinarily the occurrence of any such
phenomena would be unsuspected. These two instruments, the electroscope
and the electrophorus, lifted the department of electricity out of the
realm of theory into that of accurate scientific demonstration, and
made the electrical departments of the physical laboratories of the time
much more interesting and important than they had been before.

Though so early occupied with electricity, Volta did not confine himself
to this subject, nor even to the wider field of physics, and that he did
not hesitate, in his scientific inquisitiveness, to follow clues even in
chemistry, is well illustrated by his first step in the investigation of
gases. His attention being called to bubbles breaking on the surface of
Lake Maggiore while on a fishing excursion, he set about finding their
source, and noted that whenever the bottom of the lake near the shore
was stirred somewhat a number of bubbles arose, and that the gas thus
set free was inflammable. He constructed an electrical pistol in which
gases thus set free were exploded by a spark from the electrophorus.
About the same time, on the principle of the electrical pistol, he
invented the eudiometer, an apparatus by means of which the oxygen
content of air could be determined.

With regard to these inventions, Arago calls attention to a special
quality that is peculiar to all of Volta's work. "There is not a single
one of the discoveries of Professor Volta," says the distinguished
French scientist, "which can be said to be the result of chance. Every
instrument with which he has enriched science existed in principle in
his imagination before an artisan began to put it into a material

After these inventions and his previous work, it is not surprising that
in 1774 Volta was offered the professorship of experimental physics in
the College of Como. Here he labored for five years, until he received
a call, in 1779, to the professorship of physics at the University of
Pavia, where he was destined to remain in an active teaching capacity
for a period of forty years.

Volta began his life-work as professor of physics at Pavia by extending
his observations on gases. He was the first to demonstrate the expansion
of gases under heat, especially as regards their increased expansibility
at higher temperatures. Many observers had been at work on this problem
before his time, but there were serious discrepancies in the results
reported. Volta was the first to point out the reasons for the apparent
inconsistencies of previous investigators' findings; and from his
observations alone some valuable data might have been obtained for the
establishment of what has since become known as the "law of Charles."

At this time, his knowledge of English enabled him to follow English
discoveries closely, and he seems to have paid particular attention to
the work of Cavendish and Priestley. Not long after Cavendish's
description of the method of obtaining pure hydrogen, Volta made a
series of observations on the relations of spongy platinum to this gas,
and pointed out the spontaneous ignition that takes place when the two
substances are brought together. This experiment is the basis of what
has since been known as the hydrogen lamp, called, from the German
observer who first made it a practical instrument, Dobereiner's lamp.

After seven years of teaching, Volta was given the opportunity to visit
various parts of Europe, and took advantage of the occasion to meet most
of the celebrated men of science. His linguistic faculty stood him in
good stead during this sabbatical year, and his travel aided him in
completing a thorough acquaintanceship with European languages as well
as with scientists. His practical character led him, during his trip, to
note the growth of the potato and its uses in various European
countries, and he brought the plant home with him to Italy in order to
introduce it among the farmers. He succeeded in making his countrymen
realize its value, and the introduction of the potato is one of the
reasons for which Italians have always looked up to him as a benefactor
of his native land. How modern this makes a vegetable we are inclined to
think of as having been always an important food resource of the race!

About the middle of the third quarter of the eighteenth century, by one
of the fortunate accidents that happen, however, only to genius,
Galvani, at the time Professor of anatomy in Bologna, had been led to
make the observation that if a frog, so prepared that its hind leg is
attached to the trunk only by means of the sciatic nerve, happens to be
touched by a metal instrument in such a way as to put nerve and muscle
in connection with each other through the metal instrument, a very
curious phenomenon is observed, the muscles of the almost severed leg
becoming spasmodically contracted and then relaxed whenever the contacts
were made and broken. Galvani noted the phenomenon first in connection
with an electric machine, and looked for an explanation of it in
electricity, thinking that there was an analogy between it and the
discharge of the Leyden jar. After several years of careful observation,
he published a monograph on the subject, which at once attracted
attention all over Europe.

Volta was very much interested in Galvani's work, and took up the
development of it from the physical side. At first he agreed with the
explanation offered by Galvani, who considered that his experiment
demonstrated the presence of electricity in animal bodies, and who
proposed to introduce the term "animal electricity." After careful
investigation, however, Galvani's assertion that animal electricity
existed in a form entirely independent of any external electricity,
though it had been accepted by most of the distinguished men of science
of the time, seemed to Volta without experimental verification. For many
years his most determined efforts were used to demonstrate that the
muscle twitchings observed were not due to the presence of animal
electricity (galvanism as it had come to be called), but to the fact
that the metals touching the different portions of the moist nerve
muscle preparation really set up minute currents of ordinary

Some of the experiments which he devised for this purpose were extremely
ingenious, and show how thoroughly empirical were his methods and how
modern his scientific spirit. In the course of his experiments he found
that a difference in the metals of which the arc was composed, when used
for the purpose of eliciting the so-called animal electricity, made a
great difference in the electrical phenomena observed and in the amount
of muscle twitchings obtained. In one brilliant series of experiments,
moreover, he showed that, even when the metallic portions touching nerve
and muscle were identical, there might still be distinct electrical
phenomena, if only an artificial difference in temperature of the end of
the metallic arc were produced. Volta was even able to demonstrate that
such minute physical differences as the filing of one end of the
metallic arc used might give rise to small currents of electricity.

In the midst of these experiments, he came to the realization that two
portions of metal of different kinds, separated by a moist
non-conducting material, might be made to produce a constant current of
electricity for some time. More than this, however, he found that discs
of metal of different kinds might be piled on top of one another with
intervening discs of moist cloth, and so produce proportionately
stronger currents as more and more of the metal plates were employed.
This was the origin of the voltaic pile, as it has been called--the
first battery for the production at will of regular currents of
electricity of definite strength.[19]

While engaged at this he succeeded in demonstrating what has come to be
known as Volta's basic experiment; namely, that two plates of metal of
different kinds become electrically excited merely by contact. This was
practically the beginning of the great advance in applied electricity
which ushered in our modern electrical era. It seems a simple matter
now, looking back over the century that has elapsed since then, to have
taken the successive steps that Volta did for the construction of his
electrical pile and for the demonstration of the principle of contact
electricity. Groping, as he was, in the dark, however, it took him three
years to make the progress that we have described in a few words. How
great his discoveries appeared, even to the most distinguished of his
scientific contemporaries, can best be judged from an expression of one
of the greatest of French electrical scientists, Arago, who declared
"Volta's pile the most wonderful instrument that has ever come from the
hand of man, not excluding even the telescope or the steam-engine."

An excellent description of just how Volta made his electric pile and
what he was able to accomplish with it experimentally in the laboratory,
is to be found in the numbers for January and February, 1900, of the
Stimmen aus Maria-Laach--a literary and scientific periodical published
by the German Jesuits. This article on Alessandro Volta, by Father
Kneller, S. J., was written shortly after the celebration of the
hundredth anniversary of Volta's invention of the electric pile, when
there had just been a fresh sorting over of Volta's documents, and
contains a very full set of references to the biographical material for
Volta's life. Father Kneller says:

"Before this, no one thought for a moment of any possibility of the
practical application of electricity. But all at once the whole
situation changed. After eight years of observation and experiment,
Volta accomplished one day, at the beginning of 1800, in his laboratory
at Como, the construction of an instrument which was to revolutionize
the study and the practical applications of electricity. He made a pile
composed of a large number of equal-sized copper and zinc discs. On each
copper disc he placed one of zinc, and then on this a moistened piece of
cloth, and continued the series of alternate discs and cloths in this
order until he had a rather high column. This was an apparatus as
simple as possible and from which no one but Volta could possibly have
promised any results. The inventor, however, knew what he was about.

"As soon as he had connected the upper and lower metal plates by means
of a wire, there began to flow from the zinc to the copper a secret
something, which by the application of the ends of the wire to muscles
caused them to twitch; which appeared before the eye as light; applied
to the tongue, gave a sensation of taste; caused a thin wire to glow and
even to burn between carbon points; produced a blinding light;
decomposed water into its constituents; dissolved hitherto unknown
metals out of salts and earth; made iron magnetic; directed the magnetic
needle out of its path; inclosed wire coils caused new electric currents
to be set up; to say nothing of the awful spectacle which occurred when,
under the influence of the electric current, the bodies of executed
criminals again gave movements of the limbs, their thoraxes really
heaved and sank as if they really breathed, and even a dead grasshopper
was caused to spring and apparently to sing again.

"Only now, after the discovery of this new kind of electricity--which
did not work merely by jerks, but flowed in a constant stream from pole
to pole--only now was this mighty natural agent won to the service of
man. Volta is, therefore, above all others, the one who broke ground not
only for an immense amount of new knowledge in physics, chemistry and
physiology, but who also made possible rapid progress in practical
electricity, in telegraphy, in electric motors and power machines, in
electroplating and the marvelous results in electro-galvanism which
constitute our most wonderful mechanical effects at the present time."

Soon after Volta's discovery of the electric pile, or voltaic pile, as
it was called in his honor, his reputation spread throughout Europe. At
the beginning of 1800, he sent a detailed description of the voltaic
pile to the Royal Society of London. During the year 1801 the scientific
journals all over Europe were filled with discussions of his discovery.

The French Academy of Sciences invited him to Paris in order to
demonstrate his discoveries to the members of that body. Volta was now
looking forward to some peaceful years of study, and, so far as he was
personally concerned, would surely have refused the invitation.
Circumstances were such, however, that it became a civic duty for him to
proceed to Paris.

At this time Napoleon was First Consul, and the Italian cities wished to
propitiate his favor as far as possible. It was considered a wise thing
by the city to send a special delegation to Paris, and, as they knew
Napoleon was deeply interested in scientific discoveries that promised
practical results, the name of Volta was suggested as one of the
official delegates. As an associate, Professor Brugnatelli, who had made
some important investigations in chemistry, and who was later to be an
extender of the practical application of Volta's discoveries by the
invention of the first method of electroplating, was the other member of
the delegation. It is a curious reflection on the facilities for travel
at the time, that it took twenty-six days for the delegates to reach
Paris from Pavia.

Shortly after their arrival in Paris, the travelers were formally
introduced to the members of the French Institute, and a number of
sessions of the Academy were held, at which Volta's discoveries were
discussed. Volta read a communication on the identity of electricity and
galvanism. Napoleon, as First Consul, was present at these sessions in
the robe of an Academician, and was not only an interested listener, but
occasionally, by pertinent questions, drew out significant details of
former experiments and Volta's own theories with regard to the nature of
the phenomena observed. At the end of the first meeting, at which Volta
took a prominent part, Napoleon spent several hours with him talking
about the prospects of electricity.

In his letters to his brothers and to his wife at this time, Volta
expressed his pleasure at finding how much attention his discoveries
were attracting all over Europe. As he said himself, Germany, France and
England were full of them, and all the distinguished scientists were
eager to do him honor. In France, he was chosen one of the eight foreign
members of the Institute, and was made Knight Commander of the Legion of
Honor and of the Order of the Iron Crown. Napoleon selected him as one
of the first members of the Italian Academy, which he was then in course
of establishing, and conferred on him the honor of Senator and Count of
the Kingdom of Italy. The French Academy, after having heard Volta's own
description of his experiments and discoveries, contrary to its usual
custom, voted to him by acclamation its gold medal. More important
still, Bonaparte made him a present of 6000 lire, and conferred upon him
an annual income of 3000 lire from the public purse. It is an index of
Volta's feeling as a faithful son of the Church, that as this income was
allotted to him from the revenues of the bishopric of Adria, he would
consent to receive it only after Napoleon's decree had been confirmed
by the Pope.

Volta had been for nearly twenty years in the University of Pavia before
he finally found for himself a wife. He was then past forty-nine years
of age. His wife was the youngest daughter of Count Ludovico Peregrini.
She had six sisters, one of whom became a nun, and all the others were
married before Volta sought the hand of the youngest. Writing to a
friend, he says, "that her sisters had distinguished themselves so much
by piety, prudence, good sense and practical economy in their households
as well as by the most admirable qualities of heart and mind, that he
considered himself very fortunate in obtaining a branch from the family
tree; and he took her in preference to others that had been offered to
him, even though they were possessed of greater physical beauty, more
exalted piety and a larger dowry." The marriage seems to have been a
very happy one, notwithstanding the considerable disparity of ages and
the very matter-of-fact spirit with which it was entered into by one of
the parties at least.

The charming intimacy of his domestic life may be judged from some of
his letters to his wife when he was traveling. She was always his
confidante with regard to new things in science that he saw, and
especially as regards the kindly reception which he met with from
scientists and the readiness with which they accepted his views. At
first, so many of his ideas were new, that it is not surprising that
they were looked at somewhat askance by contemporary scientists. When,
on his journeys through France, he noticed the trend of opinion setting
in favor of his views in electricity, he took pains to tell his wife,
and apparently found his greatest pleasure in having her share the joy
of his triumph.

One of the severest blows that he suffered was the untimely death of his
eldest son, Flaminio, in 1814. "This loss," he wrote to one of his
nephews not long after, "strikes me so much to heart that I do not think
I shall ever have another happy day." The relations between himself and
his children were all of the kindliest nature; and the character of the
man comes out perhaps even more clearly in the traditions that are still
extant with regard to the devotion of his servants to him, and
especially his body-servant, Polonio. Volta was always a simple and
unpretentious person, notwithstanding the fact that scientific and even
political honors had been heaped upon him toward the end of his life. It
was rather difficult, for instance, to get him to change his old clothes
for new ones. This feat was usually accomplished by Polonio, who, when
he thought the time had arrived for his master to put on the newer
clothes, would engage him in some scientific explanation of a morning;
then handing him the new garments, Volta would put them on, and would be
wearing them for some time before he noticed it. The old servant was
then generally able to persuade him that it was time to make the change.
Toward the end of his career, Volta led a retired life in a country
house not far from his native city of Como. Foreigners often came to see
or even have the privilege of a few words with the distinguished
scientist who was regarded as the patriarch of electrical science. To
Volta, the being on exhibition was always an unpleasant function. He did
not care to be lionized, and frequently refused to allow himself even to
be seen unless his visitors had a scientific motive. On such occasions,
the only chance of the visitors was to secure the good will of Polonio.
He would engage his unsuspecting master in a discussion of clouds or
wind, or some appearance in the heavens, or something in the leaves of
the neighboring trees, and would then bring him to the portico, that he
might see the supposed phenomenon. This would give occasion for the
visitors to get at least a glimpse of the scientist, who usually failed
to suspect the real purpose for which he had been tempted out of doors.

While thus living in the country, Volta's piety became a sort of proverb
among the country people. Every morning at an early hour, in company
with his servant, he could be seen with bowed head making his way to the
church. Here he heard mass, and usually the office of the day, in which
all the canons of the cathedral took part. He had a special place on the
epistle side of the altar, not far from the organ. His favorite method
of prayer was the rosary. He was not infrequently held up to the people
by the parish priest as a model of devotion. Whenever he was in the
country, every evening saw him taking his walk towards the church. On
these occasions, he was usually accompanied by members of his family,
and they entered the church for an evening visit to the blessed

His behavior toward those who lived in the vicinity of his country place
endeared him to all the peasantry. He was not only liberal in giving
alms, but made it a point to visit frequently the houses of the poor and
help them as much as possible by counsel and suggestion. His scientific
knowledge was at command for their benefit, and he was often able to
tell them how to avoid many dangers. He gave them definite ideas with
regard to the importance of cleanliness and the necessity of cooking
their food very carefully so as to prevent diseases occasioned by badly
cooked material. He also taught them to distinguish between the
wholesome and the spurred rye, from which their polenta was prepared, in
order to escape the dreaded pellagra, the disease so common in Italy,
which comes from the use of diseased grain.

He endeared himself so much to the people of the countryside that they
invented a special name for him, which proclaimed the tenderness of
their liking for the man. They knew how much he was honored for his
wonderful discoveries in electricity, and many of them had even seen
some of the (to them at least) inexplicable phenomena that he could
produce at will by means of various electrical contrivances. At first
they called him a "magician"; but as this word has, particularly for the
Italian peasantry, a suspicion of evil in it, they added the adjective
"beneficent," and he was generally known as _Il mago benefico_.

His interest in these gentle, kindly people may be appreciated from the
fact that he knew practically all of his country neighbors by name, and,
as a rule, he was familiar also with the conditions of their families
and their household affairs. Not infrequently he would stop and talk to
them about such things, and this favor was always considered as a
precious mark of his neighborly courtesy by the peasantry.

Such was the simplicity of the man whose name is undoubtedly one of the
greatest in the history of science. The great beginnings of the chapter
on applied electricity are all his. There was nothing he touched in his
work that he did not illuminate. His was typically the mind of the
genius, ever reaching out beyond the boundaries of the known--an
abundant source of leading and light for others. Far from being a
doubter in matters religious, his scientific greatness seemed only to
make him readier to submit to what are sometimes spoken of as the
shackles of faith, though to him belief appealed as a completion of
knowledge of things beyond the domain of sense or the ordinary powers of
intellectual acquisition. Like Pasteur, a century later, the more he
knew, the more ready was he to believe and the more satisfying he found
his faith. This is a very different picture of the great scientific mind
from that ordinarily presented as characteristic of scientific thinkers.
But Volta is not an exception; rather does he represent the rule, so far
as the very great scientists are concerned; for it is only the
second-rate minds, those destined to follow but not to lead, in science,
who have so constantly proclaimed the opposition of science to faith.

Volta's well-known confession of faith declares his state of mind with
regard to religion better than any words of a biographer, and it is a
striking commentary on the impression that has in some inexplicable way
gained wide acceptance, that a man cannot be a great scientist and a
firm believer in religion. A distinguished professor of psychology at
one of the large American universities said not long since, that a
scientist must keep his science and religion apart, or there will be
serious consequences for his religion. Volta's opinion in this matter is
worth remembering. Having heard it said that, though he continued to
practice his religion, this was more because he did not want to offend
friends, that he did not care to scandalize his neighbors, and did not
want the poor folk around him to be led by his example into giving up
what he knew to be their most fruitful source of consolation in the
trials of life, while in the full exercise of his intellectual
faculties, Volta deliberately wrote out his confession of faith so that
all the world of his own and the after time might know it.

"If some of my faults and negligences may have by chance given occasion
to some one to suspect me of infidelity, I am ready, as some reparation
for this and for any other good purpose, to declare to such a one and to
every other person and on every occasion and under all circumstances
that I have always held, and hold now, the Holy Catholic Religion as the
only true and infallible one, thanking without end the good God for
having gifted me with such a faith, in which I firmly propose to live
and die, in the lively hope of attaining eternal life. I recognize my
faith as a gift of God, a supernatural faith. I have not, on this
account, however, neglected to use all human means that could confirm me
more and more in it and that might drive away any doubt which could
arise to tempt me in matters of faith. I have studied my faith with
attention as to its foundations, reading for this purpose books of
apologetics as well as those written with a contrary purpose, and trying
to appreciate the arguments pro and contra. I have tried to realize from
what sources spring the strongest arguments which render faith most
credible to natural reason and such as cannot fail to make every
well-balanced mind which has not been perverted by vice or passion
embrace it and love it. May this protest of mine, which I have
deliberately drawn up and which I leave to posterity, subscribed with my
own hand and which shows to all and everyone that I do not blush at the
Gospel--may it, as I have said, produce some good fruit.--Signed at
Milan, Jan. 6th, 1815, Alessandro Volta."

When Volta wrote this, he was just approaching his sixtieth year and was
in the full maturity of his powers. He lived for twelve years after
this, looked up to as one of the great thinkers of Europe and as one of
the most important men of Italy of this time. Far from being in his
dotage, then, he was at the moment surely, if ever, in the best position
to know his own mind with regard to his faith and his relations to the

There is a famous picture of Volta, by Magaud, in Marseilles. It
chronicles the fact that Volta had become a Count, a Senator and a
Member of the French Institute, so appointed by Napoleon, and that he is
in some sense therefore a Frenchman. Magaud has painted him standing,
with his electric apparatus on one side and the Scriptures on the other.
Near him is placed his friend Sylvio Pellico, whose little book, "My Ten
Years' Imprisonment," has endeared him to thousands of readers all over
the world. Pellico had doubted the presence of Providence in the world
and the existence of a hereafter. In the midst of his doubts, he turned
to Volta. "In thy old age, O Volta!" said Pellico, "the hand of
Providence placed in thy pathway a young man gone astray. Oh! thou, said
I to the ancient seer, who hast plunged deeper than others into the
secrets of the Creator, teach me the road that will lead me to the
light." And the old man made answer: "I too have doubted, but I have
sought. The great scandal of my youth was to behold the teachers of
those days lay hold of science to combat religion. For me to-day I see
only God everywhere."


[19] Wilcke, a Swedish investigator of electric phenomena,
constructed in 1762 two machines involving the principle of the
electrophorus.--(BROTHER POTAMIAN.)

[20] Brother Potamian has called my attention to the fact that
Volta's work on the origin of electricity from two different metals
when, though connected, they were yet separated by some moist medium,
was curiously anticipated by an observation described by Sulzer, in a
book called Nouvelle Théorie des Plaisirs, 1767. In this he states that,
if a silver and a lead coin, placed one above and the other under the
tongue, be brought in contact a sour taste develops, which he considers
to be due to vibrations set up by the contact of the two metals. He
seems also to have had a dash of light before the eyes, so that all the
elements necessary for the discovery of the voltaic pile were in his
hands, and indeed he was making what has since become one of the
classical experiments, by which certain physiological effects of the
electric current are demonstrated.



Great discoverers in science must usually be satisfied with having their
names attached to some one phase of scientific development, be it an
instrument, a law, a unit of measurement, a process of investigation or
some phenomenon which they first observed. The originality of Coulomb's
genius will be better appreciated, since besides having a unit of
electricity named after him, there is also a law in electro-magnetics
and a torsion-balance that will always be associated with his name. Few
men have been more ingenious in their ability to put complex ideas into
practical shape and give them simple mechanical expression by
instrumental methods. While his name is to be forever associated with
the science of electrostatics, he was profoundly interested in other
departments of physics, and for him to be interested always meant that
he would illuminate previous knowledge by practical hints and
suggestions and carry the conclusions of his predecessors a little
farther into science than they had ever gone before. His was typically
an experimental genius, and he must be considered one of the men of whom
not more than half a dozen are born in a century, who are, in Kipling's
strong term, "masterless"; who do not need to be taught, but who find
for themselves a path into the domain of the unknown.

Coulomb investigated the fundamental law in electricity and magnetism,
that attractions and repulsions are inversely as the square of the
distances, and showed that it held accurately for point-charges and
point-poles. He demonstrated that these interesting phenomena were not
chance manifestations of irregular forces, but that they represented a
definite mode of action of force, thus setting this department of
knowledge on a scientific basis. While in practical significance Ohm's
Law, discovered nearly a half century later, is of much more import,
Coulomb's discoveries are fundamental in character and, coming in the
very beginnings of modern electrical science, did much to guide the
infant science in the ways it should follow. The establishing of this
law contributed very largely to the rapid development of the twin
sciences of electricity and magnetism. It is experimental observation
that means most for a rising science; and, in fact, that Coulomb should
have been the pioneer in it stamps him as possessed not only of great
originality, but also of the power of independent thinking, which is
perhaps the most precious quality for the man of science.

The French investigator succeeded in demonstrating his law by two
distinct methods which are still used for illustration purposes in our
physical laboratories. In the first, he employed the torsion-balance
devised by Michell, and re-invented by himself, an instrument of exact
measurement which, in his hands, yielded as invaluable results as it did
in those of Faraday half a century later. The instrument depends on the
principle first established by Coulomb himself, that when a wire is
twisted, the angle of torsion is directly proportional to the force of
torsion. In the application of this principle, a fine wire is suspended
in a glass case, on the sides of which there is a graduated scale to
measure the degree of repulsion between two like poles of a magnet or
between similarly electrified bodies.

In his second research on the law of the inverse square, Coulomb used
what is known as the method of oscillations. A magnetic needle swinging
under the influence of the earth's magnetism is known to act like a
pendulum, and as such obeys the laws of pendular motion. In applying
this method, Coulomb caused the magnetic needle to oscillate, first,
under the influence of the earth's magnetism alone and then under the
combined influence of the earth and the magnet placed at varying
distances from the needle. The most interesting feature of this work is
the manner in which Coulomb succeeded in eliminating the important
factor of the earth's magnetism from the problem. It is so simple and
ingenious that it commands the admiration of investigators, who employ
it in their laboratory work even to the present day.

It is clear, then, that the International Committee which selected the
term coulomb for the electromagnetic unit of electrical quantity gave
honor where it was eminently due. Coulomb stands out as a man of
precision and accuracy, whose methods of exact measurement
revolutionized the rising science, and whose researches and discoveries
in physics and mechanics furnish ample justification for giving him a
place among the makers of electricity. He was one of the gifted men
whose original works ushered in so gloriously the nineteenth century,
and who laid the deep and firm foundations on which the last three
generations have built up the magnificent temple of electrical science.

Charles Augustin de Coulomb was born at Angoulême, June 14th, 1736. His
ancestors for several generations had been magistrates, and were looked
upon as representatives of the country nobility. He made his university
studies in Paris, and while still young, entered the army. From the
very beginning, however, his genius for mathematics was recognized, and
he was employed in the capacity of military engineer. To Americans, it
will be interesting to know that his first engineering project was
undertaken at Martinique, where he constructed Fort Bourbon. His
sterling character and remarkable ability secured him rapid advancement
in the service. In spite of the fact that the climate did not agree with
him, he remained for three years on the island, because he would not
employ the political influence that might have secured his recall, since
he thought it his duty to serve his country in an important colonial
post. Nearly all his comrades perished by fever. It is the irony of fate
that after his return to France a change in the ministry deprived him of
the just recompense of his devotion to country, and he did not receive
the special extraordinary promotion which he had earned in this special

During a short stay that he made at Paris after his return, he sought
the society of men of science as far as possible, and succeeded in
getting in touch with all that was most promising in scientific progress
at the time. He was already known rather favorably by many of the
scientific men of the capital because of the paper on The Statics of
Vaults, a monograph on static problems in architecture, which he
presented to the Academy of Sciences in 1779. His next military
assignment was to Rochefort. Here he composed his monograph on "The
Theory of Simple Machines," which carried off the double prize that had
been offered by the Academy of Sciences for the solution of problems
connected with this important question. This attracted the attention not
only of the scientific world, but also of his military superiors. As a
result, he was sent successively to Cherburg and to the Isle of Aix, to
direct engineering works, and accomplished the tasks involved with

Two years later, when he was about forty-five years of age, he was
elected member of the Academy of Sciences by a unanimous vote. He was a
man of great personal magnetism, and all those who came in contact with
him learned to like him for his straightforward character and for the
absolute righteousness of his life. Few men have made firmer friends
than Coulomb, as few have ever shown more unselfish devotion to duty and
to conscience than he, though under circumstances that were neither
spectacular nor theatrical. It was harder to face the deadly climate of
Martinique than it would have been to take one's place at the head of a
forlorn hope in an outburst of enthusiastic courage; and Coulomb was to
have other trials of quite as deterrent a nature, and was to meet them
with the same imperturbed sense of duty.

Graft is sometimes supposed to be temptation peculiar only to our own
times, but the opportunities for it have always been present in such
work as Coulomb had to oversee, and the army engineer of all ages has
had to stand or fall before it. It was proposed, about this time, to
build a system of government canals in Brittany. Such a canal-system
would, as is easy to understand, cost an enormous sum of money and give
magnificent opportunities for speculation of various kinds. No small
objection had been made to the project, on the score that it would not
confer all the benefits on the region that were claimed for it, and
Coulomb was commissioned by the Minister of Marine to determine the
question of the advisability of constructing the canals, and of the
probable effect which they would have on the commerce of the country.

After careful investigation, he came to the conclusion that the
advantages which were expected to accrue from the project would not
compensate for the enormous expense that would be entailed. This
decision aroused the angry protest of a strong political faction, who
expected to reap wealth and personal advantages of many kinds from the
scheme, and who protested bitterly against Coulomb's report. He was able
to support his conclusions in the matter, however, with such
unanswerable mathematical and engineering arguments, that his opinion
prevailed and the project was given up.

As a consequence, instead of the opportunity to serve a political party
with every avenue to preferment and, above all, to wealth open for him,
he found himself, for the time being, deprived even of the opportunity
to devote himself further to his favorite occupations in military
engineering. The excuse given for this interruption in his career, for
there has always been an excuse for such action, was that proper
representations for permission to make the report had not been made to
the Minister of Marine; and instead of commendation, Coulomb received
what was practically a reprimand.

Wounded by this injustice, which was manifestly due to the fact that his
honest report had displeased those who expected to reap personal benefit
from the canal project, and disgusted with a service in which such
things were possible, Coulomb sent in his resignation. The Minister of
Marine realized that the acceptance of the proffered resignation would
surely expose the ministry at least to suspicion as to the reasons why
Coulomb's report was not accepted with good grace. Permission to retire
from the service was refused, as this would insure his silence. He was
ordered back to Brittany to continue his work there, possibly with the
idea that this unfavorable experience would be sufficient of itself to
make him understand what was expected of him and render him a little
more complacent to the wishes of those in authority. If any such ideas
were entertained, they were destined to grievous disappointment. Coulomb
was not of those who, seeing duty plainly, refuse to follow it because
some personal advantage or disadvantage intervenes. Selfish reasons did
not appeal to his character nor obscure the issues.

He went back to Brittany, ready to express his firm opinion in the
matter and with integrity of soul untouched. The consequence was that
the provincial authorities, recognizing their true interests,
acknowledged the error they had come near falling into, and now wished
to reward the engineer handsomely for his unswerving devotion to duty.
Coulomb as promptly refused a reward for doing his duty as he had
ignored even the appearance of a bribe to avoid it. Only after
considerable pressure was he prevailed upon to accept the best timepiece
they could procure, on which the arms of the province were engraved. It
had what was quite rare in those days, a second's hand, and he
constantly made use of this in all his experimental work thereafter. A
French biographer says that, never was a souvenir better chosen nor more
suitably employed. Coulomb's merits were recognized by the government
authorities not long after, and he was made superintendent of the
fountains of France. A few years later, he was promoted to the position
of Curator of Plans and Relief Maps of the Military Staff of France,
and was chosen as one of the commission of the French Academy of
Sciences who went to England in order to study hospital conditions
there. At this time, he was at the acme of his career. His grade was
that of Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers, a position much higher in the
foreign armies at that time than would be the post with the
corresponding title in our army. He had been made a Chevalier of St.
Louis, and it looked as though a brilliant future were opening out
before him. Each year, for a decade, had seen the publication of one or
more memoirs on important subjects, nearly every one of which contained
some original material of the highest value, destined not only to add to
Coulomb's reputation, but to furnish basic information for the further
development of science.

In 1789, however, the Revolution broke out, and there was an end to all
Coulomb's opportunities for work. He was utterly out of sympathy with
the movement, the worst consequences of which he foresaw from the
beginning, and he at once handed in his resignation of the various
positions that he occupied under the government. He went into almost
absolute retirement, devoting himself to the education of his children.
During this time, however, he did not cease to cultivate science,
inasmuch as he gave the finishing touch to various papers which he had
previously outlined. Unfortunately, however, his departure from Paris
made it impossible for him to continue his investigations in electricity
for want of apparatus, and so there is a ten years' interruption in his
life of scientific activity and of original work. Besides, it cannot be
surprising that he should not have had the heart to go on with his work
under the awful social conditions that prevailed. Many of his friends
lost their lives during the stormy period of the Revolution; most of
the others were banished or were in hiding. His beloved country had gone
into an unfortunate eclipse, as he could not help but consider it; most
of the nations of the earth were indeed in league against her, and the
end was not yet in sight. It would be too much to expect of human nature
that it should devote itself to abstruse problems in science at moments
of such disturbance as this, and so some of the possibilities of
Coulomb's original genius were lost to science during that calamitous

Like many of the great discoveries of science, Coulomb's most important
work was done in the course of other investigations, and came by what
might be called a happy accident. He had been investigating the
qualities of wire of various kinds, especially with regard to their
elasticity, so as to be able to determine the limits of their use in
various engineering projects. When he discovered that the elasticity of
torsion of a wire was a constant property, he proceeded to utilize it in
the calculation of such delicate phenomena as those of electric and
magnetic forces. The first instrument for this purpose that he
constructed consisted simply of a long magnetized needle suspended
horizontally by a fine wire. Supposing this needle to be at rest, if one
moves it away from the magnetic meridian by a certain number of degrees,
the twisted wire will have a definite tendency to untwist and to bring
back the needle to its original position by a series of oscillations
whose frequency can be readily observed.

For such observations, it is possible to obtain the value of the force
acting on the needle and causing it to move to and fro at a given rate.
This was the underlying idea which received very simple expression in
the ingenious instrument which Coulomb devised and called a
torsion-balance. With it, he set about determining the law which governs
the mutual action of magnets and of electrified bodies with regard to
distance, and found it to be the same as that which Newton found to hold
for bodies distributed throughout the universe, that is, that attraction
and repulsion vary inversely as the square of the distance. He also
proved, with the aid of his torsion-balance, that the forces of
attraction and repulsion vary as the product of the strength of the
poles in one case and as the product of the electric charges in the
other. These were the important discoveries of Coulomb's life; they
served to earn for him the right to have his name given to the unit of
electrical quantity, the _coulomb_.

Coulomb did not stop here, however, but proceeded to apply his laws to
various other phenomena. He proved that electricity distributes itself
entirely over the surface of a body without penetrating the mass of the
conductor, and he showed by calculation that this result was a necessary
consequence of the law of repulsion.

A list of the papers which he published on electricity and magnetism,
the titles of which, with French accuracy of expression, furnish an
excellent idea of their contents, shows the thoroughly progressive and
scientific spirit of the man, and how well he proceeded from the known
to the less known, always widening the bounds of knowledge. Suffice it
to say here that the observations of Coulomb were not only original, but
that they concerned some of the most difficult questions in
electricity, and that he was clearing the ground for others in such a
way as to make future work and quantitative measurements in electricity
reliable and comparatively easy. It is because of this pioneer work that
Coulomb deserves so much praise. It was not long before Coulomb's
observations were confirmed by others, and then the beginnings of the
modern development of electricity became manifest, owing not a little to
the researches and inventions, the genius and ingenuity of this French
military engineer.

Some phases of electrical development attributed to others really belong
to Coulomb. A typical example of this detraction from his merit is the
attribution to Biot of the solution of the problem of the complete
discharge of an electrified sphere by means of two hollow hemispheres.
This experiment is fully described by Coulomb, and he even emphasizes
the fact that the external discharging bodies need not necessarily be of
the same shape as the charged sphere. Some of what Coulomb accepted as
principles in electricity have proved in the course of time, not to be
the realities that he thought them; but the progress that has led to
such contradictions of his opinions has been mainly rendered possible by
his own discoveries. The fable of the eagle stricken by the arrow
containing some of its own feathers, is so old that one might think
that, when the progress of a science due to a scientist brings men
beyond the position he occupied, they would not blame him for
backwardness. This is, however, one of the curious critical methods in
the history of science that has most frequently to be deprecated by the
historian who is tracing origins and developments.

Coulomb's papers, with the exception of his memoir on "Problems in
Statics Applied to Architecture," his "Researches on the Methods of
executing Works under Water without the Necessity of Pumping," his
"Theory of Simple Machines," and his researches "On Windmills," which
form separate monographs, were all published together in a single volume
by the French Physical Society in 1884.[22]

This volume contains, besides his investigations on the best way of
making magnetic needles, his theoretic and experimental investigations
on the force of torsion and on the elasticity of metallic threads, which
were undertaken in order to enable him to make his electric
torsion-balance something more than mere guess-work. All the other
papers are concerned directly with electricity or magnetism, and show
how actively, nearly a hundred and twenty-five years ago, a great mind
was engaged with problems in electricity which we are apt to consider as
belonging more properly to our own time. The list of papers published in
these memoirs, arranged in chronological order, gives a good idea of the
development of electrical science in Coulomb's own mind. There is a
logical as well as a chronological order to be observed in them.

In 1785, when he was just approaching his fiftieth year, there were
three subjects with regard to which Coulomb's experimental observations
enabled him to set down some definite principles. The first of these was
the construction and use of an electric balance, founded on the
property which wires have of exhibiting a torque proportional to the
angle of torsion. The second was the determination of the laws,
according to which the magnetic and electric "fluids," as Coulomb and
investigators in electricity called them at that time, act both as
regards repulsion and attraction. The third was the determination of the
quantity of electricity which an insulated body loses in a given time
from contact with air more or less moist.

In 1786, he published a paper in which he demonstrated what he
considered the principal properties of the electric fluid. These are,
that this fluid does not spread itself on a substance by any chemical
affinity or any elective attraction, but that it distributes itself over
various bodies that are placed in contact, entirely in accordance with
their shape; and also that in electrical conductors, the charge is
limited to the surface of the conductor and does not penetrate to any
appreciable depth.

In 1787, his only paper was on the manner in which the electrical fluid
divides itself between two conducting bodies placed in contact, and on
the distribution of this fluid over the different parts of the surface
of these bodies. He continued his investigations into this subject in
1788, and also succeeded in determining the density of the electricity
at different points on the surface of conducting bodies.

In 1789, he began to work more particularly on magnetism. His first
paper on the subject was published that year. Unfortunately, as we have
said, the Revolution interrupted his scientific investigations at this
point, and for the next eleven years we have nothing from his pen. As a
nobleman, he was compelled to leave Paris, and this not only put him out
of touch with scientific work generally, but deprived him of the
opportunities of using such apparatus as was necessary to carry on his
experiments. That he acted prudently in leaving Paris, the careers of
other scientists amply prove. Lavoisier continued to carry on his
chemical investigations during the stormy times of the Revolution, but
his stay in the capital eventually cost him his life. Abbé Haüy, the
father of crystallography,[21] who, because of his contributions to the
science of pyro-electricity, is of special interest to us, continued to
work at his crystals throughout even the Reign of Terror. When thrown
into prison, he asked and obtained permission to have his crystals with
him. His friends saved him from Lavoisier's fate, but not without an
effort, as his life was seriously endangered.

It is easy to understand, however, that a member of the nobility like
Coulomb, whose life had been spent in military affairs, should not be
able to devote himself seriously to scientific matters while his country
was in such a turmoil.

In 1801, he resumed his investigations once more, but now they are
concerned more particularly with magnetism. The first was a theoretical
and practical determination of the forces which hold different magnetic
needles, magnetized to saturation, in the magnetic meridian. This was
followed, in the same year, by a paper which, like its predecessor, was
published among the memoirs of the Institute of France, which had
replaced the Royal Academy of Sciences, to which body many of Coulomb's
papers of the former time had been presented, and in whose publications
they originally appeared. This second paper detailed his experiments on
the determination of the force of cohesion of fluids and the law of
resistance in them, when the movements were very slow.

When the French Institute was organized under Napoleon in 1801, Coulomb
was named among its first members. It is believed that he was even
chosen to occupy a place in the first government of the state, but a man
more interested in politics obtained the place, a fortunate circumstance
for science. Coulomb was named, however, one of the inspectors of public
instruction, then the highest place in the education department, and he
did much to restore to France the educational system that had been
destroyed during the Revolution. In this rather trying work he was noted
for the kindliness yet firmness of his character, while his absolute
fairness and sense of justice were recognized on all sides.

Unfortunately Coulomb was not long spared to continue his work. He took
up his experimental and mathematical investigations, on his return to
the capital, with great enthusiasm, but his health had been undermined
and his work had been rudely interrupted. After 1801, no further paper
by him appears to have been published until 1806. This gave the result
of different methods employed in order to produce in blades and bars of
steel the greatest degree of magnetism. For some time preceding this, in
spite of increasing ill-health, he had continued his experiments on the
influence of temperature on the magnetism of steel. His work on this
subject was not destined to be completed, for not long after passing his
seventieth year, in June of this year, his health gave way completely,
and he died August 23d, 1806. His final observations were gathered by
Biot, carefully preserved, and assigned a place in the volume of
Coulomb's Memoirs, issued by the French Physical Society.

Personally, Coulomb was noted for great seriousness of character, though
with this was mingled a gentleness of disposition that made for him some
cordial friendships among his scientific contemporaries. He had but few
friends, but those who were admitted to his intimacy made up by the
depth of their affection for the smallness of their number. Even those
who had occasion to meet him but once or twice, carried away from their
meeting an affectionate remembrance of his kindliness and courtesy and
readiness to help wherever he could be of service. He was extremely
happy in his family relations, and this proved to be a great source of
consolation to him during the years when the progress of the French
Revolution took him away from science and made him almost despair of his

It is not surprising that Biot, the great French physicist, in writing
of Coulomb in his Mélanges Scientifiques et Littéraires, Vol. III.
(Paris, 1858), should have held Coulomb up as a model of the simple,
earnest, helpful life and as a man of the most exemplary character. He
says: "Coulomb lived among the men of his time in patience and charity.
He was distinguished among them mainly by his separation from their
passions and their errors, and he always maintained himself calm, firm
and dignified _in se totus teres atque rotundus_, as Horace says, a
complete, perfect and well-rounded character." Few men have deserved so
noble a eulogy as this, written nearly fifty years after his death, by
one who had known Coulomb himself and his contemporaries well; it has
none of the exaggeration of a funeral panegyric, and is evidently
founded on details of knowledge with regard to the great electrician
which had become a tradition among French scientists, and which Biot
has forever crystallized into the history of science by his emphatic

One could scarcely wish for a better epitaph than Biot's summing up of
Coulomb's personal character: "All those who knew Coulomb know how the
gravity of his character was tempered by the sweetness of his
disposition, and those who had the happiness to meet him at their
entrance into a scientific career have kept the most tender remembrance
of his gentle good-heartedness."



[21] Collection de Memoires relatifs à La Physique Publiés Par
la Société Française de Physique. Tome I., Mémoires de Coulomb. Paris.
Gauthier-Villars, Imprimeur-Libraire Du Bureau des Longitudes, de
L'École Polytechnique, Quai des Augustins, 55, 1884.

[22] Catholic Churchmen in Science, the Dolphin Press,
Philadelphia, 1906.



Whatever may be thought of the value of controversy in other departments
of knowledge, it has certainly proved useful in the progress of
experimental science. Witness the animated and prolonged discussion
which took place between Volta and Galvani, and which led to enduring
results for the welfare of mankind. Wishing to prove the correctness of
his theory of electrification by contact against Galvani's animal
electricity, Volta devoted himself unremittingly to experimentation
until, in the century year 1800, his brilliant work culminated in the
invention of the "pile" or electric battery which bears his name.

A suspicion had been growing for many years in the minds of physicists,
that there must be some degree of relationship, probably an intimate
one, between magnetism and electricity, between magnetic and electric
forces. In the year 1785, van Swinden, a celebrated Dutch physicist,
published a work on electricity in which he described and commented upon
a number of analogies which he had observed between the two orders of
phenomena; but, voluminous as was the work, it threw no light on the
nature of the suspected relationship.

It was well known, in the case of houses and ships struck by lightning,
that knives, forks and other articles made of steel were often found to
be permanently magnetized. Following up this pregnant observation,
experimenters often sought to impart magnetic properties to steel
needles by Leyden-jar discharges, but with indifferent success.
Sometimes there would be a trace of magnetism left and sometimes none.
In no case was it possible to say beforehand which end of the
knitting-needle would have north polarity and which south.

Though we are better equipped to-day for research work than were our
predecessors in the electrical field fifty years ago, we are still
unable to predict the polarity that will result in a bar of iron from a
given condenser discharge. The uncertainty arises from the fact
disclosed by Joseph Henry in 1842 and well known to-day that, under
ordinary circumstances, all such discharges consist of a rush of
electricity to and fro, that is, they give rise to an oscillatory
current of exceedingly short duration. Were it otherwise, that is, were
the discharge unidirectional, the needle would always be magnetized to a
degree of intensity proportional to the energy released; and it would be
possible in every case to foretell with certainty the resulting polarity
which the needle would acquire.

With the advent of the voltaic battery, a generator which supplies a
steady flow of current in one direction, the interesting problem of
relationship between electric and magnetic forces was again attacked;
and this time with considerable success.

Probably the earliest investigator afield was Romagnosi, an Italian
physician residing in Trent (Tyrol), who, in the year 1802, published in
the "Gazetta" of his town an account of an experiment which he had made,
and which showed that he was working on promising lines. What he did was
this: having connected one end of a silver chain to a voltaic pile, and
having carried the chain through a glass tube for the purpose of
insulation, he presented the free end, terminating in a knob, to a
compass-needle, also insulated. At first, the needle was attracted; and,
after contact, repelled. Whatever Romagnosi thought of his experiment
and its theoretical bearing, the attraction and subsequent repulsion of
the compass-needle which he said he observed were electrostatic and not
electromagnetic effects. The Italian physician was indeed on the verge
of a great discovery; but he halted in his course and lost his

Mojon, Professor of chemistry in Genoa, was a little more fortunate,
though he, too, failed to improve his opportunities. In 1804, he sought
to magnetize steel needles by placing them for a period of twenty days
in circuit with a battery of one hundred elements of the crown-of-cups
type, and had the satisfaction of finding them permanently magnetized
when withdrawn from the circuit. Unlike the electrostatic effect of his
fellow-countryman Romagnosi, this was unquestionably an electromagnetic
effect, the first link in the long chain connecting electricity with

That this result attracted wide attention at the time, as it well
deserved, is evident from the notice given by Izarn in his "Manuel du
Galvanisme," and by Aldini in his "Essai Théorique et expérimental sur
le Galvanisme," both of which were published in Paris in the same year,

Though the manuals of Izarn and Aldini served to give a fresh impetus to
the quest of the relationship between electricity and magnetism, it was
not, however, until the year 1820 that the cardinal discovery was made
by one philosopher and the intimate relationship revealed by another.
Then all Europe rang with the names of Oersted, the fortunate discoverer
of the "magnetic effect" of the electric current, and Ampère, whose
masterly analysis disclosed the nature of the long-sought-for
connection. In the delight of the hour, men called Oersted the Columbus,
and Ampère the Newton, of electricity.

Though a philosopher of a high order and lecturer of interest and
brilliancy, Oersted was, nevertheless, a poor experimentalist. He was
fine in the abstract, awkward in the concrete. Often did he call for the
assistance of a student to perform an experiment for the class under his
direction. Hansteen, who is celebrated for his very fine work in
terrestrial magnetism, often had this privilege, for he was clear of
mind and deft of hand. Writing to Faraday, he said: "Oersted was a man
of genious, but very unsuccessful as a demonstrator, for he could not
manipulate instruments."

In seeking for some evidence of a physical interaction between
electricity and magnetism, Oersted on one occasion, placed a wire
conveying a current vertically across a compass-needle; and, on
obtaining no result, seemed greatly disappointed. He evidently expected
the needle to respond in some way to the energy of the current; and so
it would have responded had he placed the wire in any other position
than the particular one which he selected. The Danish philosopher now
hesitates; and for lack of coolness, patience and resourcefulness, runs
the risk of losing the crowning glory of his life. He is disappointed at
his failure; and for the nonce, contents himself with brooding over it.

  [Illustration: FIG. 22 The magnetic effect of an electric current.
  Oersted, 1820]

On another occasion, having a stronger battery at his disposal, he
determined to try the experiment again, in the hope that the greater
energy at his command would provoke the magnet to respond. This time, he
stretched the wire over and parallel to the compass needle, when, to
his intense delight, the magnet turned aside as soon as the circuit was
closed. The result was pronounced and instantaneous. The Professor, an
enthusiast by nature, waxed warm over his good fortune, and well might
he do so, as the discovery which he had just made was destined to
revolutionize existing modes of transmitting intelligence to distant
parts and bring remotest countries into direct, and immediate relation
with one another.

That Oersted fell into ecstasy over his success was but natural, though
it is not stated that he exhibited his enthusiasm by the performance of
any unusual feat. When Lavoisier made a discovery, he was wont to take
hold of his assistant and go dancing around with him for sheer joy.
After making a certain successful experiment in his laboratory,
Gay-Lussac gave vent to his feelings by dancing round the room, and
clapping his hands the while. It is related that, when Davy saw the
first globules of potassium burst through the crust of potash and take
fire, his delight knew no bounds. He also took to dancing, and some time
had to elapse before he was sufficiently composed to continue his work.
Even the cool and self-possessed Faraday occasionally waxed warm on
seeing his efforts crowned with success. It is said that, when he got a
wire conveying a current to revolve round the pole of a magnet, he
rubbed his hands vigorously and danced around the table, his face
beaming with delight: "There they go, there they go; we have succeeded
at last," he said. He then gleefully proposed to cease work for the day
and spend the evening at Astley's seeing the feats of well-trained

Having realized that his experiment was one of fundamental importance in
physical theory, our philosopher proceeds to repeat it under varying
conditions. He places the wire conveying the current in front of the
needle, behind it, under it, across it; he reverses the current in each
case, and notices the direction in which the needle turns. Though he
states results very clearly, he gives no general rule whereby the
direction of the deflection may be foretold from that of the current. A
_memoria technica_ to meet all cases that may occur was needed, and was
promptly supplied by Ampère, who, with a flash of genius, devised the
rule of the little swimmer. Others have been added since, such as the
cork-screw rule and the rule involving the outspread right hand; but the
swimmer appeals in a manner quite its own to the fancy of the youthful
student. It pleases while it instructs; it is ingenious while yet
remarkably simple.

It has been said that the Philosopher of Copenhagen was led by mere
accident to the experiment which will hand his name down the ages; but
inasmuch as he was looking, during thirteen years, for a result
analogous to the one which he obtained, it is only right to give him
full credit for the success which he achieved. It has been well
remarked, that the seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating
around us, but take root only in minds well prepared to receive them.
Accidents of the Oersted type happen only to men who deserve them, as
was the case with Musschenbroek and Galvani in the eighteenth century,
and with Roentgen in the nineteenth. The electrification of a flask of
water, the twitching of frogs' legs in response to electric sparks, and
the blackening of a sensitive screen by a distant, shielded Crookes's
tube, led to the electrostatic condenser in the first case, to
"galvanism" in the second, and to the photography of the invisible in
the third.

Writing of Oersted's discovery, Faraday said that "It burst open the
gates of a domain in science, dark till then, and filled it with a flood
of light."

The discovery of 1820 was hailed throughout Europe by an extraordinary
outburst of enthusiasm. Oersted was complimented and congratulated on
all sides. Honors were showered upon him: the Royal Society of London
awarded him the Copley medal; the French Academy of Sciences gave him
its gold medal for the physico-mathematical sciences; Prussia conferred
upon him the Ordre pour le Mérite, and his own country made him a Knight
of the Daneborg.

Oersted lost no time in preparing a memoir on the subject of his work, a
copy of which was sent to the learned societies and most renowned
philosophers of Europe. The memoir, which was written in Latin and dated
July 21st, 1820, consisted of four quarto pages with the title
"Experiments on the effect of the electric conflict on the magnetic

A perusal of this paper brings home the conviction that Oersted realized
fairly well the forces which came into play in his experiment; for in
one place, he speaks of the effect as due to a transverse force
emanating from the conductor conveying the current, and again as a
conflict acting in a revolving manner around the wire. A complete
statement of the nature of the mechanical force exerted by a conductor
conveying a current on a magnetic needle was given almost immediately by
Ampère, a master analyst and accomplished experimentalist.

  [Illustration: FIG. 23 Magnetic field surrounding a conductor carrying a

It will stand for all time in the history of science, that in less than
two months after the publication of Oersted's memoir, Ampère succeeded
in showing the mechanical effect in magnitude and direction of an
element of current not only on the magnetic needle itself, but also on a
similar element of an adjacent conductor conveying a current, thereby
founding a new science in the department of physics, the science of

Oersted does not appear to have given thought to the practical
possibilities of his discovery. While appreciating the utilitarian in
science, he evidently preferred the pursuit of knowledge for its own
sake. In a discourse which he delivered in 1814 before the University of
Copenhagen, he put himself on record when he said that "The real laborer
in the scientific field chooses knowledge as his highest aim."

So said Plato ages before, and so said Archimedes, who held that it was
undesirable for a philosopher to seek to apply the discoveries of
science to any practical end. The screw which he invented, his catapults
and burning mirrors, show, however, that when necessary the Syracusan
mathematician could come down from the serene heights of investigation
to the prosaic arena of application.

Before Oersted spoke of "the real laborer," Thomas Young had affirmed
that "Those who possess the genuine spirit of scientific investigation
are content to proceed in their researches without inquiring at every
step what they gain by their newly discovered lights, and to what
practical purposes they are applicable."

  [Illustration: FIG. 24 Magnetic whirl surrounding a wire through which a
  current is passing]

Young's most illustrious successor in the Royal Institution, Michael
Faraday, devoted himself calmly but unflinchingly to research work, in
the conviction that no discovery, however remote in its nature, from the
subject of daily observation, could with reason be declared wholly
inapplicable to the benefit of mankind. After discovering in 1831 that
electric currents could be produced by the relative motion of magnets
and coils of wire, a discovery which is the basis of all the electric
engineering of our day, Faraday constructed several experimental
machines embodying this principle, and then turned away abruptly from
the work, saying, "I had rather been desirous of discovering new facts
and new relations dependent on magneto-electric induction than of
exalting the force of those already obtained, being assured that the
latter would find their full development hereafter."

Our own Joseph Henry, whose sterling merit is universally recognized,
beautifully said in this connection: "He who loves truth for its own
sake feels that its highest claims are lowered by being continually
summoned to the bar of immediate and palpable utility."

Oersted seems to have shared the opinion largely held by the scientific
men of his day, that electricity is mainly a magnetic phenomenon.
Ampère, for one, did not think so, as is evident from the beautiful
theory which he devised to explain the magnetism of a bar by minute
electric currents flowing round each individual molecule of the iron. To
the French physicist, magnetism was purely an electrical phenomenon.

  [Illustration: FIG. 25 Ampère's molecular currents]

Though propounded more than eighty years ago, this theory is still in
harmony with all facts and phenomena in the domain of magnetism known
to-day. It is important to remember, when thinking of this physical
theory, that the Amperian currents in question are confined to the
molecule, and that they do not flow from one molecule to another.
Critics have urged against the theory that the molecules must be heated
by the circulation of these elementary currents, to which objection it
has been replied that, as we know nothing of the nature of the molecule,
we cannot say that it offers any resistance to the current; and,
therefore, we cannot affirm that there is any development of heat due to
the circulation of these elementary currents.

It is to Ampère's credit that he was also the first to propose a
practical application of Oersted's discovery, an application that was
nothing less than the electric telegraph itself. He suggested that the
deflection of the magnetic needle could be used for the transmission of
signals from one place to another by means of as many needles and
circuits as there are letters in the alphabet. If Ampère had only
recalled the optical and mechanical telegraphs in use in his day, such
as the swinging of lanterns by night and wigwagging of flags and the
movements of semaphores by day, he might have reduced his twenty-four
circuits to one, using the two elements, viz., motion of the needle to
the right and motion to the left, to make up the entire alphabet. Morse
substituted the dot and the dash for these deflections, and thus
rendered the reception of messages automatic and permanent.

In connection with this proposal to use a magnetic needle for the
transmission of intelligence, the reader will no doubt recall the
lover's telegraph, so beautifully described by Addison in the
"Spectator" for December 6th, 1711; but ingeniously conceived as it was,
this magnetic telegraph was purely and simply a creation of the

This canny conceit has been attributed to Cardinal Bembo, the elegant
scholar and private secretary to Pope Leo X.; but it was his friend
Porta, the versatile philosopher, who made it widely known by the vivid
description which he gave of it in his celebrated work on "Natural
Magic," published at Naples in 1558.

This sympathetic telegraph consisted, we are told, of a magnetic needle
poised in the center of a dial-plate, with the letters of the alphabet
written around it. The two fortunate individuals privileged to hold
_wireless_ correspondence with each other having agreed as to the day
and the hour, proceed to the room in which the wonderful instrument is
kept, where, as soon as one of them turns the needle of his transmitter
to a letter, the distant needle turns at once in sympathy to the same
letter on its dial!

Such is the power of magnetic sympathy, that the instruments will work
successfully though hills, forests, lakes or mountains intervene! Porta
has it: "To a friend at a distance shut up in prison, we may relate our
minds; which, I do not doubt, may be done by means of compasses having
the alphabet written around them."

  [Illustration: FIG. 26 The "sympathetic telegraph" from Cabeo's
  _Philosophia Magnetica_, 1629]

This sympathetic magnetic telegraph figures extensively in the
scientific literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: some
believed in the figment, others condemned it. Addison described it in
elegant prose, and Akenside in beautiful verse. Perhaps the most famous
composition on the subject is a short Latin poem, written, after the
style and vein of Lucretius, in 1617 by Famianus Strada, an Italian
Jesuit. A few years after its publication in the author's "Prolusiones,"
a metrical translation was made by Hakewill and inserted on page 285 of
his "Apologie, or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God," 1630.

Owing to the interest that attaches to this celebrated composition and
the difficulty of getting Hakewill's "Apologie," we append his version
of the poem.

    The Loade above all other stones hath this strange property
    If sundry steels thereto or needles you apply,
    Such force and motion thence they draw that they
    To turn them to the Bear, which near the Pole doth shine.
    Nay, more, as many steels as touch that virtuous stone
    In strange and wondrous sort conspiring all in one
    Together move themselves and situate together:
    As if one of those steels at Rome be stirred, the other
    The self-same way will stir though they far distant be,
    And all through Nature's force and secret sympathy;
    Well then if you of aught would fain advise your friend
    That dwells far off, to whom no letter you can send;
    A large smooth round table make, write down the
         crisscross row
    In order on the verge thereof, and then bestow
    The needle in the midst which touch'd the Loade that so
    What note soe'er you list, it straight may turn unto.
    Then frame another orb in all respects like this
    Describe the edge and lay the steel thereon likewise,
    The steel which from the self-same Magnes motion drew;
    This orb send with thy friend what time he bids adieu.
    But on the days agree at first, when you do mean to
    If the steel stir, and to what letter it doth move.
    This done, if with thy friend thou closely wouldst
    Who in a country off far distant from thee lies,
    Take thou the orb and steel which on the orb was set
    The crisscross on the edge thou seest in order writ.
    What notes will frame thy words, to them direct thy
    And it sometimes to this, sometimes to that note wheel
    Turning it round about so often till you find
    You have compounded all the meaning of your mind.
    Thy friend that dwells far off, O strange! doth plainly
    The steel so stir though it by no man stirréd be,
    Running now here, now there: he conscious of the plot
    As the steel-guide pursues, and reads from note to note.
    Then gathering into words those notes, he clearly sees
    What's needful to be done, the needle truchman is.
    Now, when the steel doth cease its motion; if thy friend
    Think it convenient answer back to send,
    The same course he may take; and, with his needle
    Touching the several notes which so he list indite.
    Would God, men would be pleased to put this course in
    Their letters would arrive more speedy and more sure,
    No rivers would them stop nor thieves them intercept;
    Princes with their own hands, their business might effect.
    We scribes, from black sea 'scaped, at length with hearty
    At th' altar of the Loade would consecrate our quills.

Another translation of the poem was made by Dr. Samuel Ward and
published at the end of his "Wonders of the Loadstone," 1640.

  [Illustration: FIG. 27 The "sympathetic telegraph" from Turner's _Ars
  Notoria_, 1657]

Ampère's suggestion, made, as we have seen, in the year 1820, was not
the first proposal to use electricity for telegraphic purposes. Already,
in 1753, a writer in _The Scots Magazine_, signing himself C. M.
(Charles Morrison, of Greenock, according to Sir David Brewster, and
Charles Marshall, of Paisley, according to Latimer Clark), outlined a
method involving the use of frictional electricity; and Lesage, of
Geneva, constructed a short experimental line, in 1774, consisting of
twenty-four wires and a pith-ball electroscope. But the man who attained
the greatest success in the employment of static electricity for this
purpose was Ronalds, of London, who, in 1816, erected a single-wire line
eight miles long in his gardens at Hammersmith, with a pair of
pith-balls and a rotating disc for receiving instrument.

When well satisfied that his system was practicable and reliable,
Ronalds wrote to the head of the intelligence department in London
urging the adoption of his invention for the public service; but he was
promptly brought to realize the scant encouragement so often extended to
inventors by persons in high places, that responsible official politely
informing him "that telegraphs of all kinds are wholly unnecessary," and
that no other than the mechanical one in daily use would be adopted.

When penning these words, the representative of the British government
must have forgotten the experience of 1812, when the result of the
battle of Salamanca was semaphored from Plymouth to London, on which
occasion a fog cut off the message after the transmission of the first
two words, "Wellington defeated," the remainder of the despatch, "the
French at Salamanca," reaching the capital only on the following

A rapid sketch of the life of our philosopher, whose discovery of the
magnetic effect of the voltaic current in 1820 led to the invention of
the electric telegraph, cannot be without interest.

Hans Christian Oersted was born on August 14th, 1777, in the little town
of Rudkjöbing, in the island of Langeland, Denmark. Being the son of
poor parents, his early years were spent in very narrow circumstances.
He and his younger brother were mainly indebted to their own efforts for
whatever instruction they received in the rudiments of learning. The
town in which they lived being small, offered few opportunities for
education, even if the family exchequer had been such as to permit the
boys to take advantage of them. There was a German wigmaker in the
place, however, who was a little more advanced in knowledge than the
generality of the townspeople. He and his wife liked the Oersted boys,
who were very frequently to be found in the wigmaker's shop. The good
housewife taught them to read, while the artist himself taught them a
little German. Hans Christian advanced so rapidly in his studies that he
acquired a reputation for precociousness, which, with the usual
prejudice against bright children, made the neighbors shake their heads
prophetically and say: "The child will not live; he is too bright to
last long."

Hans Christian learned the elements of arithmetic from an old
school-book which he picked up by chance; and no sooner had he advanced
a little, than he set about instructing his brother. Very probably, the
teacher benefited quite as much by this process of instruction as the
pupil. Adversity is a good school for the formation of character as well
as for the acquisition of knowledge. It is evident, from the lives of
such men as Oersted, Faraday, Kepler, Ohm, and others who were brought
up in the lap of poverty, that it is not so much educational opportunity
that is needed for the development of mind which we call education, as
the earnest determination and the abiding desire to have it. Even
boyhood creates its own opportunities for education despite intervening
obstacles, if it has only a decided eagerness, a pronounced thirst for

About the time that the young Oersteds entered their teens, their father
secured the services of a private teacher to give them some instruction
in the rudiments of Latin and Greek. This accidental preceptor was only
a wandering student who happened to be in the place at the time; but the
boys, in their eagerness to learn, derived more benefit from his lessons
than many boys of their age often do nowadays from the help and
encouragement of a carefully selected and academically equipped tutor.

At the age of twelve, Oersted senior was taken into his father's
apothecary-shop in quality of assistant, a position which seemed
destined to put an end to all opportunities for further advancement in
the path of learning. When a boy goes into a drug-store in an official
capacity, his future career is usually settled; he is a druggist to the
end. His new avocation, however, proved to be the beginning of new
intellectual activities for Oersted. The chemical side of his work
became a source of new information to him, and also a stimulus to learn
all that he could of chemistry and kindred subjects. Science became a
hobby with the young apothecary, and everything relating to it appealed
to him. What Hans learned, he as usual imparted to his brother, who was
already becoming interested in other departments of learning, especially
the law.

The desire of the boys to advance grew with their stock of knowledge.
Accordingly, when, in 1794, Hans was only seventeen years of age and his
brother sixteen, they both matriculated at the University of Copenhagen.
Their father was able to help them but little, so that they were obliged
to live quietly and sparingly, a condition distinctly favorable to
consecutive and efficient study. They became so successful in their
pursuits that they soon began to attract attention. Having passed
creditable examinations, they were recommended for pecuniary assistance
from an educational fund established by the government for the purpose.
Even then, as receipts were hardly equal to expenses, they sought to
increase their little revenue by giving private lessons in their leisure
hours. Here we have a striking example of what may be accomplished by
men who work their way through College in the teeth of adverse
circumstances; in these two brothers, we have proof of the truth that it
is the student's mind, his willingness and determination to work, that
count in education more than the golden opportunities that may fall to
his lot.

In the year 1799, Oersted prepared a thesis on "The Architectonics of
Natural Metaphysics," which won for him his Doctorate in Philosophy.
Though the young Doctor did not hesitate to discuss metaphysical
problems and even to disagree with Kant at a time when most Teutonic
minds were deeply under the influence of the philosopher of Königsberg,
his chief interests, however, centered in the experimental sciences, in
physics and chemistry.

In spite of his devotedness to science, Oersted allowed himself, by way
of distraction, an occasional excursion into the field of literature. A
great literary and artistic movement was making itself felt in the
northern part of Europe at the time. The æsthetic awakening of the
Teutonic nations had come after three centuries of religious and
political unrest, ill adapted to intellectual development. Lessing and
Winkelmann, Goethe and Schiller, the two Schlegels and Klopstock as well
as the young poets, Uhland and Koerner, were either already at work or
were about to enter on their distinguished careers, and the neighboring
Scandinavian nations were beginning to be seriously affected by the
movement which was going on among their brethren. In the third year of
his university course, Oersted entered the lists as a competitor for
literary honors on the question, "What are the Limits of Prose and
Poetry?" and had the satisfaction of winning the gold medal offered for
the contest. In spite of this episode, indicative of devotedness to the
muses, Oersted passed a brilliant pharmaceutical examination; and in the
following year succeeded in capturing another prize, this time for a
medical essay.

After such a period of preparation, it might be expected that a
brilliant career would open up for Oersted; but, unfortunately, he could
not afford to wait for slow academic rewards, as it was absolutely
necessary for him to set about earning his livelihood. For this purpose,
shortly after graduation, he accepted the position of manager of a
drug-store. As the salary attached to the office was rather slender, he
increased his resources by giving lectures in the evening on the
familiar subjects of chemistry, natural philosophy and metaphysics.

About this time, the _wanderlust_, or passion for travel, took
possession of our young philosopher; and under its influence, he
resolved to see for himself what men of scientific avocations were doing
in France and in Germany. His own pinched circumstances would not allow
him to undertake such a journey; but he was fortunate enough to win a
_stipendium cappelianum_ which allowed him to travel at the expense of
the government for a period of five years, though he used it only for
three. If ever pecuniary aid was productive of enduring results, it was
so in this case.

In 1801, at the age of twenty-four, Oersted set out from Copenhagen on
his grand tour, determined to make it a scientific as well as
sentimental journey. In Germany, which he first visited, he met
Klaproth, the orientalist; Werner, the mineralogist; Olbers the
astronomer; the philosophers Fichte, Schelling and the two Schlegels;
and above all, the young and brilliant physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter,
who discussed with him the theory of the wonderful "pile" invented by
Volta in the previous year, 1800.

In Paris, Oersted spent about fifteen months, during which time he was
in habitual relations with many of the savants who were just then
reflecting great lustre on French science. To mention but a few: there
was Cuvier, the leading naturalist of his age; Abbé Haüy,
crystallographer of world-wide reputation; Biot, the brilliant expounder
of physics; Charles, the discoverer of the law which bears his name;
Berthollet, the associate of Monge the mathematician, and Lavoisier, the

On his return to the Danish capital in 1804, Oersted delivered courses
of lectures on electricity and magnetism, light and heat, before
numerous and cultured audiences; and such was the success which he
achieved that he was appointed, at the age of twenty-nine, to the chair
of physics in the University of Copenhagen.

For nearly forty-five years he was destined to occupy this academical
position, so that his connection with that seat of learning rounded out
the full period of half a century.

While sedulously occupied with the duties of his chair and the pursuit
of his favorite scientific subjects, Oersted was not unmindful of his
civic and altruistic obligations. He frequently gave popular scientific
lectures, which were open to women as well as to men. He helped in the
organization of a bureau through which lectures would be given in
various parts of the country, and thus became a pioneer in what we call
to-day the university extension movement. When democratic ideas began to
be discussed in Denmark after the French Revolution of 1830, Oersted
was one of those who took part in the onward movement for the betterment
of the people. In 1835, he coöperated in the foundation of the Society
for the Freedom of the Press; and when Christian VIII. ascended the
throne, he addressed the new monarch in a speech of liberal tendency,
hailing him because of the interest which he took in the advancement of
science and in the uplift of the masses.

An idea of the position accorded to Oersted by his colleagues in the
world of science may be gathered from an address made by Sir John
Herschel at the closing session of the Southampton meeting of the
British Association in 1836, in which the distinguished astronomer said:
"In science, there is but one direction which the needle will take when
pointed towards the European continent, and that is towards my esteemed
friend, Professor Oersted. To look at his cool manner, who would think
that he wielded such an intense power, capable of altering the whole
state of science, and almost the knowledge of the world? He has at this
meeting developed some of those recondite and remarkable forces of
nature which he was the first to discover, and which went almost to the
extent of obliging us to alter our views on the most ordinary laws of
energy and motion. He elaborated his ideas with slowness and certainty,
bringing them forward only after a long lapse of time. How often did I
wish to Heaven that we could trample down, and strike forever to earth,
the hasty generalizations which mark the present age, and bring up
another and safer system of investigation, such as that which marked the
inquiries of our friend? It was in deep recesses, as it were, of a cell,
that a faint idea first occurred to Oersted. He waited long and calmly
for the dawn which at length broke upon him, altering the whole
relations of science and life. The electric telegraph and other wonders
of modern science were but mere effervescences from the surface of this
deep, recondite discovery of his. If we were to characterize, by any
figure, the usefulness of Oersted to science, we would regard him as a
fertilizing shower descending from heaven, which brought forth a new
crop, delightful to the eye and pleasing to the heart."

It may be noticed that in Oersted's day early specialization was
fortunately unknown. His education was broad and his intellectual
activities broader still. Quite as interesting as many of his scientific
researches are some of his contributions to philosophy and some of his
views on the significance of the material universe. Oersted, a man of
the world with a wide range of interests and a philosopher who lived at
high intellectual altitudes, was one of the all-round men in the history
of thought who took active part in science, in literature, in politics
and in social problems. He had the opportunity of meeting many of the
renowned scientists and philosophers of the century, and had been very
closely in touch with some of them. He was a regular attendant at
scientific congresses, in which he distinguished himself by the leading
part which he took in their deliberations. His opinions, therefore, on
the great problems of life, religious, moral, social and political,
challenge our respect even where they do not compel our approval. Our
Danish philosopher deserves, then, to stand as the spokesman of his
generation of savants on the great questions that concern man's
relations to his fellow-men, to an all-wise Providence and to an
enduring hereafter. His opinions on these matters are all the more
interesting because they are in open contradiction with what is
sometimes thought to be the views of scientists on such subjects.

One of the passages of his paper on "All Existence, a Dominion of
Reason," contains some surprising anticipations of ideas that created a
great stir in the intellectual world some fifty years ago. In 1846, that
is, thirteen years before the publication of Darwin's "Origin of
Species," Oersted discussed evolution and suggested explanations that
are generally considered to have been forced from apologists when
compelled to take up the work of reconciling Christian doctrines with
scientific conclusions.

Writing in the middle 'forties, he said: "If we are now thoroughly
convinced that everything in the material world is produced from similar
particles of matter, by the same forces and in obedience to the same
laws, we must allow that the planets have been formed according to the
same laws as our own earth. They have been in process of development
during immeasurable periods of time, and have undergone numerous
transformations which have also influenced the vegetable and animal
kingdoms of those remote periods. The lower forms of life advanced by
gradual stages to higher and more complex states of organization, till
at length (in a comparatively recent period) a self-conscious being was
evolved, the crowning work of this long-continued process of
development. Accordingly, we must allow a similar order of organic
development to take place on the other planets of our solar family.
There may be some which have not as yet attained the same degree of
development that we have reached; but everywhere throughout the
universe, creatures endowed with reason appear in due time, just as man
appeared on our own globe. Their understanding is intimately connected
with the organs of sense which they possess; therefore, the nature of
their mental faculties cannot be essentially different from our own.
That I may avoid even the appearance of materialism, I must direct
attention to the conciliatory principle, that the natural environment
from which man springs must be recognized as the work of the eternal,
creative Spirit. In other words, our conception of the universe is
incomplete, if not comprehended as a constant and continuous work of the
eternally creating Spirit."

Thus far Oersted; let us here recall what Lord Kelvin, the
representative scientist of his day, quoted with approval on a memorable
occasion from the Danish scientist with regard to the basic truths of
science, philosophy and religion. "It will not be foreign to our purpose
if, called upon by the solemnities of this day, we endeavor to establish
our conviction of the harmony that subsists between religion and
science, by showing how the man of science must look upon his pursuits,
if he understands them rightly, as an exercise of religion.

"If my purpose here was merely to show that science necessarily
engenders piety, I should appeal to the great truth everywhere
recognized, that the essence of all religion consists in love toward
God. The conclusion would then be easy, that love of Him from whom all
truth proceeds must create the desire to acknowledge truth in all her
paths; but as we desire here to recognize science herself as a religious
duty, it will be requisite for us to penetrate deeper into its nature.
It is obvious, therefore, that the searching eye of man, whether he
regards his own inward being or the creation surrounding him, is always
led to the Eternal Source of all things. In all inquiry, the ultimate
aim is to discover that which really exists and to contemplate it in
its pure light apart from all that deceives the careless observer by
only a seeming existence. The philosopher will then comprehend what,
amidst ceaseless change, is the Constant and Uncreated, which is hidden
behind unnumbered creations, the bond of union which keeps things
together in spite of their manifold divisions and separations. He must
soon acknowledge that the independent can only be the constant and the
constant the independent, and that true unity is inseparable from either
of these. And thus it is in the nature of thought that it finds no quiet
resting place, no pause, except in the invariable, eternal, uncaused,
all-causing, all-comprehensive Omniscience.

"But, if this one-sided view does not satisfy him, if he seeks to
examine the world with the eye of experience, he perceives that all
those things of whose reality the multitude feels most assured never
have an enduring existence, but are always on the road between birth and
death. If he now properly comprehends the whole array of nature, he
perceives that it is not merely an idea or an abstract notion, as it is
called; but that reason and the power to which everything is indebted
for its essential nature are only the revelation of a self-sustained
Being. How can he, when he sees this, be otherwise animated than by the
deepest feeling of humility, of devotion and of love? If anyone has
learned a different lesson from his observation of nature, it could only
be because he lost his way amidst the dispersion and variety of creation
and had not looked upwards to the eternal unity of truth."

As already said, Oersted lived to celebrate the fiftieth year of his
connection with his university. This was in November, 1850, on which
occasion his friends, pupils and the public generally united together
in honoring him as a professor whose warm and animated lectures
enraptured audiences; as a leader in the scientific advance of the
times; and as a Christian to whom nature was but a manifestation of the
Deity's combined wisdom and creative power.

The aged scientist, much touched by this popular demonstration as well
as by the tokens of esteem given him by the King, spoke of this jubilee
celebration as the happiest day of his life. The reader will recall
another great man, great in the world of politics and great on the field
of battle, who said that the happiest day of _his_ life was that of his
first communion.

A few months after celebrating his golden jubilee, Oersted passed away,
after a short illness, on March 9th, 1851, deeply mourned by all.

Oersted was eminent as a scholar and equally eminent as a man; lenient
in his judgment of others, he was strict with regard to himself; simple
in his ways and frugal in living, he was benevolent to others, being
always ready to give a helping hand wherever needed. To such a man may
well be applied these beautiful words with which Priestley begins his
"History of Electricity": "A life spent in the contemplation of the
productions of divine power, wisdom and goodness, would be a life of
devotion. The more we see of the wonderful structure of the world and of
the laws of nature, the more clearly do we comprehend their admirable
uses to make all percipient creation happy, a sentiment which cannot but
fill the heart with unbounded love, gratitude and joy."

A statue to the memory of Oersted was unveiled in Copenhagen on
September 25th, 1876, in presence of the King of Denmark, the King of
Greece, the Danish Crown Prince and members of the Royal family, as well
as numerous high officials, representatives of learned societies and a
vast body of students and people assembled together to do honor to a man
who was distinguished alike by his scientific attainments and
philosophical acumen, and who, during his long life, never faltered in
his devotedness to the welfare of his country as he never weakened in
his defense of the great truths of religion.




Few men of the nineteenth century are so interesting as André Marie
Ampère, who is, as we have seen, deservedly spoken of as the founder of
the science of electro-dynamics. Extremely precocious as a boy, so that,
like his immediate predecessor in discovery, Oersted the Dane, his rapid
intellectual development drew down upon him ominous expressions from
those who knew him, he more than fulfilled the highest promise of his
early years. His was no one-sided genius. He was interested in
everything, and his memory was as retentive as his intellect was
comprehensive. He grew up, indeed, to be a young man of the widest
possible interests. Literature never failed to have its attraction for
him, though science was his favorite study and mathematics his hobby.
The mathematical mind is commonly supposed to run in very precise
grooves, yet Ampère was always a speculator, and his speculations were
most suggestive for his contemporaries and subsequent generations.
Indeed, his mathematics, far from being a hindrance to his penetrating
outlook upon the hazier confines of science, rather seemed to help the
penetrations it gave. While he was so great a scientist that Arago, so
little likely to exaggerate his French contemporary's merit, has said of
Ampère's discovery identifying magnetism and electricity, that "the vast
field of physical science perhaps never presented so brilliant a
discovery, conceived, verified, and completed with such rapidity," his
friends knew this great scientist as one of the kindliest and most
genial of men, noted for his simplicity, his persuasive sympathy and his
tender regard for all those with whom he was brought into intimate

  [Illustration: ANDRÉ MARIE AMPÈRE]

The commonly accepted formula for a great scientist, that he is a man
wrapt up in himself and his work, enmeshed so completely in the
scientific speculations that occupy him that he has little or no time
for great humanitarian interests, so that his human sympathies are
likely to atrophy, is entirely contradicted by the life of Ampère. He
was no narrow specialist, and, indeed, it may be said that not a single
one of these great discoverers in electricity whom we are considering in
this volume was of the type that is sometimes accepted as indicative of
scientific genius and originality. After reading their lives, one is
prone to have the feeling that men who lack that wider sympathy which,
in the famous words of the old Latin poet, makes everything human of
interest to them, are not of the mental calibre to make supreme
discoveries, even though they may succeed in creating a large amount of
interest in their scientific speculations in their own generation. It is
the all-round man who does supreme original work of enduring quality.

André Marie Ampère was born at Lyons, January 22d, 1775. His father,
Jean Jacques Ampère, was a small merchant who made a comfortable living
for his family, but no more. His father and mother were both well
informed for their class and time, and were well esteemed by their
neighbors. His mother especially was known for an unalterable sweetness
of character and charitable beneficence which sought out every possible
occasion for its exercise. She was universally beloved by those who knew
her, and the charm of Ampère's manner, which made for him a friend of
every acquaintance, was undoubtedly a manifestation of the same family

Shortly after the birth of their son, the parents gave up business and
retired on a little property situated in the country not far from Lyons.
It was in this little village, without any school-teacher and with only
home instruction, that the genius of the future savant, who was to be
one of the distinguished scientific men of the nineteenth century, began
to show itself. For Ampère was not only a genius, but, what is so often
thought to be an almost absolute preclusion of any serious achievement
later in life, a precocious genius. The first marvelous faculty that
began to develop in him was an uncontrollable tendency to arithmetical
expression. Before he knew how to make figures, he had invented for
himself a method of doing even rather complicated problems in arithmetic
by the aid of a number of pebbles or peas. During an illness that
overtook him as a child, his mother, anxious because of the possible
evil effects upon his health of mental work, took his pebbles away from
him. He supplied their place, however, during the leisure hours of his
convalescence, when time hung heavy on his child hands, by bread crumbs.
He craved food, but, according to the "starving" medical _régime_ of the
time, he was allowed only a single biscuit in three days. It required no
little self-sacrifice on his part, then, to supply himself with counters
from this scanty supply, and his persistence, in spite of hunger,
evidently indicates that this mathematical tendency was stronger than
his appetite for food. This is all the more surprising, since children
are usually scarcely more than little animals in the matter of eating,
and commonly satisfy their physical cravings without an after-thought of
any kind.

Ampère learned to read when but very young, and then began to devour all
the books which came to hand. Usually, the precocious taste for reading
specializes on some particular subject; but everything was grist that
came to the child Ampère's mental mill, and it was all ground up; and,
strangest of all, much of it was assimilated. Travel, history, poetry,
occupied him quite as much as romance; and, amazing as it may appear,
even philosophy was not disdained while he was still under ten years of
age. It seems amusing to read the declaration of the French biographer,
that if this boy of ten had any special predilection in literature, it
was for Homer, Lucan, Tasso, Fénelon, Corneille and Voltaire, yet it
must be taken seriously.

When he was about fifteen, this omnivorous intellectual genius came
across a French encyclopedia in twenty folio volumes. This seemed to him
a veritable Golconda of endless riches of information. Each of the
volumes had its turn. The second was begun as soon as the first was
finished, and the reading of the third followed, and so on, until every
one of the volumes had been completely read. References to other volumes
might be looked up occasionally, but this did not distract him into
taking other portions of the works out of alphabetical order. Surprising
as it must seem, most of this heterogeneous mass of information, far
from being forgotten at once, was deeply engraved on his wonderful
memory. More than once in after-life, when many years had passed, it was
a surprise to his friends to find how much information Ampère had
amassed on some abstruse and unfamiliar subject, and how readily he was
able to pour forth details of information that seemed quite out of his
line. He would then confess that the encyclopedia article on the
subject, read so many years before, was still fresh in his mind, or at
least that its information was so stored away as to be readily
available. We have heard much of Gladstone's memory in more recent
years; but that seems to have been nothing compared to this wonderful
faculty which recalled for Ampère, even as an old man, the unrelated
details of every encyclopedia article that had passed under his eyes
half a century before, when he was a boy of ten to fourteen.

The modest family library soon proved utterly insufficient to occupy the
mind of this young, enthusiastic student; and his father, sympathetic
to his ardent curiosity, took him to Lyons from time to time, where he
might have the opportunity to consult volumes of various kinds that
might catch his fancy. At this time, his old mathematical tendency
reasserted itself. He wished to learn something about the higher
mathematics. He found in a library in Lyons the works of Bernoulli and
of Euler. When the delicate-looking boy, whom the librarian considered
little more than a child, put in his request to the town library for
these serious mathematical works, the old gentleman said to him: "The
works of Bernoulli and Euler! What are you thinking of, my little
friend? These works figure among the most difficult writings that ever
came from the mind of man." "I hope to be able to understand them,"
replied the boy. "I suppose you know," said the librarian, "that they
are written in Latin." This was a disagreeable surprise for young
Ampère. As yet he had not studied Latin. He went home, resolved,
however, to remove this hindrance to his study of the higher
mathematics. At the end of the month, owing to his assiduity, the
obstacle had entirely disappeared; and though he could read only
mathematical Latin and had later to study the language from another
standpoint, in order to understand the classics, he was now able to
pursue the study of mathematics in Latin to his heart's content.

The even tenor of the boy's life, deeply engaged as he was in studies of
every description, was destined to be very seriously disturbed. When he
was but fourteen, in 1789, the Revolution came, with its glorious
promise and then its awful consummation. Ampère's father was seriously
alarmed at the revolutionary course things were taking in France, and
had the fatal inspiration to leave his country home and betake himself
to the city of Lyons. For a time, he occupied a position as magistrate.
After the siege of Lyons, the revolutionary tribunal established there
took up the project of making the Lyonnese patriotic, as they called it,
by properly punishing the citizens for their failure to sympathize at
first with the revolutionary government, and soon a series of horrible
massacres began. New victims were claimed every day, and Ampère's father
was one of those who had to suffer. The real reason for his condemnation
was that he had accepted a position under the old government, though the
pretext stated on the warrant for his arrest was that he was an
aristocrat. This is the only evidence we have that the Ampère family was
in any way connected with the nobility. The day on which he was
sentenced to die, Jean Jacques Ampère wrote to his wife a letter of
sublime simplicity, in which his Christian resignation of spirit, his
lofty courage, yet thoroughly practical commonsense, are manifest. He
warned his wife to say nothing about his fate to their daughter
Josephine, though he hoped that his son would be better able to stand
the blow, and perhaps prove a consolation to his mother.

The news proved almost too much for the young Ampère, and for a time his
reason was despaired of. All his faculties seemed to be shocked for the
moment into insensibility. Biographers tell us that he wandered around,
building little piles of sand, gazing idly at the stars or vacantly into
space, wearing scarcely any of the expression of a rational being. His
friends could harbor only the worst possible expectations for him, and
even his physical health suffered so much that it seemed he would not
long survive. One day, by chance, Rousseau's "Letters on Botany" fell
into his hands. They caught his attention, and he became interested in
their charming narrative style, and as a result, his reason awoke once
more. He began to study botany in the field, and soon acquired a taste
for the reading of Linnæus. At the same time, classic poetry, especially
such as contained descriptions of nature, once more appealed to him, and
so he took up his classical studies. He varied the reading of the poets
with dissections of flowers, and yet succeeded in following both sets of
studies so attentively that, forty years afterward, he was still
perfectly capable of taking up the technical description of the plants
that he had then studied, and while acting as a university inspector, he
composed 150 Latin verses during his horseback rides from one inspection
district to another, without ever having to consult a gradus or a
dictionary for the quantities, yet without making a single mistake. His
memory for subjects once learned, was almost literally infallible.

Something of his love for nature can be appreciated from an incident of
his early manhood, which is not without its amusing side. Ampère was
very near-sighted, and had been able to read books all his life only by
holding them very close to his eyes. This makes it all the more
difficult to understand how he succeeded in reading so much. His
near-sightedness was so marked that he had no idea of beauties of
scenery beyond him, and was often rather put out at the enthusiastic
description of scenes through which he passed _en diligence_, when his
fellow-travelers spoke of the beauties of the scenes around them.
Ampère, like most people who do not share, or at least appreciate, the
enthusiasm of others for beautiful things around them, was in this
mood, mainly because he was not able to see them in the way that others
did, and, therefore, could not have the same pleasure in them. This lack
in himself was unconscious, of course, as in all other cases, and, far
from lessening, rather emphasized the tendency to be impatient with
others, and rather made him more ready to think how foolish they were to
go into ecstasies over something that to him was so insignificant.

One day, while Ampère was making the journey along the Saone into Lyons,
it happened that there sat beside him on the stage-coach a young man who
suffered from near-sightedness very nearly in the same degree as Ampère
himself, but whose myopia had been corrected by means of properly
fitting glasses. These glasses were just exactly what Ampère needed in
order to correct his vision completely. The young fellows became
interested in each other, and, during the course of their conversation,
his companion suggested to Ampère, seeing how near-sighted he was, that
he should try his glasses. He put them on, and at once nature presented
herself to him under an entirely different aspect. The vision was so
unexpected, that the description which he had so often heard from his
fellow-travelers, but could not appreciate, now recurred to him, and he
could not help exclaiming in raptures, "Oh! what a smiling country! What
picturesque, graceful hills! How the rich, warm tones are harmoniously
blended in the wonderful union of sky and mountain vista!" All of these
now spoke emphatically to his delicate sensibility, and a new world was
literally revealed to him. Ampère was so overcome by this unexpected
sight, which gave him so much pleasure, that he burst into tears from
depth of emotion, and could not satisfy himself with looking at all the
beauties of nature that had been hidden from him for so long. Ever
after, natural scenery was one of the greatest pleasures that he had in
life, and the beauties of nature, near or distant, meant more to him
than any other gratification of the senses.

In spite of the fact that Ampère had devoted considerable attention to
acoustics as a young man, and had studied the ways in which the waves of
air by which sounds are formed and propagated, he had absolutely no ear
for music, and was as tone-deaf as he had been blind before his
discovery with regard to the glasses. Musical notes constituted a
mathematical problem for Ampère, but nothing more. This continued to be
the case until about thirty years of age. Then, one day, he attended a
musical soirée, at which the principal portions of the program were
taken from Glück. It is easy to understand that this master of harmony
possessed no charms for a tone-deaf young man. He became uneasy during
the course of the musical program, and his uneasiness became manifest to
others. After the selections of the German composer were finished,
however, some simple but charming melodies were unexpectedly introduced,
and Ampère suddenly found himself transported into a new world. If we
are to believe his biographers, once more his emotion was expressed by
an abundance of tears, which Ampère seems to have had at command and to
have been quite as ready to give way to in public as any of Homer's
heroes of the olden time. Blind until he was nearly twenty, he used to
say of himself, he had been deaf until he was thirty. In spite of his
failure to respond in youth, once it had been awakened to appreciation,
his soul vibrated profoundly to all the beauties of color and sound,
and, later in life, they gave rise in him to depths of emotion which
calmer individuals of less delicate sensibilities could scarcely
understand, much less sympathize with.

Between his two supreme experiences in vision and sound, there had come
to Ampère another and even profounder emotion. He tells the story
himself, in words that probably express his feelings better than any
possible description of his biographer could do, and that show us how
wonderfully sensitive his soul was to emotion of all kinds. He had just
completed his twenty-first year when he fell head over heels in love.
Though he wrote very little, as a rule, he has left us a rather detailed
description in diaries, evidently kept for the purpose, of the state of
his feelings at this time. These bear the title, "_Amorum_," the story
of his love. On the first page these words occur: "One day as I was
taking an evening walk, just after the setting of the sun, making my way
along a little brook," then there is a hiatus, and he was evidently
quite unable to express all that he felt. It seems that he was gathering
botanical specimens, wearing an excellent set of spectacles ever since
his adventure on the stage-coach had shown him the need of them, when he
suddenly perceived at some distance two young and charming girls who
were gathering flowers in the field. He looked at one of them, and he
knew that his fate was sealed. Up to that time, as he says, the idea of
marriage had never occurred to him. One might think that the idea would
occur very gently at first, then grow little by little; but that was not
Ampère's way. He wanted to marry her that very day. He did not know her
name; he did not know her family; he had never even heard her voice, but
he knew that she was the destined one.

Fortunately for the young lady and himself, she had very sensible
parents. They demanded how he would be able to support a wife. Ampère
was quite willing to do anything that they should suggest. His father
had left enough to support the family, but not enough to enable him to
support a wife in an independent home; and until he had some occupation,
the parents of his bride-to-be refused to listen to his representations.
For a time, he consented to be a salesman in a silk store in Lyons, in
order to have some occupation which might eventually give him enough
money to enable him to marry. Fortunately, however, he was diverted from
a commercial vocation which might thus have absorbed a great scientist,
and arrangements were made which permitted him to continue his
intellectual life, yet have the woman of his choice. She was destined to
make life happier far for him than is the usual lot of man, and he was
ever ready to acknowledge how much she meant for his happiness.

With literature, poetry, love and settling down in life to occupy him,
it is hard to think of Ampère as a young man doing great work in
science, but he did; and his work deservedly attracted attention even
from his very early years. It was in pure mathematics, perhaps, above
all other branches, that Ampère attracted the attention of his
generation. Ordinary questions he did not care for. Problems which the
fruitless efforts of twenty centuries had pronounced insoluble attracted
him at once. Even the squaring of the circle claimed his attention for a
while, though he got well beyond it even before his boyhood passed away.
There is a manuscript note from the Secretary of the Academy of Lyons,
which shows that on July 8th, 1788, Ampère, then not quite thirteen
years of age, addressed to that learned body a paper on the "Squaring of
the Circle." Later, during the same year, he submitted an analogous
memoir, entitled, "The Rectification of an Arc of a Circle, less than a

Arago says that he was tempted to suppress this story of Ampère's
coquetting with so dangerous a problem, for Ampère rather flattered
himself that he had almost solved it. It was only after Arago recalled
how many geniuses in mathematics had occupied themselves with this same
problem, that he saw his way clearly not to share the scruples of those
who might think this incident a reflection on Ampère's mathematical
genius. After all, Anaxagoras, Hippocrates, Archimedes and Apollonius,
among the ancients, and among the moderns, Willebrod Snell, Huyghens,
Gregory, Wallis, and finally Newton, the mathematician of the heavens,
occupied themselves seriously with this very problem. Arago even notes
that some men, by their speculations on the squaring of the circle, were
led to distinguished discoveries, and mentions the name of Father
Grégoire de Saint-Vincent, the distinguished Flemish mathematician of
the Society of Jesus, to whom, as a direct result of his studies in
attempted circle-squaring, we owe the discovery of the properties of
hyperbolic space, limited by the curve and its asymptotes, as well as
the expansion of log (1 + _x_) in ascending powers of _x_. Montucla, the
historian of mathematics, writing of Père Saint-Vincent, said that, "No
one ever squared the circle with so much ability or with so much
success." There was, however, a fallacy in his magnificent work which
was pointed out by the celebrated Huyghens.

Shortly after the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ampère, as one of
his French biographers rather characteristically declares, redeemed
whatever of mathematical sinning there might have been, in indulging in
fond dalliance with the squaring of the circle, by a series of
mathematical papers, each of which was in itself a distinct advance on
previous knowledge, and at the same time, definite evidence of his
mathematical ability. The first paper, published in 1801, was a
contribution to solid geometry, bearing the title, "On Oblique
Polyhedrons." His next paper, written in 1803, though not published
until 1808, was a treatise on the advantages to be derived in the theory
of curves from due consideration of the osculating parabola. Another
treatise, written about the same time, had for title, "Investigations on
the Application of the General Formulæ of the Calculus of Variations to
Problems in Mechanics." This concerned problems which had interested
and, in most cases, proved too hard of solution even for such men as
Galileo, Jacques Bernoulli, Leibnitz, Huyghens and Jean Bernoulli.
Arago's expression with regard to this work is: "The treatise of Ampère
contains, in fact, new and very remarkable properties of the _catenary_
(la chainette) and its development." He adds: "There is no small merit
in discovering hiatuses in subjects explored by such men as Leibnitz,
Huyghens and the two Bernoullis. I must not forget to add that the
analysis of our associate unites elegance with simplicity."

It is not surprising, after such marks of mathematical genius, that
Ampère was appointed to the chair of mathematics at the École
Polytechnique, where he came to be looked upon as one of the most
distinguished of French mathematicians. In 1813, he became a candidate
for the position left vacant by the death of the famous Lagrange; and at
this time, presented to the Academy general considerations on the
integration of partial differential equations of the first and the
second order. After his election to the Academy, Ampère continued to
present important papers at its various sessions. Among these, three are
especially noteworthy: one was a demonstration of Père Mariotte's law
(known to English students as Boyle's law); another bore the title,
"Demonstration of a new Theory from which can be deduced all the Laws of
Refraction, ordinary and extraordinary"; a third was a memoir on the
"Determination of the curved surfaces of Luminous Waves in a medium
whose Elasticity differs in each of the three dimensions."

In his eulogy of Ampère, which, together with his article in the
"Dictionnaire Universelle de Biographie," we have followed rather
closely, Arago calls particular attention to the fact that in Paris,
Ampère moved in two intellectual circles quite widely separated in their
interests and sympathies. Among the first group, were the members of the
old "Institute" and professors and examiners of the École Polytechnique
and professors of the Collège de France. In the other, were the men
whose names have since become widely known as students of psychology, of
whom Cabanis may be taken as the representative. Ampère had as great a
passion for psychology, and was as ready to devote himself to fathoming
and analyzing the mysteries of the mind, as he was to work out a problem
in advanced mathematics, or throw light on difficult questions in the
physical sciences. These two sets of interests are seldom united in the
same man, though occasionally they are found. At the end of the
nineteenth century, we had the spectacle of very distinguished men of
science in physics, and even in biology--Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver
Lodge, Professor Charles Richet, Professor Lombroso and even Mr. Alfred
Russell Wallace--interested in psychic and spiritualistic manifestations
of many kinds as well as in natural science; and, inasmuch as they did
so, they would have found Ampère a brother spirit. Ampère indeed dived
rather deeply into what would be called, somewhat slightingly, perhaps,
in our generation, metaphysical speculation. At one time, he
contemplated the publication of a book which was to be called "An
Introduction to Philosophy." He had made elaborate theories with regard
to many metaphysical questions, and had written articles on "The Theory
of Relations," "The History of Existence," "Subjective and Objective
Knowledge" and "Absolute Morality." Arago calls attention to the fact
that Napoleon's famous anathema against ideology, far from discouraging
Ampère, rather seemed to stimulate him in his studies, and he declared
that it would surely contribute to the propagation of this kind of
speculation, rather than to its suppression. It was simply another case
of Napoleon overreaching himself, though this was in the domain of ideas
and not in the realm of politics, where his fate was to reach him some
time later.

How deeply interested Ampère became in metaphysics will perhaps be best
appreciated from the fact that, for progress in metaphysics, exercise in
disputation is needed, and had been the custom in the old medieval
universities. Ampère once made an arrangement to travel from Paris to
Lyons and stay there for some time, provided a definite promise was made
that at least four afternoons a week should be devoted to discussions
on ideology. The journey to Lyons, a distance of two hundred and fifty
miles, was no easy undertaking in those days. The Paris, Lyons and
Mediterranean Express now whirls one down to the capital of the silk
district in a night; but in Ampère's time, it took many days, and the
journey was by no means without inconveniences, which were likely to be
so troublesome that a prolonged rest was needed after it was over.
Ampère seems quite to have exhausted the interest of his friends in
Lyons, who found his metaphysical speculations too high for them, though
they themselves were specializing in the subject and would be glad to
tempt him into discussions of the exact sciences; but in lyrical strain
he apostrophizes psychological studies: "How can I abandon the country,
the flowers and running waters for the arid streets of the city! How
give up streams and groves for deserts scorched by the rays of a
mathematical sun, which, diffusing over all surrounding objects the most
brilliant light, withers and dries them down to the very roots! How much
more agreeable to wander under flitting shades, where truth seems to
flee before us to incite us to pursue, than walk in straight paths where
the eye embraces all at a glance!"

Had Ampère been less successful as a mathematician or an investigator of
physical science, these expressions would seem little short of
ridiculous. As it is, they provide food for thought. Ampère seemed to
realize that, for the intellectual man, the only satisfaction was not in
successful research so much as in application of mind to what promised
results. As in everything else, it was the chase, and not the capture,
that counted. Seldom has this idea been applied to intellectual things
with so much force as it seems to have appealed to Ampère, and one is
reminded of Malebranche's famous expression, "If I had truth in my hand,
I would be tempted to let it go for the pleasure of recapturing it."

The principal source of Ampère's fame, however, for future generations,
was to be in his researches in the science of electro-dynamics. The name
of this science will ever be inseparably linked with that of Ampère, its
founder. It was for that reason, of course, that the International
Congress of Electricians decided to give his name to the unit of current
strength, so that it has now become a household word, and will continue
so for ages to come. In spite of the resemblances, much more than
superficial, between magnetism and electricity, the identification of
these two with each other seemed as yet very distant. It is curiously
interesting, however, to note that Ampère himself, in a program of his
course, printed in 1802, announced that the "professor will demonstrate
that electrical and magnetic phenomena must be attributed to two
different fluids which act independently of each other." Ampère's fame
was to be founded on the direct contradiction of this proposition, which
he proposed and triumphantly defended by a marvelous series of
experimental illustrations eighteen years later. In the meantime, the
discovery of another distinguished scientist, doing his work many
hundreds of miles away, was to prove the stimulus to Ampère's
constructive imagination, so as to enable him to fill out many obscure
points of knowledge with regard to magnetism and electricity.

This suggestive discovery was that of Oersted, the sketch of whose life
and work immediately precedes this. Oersted demonstrated that a current
of electricity will affect a magnetic needle. This epoch-making
discovery reached Paris by way of Switzerland. The experiment was
repeated before the French Academy of Sciences by a member of the
Academy of Geneva, on September 11th, 1820. The date has some importance
in the history of science, for just seven days later, on the 18th of
September, Ampère presented, at the session of the Academy of Sciences,
a still more important fact, to which he had been led by the
consideration of Oersted's discovery while testing it by way of control
experiment. This brilliant discovery of Ampère, Arago summed up in these
words: "Two parallel conducting wires attract each other when the
current traverses them in the same direction. On the contrary, they
repel each other when the current flows in opposite directions. The
phenomenon described by Oersted was called, very appropriately,
electromagnetic, whilst the phenomena described by Ampère, in which the
magnet played no part, received at his suggestion the general name of
electro-dynamics, which has since been applied to them."

At first it was said that these phenomena were nothing more than
manifestations of the ordinary attractive and repelling power of the two
forms of electricity which had been so carefully studied, especially in
France, during the eighteenth century. Ampère at once disposed of any
such idea as this, however, by pointing out that bodies similarly
electrified repel each other, whilst those that are in opposite
electrical states attract each other. In the case of conductors
conveying currents, there is attraction when these are in the same
direction, and repulsion when they flow in the opposite direction. This
reasoning absolutely precluded all possibility of further doubt in the
matter, and this particular form of objection to Ampère's discoveries
was dropped at once.

Having satisfactorily disposed of other objections, Ampère was content
neither to rest quietly in his discovery nor merely to develop various
experimental phases of it which would be extremely interesting and
popularly attractive, but which at the same time might mean very little
for science. With his mathematical mind, Ampère resolved to work out a
mathematical theory which would embrace not only all the phenomena of
magnetism then known, but also the complete theory of the science of
electro-dynamics. Needless to say, such a problem was extremely
difficult. Arago has compared it to Newton's solution of the problem of
gravitation by mathematics. Considering the comparatively small amount
of data that Ampère had at his command, this problem might very well be
compared to that which Leverrier took up with so much success, when he
set about discovering by calculation only the planet Neptune, as yet
unknown, which was disturbing the movements of Uranus.

It might be thought that these discoveries of Ampère would be welcomed
with great enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, however, new discoveries
that are really novel always have, as almost their surest index, the
fact that contemporaries refuse to accept them. The more versed a man is
in the science in which the discovery comes, the more likely is he to
delay his acceptance of the novelty. This is not so surprising, since,
as a rule, new discoveries are nearly always very simple expressions of
great truths that seem obvious once they are accepted, yet have never
been thought of. They mean, therefore, that men who consider themselves
distinguished in a particular science have missed some easily
discoverable phenomenon or its full significance, and so, to accept a
new discovery in their department of learning men must confess their own
lack of foresight.

It may be pointed out that the same thing happened with regard to Ohm,
only it was much more serious. Years of Ohm's life were wasted because
of the refusal of his contemporaries to accept his "law" at his
valuation. Arago, in his life of Ampère, recalls that when Fresnel
discovered the transverse character of waves of light, his observations
created the same doubts and uncertainty in the same individuals who a
few years later refused to accept Ampère's conclusions. Arago puts it,
that as he was ambitious of a high place in the world of ideas, he
should have expected to find his adversaries precisely those already
occupying the highest places.

Ampère never looked on himself as a mere specialist in physical science,
however, and it is extremely interesting to know that he dared to take
sides in a discussion between Cuvier and Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, with
regard to the unity of structure in organized beings. While the purely
physical scientists mostly sat mute during the discussion, Ampère took
an active share in it, and ventured to subject himself to what perhaps,
above all things, a Frenchman dreads, the ridicule of his colleagues.
Arago thought that he held his own very well in this discussion, which
involved some of the ideas that were afterwards to be the subject of
profound study and prolonged investigation later in the nineteenth
century, because of the announcement of the theory of evolution.

After his discoveries in electricity Ampère came to be acknowledged as
one of the greatest of living scientists, and was honored as such by
most of the distinguished scientific societies of Europe. His work was
not confined to electricity alone, however, and late in life he prepared
what has been well called a remarkable work on the classification of the
sciences. This showed that, far from being a mere electrical specialist
or even a profound thinker in physics, he understood better probably
than any man of his time the interrelations of the sciences to one
another. He was a broad-minded, profound thinker in the highest sense of
the words, and in many things seems to have had almost an intuition of
the intimate processes of nature; a sharer in secrets as yet unrevealed,
though he was at the same time an untiring experimenter, eminently
successful, as is so evident in his electrical researches, in arranging
experiments so as to compel answers to the questions which he put to

In the midst of all this preoccupation of mind with science and all the
scientific problems that were working in men's minds in his time, from
the constitution of matter to the nature of life, above all engaged in
experimental work, he was a deeply religious man in his opinions and
practices. He had indeed the simple piety of a child. During the awful
period of the French Revolution, he had some doubts with regard to
religious truths; but once these were dispelled, he became one of the
most faithful practical Catholics of his generation. He seldom passed a
day without finding his way into a church, and his favorite form of
prayer was the rosary.

Frederick Ozanam tells the story of how he himself, overtaken by
misgivings with regard to faith, and roaming almost aimlessly through
the streets of Paris trying to think out solutions for his doubts, and
the problems that would so insistently present themselves respecting the
intellectual foundations of Christianity, finally wandered one day into
a church, and found Ampère there in an obscure corner, telling his
beads. Ozanam himself was moved to do the same thing, for Ampère was
then looked upon as one of the greatest living scientists of France.
Under the magic touch of an example like this and the quiet influence of
prayer, Ozanam's doubts vanished, never to return.

Saint-Beuve, whose testimony in a matter like this would surely be
unsuspected of any tendency to make Ampère more Catholic than he was, in
his introduction to Ampère's essay on the Philosophy of the Sciences
(Paris, 1843), says:

"The religious struggles and doubts of his earlier life had ceased. What
disturbed him now lay in less exalted regions. Years ago, his interior
conflicts, his instinctive yearning for the Eternal, and a lively
correspondence with his old friend, Father Barrett, combined with the
general tendency of the time of the Restoration, had led him back to
that faith and devotion which he expressed so strikingly in 1803....
During the years which followed, up to the time of his death, we were
filled with wonder and admiration at the way in which, without effort,
he united religion and science; faith and confidence in the intellectual
possibilities of man with adoring submission to the revealed word of

Ozanam, to whose thoroughly practical Christianity while he was
professor of Foreign Literatures at the University of Paris we owe the
foundation of the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, which so long
anticipated the "settlement work" of the modern time and have done so
much for the poor in large cities ever since, was very close to Ampère,
lived with him indeed for a while, said that, no matter where
conversations with him began, they always led up to God. The great
French scientist and philosopher used to take his broad forehead between
his hands after he had been discussing some specially deep question of
science or philosophy and say: "How great is God, Ozanam! How great is
God and how little is our knowledge!" Of course this has been the
expression of most profound thinkers at all times. St. Augustine's
famous vision of the angel standing by the sea emptying it out with a
teaspoon, which has been rendered so living for most of us by
Botticelli's great picture, is but an earlier example of the same thing.
One of Ampère's greatest contemporaries, Laplace, re-echoed the same
sentiment, perhaps in less striking terms, when he declared that what we
know is but little, while what we do not know is infinite.

For anyone who desires to study the beautiful Christian simplicity of a
truly great soul, there is no better human document than the "Journal
and Correspondence of Ampère," published some years after his death. He
himself wrote out the love story of his life; and it is perhaps one of
the most charming of narratives, certainly the most delightful
autobiographic story of this kind that has ever been told. It is human
to the very core, and it shows a wonderfully sympathetic character in a
great man, whose work was destined a few years later to revolutionize
physics and to found the practical science of electro-dynamics.

When Ampère's death was impending, it was suggested that a chapter of
the "Imitation of Christ" should be read to him; but he said, no!
declaring that he preferred to be left alone for a while, as he knew
the "Imitation" by heart and would repeat those chapters in which he
found most consolation. With the profoundest sentiments of piety and
confidence in Providence, he passed away June 10th, 1836, at Marseilles.

With all his solid piety, this man was not so distant from ordinary
worldly affairs as not to take a lively interest in all that was
happening around him and, above all, all that concerned the welfare of
men. He was especially enthusiastic for the freedom of the South
American Republics, eagerly following the course of Bolivar and Canaris,
and rejoicing at the success of their efforts. South American patriots
visiting Paris found a warm welcome at his hands, and also introductions
that made life pleasant for them at the French capital. His house was
always open to them, and no service that he performed for them seemed
too much.

Ampère was beloved by his family and his friends; he was perhaps the
best liked man among his circle of acquaintances in Paris because of the
charming geniality of his character and his manifold interests. He was
kind, above all, to rising young men in the intellectual world around
him, and was looked up to by many of them as almost a second father. His
charity towards the poor was proverbial, and this side of his
personality and career deserves to be studied quite as much as what he
was able to accomplish for science. The beauty of his character was
rooted deeply in the religion that he professed, and in our day, when it
has come to be the custom for so many to think that science and faith
are inalterably opposed, the lesson of this life, so deeply imbued with
both of these great human interests, deserves to be studied. Ozanam, who
knew him best, has brought out this extremely interesting union of
intellectual qualities, in a passage that serves very well to sum up the
meaning of Ampère's life.

"In addition to his scientific achievements," says Ozanam, "this
brilliant genius has other claims upon our admiration and affection. He
was our brother in the faith. It was religion which guided the labors of
his mind and illuminated his contemplations; he judged all things,
science itself, by the exalted standard of religion.... This venerable
head which was crowned by achievements and honors, bowed without reserve
before the mysteries of faith, down even below the line which the Church
has marked for us. He prayed before the same altars before which
Descartes and Pascal had knelt; beside the poor widow and the small
child who may have been less humble in mind than he was. Nobody observed
the regulations of the Church more conscientiously, regulations which
are so hard on nature and yet so sweet in the habit. Above all things,
however, it is beautiful to see what sublime things Christianity wrought
in his great soul; this admirable simplicity, the unassumingness of a
mind that recognized everything except its own genius; this high
rectitude in matters of science, now so rare, seeking nothing but the
truth and never rewards and distinction; the pleasant and ungrudging
amiability; and lastly, the kindness with which he met everyone,
especially young people. I can say that those who know only the
intelligence of the man, know only the less perfect part. If he thought
much, he loved more."



Lord Kelvin, himself one of the greatest of the electrical scientists of
the nineteenth century, in commenting some years ago on Ohm's law, said
that it was such an extremely simple expression of a great truth in
electricity, that its significance is probably not confined to that
department of physical phenomena, but that it is a law of nature in some
much broader way. Re-echoing this expression of his colleague, Professor
George Chrystal, of Edinburgh, in his article on electricity in the
Encyclopedia Britannica (IX. edition), says that Ohm's law "must now be
allowed to rank with the law of gravitation and the elementary laws of
statical electricity as a _law of nature_ in the strictest sense." In a
word, to these leaders and teachers in physical science of the
generation after his, though within a comparatively short time after
Ohm's death, there has come the complete realization of the absolutely
fundamental character of the discovery made by George Simon Ohm, when he
promulgated the principle that a current of electricity is to be
measured by the electromotive force, divided by the resistance in the
circuit. The very simplicity of this expression is its supreme title to
represent a great discovery in natural science. It is the men who reach
such absolutely simple formulæ for great fundamental truths that
humanity has come, and rightly, to consider as representing its greatest
men in science.

Like most of the distinguished discoverers in science who have displayed
marked originality, Ohm came from what is usually called the lower
classes, his ancestors having had to work for their living for as long
as the history of the family can be traced. His father was a locksmith,
and succeeded his father at the trade. The head of the family for many
generations had been engaged at this handicraft. The first of them of
whom there is any definite record was Ohm's great-grandfather, Wilhelm
Ohm, who was a locksmith at Westerholt, not far from Münster, in
Westphalia. Wilhelm Ohm's son, Johann Vincent, the grandfather of the
great electrician, during his years as a journeyman locksmith had spent
some time in France, and subsequently settled down in Kadolzburg, a
small suburb of Erlangen, in Bavaria. In 1764, he obtained the position
of locksmith to the University of Erlangen, and became a citizen of that
municipality. Both of his sons followed the trade of their father.

The elder of these, Johann Wolfgang, worked at his trade as a journeyman
in a number of the small cities of Germany, and only after ten years of
absence in what, because of the independent condition of the States now
known as the German Empire, were then considered foreign parts, did he
wander back to his native place. On his return he received the
mastership in his craft, and shortly after, about 1786, married a young
woman named Beck. George Simon Ohm, the electrical scientist, was the
first child of this marriage, and was born March 16th, 1789. A second
son, born three years later, also became distinguished in after-life for
his mathematical ability. This younger brother, after having filled a
number of teaching positions in various German educational institutions,
was called as professor of mathematics to Berlin, where he died in 1862.

While their father, Johann Wolfgang Ohm, followed his trade of locksmith
for a living, like many another handicraftsman, he had many mental
interests which he cultivated in leisure hours, and doubtless dwelt on
while his hands were occupied with the mere routine work of his trade.
It is curiously interesting to find that he devoted himself, during the
hours he could spare from his occupation, to two such diverse
intellectual occupations as mathematics and Kant's philosophy; but they
had no newspapers in those days, and a man, even of the artisan class,
had some time for serious mental occupation. It might be thought, under
these circumstances, that he would be but the most passing of amateurs
in either of these subjects, and have a very superficial knowledge of
them. This probably was true for his philosophy fad, for there are not
many who have ever thought themselves more than amateurs in Kantism, and
even Kant himself, I believe, thought that only one scholar ever really
understood his system, and subsequently said he had some doubts even
about that one; but in mathematics, the elder Ohm seems to have attained
noteworthy success.

Hofrath Langsdorff, who was the professor of mathematics at Erlangen
during the last decade of the eighteenth century, and who was called to
Heidelberg in 1804, a fact that would seem quite enough to set beyond
all question that his opinion in this matter may be taken as that of a
competent judge, declared that the elder Ohm's mathematical knowledge
was far above the ordinary, and that he knew much more than the elements
even of the higher mathematics. Under these circumstances, it is not
surprising that the father should have tried to encourage in both his
boys a taste for mathematics, nor that he should have taken their
mathematical instruction into his own hands and succeeded in making
excellent mathematicians of them, even in their early years. He was so
successful in this, indeed, that Langsdorff, after a five-hour
examination of the brothers when they were respectively 12 and 15, did
not hesitate to declare that the Erlangen locksmith's family was likely
to be remembered as containing a pair of brothers who, for success in
mathematics, might rival the famous Bernoulli brothers, so well known at
that time.

This might be thought only a bit of neighborly praise, meant to warm a
father's heart, yet it seems indeed to have been given quite seriously.
Certainly the event justified the prophecy. It is not surprising that,
with such a forecast to encourage him, the father should have been ready
to make every sacrifice to enable both his sons to prepare for the

He continued his instruction of them, then, in mathematics, though he
insisted at the same time that they should continue to keep up their
occupation of locksmiths. In spite of his enthusiasm for mathematics,
the old gentleman seems to have cherished no illusions with regard to
the likelihood of pure mathematics ever serving them as a lucrative
means of livelihood. It was a very satisfying intellectual interest, but
a good trade was much more apt to prove their constant and substantial
standby, unless, of course, the boys should actually prove to be the
geniuses foretold. He seems to have realized to the full, Coleridge's
idea that, like the literary man, the mathematician should have some
other occupation, though he might not go to the extent of following
Oliver Wendell Holmes' well-known addition to Coleridge's formula, that
he should, as far as possible, confine himself to the other occupation.
The boys were given the opportunity to attend the gymnasium of Erlangen,
and seem to have had excellent success in their general studies besides

In 1805, when George, the subject of our sketch, was sixteen years of
age, he was graduated from the gymnasium and was ready for the
university. On May 3d, 1805, he took his matriculation examination
before the faculty of Erlangen, electing the course of mathematics,
physics and philosophy. Later in life he told his friends that it was
his deep love for the mathematics of these studies, and his persuasion
that in them the student was brought in contact with the most important
factors for absolute intellectual cultivation, that tempted him to take
them up. To this he did not hesitate to add that there seemed to him to
be some call of a higher voice, as if he had a vocation to dedicate
himself to the cultivation and extension of these important subjects.

He had been but some two years at the university, when for a time his
studies had to be interrupted, partly for lack of means to pursue them,
but partly because to his father, at least, the university course was
not the source of such satisfaction as he had anticipated from his son's
ability in mathematics. While Ohm took his studies seriously, he was not
by any means a mere "grind," and, indeed, the reputation which he
acquired at the university for many of the qualities which make for a
student's popularity among his fellows, was not such as would be likely
to appeal to a very serious-minded father. Ohm had acquired the fame of
being one of the best dancers in the university; he was a brilliant
billiard player and an unrivalled skater; all of which indicates that as
a young man he had the physical development and acuteness of sense so
necessary to enable him to gain prestige in all these sports.

His father, in spite of his desire for his son's university career, was
quite willing, then, at the end of September, 1808, to have him take up
a position as teacher of mathematics in the school kept by Pastor
Zehnder, in the Canton Berne, in Switzerland. His very youthful
appearance (he was only 18 years of age at the time, quite boyish
looking and not even large for his years) caused the head of this
institution no little surprise when he came with letters of introduction
showing that he was to be the new teacher in mathematics. He could
scarcely believe his eyes for a time. Within a few months, however, he
was convinced of the ability and the capacity for work of his new
addition to the faculty, who seems to have given, from the very
beginning, excellent satisfaction in his rather important position.

Ohm remained there some three years and a half and then moved to
Neunberg, where, independent of any educational institution, he set
himself up as a private tutor in mathematics. His reason for so doing,
as he himself tells, was that he wished to devote himself to the study
of pure mathematics more than was possible in a regular teaching
position. For this same reason also he refused a number of offers of
positions as teacher of mathematics, which would ordinarily be
considered quite flattering to a young man of only 21. Another reason
for refusing these offers was that he wished to perfect himself in
French, and he had an excellent opportunity afforded him for
conversation in this language in the conditions in which he was placed
in Neunberg. This last may seem an unusual reason, but it is
characteristic of Ohm's determination always to add to his power of
understanding and expression.

Most young men in Ohm's circumstances are so occupied with the thought
of immediate success in life, that every possible abbreviation of their
studies which will bring them nearer the opportunity to make their own
living is likely to be heartily welcomed. Ohm, however, realized that
his own intellectual development was more important, especially at this
time, even than getting on in the world; and for this reason his life
has an added interest, not only for students themselves, but especially
for those who have the best interests of students at heart and wish to
be able to cite examples of how a little delay in getting at one's
actual life-work, or, still more, at a remunerative occupation, may
serve the very useful purpose of preparing a man so much the better to
bring out his best intellectual possibilities when he does settle down
to his work.

At Easter, 1811, Ohm returned to Erlangen, after having spent nearly two
years perfecting himself in mathematics. He then finished his studies at
the university, which seems not to have had the rule of requiring
attendance for a definite period before coming up for its degree, but
permitted him to take the examinations for the doctorate of philosophy
on the strength of the work he had done, and gave him his degree on the
25th of October of the same year. With the drawing tighter of the bands
of red tape in educational institutions in more recent years, Ohm would
have found it difficult to get his degree thus readily, though it was
the university rather than the graduate who was eventually to be honored
by it. After this, he became _privatdocent_ in mathematics at the
university, and taught for three semesters. He met with marked success
and became very popular with the students. After a year and a half,
however, he gave up his university position to accept the professorship
of mathematics at the Realschule of Bamberg.

While Ohm was here, the spirit of young Germany awoke at the news of
Napoleon's unfortunate Moscow campaign, in which his good fortune seemed
to have definitely abandoned the great Emperor of the French. Most of
the students of the universities of Germany were deeply aroused by it,
and those who know Körner's and Uhland's songs will have some idea of
the depth of patriotic feeling that was stirred in thousands of young
German hearts, who thought that now the opportunity for the fatherland
to throw off the hated foreign yoke forever, had come at last. Ohm
debated with himself whether he should volunteer with the crowds of
young men who were so bravely giving up everything, that the fatherland
might be free. Two things deterred him. If he went as a soldier, the
material assistance he was able to give his father, and which, as the
old man was now advancing in years and had spent most of his little
savings upon his sons, was needed, would have to be given up. The other
motive that kept him at home was, according to his German biographer in
the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, which we have been following for
most of these details, because he felt that what he might be able to
accomplish in other fields besides those of battle would eventually
prove more beneficial for his fatherland, and indeed for the whole of
humanity, than anything he could do as a soldier, even with the
patriotic motive to help his country to throw off the yoke of the
foreign usurper, which had proven so hard to bear. As we have already
seen, it was a characteristic trait of Ohm all through life, that he
cherished the idea, which acquired almost the force of a premonition,
that he was destined for great things.

Ohm continued his work as a teacher, then, instead of volunteering for
the army; but, as might be expected, found the monotonous work of
drilling young students in mathematics extremely unsatisfactory after a
time. At the end of a year and a half of service at Bamberg, he asked
for a change in the conditions of his teaching position. Instead of
this, he received a transfer to the Bamberg pro-gymnasium, where he was
to teach Latin until a regular teacher was appointed. In spite of his
representations that the teaching position offered him was utterly at
variance with his talents and his inclinations, he was compelled to
accept this occupation for a time, though after some delay there came
the assurance that, just as soon as possible, he would be assigned to a
position as teacher of mathematics.

In spite of his unfortunate circumstances, which would ordinarily be
thought quite enough to keep him from serious work until he was settled
in a position more suited to his tastes, he devoted himself to the
writing of his first book during this time, and it was published by
Enke, in Erlangen, in the spring of 1817. Its title was, "Outlines of
the Study of Geometry as a Means of Intellectual Culture." It comprised
nearly two hundred pages, and gives the best possible insight into the
ability and intelligence of the author, then a young man of only
twenty-eight. As a sort of appendix, he gives a short sketch of his
father, evidently introduced, not quite so much for the purpose of
filially confessing his obligations to the old locksmith mathematician,
nor with the idea of repaying some of his immeasurable debt for all the
opportunities which the sacrifices of paternal affection had brought
into the life of his sons, as to emphasize the excellent educational
influence which his father's mathematical training had had upon his
boys, and thus prove his thesis as to the value of mathematical studies
in education. Few filial tributes were ever more deserved or given more
convincingly or with less suggestion of the conventional attitude of son
to father.

Now that mathematics has come to occupy probably even a less prominent
place in education than it did in Ohm's time, though the burden of his
complaint with regard to educational methods was that geometry was not
used as a daily developmental subject as much as it should be, it may be
interesting to recall some of the reasons which he advanced for urging
its greater employment as an instrument for mental training. He thought
that rational geometry should occupy a place of honor among our means of
education. Its quality as a mode of pure reasoning, though so closely
related to the senses, made easy the transition from sensation to
thought, which is such an important element in education; while its
eminently simple character, though combined with definite demands upon
the constructive faculties, made it appropriate in a high degree for the
education of the young out of the field of merely imitative use of the
intellect, into that of independent thinking and following out of ideas.
"Geometry," says Ohm, "when properly taught, not with the fruitless
drilling usually employed in teaching it, but in such ways as to secure
deep personal attention, must take rank above all other branches of
education, in enabling the student to break down the barrier which
separates mere understanding from personal investigation. It forces a
man whose thoughts were, up to this time, only the repetition of others'
thoughts, to think for himself and to light for himself in his own mind
the torches which enable him to see things clearly for himself, and not
merely in the dimness of the half light that is thrown on them by the
explanations of others."

Geometrical methods always had a special fascination for Ohm, and
practically all of his books and writings bear the impress of that close
dependence of all parts on one another, that absolutely logical
connection so characteristic of geometric accuracy of thought. His was
the sort of mind likely to be benefited by mathematical training. Such
minds are, however, comparatively few, for most men are not rational in
any sense of the word, that would make them dependent on logical
reasoning. Perhaps it is as well that they are not, for many of those
lacking in logic or mathematical accuracy of thought and absoluteness of
conclusion, still continue to accomplish much in the world of thought
and do much valuable planning for the complexities of human affairs,
where strict logic will not always solve the intricate yet incomplete
problems that present themselves in human relations, where, indeed,
individual unknown factors often make any but an approximate solution

The opinions of the critics as to Ohm's "Outlines of Geometry" were, as
might be easily anticipated, not all flattering, since only a few of the
critics were able to place themselves on the ideal standpoint of
mathematical subjectivity from which he had written his book. King
Frederick William III., of Prussia, is said to have read it with much
interest, however, and the royal pleasure doubtless drew attention to
Ohm's work, and may have contributed to the fact that, shortly after its
publication, in September, 1817, Ohm was invited by the Royal Consistory
of Cologne to take the position of head professor of mathematics and
physics in the gymnasium of that city. This post was not only
honorable, it was also highly remunerative, at least from the
standpoint of teachers' wages as they were at that time, and Ohm eagerly
accepted the position.

Lamont, who was the director of the Royal Observatory at Munich, has
written a memorial of Ohm which contains much valuable information. The
body of it is an address delivered at a meeting of the Faculty of the
University of Munich in honor of Thaddeus Siber and George Simon Ohm,
but its value has been much enhanced by notes added before publication.
Siber was a Benedictine who was professor in the philosophical
department at Munich, and died the same year as Ohm. Lamont says that he
received his information as to intimate details of Ohm's life from his
brother, Prof. Martin Ohm, of Berlin. His sketch is, therefore,
absolutely authoritative. Lamont says with regard to this period of
teaching at Cologne: "Ohm's first position of importance, in any way
worthy of his talents, was the professorship of mathematics at the large
Jesuit gymnasium in Cologne, in 1817, where the special gift that he
possessed, of making the study of mathematics not only comprehensible
but attractive to boys, brought him success and recognition."

For nearly ten years Ohm had the opportunity to put into practice in
this Jesuit gymnasium of the Rhineland, the principles which he had so
much at heart, for he was apparently given the full freedom of his
department of teaching. He succeeded so well that he received wide and
hearty recognition for his work. The mathematical studies of the Cologne
gymnasium stood higher than had ever been the case before, and this was
all Ohm's work. In the years before his teaching in the Rhenish city,
those who were distinguished in mathematics at the University of Bonn
had not come, as a rule, from Cologne, but from other places; but now
nearly all the mathematical prize-takers of Bonn came from among Ohm's
students, and the best of the candidates for teaching positions in
physics and mathematics had also, as a rule, had the advantages of his

Among the best of his scholars at this time was the afterwards
well-known mathematician, Lejeune-Dirichlet, who taught in Berlin with
Jacobi and Steiner and succeeded Gauss in Göttingen. Another of his most
distinguished pupils was the astronomer Heis, who occupied a modest
position at the Munster Academy, but whose merits were above the post
which he occupied, and who was distinguished for the excellency of his
original work and his ability as a mathematician. One very interesting
fact with regard to Ohm's teaching, was that he was successful in
catching and holding the interest not only of those of his students who
were later to specialize in mathematics, but also of those who took up
mathematics only as a subject for mental development, that was to be
applied to other purposes later in life, and who found Ohm's teaching of
the greatest possible service. Among these, the well-known German
literary man, Jacob Venedey, of Cologne, has expressed his affection and
gratitude for his old teacher in a very striking way in his sketch of
the cathedral at Cologne, written in the banishment that came to so many
vigorous German thinkers after the failure of the revolution of '48. In
sending a copy of this to Ohm, Venedey says: "Honored Sir:--It will
perhaps be a source of wonder to you that a student who apparently
learned so little from you and your colleagues that he must now earn his
bread by writing, should continue to cherish for you the liveliest
gratitude. It is not the fault of mathematics that only the dimmest
recollection of them remains with me. I shall never forget the
personality of my professor, however, nor his ways and methods of
teaching. I frequently recount your way with us boys, and I have the
liveliest remembrance of your influence as a teacher. There are seldom
weeks, there never is a month, when I fail to recall you. This is no
mere compliment that I am paying to you, since I know you too well to
think that flattery would mean anything to you, as it would be unworthy
of you, and I for my part am not one of those who like to bandy
compliments. I have often wished to meet you again, and a hundred times
I thought that I saw you because some one at a distance had something
that recalled you. I may say to you that you accomplished something for
me in those days of teaching that I would not have been able to
accomplish for myself. I can only think of you, then, with the highest
feelings of reverence approaching what might well be called love. It
will be a happy day, indeed, for me if I am ever in a position to make
an hour of existence happier for you in any way."

While Ohm so zealously continued his instruction in both the upper
classes of the gymnasium, he never lost from sight that higher aim of
original research and investigation to which his genius disposed him.

His choice of a subject for original investigation wavered for a long
time between mathematics and physics, but, as he himself declared, his
experience having shown him that authority was prone to play a large
role in mathematics, while the field was more open for personal research
and observation in physics, he resolved to take up that department for
his special studies, consoled by the idea that physics cannot be
properly pursued without mathematics. Looking around to select a subject
that would serve as a striking preface to his work in this department,
though resolved at the same time to avoid one where he would be without
rivalry, he found it all ready to his hand in what one of his
contemporaries called the enigmatic phenomena of the galvanic current.
This was to prove a fortunate selection, indeed, both for himself and
the opportunity afforded his genius as well as for the science of
electricity itself.

He then began a series of investigations, always experimental in
character, and with the mathematical explanations of the phenomena
observed carefully worked out. Accounts of these studies appeared from
time to time in the year-book for Chemistry and Physics, issued by
Schweigger. After some ten years, these were collected together, or at
least the principal portions of them, and published in the second half
of the year-book for the year 1826. The apparatus for his experiments
was fortunately at command in the gymnasium at Cologne, but without his
mechanical skill, obtained from his experience as a locksmith when a
boy, it would have been impossible so to vary his experiments and modify
his instruments as to bring out many of the phenomena that he succeeded
in demonstrating. Nearly all of the great discoverers in science have
been handy men possessed of mechanical skill, and this is as true for
medicine, as I have shown in "Makers of Modern Medicine,"[27] though it
might perhaps not be expected, as it is here in electricity, where it
seems very natural.

Ohm felt, in 1826, that he had succeeded in exhausting nearly all that
he could learn for himself, and as he wished to have opportunities for
further study, and especially for further reading, he asked for an
academic furlough that would carry him over the next year. The work that
he had already accomplished was beginning to be appreciated, and after
discussion of the papers that he had published up to that time, the
requested furlough was promptly granted; and in a letter in which the
school authorities praised his school work as well as his original
investigations, they allowed him to take the sabbatic year for the
furtherance of science on one-half the usual salary, though with the
condition also that more would be allowed to him in case this seemed
necessary and the conditions justified it.

This furlough was perhaps the most important event in Ohm's life. He
employed it in bringing to a focus the ideas with regard to electricity
which had been gradually worked out in his mind during the past ten
years. In May, 1827, within six months after the beginning of his
exclusive devotion to the subject, Ohm's article on the mathematics of
the galvanic current appeared. It proved a scientific achievement of the
first rank, that was to be epoch-making in the domain of electricity. It
settled the conditions under which electrical tension exists in various
bodies, and made it clear that there is a fundamental law of electrical
conduction which could be expressed by an easy, simple formula.

Ohm's preface to his little book, that was to work such a revolution in
electricity and was to remain for all time one of the classics in this
department of science, is typical of the man in many ways. Its modesty
could not very well be exceeded. Its simplicity constitutes in itself an
appeal to the reader's interest. I know nothing in the literature of the
history of science quite like it in these regards, unless it be the
preface of Auenbrugger's little book on percussion, in which he laid the
foundation of modern clinical diagnosis.[26] The two men have many more
qualities in common than the authorship of modest prefaces to their
books. Both of them were geniuses whose names the aftertime will not
willingly let die, and both of them accomplished their work apart from
the stream of university life in their time, and met with a like fate in
the neglect, for some time at least, by their distinguished colleagues
of the important discoveries that they had made. Ohm's preface deserves
to be quoted because of its classic quality:

"I herewith present to the public a theory of galvanic electricity as a
special part of electrical science in general, and shall successively,
as time, inclination and means permit, arrange more such portions
together into a whole, if this first essay shall in some degree repay
the sacrifice it has cost me. The circumstances in which I have hitherto
been placed have not been suitable either to encourage me in the pursuit
of novelties or to enable me to become acquainted with works relating to
the same department of literature throughout its whole extent. I have,
therefore, chosen for my first attempt a department of science in which
I have the least to apprehend competition.

"May the well-disposed reader accept whatever I have accomplished with
the same love for science as that with which it is sent forth!--The
Author, Berlin, May 1st, 1827."

In his preface to the American edition of the "Galvanic Circuit
Investigated Mathematically,"[25] Mr. Thomas D. Lockwood, vice-president
of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, said of this
masterpiece of Ohm's: "A sufficient reason for republishing an English
translation of the wonderful book of Professor G. S. Ohm is the
difficulty with which the only previous translation (that of Taylor's
Scientific Memoirs) is procurable.

"Besides this, however, the intrinsic value of the book is so great that
it should be read by all electricians who care for more than superficial

"It is most remarkable to note, at this time, how completely Ohm stated
his famous law that the electromotive force divided by the resistance is
equal to the strength of the current."

With regard to the book as a whole, Mr. Lockwood says, after suggesting
certain anticipations of Ohm's ideas which had been made in the
preceding century: "Ohm's work stands alone, and, reading it at the
present time, one is filled with wonder at the prescience, respect for
his patience and prophetic soul, and admiration of the immensity and
variety of ground covered by his little book, which is indeed his best

Like many another great discovery in physical science, Ohm's work
failed to receive the immediate appreciation which it deserved. It
cannot be said, however, that it failed to attract attention. It would
be easier, indeed, to forgive the scientists of the day if this were
true. Not long after its appearance, abstracts from it were made by
Fechner in Leipzig, by Pfaff in Erlangen, and Poggendorff in Berlin,
which showed that these scientists understood very clearly the
significance and comprehended the wide application of Ohm's law as
claimed by its author. From these men there was no question of hostile
criticism. Professor Pohl, of the University of Berlin, however, in the
Berlin "Year-book of Scientific Criticism," did not hesitate to express
his utter disagreement, and declared that Ohm's work was fallacious and
should be rejected. Other writers of the time treated Ohm's article more
or less indifferently, as a merely conventional contribution to science.

Professor Pohl's opinion was taken to represent the conclusions of the
faculty of the University of Berlin, especially noted for mathematical
ability. This was to prove a serious hindrance to Ohm in the university
career which he had planned for himself. At Berlin they had the ear of
the Minister of Education, and it was not long before Ohm felt that the
criticisms of his work were making themselves felt in a direction
unfavorable to him. Not long after the appearance of his book, there
came a disagreement between Ohm and the educational authorities. Ohm
felt that this was due to failure to recognize the significance of his
work, and that under the circumstances he could not hope for the
appreciation that would provide him with the opportunities he deserved.
He insisted on sending in his resignation as a teacher. Nothing could
change his determination in the matter, not even the pleas of his former
scholars, and his resignation had to be accepted.

Ohm had hoped for a teaching position in a university. The Minister of
Education declared that, while his work as a teacher had been
accomplished with careful industry and diligence and conscientious
attention to duty, the ministry regretted that, in spite of thorough
appreciation of him and admiration for his excellent work as a
scientist, they could not find for him a position outside of the
gymnasium. How utterly trivial the conventional expressions sound, now
that we know that they brought about for the time being the interruption
of one of the most brilliant scientific careers in Europe. Of course,
the geese cannot be expected to appreciate the swans, and it was not the
minister's fault, but that of some of Ohm's own colleagues. The next six
years of his life, the precious years between 38 and 44, Ohm had to give
up the idea of teaching in a university, and devote himself to some
private tutoring in Berlin, with a stipend of about three hundred
dollars a year, miserable enough, yet sufficient, as would appear, for
Ohm's simple mode of life. This he owed to the kindness of Gen.
Radowitz, who employed him to teach mathematics in a military school in

At the end of this time, when he was nearly 45 years of age, his
unfortunate situation attracted the attention of King Ludwig I., of
Bavaria, who offered him the chair of professor of physics at the
Polytechnic School in Nuremberg, which had recently by royal rescript
been raised to the status of a Royal Institute, with the same rank in
educational circles as a lyceum for the study of humanities. Here Ohm's
duties were shortly to be multiplied. He became the inspector of
scientific instruction, after having occupied for some time the
professorship of mathematics, and later became the rector of the
Polytechnic School, a position which he held for some ten years,
fulfilling its duties with the greatest conscientiousness and fidelity.

Ohm continued his work at Nuremberg for more than fifteen years. During
this time, he succeeded in making his mark in every one of the
departments of physics. He is usually considered as owing his reputation
as an experimental and mathematical scientist to his researches in
electricity. As a matter of fact, every branch of physics was
illuminated by his work, and perhaps nothing shows the original genius
of the man better than the fact that everything which he took up
revealed new scientific aspects in his hands. The only wonder is that he
should have remained so long in a subordinate position in the
educational world at Nuremberg, and received his appointment as
university professor of physics at Munich only in 1849.

In the midst of the administrative educational work that came to him at
Nuremberg, Ohm did not neglect original investigation, but somehow
succeeded in finding time for experiment and study. Having made a
cardinal discovery in electricity, of the value of which surely no one
was more aware than himself, Ohm might have been expected, as soon as
his new post gave him the opportunity, to devote himself quite
exclusively to this department of science. Instead, he turned for a time
to the related subjects of sound, heat and light, devoting himself
especially to their mathematics. He did this, as he said himself, to
complete for his own satisfaction his knowledge of the scientific
foundations of the imponderables, as heat, light and electricity were
then called, but also because he wished, for the sake of his students,
to get closely in touch with what had been accomplished by recent
investigators in physics.

It is almost a universal rule in science, that no matter how
distinguished an investigator may be, he makes but one cardinal
discovery. Ohm, however, was destined, after having brilliantly
illuminated electricity by the discovery of a great law, to throw nearly
as bright a light on the domain of acoustics; and there is a law in this
department of physics which is deservedly called by his name, though it
is often associated with that of Helmholtz. Helmholtz himself was always
most emphatic in his insistence on Ohm's priority in the matter, and
constantly speaks of the law in question by Ohm's name.

Perhaps no better evidence of the breadth of Ohm's interest in science,
his supreme faculty for experimentation, or the originality of his
investigating genius, can be found than the fact that he thus
discovered, by experimental and mathematical methods, the solution to
important problems in two such distinct departments of physical science
as electricity and acoustics. Before his time, the question of
electrical resistance was absolutely insoluble. The problem in acoustics
was not less obscure, as may be judged from the fact that, though some
of the best physicists and mathematicians of Europe during the
eighteenth century--and there were giants in those days, among others,
Brook Taylor in England, D'Alembert in France, Johann Bernoulli and
Euler in Germany, and finally, Daniel Bernoulli--had devoted themselves
to its solution, it remained nevertheless unsolved. Here, as in
electricity, the simplicity of the solution which Ohm found shows how
direct were his methods of thinking and how thorough his modes of
investigation. Perhaps the most striking feature of Ohm's work in
acoustics, and, above all, his solution of an important problem in
music, is the fact that he himself, unlike most of his German
compatriots, had no ear for music and no liking for it.

In his address delivered at the public meeting of the Royal Bavarian
Academy of Sciences at Munich, in March, 1889, the hundredth anniversary
of the birth of Ohm, Eugene Lommel, in discussing the scientific work of
Ohm, said: "Inasmuch as his law in acoustics furnished the clearest
insight into the hitherto incomprehensible nature of musical tones, it
dominates the acoustics of to-day no less completely than Ohm's law of
the electric current dominates the science of electricity."[24] This law
concerns the resolution of tones into their constituents. The ideas laid
down by Ohm were almost absolutely novel. They were so new that none of
the workers in acoustics could think that Ohm had made a great
discovery. His law states that the human ear perceives only
pendulum-like vibration as a simple tone. Every other periodic motion it
resolves into a collection of pendulum-like vibrations, which it then
hears in the sound as a series of single tones, fundamentals and
overtones. Ohm arrived at this law from mathematical considerations,
making use of Fourier's series; for its experimental verification he was
compelled to use the well-cultivated ear of a friend, inasmuch as he was
himself, as we have said, quite devoid of musical appreciation.

Ohm's results were too distant from the accustomed ideas of
investigators of sound at that time to be accepted by them. Seebeck, who
was one of the most prominent scientists of the time in acoustics, did
not hesitate to criticise severely, just as Pohl had made little of
Ohm's law of the electric current. While, however, foreigners were to
teach German scientists the value of the advance that their great
colleague in electricity had made, the privilege of pointing out the
significance of his work in sound was to be a compatriot's good fortune.
It was nearly a score of years, however, before this vindication was to
take place. Then Helmholtz, a decade after Ohm's death, furnished the
experimental means which enabled even the unskilled ear to resolve a
sound into its simple partial tones, and revolutionized the theory of
music by his classic work, "The Science of the Perception of Sound,"
which is based entirely on Ohm's law of acoustics.

Ohm, in the appendix to his work, "The Galvanic Circuit treated
mathematically," dared to suggest certain speculations with regard to
the ultimate structure of matter. He said: "There are properties of
space-filling matter which we are accustomed to look upon as belonging
to it. There are other properties which heretofore we have been inclined
to look upon as accidents or guests of matter, which abide with it from
time to time. For these properties man has thought out causes, if not
foreign, at least extrinsic, and they pass as immaterial independent
phases of nature under the names light, heat, electricity, etc. It must
be possible so to conceive the structure of physical bodies that, along
with the properties of the first class, at the same time and necessarily
those of the second shall be given."

It is all the more interesting to come upon Ohm's speculations on this
subject of the ultimate constitution of matter, because within a few
years of his time, Pasteur, then only a comparatively young man, had
also been taken with the idea of getting at the constitution of matter
by his observations upon dissymmetry, which he abandoned after a time,
however, because he found other and more practical subjects to devote
himself to, though he never gave up the thought that he might some time
return to them and perhaps discover the underlying principles of matter
from observations in this subject. It was not until the last five years
of his life, when Ohm was already past sixty, that he was to enjoy the
satisfaction of an ambition which he had cherished from his earliest
years as a teacher, and which, in spite of untoward circumstances, had
been a precious stimulus in his work. For some twenty years he had hoped
some time to be able to devote himself to the investigation of the
physical constitution of matter. Unfortunately, when the opportunity
came, the manifold duties of his teaching position prevented the
completion of his great work, and doubtless robbed his generation and
ours of a precious heritage in the mathematics of the structure of
matter, which would doubtless have been of the greatest possible value.

It is of course idle to speculate as to what he might have accomplished
if left to his original investigation. The problem which he now took up
was much more difficult than any of his preceding tasks. It would have
seemed, however, quite as hopeless to those who lived before Ohm's laws,
to look for a single complete law of the resistance of the electrical
current in the circuit or of the overtones in music, as it is to us to
think of a simple mathematical formula for atomic relations. What Ohm
accomplished in these other cases by his wonderful power of eliminating
all the unnecessary factors in the problem, would surely have helped him
here. The main power of genius, after all, is its faculty of
eliminating the superfluous, which always obscures the real question at
issue to such a degree for ordinary minds, that they are utterly unable
to see even the possibility of a simple solution of it. Art has been
defined as the elimination of the superfluous; discovery in science
might well be defined in the same terms. Under the circumstances, we
cannot help regretting that Ohm was not allowed the time and the
opportunity to work out the thoughts with which he was engaged. It would
have been even more satisfactory if the precious years of his ripe
middle age had not been wasted in trivial, conventional tasks, so that
he might have been permitted to devote his academic leisure, sooner than
was actually the case, to the problem which had been so constantly in
mind since he made his great generalization in the laws of electricity.

Unfortunately, most of Ohm's time had now to be taken up with his
teaching duties. Only for his self-sacrifice in the matter, his success
as a teacher would doubtless have been less marked. Science itself must
have suffered, however, from this pre-occupation of mind with a round of
conventional duties, since Ohm could no longer devote his time to
original research. In the meantime, his great discovery was coming to
its own. During these ten years since the publication of his book, a
number of distinguished physicists in every country--Poggendorff, and
especially Fechner, in Germany, Jacobi and Lenz in Russia, Henry in
America, Rosenkoeld in Sweden, and De Heer in Holland--took up the
problems of the current strength of electricity as set forth in Ohm's
law, and confirmed his conclusion by their investigations along similar
lines. The French physicist and member of the Academy of Sciences,
Pouillet, applied Ohm's ideas to thermo-electricity and
pyro-electricity, employing his terms and bringing his work to the
notice of foreigners generally, so that a translation of Ohm's work was
made into English.

Ohm's work at once attracted the attention that it deserved in England.
The Royal Society conferred on him the Copley Medal, which had been
founded as a reward for important discoveries in the domain of natural
knowledge. Before Ohm's time only one other German scientist, Carl
Friedrich Gauss, of Göttingen, had ever been thus honored. The words
employed by the Royal Society in conferring this distinction showed how
thoroughly the representatives of English science appreciated Ohm's
work. They said that he had set forth the laws of the electric current
very clearly, and thus accomplished the solution of a problem which was
as important in the realm of applied science as it had hitherto been in
the schools. Recognition now became the rule, and Ohm had the
satisfaction of having all his colleagues in the physical sciences
acknowledge the significance of his work.

Ohm's recognition, then, came from foreigners first, and only afterwards
from his fellow-countrymen. Immediate appreciation might have meant much
for him, and even this tardy recognition gave him renewed courage and
new strength to go on with his work. He gave effective expression at
once to his gratitude and to the stimulus that had been afforded him by
the dedication to the Royal Society of London of the great work,
"Contributions to molecular Physics," which he planned.

The year after he received the Copley Medal, he was made a Foreign
Associate of the Royal Society of England, and from this time on his
discoveries began to find their way into text-books as fundamental
doctrines in the science of electricity. German and foreign scientific
bodies followed the English example so happily set for them, and began
to give him their recognition as a physicist of the first rank. Ohm's
further observations were, for a time, not accepted so readily as his
first law. The reason for this was that Ohm was so far ahead of his
times that there was not as yet in existence a suitable electroscope to
test their truth. Finally, the invention of an exact electrometer by
Dellman, and its application by Professor Kohlrausch, of Marburg, made
the experimental confirmation of all his work quite as significant as
for his law.

It is a striking reflection on Ohm's career, though not very encouraging
for the discoverer in science, to realize that some important
discoveries, which thus proved eventually quite as epoch-making as his
law, had lain for practically ten years neglected, and their
magnificently endowed author had been allowed to eke out a rather
difficult existence in teaching, not in the important department of
science in which he was so great a master, but in certain conventional
phases of mathematics which might very well have been taught by almost
anyone who knew the elements of higher mathematics. Ohm's case is not a
solitary phenomenon in the history of science, however, but rather
follows the rule, that a genuine novelty is seldom welcomed by the
leaders of science at any given moment; but, on the contrary, rather
decried, and its discoverer always frigidly put in his proper place by
those who resent his audacity in presuming to teach _them_ something
new in their _own_ science.

Having thus illuminated electricity and acoustics, Ohm turned his
attention to the department of optics. His power to simplify
difficulties and get at the heart of obscure problems is illustrated by
his contribution to this subject, made while he was professor of physics
in the University of Munich. Optics had early engaged his attention, and
in 1840 he published a paper in Poggendorff's Annalen, bearing the
title, "A Description of some simple and easily managed Arrangements for
making the Experiment of the Interference of Light." With his usual
faculty for simplifying things, he showed that the interference prisms
which were made so carefully by the French could be constructed from
common plate-glass. He was indeed able to demonstrate that a simple
strip from the edge of a piece of such glass could be used for this

He pursued this absorbing subject until 1852-53, and then set himself
the difficult task of developing a general theory of these phenomena of
interference which are so rich in form and color. The problem was indeed
alluring, but some of the best minds in nineteenth century science in
Europe had been engaged at it, without bringing much order out of the
chaos, and it would have looked quite unpromising to anyone but Ohm, to
whom, the greater the difficulty of a subject, the more the attraction
it possessed. With his wonderful power of synthesis and his capacity to
discover a clue to the way through a maze of difficulties, Ohm succeeded
in finding a formula of great simplicity and beauty and which covered
all the individual colors. It was only after he had reached his
conclusions and was actually publishing his results, that the German
scientist found that he had been anticipated by Professor Langberg, of
Christiania, in Norway, with regard to the principal points of his
investigation, though not as to all its details. Professor Langberg[23]
had published his article in the Norwegian Magazine for Natural Sciences
in 1841, and an abstract of it had appeared the following year in the
first complementary volume (Erganzungsband) of Poggendorff's Annalen.

Of this publication by Professor Langberg, Ohm had known absolutely
nothing. He had even gone to some pains to find out, before undertaking
his own investigation, whether anything had been published on the
matter. At the sessions of the German Naturalists' Association, held in
1852, he had called the attention of many prominent physicists and
mineralogists who were present at that meeting to the colored concentric
ellipses which occur in connection with certain crystals used in the
investigation of polarization. He asked whether these had ever been seen
before, or whether anything had been written about them. All of those
whom he consulted declared that they had not observed them, and that, so
far as they knew, nothing had been published with regard to them.
Accordingly, Ohm proceeded with his work, only to find, after its formal
publication, that he had been almost entirely anticipated and that the
merit of original discovery belonged to his Norwegian colleague.

When his attention was called to the publication, Ohm was perfectly
ready to acknowledge the priority of Professor Langberg's claim and to
give him all the credit that belonged to his discovery. At the beginning
of the second part of his article, he said:

"I know not whether I should consider it lucky or unlucky that the
extremely meritorious work of Langberg should have entirely escaped me
and should have been lost to general recollection. Certain it is that,
if I had had any knowledge of it before, my present investigations,
which were occasioned by this elliptical system, would not have been
made and I would have been spared a deal of work. In that case, however,
a number of other and scarcely less important scientific principles
would have remained hidden for the time being at least. Under the
circumstances, the profound truth of the old proverb, 'Man proposes, but
God disposes,' has been brought home to me again. What originally set me
investigating this subject now proves to be without interest for
science, since the problem has been solved before. On the other hand, a
number of things of which I had no hint at all at the beginning of my
researches, have come to take its place and compensate for it."

Perhaps nothing will show better than this, Ohm's disposition toward
that Providence which overrules everything, and somehow, out of the
mixture of good and evil in life, accomplishes things that make for the
great purpose of creation. His eminently inquiring attitude towards
science, which had on three occasions led him to tackle problems that
had puzzled the greatest of experimental scientists, has been shown. He
must have been, above all things, a man of a scientific turn of mind, in
the sense that he was not ready to accept what had previously been
accepted even by distinguished authorities in science, but was ready to
look for new clews that would lead him to simpler explanations than any
that had been offered before. In spite of this inquiring disposition, so
eminently appropriate to the scientist, and constituting the basis of
his success as an experimenter and scientific synthesist, he seems to
have no doubts about the old explanation of the creation nor the
all-wise directing power of a Divine Providence. This is all the more
interesting, because already the materialistic view of things, which
claims to know nothing except what can be learned from the matter around
us, had begun to make its way in Europe, especially in scientific
circles, but Ohm remained untouched by it.

Another example of this same state of mind in Ohm is to be found in the
preface to his last great work, his contribution to molecular physics,
in which he hoped to sum up all that he could discover and demonstrate
mathematically with regard to the constitution of matter. He knew that
he was taking up a work that would require many years and much laborious
occupation of mind. He realized, too, that his duties as professor of
physics and mathematics as well as the directorship of the museum and
the consultancy to the department of telegraphs, left him comparatively
little time for the work. He foresaw that he might not be able to finish
it, yet hoped against hope that he would. In the preface to the first
volume, he declared that he would devote himself to it at every possible
opportunity, and that he hoped that _God would spare him to complete
it_. This simplicity of confidence in the Almighty is indeed a striking
characteristic of the man.

The work which Ohm began thus with such humble trust in God, was to
contain his conclusions concerning the nature, size, form and mode of
action of the atom, with the idea of being able to deduce, by the aid of
analytical mechanics, all the phenomena of matter. Unfortunately, he was
spared only to write the first, an introductory volume which bears the
title, "Elements of the analytical geometry of space on a system of
oblique co-ordinates." This did not touch, as he confesses, the ultimate
problem he had in mind. The second volume was to have contained the
dynamics of the structures of bodies, and a third and fourth were to be
devoted to the physical investigation of the atom and its relation to
other atoms and matter in general.

Ohm devoted himself, however, with too much ardor to his duties as
teacher, to allow himself to give the time to his own work that would
have enabled him to finish it. Among other things that he did for his
students was to complete a text-book of physics. He confesses that he
had always felt an aversion to working at a text-book, and yet was
impelled to take up the task because he felt that in electricity, in
sound and in optics, the only way in which his students would get his
ideas, many of which were the result of his own work, was to have a
text-book by himself, and he felt bound in duty to do this for them, as
he had accepted the position of instructor. He succeeded in completing
the book very rapidly by lithographing his lectures immediately after
delivery and distributing copies to his classes.

It is almost needless to say that the work was, in its way, thoroughly
original. It was accomplished with the ease with which he was always
able to do things; but, unfortunately, the strain of the work told on
him at his years much more than when, as a younger man, he was able to
work without fatigue. He acknowledges, at the close of the preface, that
the task has been too great, and that he should not have undertaken its
accomplishment, and especially not in the hasty way in which it was
done. This preface was dated Easter, 1854. Within a few months, Ohm's
strength began to fail, and the end was not long in coming.

According to the translation of the address of Lommel, as it appeared in
the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute for 1851, Ohm died as the
result of repeated attacks of epilepsy, on July 6th, 1854. The date is
correct; the mode of death, however, is surely reported under a
misunderstanding. The physician who hears of epilepsy is prone at once
to inquire as to its origin, and to wonder how long the patient had been
suffering from it. There are no reports of previous attacks of epilepsy,
and the sudden development of genuine epilepsy in fatal form at the age
of 65 is quite unlikely.

His German biographer, Bauernfeind, who is quoted by Lommel as one of
the authorities for the details of Ohm's life, and who was a pupil and
intimate friend, gives quite a different account. Up to the very last
day of his life, Ohm continued his lectures. His duties as professor
appealed to his conscience as no others. On Thursday, July 6th, 1854, he
delivered his last lecture. That night at ten o'clock he died. The cause
of his death was given as a repeated apopleptic stroke. It is evidently
because of the occurrence of more apopleptic seizures than one, that the
assertion of epilepsy was introduced unto the account of his death.

For some days before his death, Ohm had been very weak, but had
continued to fulfil every duty. To us in the modern time, it may seem
surprising that there should be lectures in a university in July; but
the second semester of the university year in Germany is not supposed to
come to a close until the first of August, when the summer vacation
begins, and lectures are continued until well on into July. The manner
of Ohm's death, as told by his biographer friend, at once corrects the
idea of epilepsy, and also shows that his passing came without any of
the preliminary suffering that makes death a real misfortune. A half
hour before his death, he had been entertaining some friends with lively
recollections of the events of his early life in Cologne and Treves. He
had been quite gay in the stories that he told, and almost boyishly
happy in the recollections of those early days. For one for whom duty
had meant so much in life, and who had always tried so faithfully to
fulfil it, no happier call to higher things could possibly be imagined
than that which came to Ohm.

On the following Sunday he was followed to the grave by numbers of
friends, by all his colleagues and by most of the students of the Munich
University. The university felt that it had suffered a great loss, and
no signs of its grief were felt to be too much. Ohm was buried in the
old Munich graveyard, where his bones still rest, beneath the simple
memorial not unworthy of the modest scientist who did his work patiently
and quietly, yet with never-failing persistency; who cared not for the
applause of the multitude, and accomplished so much quite independently
of any of the ordinary helps from others and from great educational
institutions that are often supposed to be almost indispensably
necessary for the accomplishment of original scientific work.

Ohm's personal appearance will be of interest to many of those to whom
his discoveries have made him appeal as one of the great original
thinkers in modern science. He was almost small in stature, even below
middle height; and those who remember Virchow, may get something of an
idea of his appearance when told that those who saw Ohm and knew
Virchow, considered that there was a certain reminder of each other in
the two men. According to his intimate friend and biographer, he had a
very expressive face, with a high, somewhat doubled forehead. His eyes
were deep and full of intelligence. His mouth, very sharply defined,
betrayed, at the first glance, at once the earnest thinker and the
pleasant man of friendly disposition. He was always restful and never
seemed to be distracted. He talked but little, but his conversation was
always interesting, and, except when he was in some particularly serious
mood, was always likely to have a vein of light humor in it. He did not
hesitate to introduce a sparkle of wit now and then into his lectures,
and especially knew how gently to make fun of mistakes made by his
pupils, yet in such a way as not to hurt their feelings, but to make
them realize the necessity for more careful thought before giving
answers, and for appreciating principles before speculating on them. He
was particularly careful not to do anything that would offend his
students in any way, and it is to this care that the success of his
method of teaching has been especially attributed.

His habits of life were from the beginning of his career simple, and
they continued to be so until the end. He was never married, and he
himself attributed this to the unfavorable condition of his material
resources at the beginning of his career as a teacher, and the fact that
the improvement in these did not really come until he was well past
fifty years of age. He once confessed to a friend that he missed those
modest pleasures of family life which do so much to give courage and
strength for the greater as well as the lesser sufferings of life. Most
of his years of teaching he spent in boarding houses. Only after his
appointment to the professorship at Munich was he able to have a
dwelling for himself, which was presided over by a near relative.

Ohm is remembered as a teacher rather than as an educational
administrator. His pupils recall him as one who was able to be eminently
suggestive, while at the same time he succeeded in making it easy to
acquire the details of information. The didactic lecture, as a method of
teaching, did not appeal to him, and his success was due to the
application of quite other methods. He realized how much personal
influence meant, and the peculiarity of his system of teaching was an
almost uninterrupted lively personal intercourse with his pupils.
Demonstrations and exercises at the board always occupied the first half
of his two-hour lesson, and only the other half was devoted to the
setting forth of new matter. In this way, Ohm succeeded not only in
influencing each student according to his personal endowments, but he
also began the training of future teachers by giving them a living
example of what their work should be.

The success of Ohm as a teacher was recognized on all sides. His
attitude towards his scholars was very different from that which was
assumed by many teachers. Instead of being a mere conveyer of scientific
information, he was himself "a high priest of science," as one of his
pupils declared, supplying precious inspiration, and not merely pointing
out the limits of lessons and finding out whether they were known, but
making work productively interesting, while neglecting none of the
details. His pupils became distinguished engineers, and as this is the
period in which the state railroads were being built, there was plenty
of opportunity for them to apply the instruction they had received. Not
only were the reports of the Royal Commission of Inspection repeated
evidence of Ohm's success as a teacher, but the technical schools which
were under the care of Ohm's disciples soon came to be recognized as far
above the average, and as representing not only the successful teaching
of technics on his part, but also the influence that his example as a
teacher had in forming others to carry on the work.

How much Ohm was beloved by those who knew him best can be properly
appreciated from the following passage from the panegyric delivered in
Munich in 1855, not long after his death, by Professor Lamont, who had
known him intimately: "Nature," he said, "conferred upon Ohm goodness of
heart and unselfishness to an unusual degree. These precious qualities
formed the groundwork of all his intercourse with his fellows. Despite
the underlying strength of his character, which kept him faithfully at
work during all his career, whenever there was question of merely
personal advantage to himself, he preferred to yield to pressure from
without, rather than rouse himself to resistance, and he thus avoided
all bitterness in life. The unfortunate events which forced him, during
the early part of his career, from an advantageous position back into
private life, did not produce any misanthropic feelings in him, and when
later a brilliant recognition gave him that rank in the world of science
which by right belonged to him, his simplicity of conduct was not in
any way modified, nor was the modesty of his disposition at all
altered." In a word, Ohm was one of those rare geniuses whose
magnanimity placed him above the vicissitudes of fortune. His power to
do original work was not disturbed by the opposition which a really new
discoverer invariably meets, but his unfailing equanimity was just as
little exalted into conceit and pretentiousness by the praise which so
justly came to him once the real significance of his scientific work
dawned upon the world.

With the realization of all that Ohm's Work meant in the department of
electricity, it is easy to understand how his name deserves a place in
the science for all time. In order permanently to honor his memory, the
International Congress of Electricians, which met at Paris in 1881,
confirmed the action of the British Association of 1861, by giving the
name _ohm_ to the unit of electrical resistance. This is an ideal
monument to the great worker. It is as simple and modest a reward as
even he would have wished, expressing as it does, the gratitude of
succeeding generations of scientists for all time.


[23] Ohm's brother, Martin Ohm, deserves a passing word,
because his life is characteristically different in certain ways and
because, above all, it represents academic success, while Ohm's was
almost an academic failure. He finally received the professorship in
mathematics at Berlin, and came to be considered as one of the greatest
professors of the subject in Europe. Their careers form typical examples
of the fact, often notable in history, that talent finds a ready welcome
in the academic world, while genius is often neglected, and indeed may
be, and often is, the target for bitter opposition. The younger Ohm's
writings are mainly with regard to mathematics, but nearly always from
some general rather than special standpoint, and very often with regard
to the educational side of the subject. His first book was on Analytic
and Higher Geometry in their Elements. He then wrote class text-books of
mathematics and mechanics. One of his works, The Spirit of Mathematical
Analysis and its Relation to a Logical System, because of its value as
an educational document attracted widespread attention. This book,
translated by Ellis into English, was published in London in 1845. One
of Martin Ohm's earlier books should be of special interest to educators
because of its subject. Its rather lengthy title is, "An Attempt to
Formulate a Short, Fundamental, Clear Method to Enable Those without a
Taste for Mathematics to Learn the Mathematics Necessary for the Higher
and Technical Schools."

[24] Fordham University Press, 1907.

[25] Makers of Modern Medicine, Fordham University Press, New
York, 1907.

[26] New York, Van Nostrand Company, 1891.

[27] Published in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian
Institute for the year 1891, Washington, 1893.

[28] In the address on the scientific work of George Simon Ohm,
published by the Smithsonian Institute in 1891, this name is translated
Sangberg. In the article by Baurenfeind, in the Allegmeine Deutsche
Biographie, the name is spelled Langberg. The form of the old German L
may have suggested the letter S, or it may have slipped in as a
typographical error.



The maxim current among European scientists, that it is well to wait
before accepting any scientific discovery to see what will be said about
it on the other side of the Rhine, throws a rather curious sidelight on
the supposed absoluteness of scientific knowledge. Gallic enthusiasm or
German subtlety may evolve plausible theories that look like scientific
discoveries, but the destructive criticism of the neighbor nation
usually saves the scientific world from deception. Not infrequently, the
English-speaking scientists held the balance between these rivals in the
intellectual world, and their adhesion to either party or side of a
question secured its dominance. When all three, Germans and French and
English, are agreed as to the value of a scientific discovery, then it
may be looked upon as having some of the absoluteness, or at least
possesses for the moment the finality of scientific truth. If this
triple agreement be taken as the criterion of the significance of a
great scientist's work, then must Michael Faraday be considered as
without doubt one of the greatest scientists of our time, and probably
the greatest experimental scientist that the world has known.

  [Illustration: MICHAEL FARADAY]

Dubois Reymond, in Berlin, declared Faraday "the greatest
experimentalist of all times, and the greatest physical discoverer that
ever lived." Professor Martius said before the Academy of Sciences at
Munich, "Deservedly has Faraday been called the greatest experimenter of
his epoch, and that the greatest epoch of scientific experimentation
down to our time." Dumas, the French chemist, in the panegyric delivered
before the French Academy of Sciences, declared that Faraday was "the
greatest scientific scholar that the Academy ever possessed." In order
to give a picture of what he had accomplished in electricity, added
Dumas, one would have to write a complete treatise on that subject.
"There is nothing in this department of science that Faraday has not
investigated completely or very materially modified. Much of this
chapter of our modern science is his creation and belongs undeniably to
him." Beside these testimonies from French and German scientific
contemporaries must be placed Tyndall's appreciation, which sets forth
his brother scientist's merits. "Take him all in all," he said, "it must
be admitted, I think, that Michael Faraday was the greatest experimental
scientist that the world has ever seen."

Nor did these magnificent appreciations of Faraday cease when the
enthusiasm for his memory, immediately after his death, had faded
somewhat into sober realization of his merits. When Dumas summed up
Faraday in the first Faraday lecture of the English Chemical Society, he
said: "Faraday was a type of the most fortunate and the most
accomplished of the learned men of our age. His hand, in the execution
of his conceptions, kept pace with his mind in designing them; he never
wanted boldness when he undertook an experiment, never lacked resources
to insure success, and was full of discretion when interpreting results.
His hardihood, which never halted once he had undertaken a task, and his
wariness, which felt its way carefully in adopting a received
conclusion, will ever serve as models for the experimentalist."

It is evident that the life of Faraday should be of supreme interest for
a generation that is mainly interested in experimental science, and it
so happens that his career contains many other sources of interest; for
Faraday was a self-made man, who owed very little to anyone but himself
and his own genius. Besides, he was a deep thinker with regard to all
the problems of human life as well as those of science, and while he was
a genial, kindly friend to those near him, the charming associate whom
scientific intimates always welcomed, he had no illusions with regard to
life being the end of all things, but looked confidently to the
hereafter, and shaped his life here from that point of view.

Michael Faraday was born at Newington Butts, now called Stoke Newington,
an outskirt of London, in Surrey, September 22d, 1791. His father was a
journeyman blacksmith whose health was not very good, and as a
consequence, the family suffered not a little from poverty. Both his
parents were noted for their good habits, industrious lives and deep
religious feelings. In spite of their poverty, as is much oftener the
case than is sometimes thought, their children were brought up very
carefully and had a precious training in high principles. Like most of
his great colleagues in scientific discovery, Faraday had to begin to
earn his livelihood early in life. Of educational opportunities he had
practically none. He learned to read and write, and probably had a
certain slight training in doing simple sums in arithmetic, but that
was the extent of his formal teaching, and much of that he got at home.
He had to help in the support of his family, and so it seemed fortunate
that not far away from his home there was a bookstore and bindery, the
owner of which became interested in the Faradays and took Michael as an
errand boy when he was scarcely thirteen years of age.

It was here that the future scientist began his education for himself
and, strange as it may seem, laid the deep foundation of his knowledge
of science. For the first year he carried newspapers around to the
customers, and did his work so faithfully that at the end of this time
the book-binder offered to take him as an apprentice to the trade,
without the usual premium which used to be rather strictly required for
teaching boys their trades at that time. Faraday accepted this offer,
but proved to be interested much more than in the outsides of the books
he bound. Whatever of leisure there was he took advantage of to read a
number of works on experimental science that happened to be in the shop.
Luckily for him, some of these were classics. As an introduction to
chemistry, he had Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations on Chemistry" and Robert
Boyle's "Notes about the Producibleness of chimicall Principles." He was
even more interested in electricity than in chemistry, however, and
Lyons' "Experiments on Electricity" and the article on electricity in
the Encyclopedia Britannica, whetted his interest and made the boy wish
for more of such information. There probably could not be a better proof
of the fact that, a man who really has intellectual interests will find
the material with which to satisfy them, in spite of untoward
circumstances, than this boyish experience of Faraday.

It is a curious anticipation of Faraday's after-career that he at once
began to demonstrate by personal experiment some of the statements that
he found in the books. He procured a stock of chemicals as far as his
meagre salary would allow, and constructed a practical electrical
machine, though he had nothing better than a large glass bottle to serve
as a cylinder for it. When not yet fourteen, he noticed an advertisement
of a set of lectures on natural philosophy. He was at once taken with
the idea of going to them, but the price of admission, one shilling,
seemed to place them entirely beyond him. His elder brother, who
followed his father's trade of blacksmith, had more money than he, and,
when properly cajoled, was persuaded to provide the necessary shillings,
and so Faraday got to the lectures. Elder brothers do not often have to
lend shillings to their juniors for admission to scientific lectures now
any more than in Faraday's time, so that the incident seems worth

In attendance at these lectures, Faraday not only learned much that was
new to him in science, but met a number of earnest fellow-students and
formed some life-long friendships. He took copious notes, and afterwards
wrote them out in a fine, legible hand, making excellent drawings in
perspective of the apparatus employed in the experiments. His notes were
so extensive that Faraday bound them himself, in four volumes, with an
index. These volumes are still preserved in the library of the Royal
Institution as one of the precious treasures among its Faraday
relics.[30] The whole story of these early years of Faraday's life is a
series of illustrations of how a young man without the necessary
opportunities for his favorite studies can make them for himself.
Everything seemed to be against his acquiring a thorough knowledge of
science, yet he succeeded in creating for himself the equivalent of a
good scientific course out of his meagre chances to hear lectures and
read books on his favorite subject in the intervals of a busy life as
book-seller and book-binder.

Things did not always continue to run along as pleasantly in life for
young Faraday as while he was working for his book-binder friend as an
apprentice. With the conclusion of his apprenticeship he became a
journeyman book-binder, and his first employer proved to be a hard
task-master. It did not matter how much work Faraday did or how well, it
never quite satisfied this French émigré, until it is no wonder that
Faraday looked for another occupation. For a time, he had the congenial
occupation of acting as amanuensis for Sir Humphry Davy, who, while
working on a new violent explosive, probably chloride of hydrogen, met
with an accident which prevented him from using his eyes for some time.
This occupation, pleasant and even alluring as it was, lasted only for a
few days, however. It had the fortunate result of suggesting to Faraday
to apply to Sir Humphry Davy in person for a position not long after,
and it eventually brought him the position of assistant at the Royal

His anxiety to secure this post had been increased by the growing
realization that a business life was not to his liking. It seemed to him
a waste of time, or worse, for a man to give himself up to the making of
money. Even thus young he had the ambition to add to the knowledge
possessed by mankind, and the insatiable desire to increase the
opportunities of others to learn whatever they were interested in.
Accordingly, he set about finding the chance to devote himself entirely
to science.

In writing years after to Dr. Paris, he says: "My desire to escape from
trade, which I thought vicious and selfish, and to enter into the
service of science, which I imagined made its pursuers amiable and
liberal, induced me at last to take the bold and simple step of writing
to Sir Humphry Davy, expressing my wishes, and a hope that, if an
opportunity came in his way, he should favor my views; and at the same
time I sent the notes I had taken of his lectures." Davy called, not
long after, on one of his friends, who was at the time honorary
inspector of the models and apparatus at the Royal Institution, and with
the letter before him asked: "Here is a letter from a young man named
Faraday; he has been attending my lectures and wants me to give him
employment at the Royal Institution. What can I do?" "Do?" replied the
inspector; "put him to wash bottles. If he is good for anything, he will
do it directly; if he refuses, he is good for nothing." "No, no,"
replied Davy, "we must try him with something better than that."

Davy wrote a kind reply, and arranged for an interview with young
Faraday. In this, however, he candidly advised him to stick to his
business, telling him very plainly that "science was a harsh mistress,
and, from a pecuniary point of view, but poorly rewarded those who
devoted themselves to her service." He apparently put an end to all
further consideration of the subject by promising Faraday the
book-binding work of the Institution, and his own besides.

Faraday was not satisfied to go back to the book-shop, even with all
this kindly patronage, but there was nothing else for it, and so for a
time he continued at his duties and spent his spare moments reading
science and his evenings at scientific lectures, or in remaking the
experiments he had seen and others suggested by them, and above all in
rewriting the notes that he had taken. There is no livelier picture in
all the history of science, of how a man will, in spite of all
obstacles, get the things he cares for, if he really cares for them,
than that of Faraday thus teaching himself science in the face of what
seems almost insurmountable discouragement. Fortunately, not long after
he had been thus forcibly called to the attention of Sir Humphry Davy,
the former assistant in the laboratory of the Royal Institution not only
neglected his duties, but became a source of considerable annoyance. His
misfortune proved Faraday's opportunity. He was offered the post. The
salary was only twenty-five shillings a week, but he accepted it very
willingly. One might think that at last his scientific career was opened
for him, but his new post was no sinecure. The labors required from him,
indeed, were so manifold that it is somewhat surprising that he found
any time for his own improvement. His duties as set forth in writing

     "To attend and assist the lecturers and professors preparing for
     and during lectures. Where any instruments or apparatus may be
     required, to attend to their careful removal from the model room
     and laboratory to the lecture room, and to clean and replace them
     after being used, reporting to the managers such accidents as shall
     require repair, a constant diary being kept by him for that
     purpose. That in one day in each week he be employed in keeping
     clean the models in the repository, and that all the instruments in
     the glass cases be cleaned and dusted at least once within a

The previous assistant had complained of the amount of work that was
required of him. It is easy to see that his duties were rather exacting
and time-taking. Faraday did not confine himself to them, though he did
perform them with great assiduity. His interest in experimental
chemistry was soon noted, and he was allowed to take his share in the
experiments going on in the laboratory. Some of his first work was the
extraction of sugar from beet-root; but he was soon to have abundant
experience of the deterring side of chemistry. Not long after he began
his work in the laboratory, he had to manufacture some bisulphide of
carbon, one of the most nauseating of compounds. He found it disgusting
enough as an experience, but the study of it brought its compensation.

It was much more than foul odors that Faraday had to encounter, for Davy
was still occupying himself with the study of the explosives, in the
investigation of which he had been injured the previous year. Faraday
suffered from four or five explosions during the course of the first
month or two of his employment. Indeed, the substance with which they
were experimenting proved so unreliable in this regard that, after a
second rather serious injury to Davy, further study of it was given up.

Once Faraday had secured his post at the Royal Institution, his
life-work was before him, and he became deeply engaged in scientific
speculations, investigations and experiments of all kinds. The young man
who had found and made opportunities when they were so distant and
difficult, now made use of all that were so ready at hand. He did not
confine himself to his laboratory work, however, but seems always to
have felt that the contact of minds engaged along the same lines was the
best possible way to be stimulated to knowledge. He applied and was
admitted as member of the Philosophical Society of London, an
association of some two score of men occupied with many things during
the day, but interested in science, so far as they could get the books
and the opportunities for its study. They met every Wednesday evening
and discussed various subjects in science or, as they called it then, in
philosophy, and they seem to have occupied themselves with many
questions in the social as well as the natural sciences. These men, most
of whom were older than Faraday, soon came to look up to him because of
the depth and increasing breadth of his knowledge, and we have some
emphatic expressions of their admiration for him.

Faraday's earliest successful scientific investigation was accomplished
in chemistry. This might have been expected, from the fact that he began
his work with Sir Humphry Davy, whose principal scientific
investigations had been concerned with chemistry. His own great
scientific work was to be done in electricity. Even in the brief time
that he devoted to chemistry, however, he succeeded in making some
discoveries of deep significance. For instance, in his special study of
chlorine, he demonstrated the existence of the two chlorides of carbon
which had not hitherto been obtained. Above all, he impressed his
personality upon methods in chemistry. He was the first to realize how
much technics were to mean in the modern advancement of science, and he
made methodic chemistry, in distinction from practical chemistry, the
object of very special study. His work on _Chemical Manipulation_ did
more to train successful students of chemistry and to make good
investigators in this department of science than any other single work
in his generation. It has continued to be of interest down even to our
own time, and is well worthy of consultation by all those who are
interested in chemistry as a science, and especially in original
research in that subject.

It was with regard to gases, however, that Faraday's most striking
chemical work was done. He succeeded in liquefying several gases, and
was the first to make clear that all matter could probably exist in each
of the three different states--solid, liquid and gaseous--according as
the proper conditions for each particular state were present. One might
almost have expected that the serious dangers incurred in his early days
in the Royal Institution, when his chief, Sir Humphry Davy, suffered so
severely and he himself was more than once involved, might have deterred
him from further investigation along similar lines; but Faraday's ardor
for scientific investigation overcame any hesitancy there might have
been. The effect of gases upon human beings proved as attractive to
Faraday as it had been to Davy. His experiments upon chlorine threatened
to prove seriously injurious to his throat, and he was warned of the
danger that he was running in the effort to determine whether such gases
were respirable and what their effects upon human beings were. The
warning was disregarded, however, though he exercised somewhat more care
in subsequent observations. His experiments in the respiration of gases
finally led him to a discovery of cardinal importance in the very
practical field of anæsthesia. Sir Humphry Davy, just at the beginning
of the nineteenth century, had made a series of interesting experiments
on nitrous oxide gas, the so-called "laughing gas," and had pointed out
very definitely its anæsthetic properties. While suffering from
toothache he had inhaled the gas, and had experienced prompt alleviation
of the pain. He described in detail these curious effects, and suggested
that there might be a place for nitrous oxide in surgery, at least for
minor operations. The words he employed with regard to this subject show
that the idea of anæsthesia, as we now understand it, had come to him
very definitely. Not quite a score of years later, Faraday, recalling
the experiments of Davy with nitrous oxide, studied sulphuric ether, and
showed that the inhalation of the vapor of this substance produced
anæsthetic effects very similar to those of nitrous oxide gas, but with
the possibility of prolonging them much more easily and apparently with
less danger than would be the case with the latter. In every history of
anæsthesia, these two sets of experiments at the Royal Institution must
be set down as foundation-stones, and Faraday's name particularly must
be hailed as one of the initiators of a supremely beneficent advance in
modern surgery.

Faraday had given up business to devote himself to science, and he was
not to be seduced from the purpose of making his life unselfish and
doing things, not for money, but for the good of science and his own
satisfaction. As a practical chemist, he soon had many opportunities to
increase his salary by making analyses for industrial purposes. During
one year, the amount of work thus offered him was paid for so well that
it formed an addition of some £500 sterling to his salary. It took away
precious time, however, that he might otherwise devote to original
work. As soon as Faraday realized this possibility of interference with
his scientific investigations, he cut it off, quite content to live on
the modest salary of his position at the Royal Institution. His action
in the matter would remind one very much of Pasteur, in the latter half
of the century, when asked by the Empress Eugénie, to whom he had been
just exhibiting his discoveries in fermentation, whether he would not
apply these to actual manufacture and so make a fortune for himself in
brewing. Pasteur replied that he thought it unworthy of a French
scientist to devote his time to money-making, with all the world of
science open before him.[29]

With a conscientious patriotism, however, that was typical of the man
and his ways, there was one exception to this rule of not taking outside
work that Faraday made. In a letter to Lord Auckland, long afterward, he
says: "I have given up for the last ten years or more, all professional
occupation and voluntarily resigned a large income, that I might pursue
in some degree my own objects of research. But in doing this I have
always, as a good subject, held myself ready to assist the government if
still in my power, but not for pay; for, except in one instance (and
then only for the sake of the person joined with me), I refused to take
it. I have had the honor and pleasure of application, and that very
recently, from the Admiralty, the Ordnance, the Home Office, the Woods
and Forests and other departments, all of which I have replied to and
will reply to as long as strength is left me."

As we have said, Faraday's principal work was accomplished in the domain
of electricity. His supreme discovery, and, indeed, the most important
practical discovery in the whole realm of electricity, was that of the
induction effect of a current of electricity on a neighboring circuit.
This was accomplished by experimental work of the highest order. Toward
the end of 1824, when he was about thirty-three, he came to the definite
conclusion that an electric current might be obtained by the motion of a
magnet. His mind had been prepared for such a conclusion by Oersted's
significant discovery in July, 1820, that an electric current acts
somewhat like a magnet when the wire through which it flows is free to
move. This discovery, definitely connecting electricity and magnetism,
had been elaborated to an important degree by Ampère, and its sphere of
application broadened by Wollaston. The curious though not unusual
result in such cases, that it is not those who are in immediate touch
with a great discoverer who develop or even apply his work, was
illustrated by the fact that Ampère, the Frenchman, took up Oersted's
discovery first, while Wollaston, working in England, had been the next
one to follow successfully in the path thus opened up. It takes genius
to go even a slight step farther into the unknown; the trained talent of
disciples does not suffice. It was now Faraday, though not under
Wollaston's influence, who was to continue successfully these labors.

In spite of his persuasion that a magnet would produce by induction an
electric current, and the further step that a current in one wire could
induce a current in another, experiments during seven years had brought
him very little nearer the actual demonstration of this important
principle. Those who think that great discoveries are made by accident
and almost fall into the laps of their makers, as the apple upon Newton,
should recall these seven years of unsuccessful labor on the part of
Faraday. Finally, in 1831, he obtained the first definite evidence that
an electric current can induce another in a different circuit. The
discovery meant so much for him, that he hesitated to believe in his own
success. Nearly a month after this first demonstration for himself, he
wrote to his friend Phillips: "I am busy just now again on
electro-magnetism, and think I have got hold of a good thing, but can't
say. It may be a weed instead of a fish that, after all my labor, I may
at last pull up."

He had long suspected, as we have said, that induction should occur, and
he had tried currents of different strength, but without result. One day
he noticed that, though he could not produce a permanent induced
current, whenever the primary current started or stopped, there was a
movement of the galvanometer connected with the secondary circuit,
though the galvanometer remained at zero so long as the primary current
flowed steadily. From this he proceeded to the demonstration that a bar
magnet suddenly thrust into a helix of copper wire produced the same
effect on the galvanometer, and evidently induced a transient current.
When the magnet was withdrawn, the galvanometer needle swung in the
opposite direction, showing another current, so that electrical currents
were evidently induced by the relative motions of a magnet and a
conductor. He continued his experiments in many different forms, and in
the short space of a little more than a week, once the first definite
hint was obtained, succeeded in so completely finding out the phenomena
of electro-magnetic induction that scarcely more than practical
applications in this subject were left for his successors.

Faraday's explanation of the induction of currents in the secondary
circuit was probably quite as important a contribution to science as the
series of experiments by which he demonstrated the occurrence of induced
currents. His mind was not of the order that would accept action at a
distance; that is, without some conducting medium through which the
action took place. The old aphorism of the scholastics, "_actio in
distans repugnat_"--action at a distance, that is, without a medium
intervening, is absurd--would have appealed to him as a basic truth. The
explanation that he outlined for induced currents was based on the lines
of magnetic force, which he had so often delineated by means of iron
filings. It was a favorite occupation of his, at moments of comparative
leisure, to make varied pictures in iron filings of magnetic fields as
they were exhibited under the influence of different combinations of
magnets. He strewed iron filings over "gum paper," and then when the
filings had arranged themselves in certain definite lines, he threw a
jet of steam on the paper, which melted the gum and fixed the filings in
position. He explained electrical action as the transmission of force
along such lines as these, and he thought the whole electric field was
filled with them.

Probably the best summary of Faraday's work on induction and its
significance has been given us by Clerk Maxwell, in his article on
Faraday, in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There is
no doubt but that Maxwell, above all men of the nineteenth century, was
in a position to judge of the meaning of Faraday's work. He was not the
sort of a man to say things in a panegyric mood, and his article on
Faraday is indeed a model of well-considered judgment and critical
illumination. Summing up the significance not only of Faraday's great
discovery of induction, but also his theory in explanation of that
discovery, he does not hesitate to say that his (Faraday's) opinion is
the nearest approach to truth that has been advanced in this
much-discussed subject.

"After nearly half a century of labor of this kind, we may say that,
though the practical applications of Faraday's great discovery have
increased and are increasing in number and value every year, no
exception to the statement of these laws as given by Faraday has been
discovered; no new law has been added to them; and Faraday's original
statement remains to this day the only one which asserts no more than
can be verified by experiment, and the only one by which the theory of
the phenomena can be expressed in a manner which is actually and
numerically accurate, and at the same time within the range of
elementary methods of exposition."

With what eminent care and absolute truth Faraday's conclusions were
reached may be judged from some further expressions of Clerk Maxwell's
in the article just quoted, with regard to the attitude of certain
mathematicians toward Faraday's work. In this matter, Clerk Maxwell, in
talking on a theme that he had made especially his own, and in which his
opinion must carry the greatest possible weight, said:

"Up to the present time, the mathematicians who have rejected Faraday's
method of stating his law as unworthy of the precision of their science,
have never succeeded in devising any essentially different formula
which shall fully express the phenomena, without introducing the
hypotheses about the mutual action of things which have no physical
existence, such as elements of currents, which flow out of nothing, then
along the wire, and finally sink into nothing again."

Faraday's results were described in papers afterwards incorporated in
his first series of "Experimental Researches," which were read before
the Royal Society, November 24th, 1841. These papers probably contain
the best possible proof of Faraday's genius as an experimentalist and a
leader in scientific observation. Within a few months after his first
successful experiment, he had succeeded in bringing to perfection the
whole doctrine of induction by currents and magnets, had laid down the
fundamental ideas which were to constitute the formal basis of
electro-magnetism for all time. Perhaps no better idea of the importance
of the discovery thus made by Faraday can be given than will be found in
Clerk Maxwell's compendious paragraph on this subject, in his sketch of
Faraday, in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It may be said that no one in
all the nineteenth century was more capable of appreciating properly the
value of Faraday's work than this great electrical mathematician, who
laid the firm foundation of mathematical electricity during the latter
part of the nineteenth century. Clerk Maxwell says:

"This was of course a great triumph, and nobody appreciated this fact
better than Faraday himself, who had been working at its problems for
many years. One of the first problems that he had set himself in his
note-book as a young man, was 'to convert magnetism into electricity,'
and this he had now done. Within a month of the time that his first
successful experiment was formed, he succeeded in obtaining induction
currents by means of the earth's magnetism. Within a year he took the
further immense step of obtaining a spark from the induced current. This
would ordinarily have seemed quite impossible, since sparks occur only
if the electromotive force is very high, and it was very low in his
induced currents. He found, however, that if the circuit of wire in
which a current was flowing is broken while the current is passing, a
little bridge of metallic vapor is formed, across which the spark leaps.
The difficulty with the experiment was to break the circuit during the
extremely short period while the current is flowing. Faraday succeeded
in doing this, and as a result obtained the first germ of the electric
light. When he demonstrated this experiment by a very ingenious
apparatus at the meeting of the British Association at Oxford, all were
deeply interested, yet probably no one, even the most sanguine of the
scientists present, thought for a moment that they saw the beginning of
a far-reaching revolution of all the lighting of the world."

Perhaps the most interesting of Faraday's discoveries, from the
scientific standpoint, because they throw so much light on the problems
of all the related phenomena of magnetism, heat, light, even
electricity, were those in which a ray of polarized light was used as a
means of investigating the condition of transparent bodies when acted on
by electric and magnetic forces. Faraday himself, when he was just
thirty years of age, made a note in his commonplace laboratory book, in
which all his observations were carefully detailed, that serves to show
how much this subject had begun to interest him thus early in his
career. He mentions that he had polarized a ray of lamp-light by
reflection, and had made various experiments to ascertain whether any
depolarizing action was exerted on it by water placed between the poles
of a voltaic battery in a glass cistern, or by various fluids which were
decomposed by the voltaic action during the course of the experiment.
Besides water, the fluids used were weak solutions of sulphate of soda
and strong sulphuric acid. None of them had any effect on the polarized
light, either during the passage of the voltaic current or when this was
shut off. No particular arrangement of particles in reference to
polarized light could be found from these observations.

Such a note, with utter failure for conclusion, is common enough in
Faraday's note-book. He was never discouraged, however, by failure at
the beginning. Once a subject has been taken up seriously, it is almost
inevitable that further observations with regard to it will be found
during the course of the year. Because he had asked one question of
nature and had not obtained a satisfactory answer, was never a reason
why he should not ask further questions along the same line; and, above
all, why he should not ask the same question in another way. After
having tried a continuous current, Faraday next experimented on the
effect of making and breaking the circuit. He did not expect very much
from this, but he hoped that under circumstances when no decomposition
would ensue as the effect of the current, he might find some indication
of the polarization. It was nearly twenty-five years before Faraday
succeeded in solving the problem that he had thus set himself as a young
man, and nearly twenty years more were to pass before he made the
relation between magnetism and light the subject of his very last
experimental work. Nothing discouraged him. When he had resolved to
investigate something, he continued to make his experiments over and
over again in different ways, until finally he got an answer to his
question and a solution to the problem.

Indeed, his perseverance in anything that he undertook was a striking
characteristic of the man and one of the most important elements in his
success in life. His tenacity of purpose showed itself equally in little
as in great things. Arranging some apparatus one day with a
philosophical instrument-maker, he let fall on the floor a small piece
of glass. He made several ineffectual attempts to pick it up. "Never
mind," said his companion, "it is not worth the trouble." "Well, but,
Murray, I don't like to be beaten by something that I have once tried to

Faraday was sure that there was some very definite relation between
electricity and light. His experiments, however, did not enable him to
demonstrate this until nearly fifteen years after his successful
experiment on induction. In September, 1845, he placed a piece of heavy
glass made of silico-borate of lead in the field of a magnet, and found
that, when a beam of polarized light was transmitted through the glass
in the direction of the lines of force, there was a rotation of the
plane of polarization. Later experiments showed him that all transparent
solids and liquids were capable of producing this rotation in greater or
less degree. When no magnet was used and the transparent substance was
placed within a coil of wire through which an electric current was
flowing, similar effects were produced. This was the demonstration of a
definite relation between light and electricity. Later, Faraday found
that magnets had a directive action upon the glass. He then made
experiments upon gases, and found that they too exhibited magnetic
phenomena, and that, indeed, the diurnal variations of the
compass-needle were due to the sun's heat diminishing the magnetic
permeability of the oxygen of the air. Further experiments with gases
showed him that nitrogen was absolutely neutral in its reaction.

It might have been expected, from Faraday's early interest in chemistry,
that when he turned to electricity and made discoveries in that field of
research, he would naturally take up the problem of tracing the laws and
demonstrating the relationships of the points of contact of the two
great sciences. After his completion, then, of the subject of induction,
Faraday devoted himself to the experimental proof of the identity of
frictional and voltaic electricity, and to showing that chemistry and
physics have a common ground. His inductive electrical machine could
deflect a magnet and decompose iodide of potash. With his tendency to
measure things, he determined that the amount of electricity required to
decompose a grain of water was equal to 800,000 charges of his large
battery of Leyden jars. On the other hand, the current from a frictional
machine deflected the needle of his galvanometer in the same way as the
induced current of electricity, so that all the elements of the proof of
the identity of the two forms of phenomena were now in his hands.

That he should have proceeded to the demonstration of the laws of
electrolysis, was the next most natural result. He showed that the
amount of any compound decomposed by the electric current is exactly
proportional to the whole quantity of electricity which has passed
through the electrolyte. Different substances are variously refractory
to dissolution under the influence of the electric current, but each one
always acts in the same way and requires the same amount of current.
Substances that are closely related to one another chemically, are also
related to one another in the amount of electricity required to bring
about decomposition of their various compounds. He showed, of course,
that there are differences of electrical relationship that make the
results produced in the decomposition of various compounds very
different. Polarization, for instance, sets in to a much greater degree
in the decomposition of some substances than of others. One consequence
is that the resistance to the passage of the electric current differs
markedly, and the opposing electromotive force will stop the current or
hamper its effects in many cases, so that, until after actual
experiment, the quantitative effect of the passage of the electric
current through a solution cannot be determined.

Faraday's opinions as to the significance of electricity in the animal
economy are very interesting because of his profound knowledge of
electrical phenomena and their place in nature. It is all the more
interesting because it is so simple, and most scientists would be apt to
say that its very simplicity is a very taking argument for its truth.
"As living creatures produce heat, and a heat certainly identical with
that of our hearths, why should they not produce electricity also, and
an electricity in like manner identical with that of our machines? Like
heat, like chemical action, electricity is an implement of life, and
nothing more."

While Faraday often occupied himself with subjects connected with matter
and force that are likely to remain mysteries for long after his time,
and often had thoughts to express with regard to the nature of atoms and
of imponderable agents, whatever he had to say about these subjects was
not vague and speculative, but, on the contrary, was concrete and
usually of such a practical character as to add something new to our
knowledge of them. Few men have ever succeeded in getting closer to the
mysteries that underlie natural phenomena than Faraday; yet no one was
ever less carried away into vague theoretic speculations with regard to
them, nor tempted to think that because he knew much more than most
other men with regard to complex natural problems, that therefore he
knew enough to be able to solve the mysteries that existed all around
him. He had none at all of what would ordinarily be called pride of
intellect, but, on the contrary, had the humility of the true scientist.
Knowing so much only made him realize more poignantly how much he was
ignorant of. With regard to his speculations on matter and force and the
imponderables, Helmholtz, the great German physicist, once summed up
Faraday's contributions very succinctly in a way to show the practical
nature of Faraday's intellect. He said:

"It is these things that Faraday in his mature works ever seeks to
purify more and more from everything that is theoretical and is not the
direct and simple expression of the fact. For instance, he contended
against the action of forces at a distance, and the adoption of two
electrical and two magnetic fluids, as well as all hypotheses contrary
to the law of the conservation of force, which he early foresaw, though
he misunderstood it in its scientific expression. And it is just in
this direction that he exercised the most unmistakable influence, first
of all, on the English physicist, and then on the physicists of all the

Inventors and promoters of useful inventions, frequently benefited by
the advice of Faraday or by his general help. A remarkable instance of
this was told by Mr. Cyrus W. Field. At the commencement of his great
enterprise, when he wished to unite the Old and the New World by the
telegraphic cable, he sought the advice of the great electrician, and
Faraday told him that he doubted the possibility of getting a message
across the Atlantic. Mr. Field saw that this fatal objection must be
settled at once, and begged Faraday to make the necessary experiments,
offering to pay him properly for his services. The philosopher, however,
declined all remuneration, but worked away at the question, and
presently reported to Mr. Field: "It can be done; but you will not get
an instantaneous message." "How long will it take?" was the inquiry.
"Oh! perhaps a second." "Well, that's quick enough for me," was the
conclusion of the American; and the enterprise was proceeded with.

Faraday was far from being a mere laboratory student; he was much more
even than a great teacher of physics. He was a magnificent popular
lecturer, and did an incalculable amount to bring physics to the
attention and the serious interest of his generation. A contemporary has
described one of his lectures at the Royal Institution in such a way as
to give us some idea, even at this distant date, of Faraday's power over
his audience, of his own wonderful interest in the subject and his
marvelous ability to communicate that interest to others. It was of the
very nature of the man that he should not be cold and formal, for he was
not a man of the head alone, but, above all, a man whose heart and
affections were greatly developed, and he had powers of enthusiasm that
placed him high among the artistic spirits of mankind. Our American
poet, Stedman, once declared that the intellectual quality of the poet,
the creator in the realm of thought, and of the scientist, the original
worker in the domain of science, differed but little from one another,
and must be considered as collateral expressions of the same form of
intellectual genius. With this in mind, his contemporary's enthusiastic
description of his lectures will not seem overdrawn.

"It was an irresistible eloquence, which compelled attention and
insisted upon sympathy. It waked the young from their visions, and the
old from their dreams. There was a gleaming in his eyes which no painter
could copy, and which no poet could describe. Their radiance seemed to
send a strange light into the very heart of his congregation; and when
he spoke, it was felt that the stir of his voice and the fervor of his
words could belong only to the owner of those kindling eyes. His thought
was rapid, and made itself a way in new phrases, if it found none ready
made, as the mountaineer cuts steps in the most hazardous ascent with
his own axe. His enthusiasm sometimes carried him to the point of

Faraday's habit of testing opinions by experiment, and the frequent
disillusions which he encountered with regard to things of which he
thought he knew something definite, served to make him extremely
careful as regards expressions of opinion. Some of his thoughts on this
subject are worth while recalling because they remain perennially true,
and anyone in any generation will find that, as his experience grows, he
gets more and more into this Faraday mood of doubting his own opinion
and listening with more readiness to that of others. As a rule, this is
said not to be true of those who are in advancing years, but the greater
minds among the older men do not get set in their ways. Flourens might
have said that because of constant exercise the connective tissue in the
brains of such men does not form to the same extent as in others, and
does not make them case-hardened. As a consequence, they retain far on
in years their sympathy for others' opinions and their openness of mind.
Comparatively, they are so few, however, that this expression of
Faraday's becomes a striking commentary on his large-mindedness.

"For proper self-education, it is necessary that a man examine himself,
and that not carelessly either.... A first result of this habit of mind
will be an internal conviction of ignorance in many things respecting
which his neighbors are taught, and that his opinions and conclusions on
such matters ought to be advanced with reservation. A mind so
disciplined will be open to correction upon good grounds in all things,
even in those it is best acquainted with, and should familiarize itself
with the idea of such being the case."

Perhaps it is even more interesting, because more humanly sympathetic,
to find that Faraday distrusted his opinions of people even more than
his opinions of things, and that he himself tried to be very slow to
take offence at what was said to him, and counselled greatest discretion
to others in judging of the significance of supposed slights.

"Let me, as an old man who ought by this time to have profited by
experience, say that when I was younger, I found I often misinterpreted
the intentions of people, and found that they did not mean what at the
time I supposed they meant; and further, that, as a general rule, it was
better to be a little dull of apprehension when phrases seemed to imply
pique and quick in perception, when, on the contrary, they seemed to
imply kindly feeling. The real truth never fails ultimately to appear,
and opposing parties, if wrong, are sooner convinced when replied to
forbearingly than when overwhelmed."

Few lives have been happier than that of Faraday. He gave up the
ordinary ambition of men to make what is called a successful career of
money-making, and constantly guarded himself from slipping back, as so
many do, to the ruin of their original purpose. He lived a long life in
peace, occupied with work that he liked above all things, and surely
serves as the best illustration of the maxim: "Blessed is the man who
has found his work." Work is said to be one of the primal curses laid
upon man; but if, when the Creator would ban it turns to blessing in the
way that work has done, then may one well ask what will His blessings
prove. Faraday even had what is rarer in life than happiness, the
consciousness of his happiness. Usually it is so elusive that it escapes
reflection. At the close of his career, when he wrote, in 1861, to the
managers of the Royal Institution resigning most of his duties, he
expressed this feeling very beautifully, and at the same time so simply
and clearly as to make his letter of resignation a precious bit of

"I entered the Royal Institution in March, 1813, nearly forty-nine years
ago, and, with the exception of a comparatively short period, during
which I was abroad on the continent with Sir H. Davy, I have been with
you ever since. During that time I have been most happy in your
kindness, and in the fostering care which the Royal Institution has
bestowed upon me. Thank God, first, for all His gifts! I have next to
thank you and your predecessors for the unswerving encouragement and
support which you have given me during that period. My life has been a
happy one, and all I desired. During its progress, I have tried to make
a fitting return for it to the Royal Institution, and through it to
science. But the progress of years (now amounting in number to
three-score and ten) having brought forth, first, the period of
development, and then that of maturity, has ultimately produced for me
that of gentle decay. This has taken place in such a manner as to make
the evening of life a blessing; for, while increasing physical weakness
occurs, a full share of health, free from pain, is granted with it; and
while memory and certain other faculties of the mind diminish, my good
spirits and cheerfulness do not diminish with them."

For nearly five years after he had given up to a great degree his work
at the Royal Institution, he faced death, not with the equanimity of the
stoic, but with the peaceful happiness of the believer in Providence and
a hereafter. Even the loss of his memory, dear as it must have been to a
man who had spent all his life in storing it with the great facts of
science, does not seem seriously to have disturbed him. He realized the
necessity for patience, and took the lesson of its necessity to heart,
so that there was no difficulty in it. Once when calling on his friend,
the distinguished scientist, Barlow, who had for a lifetime almost
worked beside him at the Royal Institution, but who was now suffering
from paralysis, he said: "Barlow, you and I are waiting; that is what we
have to do now; and we must try to do it patiently." When the full
realization that his powers were leaving him first came to him, he wrote
to his niece what he thought ought to be the feelings of the believer in
Providence toward death, and his letter shows how thoroughly he had
imbibed the great lessons of Christianity, and how much of consolation
his faith was to him in this darkest hour before the dawn of that other
life, in which he had as implicit confidence as in any of the great
scientific principles that he had demonstrated by experiment. He wrote:

"I cannot think that death has, to the Christian, anything in it that
should make it a rare, or other than a constant thought. Out of the
thought of death comes the view of the life beyond the grave, as out of
the view of sin (that true and real view which the Holy Spirit alone can
give to man) comes the glorious Hope.... My worldly faculties are
slipping away day by day. Happy is it for all of us, that the true good
lies not in them. As they ebb, may they leave us as little children,
trusting in the Father of Mercies and accepting His unspeakable gift."
And when the dark shadow was creeping over him, he wrote to the Comte de
Paris: "I bow before Him who is the Lord of all, and hope to be kept
waiting patiently for His time and mode of releasing me, according to
His divine word and the great and precious promises whereby His people
are made partakers of the divine nature."

Probably the feature of the careers of Darwin and Spencer which are
saddest for their adherents, and which made those who refused to be
recognized as among their followers appreciate their one-sidedness, is
the confession by both of them, that they had lost their interest in
poetry and even in literature of all kinds, and toward the end of their
lives particularly lost entirely their appreciation of things artistic.
As might be expected from what we know of Faraday, this was not at all
the case with him; but, on the contrary, down to the end of his life, he
retained all his youthful admiration for the poets. His niece tells the
story of hearing him often read poetry, and of how much he used to be
affected by his favorite poems. In one of her letters she says:

"But of all things, I used to like to hear him read 'Childe Harold'; and
never shall I forget the way in which he read the description of the
storm on Lake Leman. He took great pleasure in Bryon, and Coleridge's
'Hymn to Mont Blanc' delighted him. When anything touched his feelings
as he read--and it happened not infrequently--he would show it not only
in his voice, but by tears in his eyes also."

As a young man, he was so completely taken up with the scientific
studies that he could not think that he would ever find time for the
ordinary interests of life. Especially was this true with regard to the
question of marriage. He felt that he would never marry, and he seems
rather to have pitied those, the weakness of whose nature pushed them on
to assume many duties in life and look for merely selfish happiness. It
was as a very young man that he wrote:

    "What is't that comes in false, deceitful guise,
    Making dull fools of those that 'fore were wise?
                                          'Tis Love."

When the time came, however, he altered this opinion. Among the elders
of the Church which he attended in London was a Mr. Barnard, a
silversmith. Faraday occasionally spent an evening at his house, and
incidentally met his daughter Sarah. He had not met her many times
before his ideas as to what love might mean in life were completely
changed, and not long after making her acquaintance he wrote her a
letter, in which he recants and asks her to be more than a friend. His
letter is rather interesting as love letters go.

"You know me as well or better than I do myself. You know my former
prejudices and my present thoughts; you know my weaknesses, my vanity,
my whole mind; you have converted me from one erroneous way; let me hope
that you will attempt to correct what others are wrong.... Again and
again I attempt to say what I feel, but I cannot. Let me, however, claim
not to be the selfish being that wishes to bend his affections for his
own sake only. In whatever way I can best minister to your happiness,
either by assiduity or by absence, it shall be done. Do not injure me by
withdrawing your friendship, or punish me for aiming to be more than a
friend by making me less; and if you cannot grant me more, leave me what
I possess but hear me."

In spite of the sincere feeling of this letter, the lady hesitated. For
a time she left London, apparently in order to give herself a breathing
spell from the ardor of his suit. In spite of his deep interest in
science, Faraday followed her to the seacoast, and after they had
wandered together for several days at Margate and Dover, where
Shakespeare's Cliff Was an especial haunt of theirs, the lady relented.
Faraday returned to London bubbling over with happiness. He was not
quite thirty when they were married, and at the time his salary did not
amount to more than a thousand dollars a year. It was distinctly not a
marriage of reason.

Most of the happiness of his life came to him from his marriage. Many
years afterward, he called it "An event which, more than any other,
contributed to my happiness and healthful state of mind." With years,
this feeling only deepened and strengthened. In the midst of his
scientific triumphs, his first thought was always of her. When his
attendance at scientific congresses took him away from her, his letters
were frequent, and always expressive of his longing to be with her. One
of his biographers has said "that doubtless at any time between their
marriage and his final illness, he might have written to her as he did
from Birmingham, at the time of the meeting of the British Association

"After all, there is no pleasure like the tranquil pleasure of home; and
here, the moment I leave the table, I wish I were with you _in quiet_.
Oh! what happiness is ours! My runs into the world in this way only
serve to make me esteem that happiness the more."

Faraday had probably lost more illusions than most men, and came to the
true appreciation of things as they are. In spite of his life-long
study, he had no illusions with regard to the education of the intellect
merely, or the possession of superior intellectual faculties as moral
factors. His keen observation of men had made any such mistake as that
impossible. On the other hand, he had often noted that the ignorant, or
at least those lacking education, were very admirable in conduct and in
principle, and so we have his suggestive testimony:

"I should be glad to think that high mental powers insured something
like a high moral sense, but have often been grieved to see the
contrary; as also, on the other hand, my spirit has been cheered by
observing in some lowly and uninstructed creature such a healthful and
honorable and dignified mind as made one in love with human nature. When
that which is good mentally and morally meet in one being, that that
being is more fitted to work out and manifest the glory of God in the
creation, I fully admit."

Faraday's very definite expression of what he considers must be the
position of the man of science with regard to a hereafter and the
existence of God, is worth while recalling here, because it was such a
modest yet forceful presentation of the attitude of mind that every
thinking modern scientist must occupy in this matter, the attitude which
all of Faraday's great fellow-workers in the domain of electricity also
occupy. It is indeed the position that has been assumed by all the great
scientists who bowed humbly to faith, though so many lesser lights have
found this apparently impossible. At a lecture given in 1854 at the
Royal Institution, Faraday said: "High as man is placed above the
creatures around him, there is a higher and far more exalted position
within his view; and the ways are infinite in which he occupies his
thoughts about the fears, or hopes, or expectations of a future life. I
believe that the truth of that future cannot be brought to his
knowledge by any exertion of his mental powers, however exalted they may
be; that it is made known to him by other teaching than his own, and is
received through simple belief of the testimony given.... Yet even in
earthly matters, I believe that 'the invisible things of Him from the
creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things
that are made, even His eternal power and godhead'; and I have never
seen anything incompatible between those things of man which can be
known by the spirit of man which is within him, and those higher things
concerning his future which he cannot know by that spirit."

Elsewhere he had said: "When I consider the multitude of associate
forces which are diffused through nature; when I think of that calm and
tranquil balancing of their energies which enables elements, most
powerful in themselves, most destructive to the world's creatures and
economy, to dwell associated together and be made subservient to the
wants of creation, I rise from the contemplation more than ever
impressed with the wisdom, the beneficence, and grandeur beyond our
language to express, of the Great Disposer of all!"

Dr. Gladstone, in his Life of Faraday, which we have so often put into
requisition, has given in one striking paragraph a description of the
passing of Faraday, that in its simplicity is worthy of the great man
whom it so well represents. It is so different from what is ordinarily
supposed to be the attitude of the scientist towards death, that when by
contrast we recall that Faraday is acknowledged to be the greatest
experimental scientist of the nineteenth century, the man of his
generation most honored by scientific societies at home and abroad--his
honorary memberships numbered nearly one hundred--it must be considered
as a very curious contradiction of what is the usual impression in this
matter: "When his faculties were fading fast, he would sit long at the
western window, watching the glories of the sunset; and one day, when
his wife drew his attention to a beautiful rainbow that then spanned the
sky, he looked beyond the falling shower and the many-colored arch and
observed, 'He hath set His testimony in the heavens.' On August 25th,
1867, quietly, almost imperceptibly, came the release. There was a
philosopher less on earth, and a saint more in heaven."

When we come to the end of the life of this greatest of
experimentalists, the most striking remembrance is that of the supreme
original genius of this great discoverer in electricity, whose work was
such a stimulus to others, whose conclusions were to prove the basis for
so much of the work of his contemporaries and his successors in
electrical investigation, and whose place in the world of science is
assured beside such men as Newton and Kepler and Harvey and the other
great pioneers in science. There is no doubt at all, however, that our
heartiest feelings are aroused by the picture of the wonderfully rounded
existence of the great scientist, his pervasive humanity, his largeness
of soul and sympathy, his understanding of men in their ways through his
own complete knowledge of himself, that is so strikingly displayed. We
feel sure that Faraday himself would have cared less for his fame as a
great scientist than for the summary of his life which has been given us
by his friend, Bence Jones, who said: "His was a life-long strife, to
seek and say that which he thought was true and to do that which he
thought was kind."


[29] Some of the books bound by Faraday at this time are still
preserved in the library of the Royal Institution, together with his
notes on various courses of lectures, some of which are mentioned more
particularly later on in this sketch, as they were also bound by him.
Among the manuscripts in the collection are letters from many of the
important scientific scientists of Europe.

[30] Makers of Modern Medicine, Fordham University Press, N.
Y., 1907.



Natural science in every department developed very wonderfully from its
experimental side during the first half of the nineteenth century. Facts
and observations accumulated to such an amount that, shortly after the
middle of the century, there was felt the need of a great mathematical
genius to bring the results of experiment into their proper places in
the great body of applied and theoretic science. Nearly always such a
demand meets with adequate response in its own due time. Clerk Maxwell
came at this most opportune moment for science. No mathematical problem
was too abstruse or difficult for him, and whatever he took up seriously
he always illuminated, and usually solved its problems as completely as
can be hoped for in the present state of scientific knowledge. It was
particularly in electricity that his mathematical faculty proved of the
greatest value, and that he found the abundant opportunities of which he
knew so well how to take advantage.

  [Illustration: JAMES CLERK MAXWELL]

Clerk Maxwell's theory of electricity, as developed in his classic
treatise on "Electricity and Magnetism," is well called by Prof. Peter
Guthrie Tait, "One of the most splendid monuments ever raised by the
genius of a single individual." This book became the guide and companion
of more physical scientists during the nineteenth century than perhaps
any other written in that period. It was not alone in England or in
English-speaking countries that it was accepted as an authority and
constantly referred to, but everywhere throughout the world of science.
Not to know it, was to argue that a man knew nothing of the profounder
truths of electrical science and was only a seeker after superficial
information. Clerk Maxwell was known and esteemed by all the great
physical scientists of the world. His name is less widely known than
that of most of the great discoverers in electricity, because
mathematical achievement always has less popular attraction; but he
deserves to be known by all who are interested in science, not only
because of his magnificent contributions to mathematical electricity,
but quite as much for qualities of heart and mind that stamp him as one
of the very great men of the century so rapidly receding from us.

Clerk Maxwell, as he is usually called, because he was the
representative of a younger branch of the well-known Scottish family of
Clerk of Penicuik, was born in Edinburgh, June 13th, 1831. As with
nearly every other person who reaches distinction in after-life, there
are stories told of his precociousness which probably have more meaning
in this case than in most others, since they exhibit real traits that
were characteristic of the man. As a child, it is said that he was never
satisfied until he had found out for himself everything that he could
about anything that attracted his attention. He wanted to know where the
streams of water came from, where and whence all the pipes ran, and the
course of bell-wires and the like. His frequently repeated question was,
"What's the go o' that." If an attempt were made to put him off with
some indefinite answer, then he would insist, "But what's the particular
go of it." This was probably the most prominent trait in his after-life.
General explanations of phenomena that satisfied other men never
satisfied him. He was a nature student from the beginning, and even as a
boy he devised all sorts of ingenious mechanical contrivances. Pet
animals were his special delight, but for experimental purposes always,
and his selection of pets would probably have startled some people.

He received his early education at the Edinburgh Academy, and his
university education at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated
in 1850. His liking for mathematics, which had already been very
strongly exhibited, led him, at the age of nineteen, to go to Cambridge.
Here, for a term or two, he was a student at Peterhouse, but afterwards
found a more sympathetic place for his mathematical tastes at Trinity.
He took his degree at Cambridge in 1854, though only with the rank of
second wrangler, Routh being senior. In the more serious and more
exacting examination for the Smith's Prize, he was declared equal with
the senior wrangler. His mathematical talents had developed very early,
and it is not surprising that the rest of his life should have been
devoted mainly to the teaching of mathematics and in investigations
connected with applied mathematics. It was not success at the university
that determined his career, for he had shown his marvelous mathematical
ability much earlier than that, and had given some astonishing examples
of his power to treat complex scientific problems in mathematical

Indeed, his original contributions to the higher mathematics began
before he was fifteen years of age. He was a striking example of the
fact that a great genius usually finds his work very early in life, and
usually accomplishes something significant in it, at once the harbinger
and the token of the future, before he is twenty-five. While Clerk
Maxwell was at the Edinburgh Academy, Professor J. D. B. Forbes, in
1836, communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh a short paper by
his youthful student on "A Mechanical Method of Tracing Oval Curves"
(Cartesian Ovals).

In spite of the prejudice that exists with regard to precocious genius
and the distinct feeling that it is not likely to prove an enduring
quality, Clerk Maxwell continued to do excellent original work all
through his teens. When he was but eighteen, he contributed two
important papers to the transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
One of these was on "The Theory of Rolling Curves," and the other on
"The Equilibrium of Elastic Solids." These are now remembered, not only
because of Clerk Maxwell's subsequent distinguished career, but because
of their distinct value as contributions to science. Both of them
demonstrate not only his ability to work out subtle mathematical
problems at this very early age, but show the possession by him of a
power of investigation for original work that stamps them as well worthy
of consideration in themselves, quite apart from the repute of their
author or the successful accomplishments of his subsequent life.

With regard to one of those Edinburgh papers of Clerk Maxwell's
eighteenth year, Prof. Guthrie Tait said "that in it he laid the
foundation of one of the singular discoveries of his later life, the
temporary double refraction produced in viscous liquid by sheering
stress." After his magnificent mathematical training at Cambridge, it is
not surprising that this academic career of great original work should
be continued by contributions to science of ever-increasing importance.
Immediately after his graduation, he read to the Cambridge Philosophical
Society one of the few purely mathematical papers that he ever
published. This had for its title, "On the Transformation of Surfaces by
Bending." Expert mathematicians who read the paper, realized at once
that there was a new genius in the field of mathematics. During the same
year, the young Scotch mathematician took the first step in that series
of electrical investigations which was to occupy so much of his
attention in after-life, and which was to prove the source of his
greatest inspirations. This consisted of the publication of an elaborate
paper on Faraday's "lines of force."

While we think of Maxwell as a mathematical physicist, it must not be
forgotten that he was also one of the leading experimental scientists of
that great epoch, the nineteenth century. Only a man who was himself a
great experimenter could have properly appreciated and developed, from
the mathematical standpoint, the works of such men as Cavendish and
Faraday. From his early years, Maxwell displayed a distinct fondness for
experimentation, and this even extended to experiments upon himself. In
many ways this trait of his would remind us of Johann Müller, the great
father of modern German medicine.[34] Like Müller, there was danger also
of Maxwell's experiments on himself getting him into trouble. For
instance, at one time his love of experiment led him to try sleeping in
the evening and getting up to work at midnight, so as to have the long,
silent hours of the night to himself. In the sketch of his life by Dr.
Garnett,[32] a letter from one of his friends is quoted with regard to
this nocturnal habit, which is amusing as well as interesting. The
friend wrote:

"From 2 to 2:30 a. m. he took exercise by running along the upper
corridor, down the stairs, along the lower corridor, then up the stairs,
and so on until the inhabitants of the rooms along his track got up and
laid _perdus_ behind their sporting doors, to have shots at him with
boots, hair-brushes, etc., as he passed." His love of fun, his sharp
wit, his extensive knowledge, and, above all, his complete
unselfishness, rendered him a universal favorite, in spite of the
temporary inconveniences which his experiments may have occasionally
caused to his fellow-students.

In 1857, Clerk Maxwell received the Adams Prize for his essay on "The
Stability of the Motion of Saturn's Rings." He shows very clearly that
these annular appendages consist of a large number of small masses. This
work would seem to be very distant from anything that Maxwell had
attempted before, and would indeed seem to the superficial observer, at
least, to be quite out of his sphere. It was the mathematics of it that
attracted him, and the fact that the problem was difficult, indeed, one
of the most difficult at that time before astronomers, only added zest
to his resolve to fathom it. All his life, mathematics continued to be
his favorite form of work, and his power to express the most complex
physical phenomena in mathematical formulæ gave him a reputation
throughout Europe unsurpassed by anyone of his generation. The more a
problem seemed incapable of direct statement in mathematical terms,
provided it represented a great occurrence in nature, the more Maxwell
was attracted to it; and the training of these early years in thus
setting mathematics to the solution of physical relations, was to serve
him in good stead when he came to try his hand at demonstrating the
meaning of electricity in mathematical terms.

Just before this, in 1856, Maxwell, though only twenty-five years of
age, was offered the chair of natural history, which included most of
the physical sciences, at Marischal College, Aberdeen. With the
attention that his mathematical papers attracted, it is not surprising
that after four years of teaching experience he was invited to King's
College, London. He held his new position for eight years, and then his
health required him to retire to his estate in Kirkcudbrightshire. After
three years of retirement, his English Alma Mater demanded his services,
and the temptation to get back to an academic career was so great that
he could not resist it. He became, in 1871, Professor of experimental
physics at Cambridge. To him, more than to anyone else, is due the
magnificent development of the physical sciences which took place at
Cambridge during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, he was not destined to live to enjoy the fruits of his
labor in organizing the scientific side of the university, but it was
under his direction that the plans of the Cavendish Laboratory were
prepared, and he superintended every step of the progress of the
building. It was under his careful management, too, that the purchase of
the very valuable collection of apparatus, with which it was equipped by
the Duke of Devonshire, was made, and Maxwell's work here counts for
much in the history of English science.

He died in 1879, when only forty-eight years of age, but he had deeply
impressed himself upon the science of the nineteenth century. For quite
one-half of his scant half-century span of life he had occupied a
prominent place in England, and after the age of thirty-five had come to
be generally recognized as one of the leading physical scientists of the
world. His career is, as we have said, a striking illustration of how
early in life a man's real work is likely to come to him, and how little
success in original investigation is dependent on that development of
mind which is supposed to be due only to long years of application to a
particular branch of study. Manifestly it is the original genius that
counts for most, and not any training that it receives, except such as
comes from its own maturing powers. Environment, if unfavorable, does
not hamper it much, nor keep it from reaching the proper terminus of its
destiny; and poor health only serves to prevent the exercise of its full
powers, but does not eclipse the manifestation of its capacity.

Clerk Maxwell's important contribution to science was the demonstration
that electro-magnetic effects travel through space in the form of
transverse waves similar to those of light and having the same velocity.
We have become so familiar with the ideas contained in this explanation,
that they seem almost obvious now. They came, however, as a great
surprise to Clerk Maxwell's generation, and at first seemed to be merely
a theoretic expression of a mathematical formula. Not long afterwards,
however, Maxwell's explanation was corroborated by Hertz, who showed
that these waves were propagated just as waves of light are, and that
they exhibit the phenomena of reflection, refraction and polarization.
Hertz went on from his demonstration of the actuality of Maxwell's
mathematical theory to the demonstration of further electrical waves.
These Hertzian waves, as they were called, were a startling discovery,
but remained only a scientific curiosity until they were taken advantage
of for wireless telegraphy, when a new era of applied electrical science

How his success in this was accomplished will be best understood from
Prof. Guthrie Tait's account of Maxwell's devotion to electricity as a
life-work. He says:

     "But the great work of his life was devoted to electricity. He
     began by reading with the most profound admiration and attention
     the whole of Faraday's extraordinary self-revelations, and
     proceeded to translate the ideas of that master into the succinct
     and expressive notation of the mathematicians. A considerable part
     of this translation was accomplished during his career as an
     undergraduate in Cambridge. The writer had the opportunity of
     perusing the MS. on Faraday's lines of force, in a form little
     different from the final one, a year before Maxwell took his
     degree. His great object, as it was also the great object of
     Faraday, was to over-turn the idea of action at a distance. The
     splendid researches of Poisson and Gauss had shown how to reduce
     all the phenomena of statical electricity to mere attractions and
     repulsions exerted at a distance by particles of an imponderable on
     one another. Sir W. Thomson had, in 1846, shown that a totally
     different assumption, based upon other analogies, led (by its own
     special mathematical methods) to precisely the same results. He
     treated the resultant electric force at any point as an analogous
     flux of heat from the sources distributed, in the same manner as
     the supposed electric particles. This paper of Thomson's, whose
     ideas Maxwell afterwards developed in an extraordinary manner,
     seems to have given the first hint that there are at least two
     perfectly distinct methods of arriving at the known formulæ of
     statical electricity. The step to magnetic phenomena was
     comparatively simple; but it was otherwise as regards
     electromagnetic phenomena, where current electricity is essentially
     involved. An exceedingly ingenious, but highly artificial, theory
     had been devised by Weber, which was found capable of explaining
     all the phenomena investigated by Ampère as well as the induction
     currents of Faraday. But this was based upon the assumption of a
     distance-action between electric particles, whose intensity
     depended upon their relative motion as well as on their position.
     This was, of course, more repugnant to Maxwell's mind than the
     statical distance-action developed by Poisson. The first paper of
     Maxwell's in which an attempt at an admissible physical theory of
     electromagnetism was made, was communicated to the Royal Society in
     1867. But the theory in a fully developed form, first appeared in
     his great treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873). Availing
     himself of the admirable generalized coördinate system of Lagrange,
     Maxwell has shown how to reduce all electric and magnetic phenomena
     to stresses and motions of a material medium, and as one
     preliminary, but excessively severe, test of the truth of this
     theory has shown that, if the electromagnetic medium be that which
     is required for the explanation of the phenomena of light, the
     velocity of light in vacuo should be numerically the same as the
     ratio of the electromagnetic and electrostatic units. We do not as
     yet certainly know either of these quantities very exactly, but
     the mean values of the best determination of each separately agree
     with one another more closely than do the various values of either.
     There seems to be no longer any possibility of doubt that Maxwell
     has taken the first grand step towards the discovery of the true
     nature of electrical phenomena. Had he done nothing but this, his
     fame would have been secure for all time. But, striking as it is,
     this forms only one small part of the contents of his truly
     marvelous work."

Maxwell's prediction as to the propagation of electric waves has
received its full confirmation, as we have said, in the brilliant
experiments of Hertz, and in the subsequent application of the Hertzian
waves to wireless telegraphy in our own time. It was not by mere chance
that this development of Maxwell's thinking came. Hertz himself
declared, in the introduction to his collected papers, that he owed the
suggestion of his work to Faraday and Maxwell, and above all to
Maxwell's speculations as to the nature of electricity and its relations
to light. Hertz said:

"The hypothesis that light is an electric phenomenon is thus made highly
probable. To give a strict proof of this hypothesis would logically
require experiments upon light itself. There is an obvious comparison
between the experiments and the theory, in connection with which they
were really undertaken. Since 1861, science has been in possession of a
theory which Maxwell constructed upon Faraday's views, and which we
therefore call the Faraday-Maxwell theory. This theory affirms the
occurrence of the class of phenomena here discovered, just as positively
as the remaining electric theories are compelled to deny it. From the
outset, Maxwell's theory excelled all others in its elaboration and in
the abundance of relations between the various phenomena which it

How much Maxwell's work was appreciated across the channel, may be
realized from what Poincaré said: "So sure did the results of his
(Maxwell's) theory appear as worked out for the deepest problems, that a
feeling of distrust and suspicion is likely to be mingled with our
admiration for his magnificent work. It is only after prolonged study
and at the cost of many efforts that this feeling is dissipated."

Maxwell's explanation of electricity is that it is a strain or stress in
the ether, that it is a condition or mode, and not a substance. One
distinguished foreign contemporary who had read Maxwell's books with the
greatest interest, declared that he could not be quite satisfied, since
nowhere did he find what a charge of electricity is, though he seemed to
find satisfactory information with regard to everything else. Maxwell
realized, however, the limitations of his speculation very well, and
hesitated, above all, to bind his mathematical conclusions to statements
that might prove eventually only surmises founded on insufficient
information from the standpoint of observation. Even when he gave his
explanation, he did not insist on it as absolute, but, as pointed out by
Poincaré, discussed it only as a possibility. The French scientist said:
"Maxwell does not give a mechanical explanation of electricity and
magnetism; he is only concerned to show that such an explanation is

Maxwell thoroughly believed in having a hobby as well as his regular
work, and during the time while he was devoting himself to the
mathematical explanation of electricity he turned for recreation to
certain problems in physics, in physiology and psychology, relating to
color. He worked almost as great a revolution in our knowledge of
color-vision as in any other subject that he took up. Principal Garnett
has condensed so well what Clerk Maxwell accomplished in the matter of
color-vision, in his sketch of him in "The Heroes of Science,"[33] that
I prefer to quote his explanation. He says:

     "It has been stated that Thomas Young propounded a theory of
     color-vision which assumes that there exists three separate color
     sensations, corresponding to red, green and violet, each having
     its own special organs, the excitement of which causes the
     perception of the corresponding color, other colors being due to
     the excitement of two or more of these simple sensations in
     different proportions. Maxwell adopted blue instead of violet for
     the third sensation, and showed that, if a particular red, green,
     and blue were selected and placed at the angular points of an
     equilateral triangle, the colors formed by mixing them being
     arranged as in Young's diagram, all the shades of the spectrum
     would be ranged along the sides of this triangle, the center being
     neutral grey. For the mixing of colored lights, he at first
     employed the color top; but instead of painting circles with
     colored sectors, the angles of which could not be changed, he used
     circular discs of colored paper slit along one radius. Any number
     of such discs can be combined so that each shows a sector at the
     top, and the angle of each sector can be varied at will by sliding
     the corresponding disc between the others. Maxwell used discs of
     two different sizes, the small discs being placed above the larger
     on the same pivot, so that one set forked a central circle and the
     other set a ring surrounding it. He found that, with discs of five
     different colors, of which one might be white and another black, it
     was always possible to combine them so that the inner circle and
     the outer ring exactly matched. From this he showed that there
     could be only three conditions to be satisfied in the eye, for two
     conditions were necessitated by the nature of the top, since the
     smaller sectors must exactly fill the circle and so must the
     larger. Maxwell's experiments, therefore, confirmed, in general,
     Young's theory. They showed, however, that the relative delicacy of
     the several color sensations is different in different eyes, for
     the arrangement which produced an exact match in the case of one
     observer, had to be modified for another; but this difference of
     delicacy proved to be very conspicuous in color-blind persons, for
     in most of the cases of color-blindness examined by Maxwell the red
     sensation was completely absent, so that only two conditions were
     required by color-blind eyes, and a match could therefore always be
     made in such cases with four discs only. Holmgren has since
     discovered cases of color-blindness in which the violet sensation
     is absent. He agrees with Young in making the third sensation
     correspond to violet rather than blue. Maxwell explained the fact
     that persons color-blind to the red divide colors into blues and
     yellows, by the consideration that, although yellow is a complex
     sensation corresponding to a mixture of red and green, yet in
     nature, yellow tints are so much brighter than greens, that they
     excite the green sensation more than green objects themselves can
     do; and hence greens and yellows are called yellow by such
     color-blind persons, though their perception of yellow is really
     the same as perception of green by normal eyes. Later on, by a
     combination of adjustable slits, prisms, and lenses arranged in a
     'color box,' Maxwell succeeded in mixing, in any desired
     proportions, the light from any three portions of the spectrum, so
     that he could deal with pure spectral colors instead of the complex
     combinations of differently colored lights afforded by colored
     papers. From these experiments, it appears that no ray of the solar
     spectrum can affect one color sensation alone, so that there are no
     colors in nature so pure as to correspond to the pure simple
     sensations, and the colors occupying the angular points of
     Maxwell's diagram affect all three color sensations, though they
     influence two of them to a much smaller extent than the third. A
     particular color in the spectrum corresponds to light which,
     according to the undulatory theory, physically consists of waves,
     all of the same period; but it may affect all three of the color
     sensations of a normal eye, though in different proportions. Thus
     yellow-light of a given wave-length affects the red and green
     sensations considerably and the blue (or violet) slightly, and the
     same effect may be produced by various mixtures of red or orange
     and green."

For his researches on the perception of color, the Royal Society awarded
Clerk Maxwell the Rumford Medal in 1860.

Besides this more or less theoretic work, however, Maxwell made some
interesting and important discoveries and inventions in optics. For
instance, he noted the great differences that exist in the eyes of dark
and fair complexions to different colors when the light falls upon the
center of the yellow spot, the so-called fovea centralis, or central pit
of the retina. His researches with regard to this led him to the
discovery that this portion of the retina is largely lacking in
sensibility to blue light. He was able to demonstrate this by his
experiment of looking through a glass vessel containing a solution of
chrome alum, when the central portion of the field of vision appears of
a light red color for the first second or two. He was also the inventor
of an ingenious optical apparatus, a real image stereoscope. A still
more important discovery was that of the double refraction which is
produced for the time in viscous liquids when they are stirred and their
motion is not as yet stopped. Maxwell showed that Canada balsam, for
instance, when stirred, acquired a distinct power of double refraction,
which it retained so long as the stress in the fluid produced by
stirring remained.

Other departments of physics were not neglected. For instance, one of
his greatest investigations was that on the kinetic theory of gases.
Geniuses had been working before him on this line, for, as pointed out
by Professor Tait, this theory owed its origin to Daniel Bernoulli, the
greatest mathematician of the eighteenth century, and had been developed
by the successful labors of Herapath, Joule and, above all, of Clausius.
The work of these men put the general accuracy of the theory beyond all
doubt and led to its very general acceptance, yet the details of it
needed to be elaborated before it could become definitely scientific.
Its greatest developments are due to Maxwell, and in this field Maxwell
appeared as an experimenter on the laws of gaseous friction as well as a
mathematician. His work with regard to color had showed his ingenuity as
an experimentalist, and this is still further illustrated by his
carefully arranged experiments on gases. Indeed, his work in this line
makes it very clear that nothing was too difficult for him, and that
anything that he turned his hand to in the field of science he was sure
to accomplish with eminent success.

It was not only his scientific monographs, however, that indicate how
great a scientist Clerk Maxwell was, but his text-books, even those of
more or less elementary character, which he wrote bring out this same
idea. He wrote, for instance, an admirable text-book on the theory of
heat, which went through many editions. Students of the subject, even
those who were not far advanced, found it clear and easier of study than
many a less exhaustive work. He also wrote an elementary treatise on
matter and motion, which has gone through several editions. One might
think that so small a work would scarcely interest him enough to tempt
him to put forth his powers at their best, and that at most it would be
a conventional condensation of previous knowledge. Prof. Tait, who
surely must be taken as a good judge in the matter, says that "even
this, like his other and larger works, is full of valuable material
worthy of the most attentive perusal not of students alone, but of the
very foremost scientific men."

One of the characteristic traits of Maxwell was his desire to impart
information to others. This extended not only to his academic relations,
but, above all, to the working classes, who might have few opportunities
for the obtaining of the information that was so interesting with
regard to natural subjects. Everywhere that he held an academic post in
his life, he gave lectures to the workmen. He was an extremely
interesting talker, and one of his friends said of him: "I do believe
there is not a single subject on which he cannot talk, and talk well,
too, displaying always the most curious and out-of-the-way information."
One of his private tutors said of him: "It is not possible for Maxwell
to think incorrectly on physical subjects." It is easy to understand,
then, how much his lectures to the working people at Aberdeen, at
Edinburgh, and at Kings College, London, as well as at Cambridge, meant
for them. If men like Maxwell would take up the popularization of
science generally, then there would be much less opprobrium attached to
the expression popular science than there has been only too often in the
past, and is even at present.

Just as Maxwell set himself to the solution of the most difficult
problems in physics, so he did not hesitate to give himself also to the
discussion of problems in ethics. Here his power of penetration, the
rigid logic of his mind, and his power to follow out conclusions to
their ultimate significance, were quite as manifest as any scientific
writing. It is almost the rule to find that scientists either ignore the
great problems of man's place in nature and his destiny, or treat them
very superficially. Agnosticism had become the fad of the moment, and
was just beginning to make itself felt as a fashion in thinking when
Clerk Maxwell was doing his great work. Maxwell was not an agnostic in
science, and because he could not solve all the problems that came to
him with regard to electricity and the constitution of matter, this did
not keep him from setting himself to the task of seeing what should be
his thoughts with regard to these subjects. He had none of the
agnostic's feelings with regard to them, that since we cannot know all
about them definitely and absolutely, therefore it is not worth while
studying them at all. Had Maxwell been tempted to any such line of
thought, we would have missed some of the most helpful scientific
speculations and suggestions that have ever been made.

No one knew better than Maxwell, that his speculations on matter and
electricity were theories, and that what he was offering to science were
not definite explanations, but possible hypotheses. He has emphasized
this himself over and over again. This inability of the human intellect
at the present moment to solve all the questions that its inquiring
spirit can evoke, did not keep him from investigating and following up
his investigations by mathematical deductions and mechanical suggestions
just as far as possible. He had the same attitude of mind toward the
great problems of man's relation to his fellow-man, to the universe, and
to a hereafter. While he felt that he could not solve the problems
entirely, he felt also that his reasoning was quite sufficient to enable
him to get a little nearer to the heart mystery of them and to
understand something of their significance. In his later years, the
question of the existence of pain and suffering in the world had,
because of Darwin's attitude towards them and his declaration that since
he was unable to understand them they carried him away from the thought
of a beneficent Creator, attracted much attention. We have an essay of
Clerk Maxwell's, then, on "Aspects of Pain," in which he discusses
particularly pain as discipline. It is, of course, the old story, that
men rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves, and that the
successive deaths of self represent a triumphant progress, but it comes
with a new vigor from this great scientist. We all know that it is the
man who has suffered who is able to do things, and we are all well aware
that the man who has lived in comfort all his life is almost sure to be
lacking in character when a great crisis comes upon him. Indeed, as
Clerk Maxwell re-states it, this is such a commonplace that one wonders
why the problem of pain should have seemed so hard to understand.

There is an essay of his, also, on "Science and Free Will," which seems
to deserve special notice. He has no illusions with regard to
determinism. He is perfectly sure that he is free and that the great
majority of men around him do or do not things as they choose. He points
out that science makes for determinism only if one takes a very narrow
view of it. Free will is not only compatible with scientific thinking,
but it represents what would be expected as a culmination of the
significance of life. In a word, Clerk Maxwell wrote as suggestively
with regard to the great problems of human life as with regard to the
physical nature around him that claimed so much of his interest. He was
a true natural philosopher, and his interests were not limited merely to
the lower orders of beings.

Because of the supreme power of Clerk Maxwell's mind to seek out the
very heart of difficulties, the conclusions which he reached with regard
to the existence of matter and the causes for the ultimate qualities
which it exhibits, have an enduring interest. Mathematics is sometimes
said to lead minds into scepticism. Cardinal Newman even thought that
the mathematical cast of mind was the farthest removed from that which
might be expected to accept things confidently on faith. Clerk Maxwell's
intellect was eminently mathematical; yet, far from sending him over
into the camp of the agnostics, his tendency to get at the ultimate
reasons for things seemed almost to push him to conclusions with regard
to the origin of matter, and especially its ultimate constituents, not
ordinarily supposed to be scientific. A passage like the following, for
instance, which may be found in his book on "The Theory of Heat,"
London, 1872, page 312, brings out this tendency very well:

"But if we suppose the molecules to be made at all, or if we suppose
them to consist of something previously made, why should we expect any
irregularity to exist among them? If they are, as we believe, the only
material things which still remain in the precise condition in which
they first began to exist, why should we not rather look for some
indication of that spirit of order, our scientific confidence in which
is never shaken by the difficulty which we experience in tracing it in
the complex arrangements of visible things, and of which our moral
estimation is shown in all our attempts to think and speak the truth,
and to ascertain the exact principles of distributive justice?"

The argument from design for creation is often said in our day to have
lost its weight. For Clerk Maxwell, however, this was evidently not the
case. On the contrary, he seemed to find in the detailed knowledge of
the ultimate constituents of matter which had come in recent years,
additional proofs of the great design which permeates nature. He had
come to the conclusion that not only were the groups of atoms which make
up living things so ordered as to produce definite results, because
there was a great purpose and, above all, a great Designer behind
nature, but he also reached the position that the separate atoms of
matter were so ordered with regard to one another, and in that ordering
were so closely related to corresponding qualities in higher beings,
that only the presence of a great design in nature could possibly
account for all these wonderful attributes, which were to be found even
in the smallest portions of matter. He said in his article on the atom,
in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

"What I thought of was not so much that uniformity of result which is
due to uniformity in the process of formation, as a uniformity intended
and accomplished by the same wisdom and power of which uniformity,
accuracy, symmetry, consistency, and continuity of plan are as important
attributes as the contrivance of the special utility of each individual

Here is the old argument for the existence of God, from the design
exhibited in the universe, rehabilitated by its application to the
minutest portions of matter, whose qualities demand such an explanation
quite as much as the highest adaptations of nature.

Perhaps the most striking expression of all with regard to the atoms
that Clerk Maxwell permitted himself, is that in which he finds the type
of what is best in man, in every minute portion of the universe, planted
there by the Creator just as surely as they are in His highest beings,
because they represent the most precious qualities of His own nature as
they are reflected in the creation that He called into existence.

"They (the atoms) continue this day as they were created, perfect in
number and measure and weight, and from the ineffaceable characters
impressed on them we may learn that those aspirations, after accuracy in
measurement, truth in statement, and justice in action, which we reckon
among our noblest attributes as men, are ours because they are essential
constituents of the image of Him Who in the beginning created not only
the heaven and the earth, but the materials of which heaven and earth

A very interesting side of Maxwell's life is that which shows his
continued interest in literature, and even his occasional dippings into
poetry. Though he reached distinction in mathematics and physics so
early in his career, he yet found time to indulge a liking for the
classics, and we even find some rather good translations of Horace's
odes from his pen. The translation of a part of the Ajax of Sophocles
from the Greek is a striking testimony to the breadth of Maxwell's
intellectual interests. All during life, however, he permitted himself
occasionally the luxury of fitting words into verse forms, and sometimes
with a success that deserves much more than passing interest. It is very
probable that the following verses, for instance, which are the first
and last stanzas of a poem on the formula for being happy in life and
were meant to be sung (or at least so he would hint) to the tune of "Il
segreto per esser felice," will strike many a sympathetic chord in the
modern time.

    There are some folks that say
    They have found out a way
      To be healthy and wealthy and wise:--
    "Let your thoughts be but few,
    Do as other folks do,
      And never be caught by surprise.
    Let your motto be follow the fashion,
      But let other people alone;
    Do not love them nor hate them nor care for their fate,
    But keep a lookout for your own.
    Then what though the world may run riot,
      Still playing at catch who catch can,
    You may just eat your dinner in quiet
      And live like a sensible man."

    In Nature I read quite a different creed,
      There everything lives in the rest;
    Each feels the same force
    As it moves in its course,
      And all by one blessing are blest.
    The end that we live for is single,
      But we labor not therefor alone;
    For together we feel how by wheel within wheel
      We are helped by a force not our own.
    So we flee not the world and its dangers,
      For He that has made it is wise;
    He knows we are pilgrims and strangers,
      And He will enlighten our eyes.

There probably was not a more nicely logical or more accurately
reasoning intellect among all our nineteenth century scientists than
that of the great mathematical electrician. He had none of the
one-sidedness of the merely experimental scientist, nor, on the other
hand, the narrowness of the exclusively speculative philosopher. With a
power of analysis that was seldom equaled during the century, he had a
power of synthesis that probably surpassed any of his contemporaries in
any part of Europe. His ideas with regard to matter and its ultimate
constitution are most suggestive. His suggestion of a strain in the
ether as an explanation of electricity, thus enabling scientists to get
away from the curious theories of the foretime which had required them
to accept "action at a distance," that is, without any connecting
medium, shows his power of following out abstruse ideas to definite
practical conclusions. His religious life, then, will be a surprise to
those who think that science leads men away from religion.

In the life of Clerk Maxwell, written by Campbell and Garnett,[31] there
is a passage from his friend and sometime pastor, Guillemard, in which
the details of his religious life are given so fully as scarcely to
require any further gleaning of information in this regard.

"He was a constant, regular attendant at church, and seldom, if ever,
failed to join in our monthly late celebration of Holy Communion, and he
was a generous contributor to all our parish charitable institutions.
But his illness drew out the whole heart and soul and spirit of the man;
his firm and undoubting faith in the Incarnation and all its results; in
the full sufficing of atonement; in the works of the Holy Spirit. He had
gauged and fathomed all the schemes and systems of philosophy, and had
found them utterly empty and unsatisfying--'unworkable' was his own word
about them--and he turned with simple faith to the Gospel of the

His faith was not disturbed at the near approach of death, but, on the
contrary, seemed strengthened. His biographers tell the story of some
of the expressions used to his friends during these last days, which
furnish manifest proof of this. Some of these passages are so
characteristic and so striking that they deserve to be in the note-book
of those to whom the modern idea that science is opposed to religion or
faith may sometimes have been a source of worry, or at least an occasion
for argument. Here is a typical one of these passages:

"Mr. Colin Mackenzie has repeated to us two sayings of his during those
last days, which may be repeated here: 'Old chap, I have read up many
queer religions; there is nothing like the old thing, after all; and I
have looked into most philosophical systems, and I have seen that none
will work without a God.'"

It must not be imagined, because Clerk Maxwell was a deeply religious
man, that, therefore, he was frigid or formal or extremely serious, or
inclined to be puritanic with regard to the pleasures of life, or a
fanatic in the matter of taking all the good-natured fun there might be
in anything that turned up. He was far from over-serious, or what has
been called, though not quite properly, ascetic; but, on the contrary,
was often, indeed usually, the soul of the party with which he was at
the moment. He had none at all of the self-centered interest of the
narrow-minded, but had many friends, and was liked by all his
acquaintances. His friends were enthusiastic about his kindness of heart
and the thorough congeniality of his disposition. On this point, the
sketch of him in the National Dictionary of Biography gives a charming

"As a man, Maxwell was loved and honored by all who knew him; to his
pupils, he was the kindest and most sympathetic of teachers; to his
friends, he was the most charming of companions, brimful of fun, the
life and soul of a Red Lion dinner at the British Association meetings;
but in due season brave and thoughtful, with keen interest in problems
that lay outside the domain of his own work, and throughout his life a
stern foe to all that was superficial or untrue. On religious
questions, his beliefs were strong and deeply rooted."

It may be added to this, that his religion had nothing of the merely
formal about it, nor was it perfunctory. It entered into most of the
details of his life, and the fact that, every day as the head of the
house he led evening prayers for the family, was only a token of the
deep hold which religion had upon his life. When his last illness came,
though he knew that his end was not far off, and at his age sometimes
the approach of death hampers religious faith because it does seem that
longer life might be afforded to one who has been so faithful in his
realization of the obligations of life, Clerk Maxwell's piety increased
rather than diminished. A favorite expression of his during his last
days was the verselet from Richard Baxter, which one would be apt to
think of as frequently repeated by some feminine devotee rather than by
the greatest mathematical scientist of the nineteenth century:

    "Lord, it belongs not to my care,
      Whether I die or live;
    To love and serve Thee is my share,
      And that Thy grace must give."

A friend who knew him intimately says: "In private life, Clerk Maxwell
was one of the most lovable of men, a sincere and unostentatious
Christian. Though perfectly free from any trace of envy or ill-will, he
yet showed on fit occasions his contempt for that pseudo-science which
seeks for the applause of the ignorant by professing to reduce the whole
system of the universe to a fortuitous sequence of uncaused events."

In these phases of his intellectual life, the greatest of the
mathematical electricians of the nineteenth century deserves to be taken
as the type of the man of science, rather than the many mediocre
intelligences whose minds were not large enough apparently for the two
sets of truths--those of the moral as well as of the physical order.

  [Illustration: LORD KELVIN]


[31] See life of Johann Müller, in Makers of Modern Medicine,
Fordham University Press, N. Y., 1906.

[32] Heroes of Science Physicists, N.Y., Young & Co., 1885.

[33] Heroes of Science Physicists, by Wm. Garnett, M. A., D. C.
L. London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland
Ave., Charing Cross, W. C. New York, E. and J. B. Young.

[34] The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, with a selection from his
correspondence and occasional writings, and a sketch of his
contributions to science. Lewis Campbell and William Garnett. London,



Few men lived to witness so many remarkable discoveries in science and
so many applications of the same to the welfare of the race as did the
man whose name stands at the head of this chapter. When William Thomson,
the future Lord Kelvin, first saw the light of day, the voltaic pile was
in a rudimentary and inefficient form. It is true that water had been
decomposed by the current from a pile in 1800,[37] that the magnetic
effect of the current had been discovered in 1820, and the possibility
of a practical form of an electric telegraph suggested in the same year;
but Ohm's law was still one of nature's secrets, electromagnetic
induction was undiscovered, and the doctrine of energy but ill
understood. Light, electricity and magnetism were regarded as distinct
forces, and heat was thought to be a material substance, to which the
name caloric was assigned. What Young, Fresnel and Ampère were in the
early years of the nineteenth century; what Faraday, Regnault and
Joseph Henry were some time later, Kelvin became in the 'fifties, a
leader in the intellectual and scientific life of the time, a leader
destined to extend the frontiers of knowledge, to establish an accurate
system of electrical measurement, and to enrich the world with
instruments of marvelous ingenuity and precision.

William Thomson, born in Belfast in 1824, received his early training in
the Royal Academic Institute of that city. When eight years of age, he
left his native land, exchanging the shores of Antrim for the banks of
the Clyde. His father, James Thomson, a mathematician of note, having
been appointed to the chair of mathematics in the University of Glasgow
(founded in 1451), proceeded early in the summer of 1832 to the
commercial metropolis of Scotland, accompanied by his two sons William
and James, both of whom were destined to add lustre to the family name.

After a period of preparatory study, the two brothers, who were ten and
eleven years of age, respectively, matriculated at the university. With
the iron-clad regulations that govern admission to American colleges and
universities, these boys would at best have been admitted to one of our
high schools, and kept there until they reached the maturity required by
the age limit. By the time young William attained that limit, he had
already finished his work at the university, and captured the first
prizes in mathematics, astronomy and natural philosophy. He was then
only sixteen years of age, small of stature, but a giant in intellect;
brilliant, versatile, and with a passion for work. It was his good
fortune, also, to come under the influence of a great teacher, in the
person of Prof. Nichol. "I have to thank what I heard in the natural
philosophy class," he said in 1903, "for all I did in connection with
submarine cables. The knowledge of Fourier was my start in the theory of
signaling through submarine cables, which occupied a large part of my
after-life. The inspiring character of Dr. Nichol's personality and his
bright enthusiasm live still in my mental picture of those old days."

Having heard Fourier's treatise on the mathematical theory of heat
spoken of one day as a remarkable and inspiring work, young Thomson
astonished the Professor when, at the end of the lecture, he addressed
Dr. Nichol with the query, "Do you think that I could read it?" To which
the Professor smilingly replied: "Well, the mathematical part is very
difficult." Many a student would have left Fourier alone for the nonce,
after listening to a statement so little calculated to excite courage or
awaken interest: but Thomson was not an ordinary student; and, however
forbidding the answer which he received, he was determined all the same
to handle the volume and seek its inspiration. Without delay, he got the
book from the university library, and grew so delighted with the new
ideas of the French mathematician about sine-expansions and
cosine-expansions, that in the space of two weeks he had "turned over
all the pages" of the book, as he modestly put it.

In the summer of 1840, he accompanied his father and his brother on a
tour through Germany, partly to see the country and partly also, to
acquire a practical knowledge of the language. In both these objects, he
was somewhat hindered by his fondness for mathematical studies, which
led him to include in his impedimenta for the trip a copy of Fourier's
_Théorie analytique de la Chaleur_. Most students out on a summer's
vacation, especially in foreign parts, would doubtless have preferred to
give their minds rest and congenial distraction rather than keep on
reading and pondering over abstract mathematical concepts. Our young
tourist, on the other hand, seems to have thought of little else than of
Fourier's "mathematical poem," as Clerk Maxwell called the work, a
"poem" that continued to have a charm for him all through life. It is a
noteworthy fact that Thomson continually returned to the ideas and
methods of this suggestive treatise on the flow of heat, and that he
applied them with great success to problems in thermal conductivity, in
electricity and in submarine telegraphy.

Shortly after returning home, Thomson was sent to the University of
Cambridge, where he entered St. Peter's College, commonly called
Peterhouse, one of the oldest colleges of the university, its foundation
dating back to the year 1284. Though he, no doubt, followed in a general
way the directions given him by William Hopkins, "the best of private
tutors," and kept in view the requirements of the honors examination,
called the "Mathematical Tripos," for which he intended to present
himself at the end of his course, he found his studies somewhat routinal
and uninspiring. Original work was more to his taste than conventional
subjects; his tutor, however, thought mainly of placing this brilliant
pupil at the head of the wranglers, and hailing him the senior wrangler
of the year, for which purpose, the beaten track must be followed, the
standard works read, favorite problems worked out, short-cuts conned and
rapidity of output exercised. Stokes, of Pembroke, had been senior
wrangler in 1841; Cayley, of Trinity, in 1842; and Adams, of John's, in
1843; why not Thomson, of Peterhouse, in 1845, argued Hopkins, who had
the distinction of being second wrangler of the previous year?

But when the ordeal was over and the work of all candidates appraised,
Thomson's name was second on the list, with Parkinson, of John's, at the
top. Hopkins was disappointed, as he had a right to be, for it was
thought by many and said by some that Parkinson was not fit to sharpen
Thomson's pencils. At the examination for the Smith's prizes, which
immediately followed, and which was generally regarded as a higher honor
and a better test of original ability, the order was reversed, and
Thomson's star blazed out with the brilliancy of the first magnitude.

We have here an instructive instance of the failure of an examination to
place rightly the most gifted man; that of Sylvester, in 1837, and Clerk
Maxwell, in 1854, both of whom were second wranglers, are equally so.
Examinations, however, seldom fail in justly rating candidates when
originality is not a necessary qualification, but only a sound knowledge
and liberal interpretation of the subjects laid down in the syllabus; a
good memory and rapidity of writing will do the rest.

Thomson committed the fatal mistake in the tripos examination of
devoting too much time to a particular question in which he was deeply
interested. It was a curious coincidence that the solution which
Parkinson sent in to the same question was almost identical with that of
his rival for mathematical honors. On being questioned about the matter
by the Moderators, Parkinson said that he had read the solution some
time before in the _Cambridge Mathematical Journal_; Thomson's
explanation was that the solution given in the Journal was his! As he
had not memorized the details, he was obliged of course to work the
problem out _de novo_.

Parkinson in later years wrote a treatise on elementary mechanics that
has long since made way for others; Thomson, on the other hand,
published in collaboration with Tait a _Treatise on Natural Philosophy_
for advanced students, which became at once the accepted standard.
Throughout this treatise, the view is emphasized that physics deals with
realities more than with theories, with mutual relations more than with
their mathematical expression. Helmholtz thought so highly of this work
that he translated it into German, saying in his preface: "William
Thomson, one of the most penetrating and ingenious thinkers, deserves
the thanks of the scientific world, in that he takes us into the
workshop of his thoughts and unravels the guiding threads which have
helped him to master and set in order the most resisting and confused
material." And again: "Following the example given by Faraday, he avoids
as far as possible hypotheses about unknown subjects, and endeavors to
express by his mathematical treatment of problems simply the law of
observable phenomena."

We are not to think of Thomson, the undergraduate, as of one who gave
himself up, mind and body, to his favorite studies; he knew how to
combine, in some measure, the _dulce_ with the _utile_, for he was fond
of music, and so proficient in the art that he was elected President of
the Musical Society. He also took a practical interest in aquatic
sports, and on the Cam he could ply his sculls with the best of the men.
Indeed, he was fond of the water all through life, his _Lalla Rookh_
being well known on the Clyde and in the Solent. Expert in the
navigation of his yacht, he liked to be out on the deep, caressed by
wind and buffeted by wave, on which occasions he usually studied, pencil
in hand, problems connected with navigation and hydrodynamics.

Thomson was never without his note-book. Even in his journeys to London,
when he usually took the night train to save time, his mind was active,
and the green-book was in frequent requisition to receive thoughts that
occurred relative to problems that engaged his attention. Unlike many
mortals, he was able to sleep soundly on those night trips, although in
the early days he had none of the luxuries of traveling which we
consider indispensable to our comfort.

Helmholtz records that, being on the _Lalla Rookh_ on one occasion,
Thomson "carried the freedom of intercourse so far that he always had a
mathematical note-book with him; and as soon as an idea occurred to him,
he began to reckon right in the midst of company." This reminds us of
the answer which Newton gave to a friend who asked him how he
accomplished so much. "By constantly thinking of it," was the brief
reply. Concentration of the faculties is necessary for all good work; a
distracted mind never achieved anything of value in philosophy, in
science, in religious worship. Concentration is like a convex lens,
which brings rays to a focus; whereas distraction is like a concave
lens, which breaks them up into a number of divergent and scattered

On leaving Cambridge in 1845, Thomson proceeded to London, and was
warmly received by Faraday, then of world-wide reputation. He next went
to Paris, where, in the laboratory of Regnault, he devoted himself to
original research, under the direction of that great and accurate
physicist who was then carrying out his classic work on the thermal
constants of bodies.

The year 1846 marks an epoch in Thomson's life; for, in that year, he
was chosen to succeed Nichol, his friend and master, in the chair of
natural philosophy in the University of Glasgow. Though only in his
twenty-second year, he chose for the subject of his inaugural address
the age of the earth, a subject which continued to have a life-long
interest for him because of its very fascination, and perhaps, too,
because of the opposition which his views aroused on the part of
biologists and geologists. These demanded untold æons for the original
fire-mist to cool down and form a spinning globe fit to be the abode of
organic life, whereas Thomson endeavored to show the weakness of the
arguments which they advanced to uphold their claim for unlimited time.
Basing his estimate on the rate of increase of temperature as we go
below the earth's surface, he concluded that the earth required from 100
to 200 million years, and probably less, to cool from its molten state
to its present condition.

Impressed by the value of the experimental work which he did under
Regnault in Paris, Prof. Thomson gave himself no rest until he secured a
place in which the demonstrations of the lecture-room could be
supplemented by qualitative and quantitative work in the laboratory.
This was the first "physical laboratory" open to students in Great
Britain, a fact that makes the year 1846 a memorable one in the history
of university development. Two apartments were allotted him for
experimental purposes, _viz._, an abandoned wine-cellar and a disused
examination-room, to which, as time went on, were added a corridor, some
spare attics, and even the university tower itself, so great was the
power of annexation possessed by the young Professor. In those dark and
cheerless rooms, a few old instruments were installed, after which
students were invited and work begun. A band of men, whose ardor was
enkindled by the glowing enthusiasm of the presiding genius, gathered
around him, and helped him to carry out investigations on the properties
of metals, on moduli of elasticity, elastic fatigue and atmospheric
electricity. Among this band of earnest students it will suffice to
mention the names of the late Prof. Ayrton, an eminent electrician;
Prof. John Perry, known for his Homeric battles in favor of reform in
the teaching of mathematics; Sir William Ramsay, the discoverer of the
"newer" gases of the atmosphere; and Prof. Andrew Gray, who succeeded
his master in the University of Glasgow.

Writing of his laboratory experiences, Prof. Ramsay says: "I remember
that my first exercise, which occupied over a week, was to take the
kinks out of a bundle of copper wire. Having achieved this with some
success, I was placed opposite a quadrant electrometer and made to study
its construction and use." "Although this method," he adds, "is not
without its disadvantages--for systematic instruction is of much
value--there is something to be said for it. On the one hand, too long a
course of experimenting on old and well known lines is likely to imbue
the young student with the idea that all physics consists in learning
the use of apparatus and repeating measurements which have already been
made. On the other hand, too early attempts to investigate the unknown
are likely to prove fruitless for want of manipulative skill and for
want of knowledge of what has already been done."

Prof. Gray wrote: "In the physical laboratory, Prof. Thomson was both
inspiring and distracting. He continually thought of new things to be
tried, and interrupted the course of work with interpolated experiments
which often robbed the previous sequence of operations of their final

It may bring a grain of consolation to teachers who meet with
troublesome elements in the discharge of their duties, to know that
Thomson, great and brilliant as he was, had similar experiences now and
again. At one time a book of mathematical data would be removed from the
place assigned to it, upon which he would give orders that it should be
chained to the table; at others, there would be no chalk near the
blackboard, and then the assistant would be solemnly instructed to have
one hundred pieces available next time. On one occasion, he settled in a
very novel manner the case of a student who insisted on disturbing the
class by moving his foot back and forth on the floor. Calling his
assistant, Thomson told him in a whisper to go down into the room under
the tiers of seats, to listen attentively, and locate the wandering foot
by its distance from two adjacent walls of the building. On his return
to the lecture-room, the triumphant assistant gave the desired
coordinates to the Professor, who took out his tape at once and measured
off the distances, by which the outwitted offender was mathematically
located. In obedience to orders, the latter rose and left the room,
muttering a few graceful epithets as he went, in honor of Descartes, the
founder of a system of geometry that could serve so well the twofold
purpose of the detective and the mathematician.

It was the custom in Glasgow to open the daily sessions, morning and
afternoon, with prayer, the selection of which was left to the
discretion of the Professor. Thomson usually recited from memory the
third collect from the morning service of the Church of England, to
which he sometimes added reflections of his own for the spiritual
benefit of his hearers.

In his teaching, Prof. Thomson was particularly insistent that his
students should not bow their intellects in mute admiration before an
array of mathematical symbols; but that, on all occasions, they should
seek the physical meaning behind them. Writing on his blackboard one
day _dx/dt_, he was not satisfied when told that it represented the
ratio of the increment of _x_ to the increment of the independent
variable _t_ (time); he wanted the student to say it represents
velocity. He himself was so wont to look for the physical meaning of
symbols that, like the prophets of old, he saw many things that were
hidden from the eyes of ordinary mortals.

He had the rare gift of translating mathematical equations into real
facts; and he strove all throughout his life, by word and writing, to
purify mathematical theory from mere assumptions. He often said that he
could not understand a thing until he was able to make, or at least
conceive, a model of it.

He had a "keen mathematical instinct," as Prof. Silvanus P. Thomson puts
it in a letter to the writer, an insight that "grew to see things." He
often left matters in the dark for years, then returned to see them in
the clear light of truth. At the age of sixteen, he wrote a mathematical
essay on the figure of the earth; and at eighty-three, took it up again
in order to add a note to the argument!

Thomson was discursive in his lectures, and was never able to boil the
matter down to suit the taste and digestive powers of the ordinary
student. The activity of his mind and its fecundity were such that new
ideas, new problems, new modes of treatment were continually occurring,
and with such fascination that he would leave the main subject to
indulge in what often proved prolonged digressions. One of his bugbears
was our system of weights and measures, which he denounced in season
and out of season as "insane," "brain-wasting" and "dangerous."
Occasionally epithets of a more caloric nature would escape the lips of
the indignant Professor, who, as a consequence of his denunciation, had
always to be indulgent to students who chanced to be shaky in the matter
of Troy weight, avoirdupois weight or even apothecaries weight.

In later years, I heard Lord Kelvin at the Royal Institution, London, on
some of his favorite dynamical subjects, such as the gyrostat, vortex
rings and the like. However impressed by his keen eye, intellectual
forehead, his mastery of the subject and wealth of illustration, I was
no less impressed by his vivacity, his enthusiasm and the rapidity with
which he could leave a train of thought and return to it again.

At meetings of the British Association, he always had something
illuminating to say; but not infrequently, carried away by a torrent of
ideas, he would indulge in a superfluity of detail, forgetting that
other speakers had to be heard and other papers read.

The idea of connecting the Old World with the New by means of an
electric cable laid on the bed of the ocean, seemed to most people in
the 'fifties quixotic and utopian. Manufacturers said such a cable could
not be made; engineers, that it could not be laid; electricians, that it
could not be worked; and financiers, that if laid and worked, it would
never pay. But with a Field to look after the financial interests of the
scheme, and a Thomson to attend to electrical quantities, there was no
tilting at windmills, and the utopian scheme became in due time the
cable whose core pulsated with the news of the world.

As early as 1850, Bishop Mullock, of St. John's, N. F., addressed to an
American newspaper, called the _Courier_, a letter in which he advocated
a telegraph line from Newfoundland to New York, so that the news of mail
steamers could be intercepted and wired to that City. In 1852, the
"Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company" was formed for the purpose of
carrying out a similar plan. This was to be accomplished by means of a
telegraph line from Cape Race, at the eastern extremity of Newfoundland
to Cape Ray, on the western, as well as by short cables over to Cape
Breton Island, to Prince Edward Island and the mainland, and thence by
ordinary telegraph lines to Canada and the United States. But owing to
the want of money, nothing was done.

The first attempt at laying a cable under the Atlantic was made by the
Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1857, after a careful survey of the ocean
had revealed the existence of a submarine plain, or extended table-land,
on which the cable could rest undisturbed by passing keels, monsters of
the deep or angry billows. The result was the first of a series of
failures, which caused great perplexity and depression at the time; for,
after 330 miles had been paid out from Valentia on the Irish coast, the
cable suddenly parted, burying in 2000 fathoms of water an electrical
conductor which had cost $150,000 for its manufacture.

A second attempt was made in 1858, when the U. S. frigate _Niagara_ and
H. M. S. _Agamemnon_, each carrying half of the cable, met in mid-ocean;
and, after splicing the two ends together, steamed away in opposite
directions, the _Niagara_ toward Newfoundland and the _Agamemnon_ toward
Valentia. Fortunately for the enterprise, Prof. Thomson was on board the
English ship as chief electrician. No doubt, his mind turned many a
time during those anxious days to Fourier's differential equation for
the flow of heat along a conductor, and his own application of it to the
conduction of the electric current through the copper core of the cable
as it came up from the tanks, trailed out behind the ship, dipped
silently into the blue water and slowly settled down to its bed of ooze
on the ocean floor.

After a series of disheartening mishaps, necessitating as many returns
of the ships to the rendezvous in mid-ocean, the _Agamemnon_ landed the
shore-end safely in Valentia; and the _Niagara_, after rolling and
pitching for days and nights in tempestuous seas, landed hers in Trinity
Bay on the morning of August 5th, 1858, on which historic date the
telegraphic union of the two worlds was finally consummated and the
great feat of the century accomplished.

Though not fully realized at the time by the capitalists who financed
his scheme, by the engineers and electricians who carried it out, or
even by statesmen, economists and social reformers, the slender copper
cord, buried away from human ken amidst the _débris_ of minute
organisms, was destined to effect a revolution in the affairs of men
greater than any achieved by the wisdom of sages or the policy of

Owing to the electrostatic capacity of the cable, signaling would have
been difficult and unsatisfactory had it not been for the
resourcefulness of Prof. Thomson, who devised his reflecting
galvanometer to serve as receiving instrument. The principle of the
mirror applied in this way was not new, for it had been suggested by
Poggendorff and even used by Gauss in connection with very heavy
magnets. The magnets used by Thomson, on the other hand, were strips of
watch-spring weighing about a grain each, so that even a very weak
current coming through the cable would be sufficient to produce strong
displacements of the spot of light on the scale. Thomson was clearly the
first to insist on small dimensions in magnetic instruments, and to show
that reduction in size would be attended with corresponding increase in

The mirror galvanometer, surrounded with a thick iron case to screen it
from the magnetic field due to the iron of the ship, the "iron-clad
galvanometer" as it was called, was used for the first time on the
telegraphic expedition of 1858.

The instrument itself, which was fitted up on board the _Niagara_ and
which was connected with so many episodes of thrilling interest, was
placed by Prof. Thomson in the collection of historical apparatus in the
University of Glasgow, where it is at the present day.

Beautiful as was the invention of the mirror galvanometer, it gave
neither warning of the beginning of a message nor a permanent record of
it. Sitting in his dark room, the operator had to be always on the alert
for the first swing of the spot of light over the scale. To obviate
these drawbacks, Thomson, after some thinking and more talking with his
friend White, of Glasgow, finally patented the _siphon-recorder_, in
which a glass siphon of capillary dimensions is pulled to the right or
left by the action of the current flowing through a light movable coil,
and is thus made to register signals in ink on a vertical strip of paper
which is kept in uniform motion by a train of clockwork. It is by this
simple but very ingenious instrument that messages are received and
recorded to-day at all the cable-stations of the world.

The inaugural message through the cable came from the Directors of the
Atlantic Telegraph Company in Great Britain to the Directors in America,
saying: "Europe and America are united by telegraph; glory to God in the
highest, on earth peace and good will toward men."

The message from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan, consisting of 95
words, took 67 minutes in transmission; it read:

"The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful
completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has
taken the deepest interest.

"The Queen is convinced that the President will join with her in
fervently hoping that the electric cable which now connects Great
Britain with the United States will prove an additional link between the
nations whose friendship is founded upon their common interests and
reciprocal esteem.

"The Queen has much pleasure in thus communicating with the President,
and renewing to him her wishes for the prosperity of the United States."

The reply of President Buchanan was as follows:

"The President cordially reciprocates the congratulations of Her
Majesty, the Queen, on the success of the great international enterprise
accomplished by the science, skill and indomitable energy of the two
countries. It is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to
mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle.

"May the Atlantic telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a
bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and
an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion,
civilization, liberty and law throughout the world. In this view will
not all nations of Christendom spontaneously unite in the declaration
that it shall be forever neutral, and that its communications shall be
held sacred in passing to their places of destination, even in the midst
of hostilities?"

The historian of the enterprise was Mr. John Mullaly, of New York, who
was on the _Niagara_ as secretary to Prof. Morse and subsequently to Mr.
Cyrus W. Field and correspondent of the _New York Herald_. He has
published three interesting works on the subject: a _Trip to
Newfoundland, with an account of the laying of the submarine Cable_
(between Port au Basque and North Sydney), 1855; _The Ocean Telegraph_,
1858; and _The first Atlantic Telegraph Cable_, a pamphlet of 28 pages,
reprinted from the "Journal of the Franklin Institute," 1907. From it,
we learn that Archbishop Hughes was one of the principal American
subscribers to the capital of the Atlantic Cable Company.

When, in 1855, the subject of laying a cable under the Atlantic ocean
began to be seriously considered, Thomson, who was then only 31 years of
age, discussed in a series of masterly papers the theory of signaling
through such conductors, showing _inter alia_ that the instruments used
on land-lines would be inoperative on cables, and also that the same
speed of transmission could not be attained on cables as on ordinary
telegraph lines. It was shown at the same time, that these differences
are due to the fact that, unlike an air-line, the cable is an
electrical _condenser_ in which the copper core is separated from the
waters of the ocean by a layer of gutta percha, a nonconducting
material. As a submerged cable is, therefore, a long Leyden jar of great
electrical capacity, it follows that a signal sent in at the American
end will not reach the other instantly; for while the current flows
along the conductor, it has also to charge up the cable as it
progresses, which operation retards the signals, and also deprives them
of the clearness and sharpness with which they were sent. The phenomenon
is analogous to the diffusion of heat along a bar, the temperature of
the various cross-sections rising in gradual succession until the
distant end is reached. The mathematical investigations of Thomson
showed the necessity of working slowly, and of using weak currents as
well as very delicate receiving instruments. The interval of time
required for the transmission of a signal from Newfoundland to Valentia
is about one second.

Some years later, in 1858, Thomson had the opportunity of putting his
theoretical views to the test of experiment on a grand, commercial
scale, and had the satisfaction of finding that all his conclusions were
confirmed. Electricians of the early period distrusted the inexperienced
young man who had never erected a mile of telegraph line or even served
for a month in a telegraph office; but their distrust was followed by
admiration when they saw the efficient manner in which he handled every
problem and dealt with every difficulty that occurred while laying the
cable of 1858. It was generally admitted that, had it not been for the
brilliant work of the young Glasgow Professor, many years would have
passed away before the Old World and the New would have been brought
into telegraphic communication.

Like all interested in the enterprise, Thomson was greatly shocked when
the news reached him that signals could no longer be transmitted through
the cable, which, after costing so much money, so much thought and
labor, now lay a useless thing in two and a half miles of water.
Attempts were made to raise it, but without success.

During its short life of less than a month, 366 messages were flashed
through the cable, aggregating 4359 words of 21,421 letters.

The failure of the pioneer cable has been attributed to a variety of
causes, chief of which were defective construction and imperfect
paying-out machinery, which produced unequal strains in the cable.
Defective as the cable was at the moment of immersion, the various
troubles became intensified with time, until at last, when provoked by
the feebleness of the signals, the injudicious electrician at Valentia
had recourse to the great penetrative power of the induction coil, and
gave the dying cable the _coup de grâce_.

An experiment made by Mr. Latimer Clark is not only germane to the
subject, but is also of very great interest. Writing from Valentia on
Sept. 12th, 1866, Mr. Latimer Clark says: "With a single galvanic cell,
composed of a few drops of acid in a _silver thimble_[36] and a fragment
of zinc, weighing a grain or two, conversation may easily, though
slowly, be carried on through one of the cables (1865, 1866) or through
the two joined together at Newfoundland; and although in the latter
case, the spark, twice traversing the breadth of the Atlantic, has to
pass through 3700 miles of cable, its effects at the receiving end are
visible in the galvanometer in a little more than a second after contact
is made with the battery. The deflections are not of a dubious
character, but full and long, the spot of light traversing freely a
space of 12 in. or 13 in. on the scale; and it is manifest that a
battery many times smaller would suffice to produce similar effects."

Not to be outdone by the English electrician, Mr. William Dickerson
devised the gun-cap cell, which he used in 1866 with success in
transmitting signals from Heart's Content, Newfoundland, to Valentia on
the Irish coast.

A piece of No. 16 bare copper wire was procured, one end of which was
firmly twisted around the head of an empty _percussion-cap_. To one end
of another similar length of wire was bound, with fine copper wire, a
short strip of zinc bent at a right angle to form the anode element of
the diminutive cell. After charging the cell with a drop of acidulated
water of the size of an ordinary well-formed tear, and properly
connecting the terminals with earth and cable, signals were transmitted
over the cable by the infinitesimal current generated by this novel
cell. The receiving operator reported that the signals were "awfully
small"; but they were intelligible, and messages were successfully
transmitted under the ocean by this tiny element.

Contrast with this Lilliputian cell the enormous power that was used on
the cable of 1858 toward the end of its short existence, when batteries
of 380 and 420 Daniell cells were employed to force signals across.

When, in 1865, it was decided to make another attempt at laying a cable
under the Atlantic, Prof. Thomson, whose reputation was enhanced during
the seven intervening years by a number of communications on the theory
and practice of submarine telegraphy, was again retained as scientific
expert in a consultative sense, with Mr. Cromwell F. Varley as chief
electrician. In accordance with the costly experience that had been
gained, a new cable was made and coiled on board the _Great
Eastern_,[35] a leviathan which was well fitted for the work by the
great man[oe]uvring power afforded by its screw and paddles combined.
Leaving Valentia, the big ship steamed with her prow to the west at a
slow rate of speed, in order to give the cable time to sink beneath the
waves and adapt itself to the configuration of the ocean floor. Eleven
hundred miles had been successfully paid out when, to the consternation
of all, the cable suddenly snapped and disappeared in more than two
miles of water. Attempts were made during the next nine days to recover
it from those abysmal depths; and, though grappled many times during
those trying hours, it gave way each time under the strain to which it
was subjected. Like its predecessors of 1857 and 1858, the cable of 1865
was finally abandoned to its fate, and the _Great Eastern_ returned home
with three greatly disappointed men on board, _viz._, Prof. Thomson, Mr.
C. F. Varley and Captain (later Sir James) Anderson.

In the following year, a sum of three-quarters of a million sterling,
nearly $4,000,000, was offered to the Directors of the "Telegraph
Construction Company" if they would complete the cable of 1865 and lay a
new one. After consultation and careful consideration, the offer was
accepted and the cable constructed according to the best engineering
knowledge available.

In 1866, Prof. Thomson was again on board the _Great Eastern_ with
Captain Anderson; and this time the big ship had snugly coiled up in her
deep, cavernous tanks _the_ cable that was destined to put Europe and
America in permanent telegraphic communication. With a well-manufactured
cable, improved paying-out machinery and an experienced staff of
mechanical engineers, not to mention the foremost electricians of the
day, the immersion of the cable was successfully effected, after which
the American end of the cable of 1865 was raised, a new length spliced
on, and the shore-end safely landed in Trinity Bay. Europe and America
were thus united together by two electric bonds.

It may here be mentioned that ocean cables are usually made in three
sections, called, respectively, the shore-end, the intermediate section
and the deep-sea section. It is clear that the submerged conductor needs
the greatest protection in the shallow water that surrounds the coast,
where it lies on a pebbly or rocky bottom, exposed to the drifting
action of currents and tides, as well as to the haling flukes of the
anchors of storm-tossed ships. In deep water, on the other hand, there
is neither shingly bottom nor violent movement to displace and abrade
the cable; for all is quiet and peaceful in the profound depths where
the god of the trident holds his court; and hence few coverings and a
light armor afford sufficient protection. The wear and tear in the ocean
depths is a vanishing quantity when compared with the abrasive effects
near coast-lines. Looking at the sections of an ocean cable, the biggest
and heaviest is the shore-end, while the thinnest and lightest is that
which goes down into the depths of the sea. The lengths of the various
sections are determined by the survey of the route, which is always
carefully made before completing the specification of the cable.
Moreover, as the position of the cable-ship at noon every day is known
from its longitude and latitude, it follows that the location of the
cable on the bed of the ocean is also exactly known. When a cable is
broken either by an upheaval or by a subsidence of the ocean floor, the
distance of the rupture from the shore end is determined by an
electrical test, after which a repair-ship is dispatched to the spot,
when the cable is lifted, the "fault" cut away, a new length spliced on,
and the amended cable allowed to settle down into its watery depths.

At the present time (July, 1909), there are sixteen cables carrying the
work of the North Atlantic, at an average speed of 20 words a minute
duplex, or 40 words a minute, counting both directions.

This cable narrative affords as striking an illustration of the _triumph
of failure_ as any recorded in the history of human enterprise. It was a
victory of mind over matter; of character and tactfulness, energy and
endurance over difficulties of every kind, moral and financial,
mechanical and meteorological. The four expeditions of 1857, 1858, 1865
and 1866 represent years of hard work, anxiety and distressing failures;
but, sustained by the patience of hope and by an unshaken confidence in
the soundness of the enterprise as well as in the ability of their
staff, the Directors of the Atlantic Company were well rewarded for the
disappointment occasioned and the monetary losses incurred. "It has been
a long struggle," said the initial promoter of the enterprise, Mr. Cyrus
W. Field, speaking at a banquet given in his honor on November 15th,
1866, at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York, "a long struggle of nearly
thirteen years of anxious watching and ceaseless toil. Often my heart
was ready to sink. Many times, when wandering in the forests of
Newfoundland in pelting rain, or on the decks of ships in dark, stormy
nights, I almost accused myself of madness and folly to sacrifice the
peace of my family for what might have proved but a dream. I have seen
my companions, one after another, fall by my side, and I feared that I,
too, might not live to see the end. And yet one hope has led me on; I
prayed that I might not taste of death till the work was accomplished.
That prayer has been answered; and now, beyond all acknowledgments to
men, is the feeling of gratitude to Almighty God."

It was men like Field and Thomson that the poet had in mind when he

    The wise and active conquer difficulties
    By daring to attempt them. Sloth and folly
    Shiver and shrink at sight of toil and labor,
    And make the impossibility they fear.

Shortly after his return home, Prof. Thomson was knighted for his
splendid services in connection with sub-oceanic cables, and was also
honored with the freedom of the City of Glasgow.

If while journeying over land or sea, Sir William's mind was always
active, his eyes were also open and observant. In the numerous voyages
which he undertook in the interest of cable companies, he seems to have
been struck by the unreliable character of the ordinary apparatus used
in taking soundings, consisting of a heavy weight suspended by a thick
hempen cord unwound from a reel. Owing to the massiveness of the cord,
the motion of the ship and currents in the water would necessarily
deflect it from the vertical, so that the soundings recorded would be
in excess of the true depth. To remedy this defect, Thomson replaced the
rope, at first by a steel wire, and later by a thin strand of steel
wires, on which the speed of the ship has but little effect; the sinker
descends vertically with considerable velocity, and is raised with equal
rapidity by suitable winding-up machinery placed in the stern of the
ship. The sinker carries a gauge consisting of a quill-tube open at the
lower end and closed at the top. The inside, which is coated with silver
chromate, shows by the discoloration produced by the action of the sea
water how far the water has compressed the air in the tube. By
comparison with a graduated ruler, the depth is then read off. When the
sinker reaches bottom, the heavy weight is detached automatically, so
that there is but little strain on the wire as it ascends with its
thermometer and battery of tubes containing samples of the depths

A story is told in connection with this sounding-machine which shows the
vivacity and wit of the inventor. Having brought his friend Joule into
White's one day, he pointed to a number of coils of steel wire lying on
the floor, informing his English friend of "mechanical-equivalent" fame
at the same time that he intended the wire for sounding purposes. Upon
Joule's innocently asking what note it would sound, he received the
prompt answer, "the deep sea"!

Another subject to which Sir William gave some attention after his
experiences on the ocean is the navigating compass. His observations led
him to distrust the long, heavy needles then in general use on
shipboard. Besides the friction to which the pressure on the pivot gives
rise and which necessarily diminishes the sensitiveness of the needle,
there was another objection, due to the difficulty experienced in
successfully applying steel magnets and soft-iron masses to compensate
for the magnetism of the ship and for the changes induced in it by
change of place in the earth's magnetic field.

As a result, Prof. Thomson devised a compass-card which is remarkable
for its lightness and sensitiveness. It is made of two sets of magnets,
containing four needles each, arranged symmetrically on the right and
left of the pivot. The four needles, forming a set, are of unequal
length, ranging from 3-1/4 to 2 inches, with the shortest outermost.
Such a card, with its associated correctors of steel magnets and
soft-iron balls, has added greatly to the safety and certainty of
navigation; and as such, it is used to-day in the merchant service and
in the navies of most countries of the world.

As we have seen, Thomson had the keen, racy wit of his race. Lecturing
before the members of the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1883, he
placed himself and his nationality on record in a very humorous way. His
subject was "The six gateways of Knowledge." As will be remembered by
the readers of _The Pilgrim's Progress_, old Bunyan likened the soul to
a citadel on a hill having no means of communication with the outer
world save by live gates, _viz._, the eye gate, the ear gate, the mouth
gate, the nose gate and the feel gate. These are the five senses by
which we obtain our knowledge of the material world which surrounds us.
But Prof. Thomson took issue with Bunyan, with Reid, and the
metaphysicians of all time in maintaining in this lecture that we have
six gateways of knowledge instead of five, justifying the position which
he took by affirming that the sense of touch is really twofold, one of
heat and the other of force. It does not appear, however, that he made
any marked impression on the philosophic thought of the day, for
psychologists continued to write with undisturbed equanimity of the five
senses and not the six.

It was on this occasion that Prof. Thomson said: "The only census of the
senses, so far as I am aware, that ever before made them more than five
was the Irishman's reckoning of seven senses. I presume the Irishman's
seventh sense was common sense; and I believe that the possession of
that virtue by my countrymen, _I speak as an Irishman_, I say the large
possession of the seventh sense which I believe Irishmen have, will do
more to alleviate the woes of Ireland than the removal of 'the
melancholy ocean' which surrounds its shores."

For the successful operation of cables, telegraph lines and scientific
investigations of all sorts, a system of practical electrical units,
accepted by all companies and countries of the world, was soon found to
be indispensable. The pioneer in the movement for establishing an
international system of electrical standards was Mr. J. Latimer Clark,
who, assisted by his distinguished partner, (Sir) Charles Bright,
prepared a paper on "The formation of Standards of Electrical Quantity
and Resistance," which was read at the Manchester meeting of the British
Association in 1861. Prof. Thomson was present; and, at his instance, a
committee was appointed to report on the general question of electrical
units. This was the first meeting of a committee that was destined to
accomplish much in the electric and electromagnetic field; it was the
initial impulse of a movement that brought renown to the entire body of
English electricians. Such units as the ohm, the volt and the farad met
with immediate acceptance, while later on the ampere, the coulomb, the
watt and the joule were introduced. Among the members of this body
besides Prof. Thomson, were such able men as Clerk Maxwell, Joule, Lord
Rayleigh, Sir William Siemens, Johnstone Stoney, Balfour Stewart, and
Carey Foster.

The world is then indebted to the insistence and advocacy of Prof.
Thomson for the general acceptance of the "C.G.S." system of
measurement, which involves the centimeter (length), the gram (mass),
and the second (time) as the fundamental units from which all others are

Prof. Thomson has claims in the "wireless" field also; for as far back
as 1855, he studied the nature of the discharge of a condenser and
proved mathematically that, under certain conditions easily realized in
practice, such discharges are of an oscillatory character, consisting of
a forward and a backward rush of electricity between the two coatings of
the condenser. As pointed out on page 92, Prof. Henry had reached
the same conclusion in 1842, and Helmholtz in 1847; but Thomson's
insight into the phenomenon is keen and his mathematical analysis of it
very remarkable.

Just as the to-and-fro motions of the prongs of a tuning-fork give rise
to sound-waves in the air, so the electric oscillation due to a
condenser discharge sets up in the universal ether electric waves which
flash the news of the world over continents and oceans with unthinkable

By special request, Sir William Thomson gave, in 1884, a course of
lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, to an audience of
"professional fellow-students in physical science," as he called the
_élite_ of American men of science, twenty-one in number, assembled to
hear him. These accomplished physicists he also affectionately called
his "twenty-one coefficients."

The subject was the wave-theory of light, and the object of the lecturer
was to show how far the phenomena of light, such as its transmission,
refraction and dispersion, could be explained within the limits of the
elastic solid theory of the ether, which makes that hypothetical medium
rigid, highly elastic and non-gravitational. From the very first
lecture, Sir William assumed a cold and diffident attitude toward the
rival theory of Clerk Maxwell, which makes light an electromagnetic
phenomenon; and though his own presented formidable difficulties, and
its rival was universally accepted, the veteran Professor assured his
hearers that the elastic solid theory is the "only tenable foundation
for the wave-theory of light in the present (1884) state of our

Despite the energy which he displayed, his luminous argumentation and
close logic, Kelvin made no converts among his "twenty-one
coefficients"; and it soon became evident that he was championing a lost
cause. Newton did the same when he held tenaciously to the corpuscular
theory of light; and in doing so, let it be said, that he retarded the
acceptance of the wave-theory and the advance of science by a hundred

A few years after the Baltimore lectures, official recognition of his
distinguished services and of his eminence in science came to Sir
William Thomson when, in 1892, he was raised to the peerage, with the
title of Baron Kelvin of Netherhall, Kelvin being the name of a stream
which passes near the buildings of the University of Glasgow and flows
into the Clyde, while Netherhall is that of his country-seat at Largs,
in Ayrshire, 40 miles from Glasgow.

As to the structure of matter, Kelvin lived to see the "atom" of his
youth and mature years shattered into fragments, and the atomic theory
of matter rapidly yielding to the electronic. Though he maintained an
open mind toward the new school of physics, he was reserved and
conservative toward the revolutionary doctrine of extreme
radio-activists. He did not believe in the transformation of one
elementary form of matter into another; and he strenuously combated the
theory of the spontaneous disintegration of the atom.

Notwithstanding a long life devoted to the study of mathematical and
experimental physics, during which Kelvin unraveled many a difficult
problem in electricity and magnetism and added many a beautiful skein to
the texture of our knowledge in electrostatics and electrokinetics, that
illustrious man, the acknowledged leader in physical science, made a
public admission in 1896 which caused a great stir throughout the
scientific world. It was on the occasion of the celebration of the
golden jubilee of his professorship of natural philosophy in the
University of Glasgow. Delegates had come from all parts of the world;
kings and princes had sent their representatives; universities and
learned societies of every country of the Old World and the New vied
with one another in doing honor to the scientist who had figured so long
and so conspicuously in the advances of the age. It was on that solemn
occasion and in presence of such a notable assembly that Kelvin made the
astonishing admission that, although he had been a diligent student of
electricity and magnetism for a period exceeding fifty years, and
although he had pondered every day for forty years over the nature of
the ether and the constitution of matter, he knew no more about their
essence, about what they really are, than he knew at the beginning of
his professional work.

This confession, remarkable by reason of the man who made it and the
circumstances in which it was made, has always appeared to the writer of
these lines as having more of the ring of disappointment in it than of
blank failure. Kelvin's great analytical mind early and persistently
strove to penetrate the closely guarded secrets of nature; and because
Dame Nature did not yield to his open sesame, but persisted in her
reticence, the philosopher grew pessimistic and disappointed; and, under
the sway of such feelings, he summed up the result of his life-quest
after the ultimate problems in science and pronounced it a "failure."

A "failure" it was not, if science is the discovery and registration of
the laws of God as revealed in the universe of mind and matter; for few
men of his generation, if any, made more contributions of the first
order to the theory of electrostatics, to the doctrine of energy, to
hydrodynamics and the thermo-electric properties of matter. This note of
disappointment, or wail of despondency, had been sounded before by
Faraday, who said that, the more he studied electrical phenomena, the
less he seemed to know about electricity itself. Was not Laplace
animated by a kindred feeling when he spoke about the infinitude of our
ignorance? Lastly, was not this intense feeling of our limited powers
precisely that which, after all his discoveries in mathematics, in
optics and in celestial mechanics, made Newton compare himself to a
child standing on the beach with the vast ocean of truth before him,
unfathomed and unexplored?

Kelvin gave a beautiful example to the world when, after resigning the
chair which he had occupied for fifty-five years in the University of
Glasgow, he immediately proceeded to enter his name on the undergraduate
list, intimating by such an act that, whether a man is a
professor-in-ordinary of natural philosophy or a professor emeritus, he
must ever be a student, in close touch with nature.

Lord Kelvin had the happiness of enjoying good health throughout all the
years of his long career, a happiness due in part to nature, and in part
also to the simplicity, frugality and regularity of his life.

As already said, he was fond of cruising in European waters in his yacht
_Lalla Rookh_ during the summer months, and even venturing out on the
Atlantic as far as Madeira, for,

    He loved the sea, and what is more,
    He loved it best when far from shore.

In later years, however, owing to facial neuralgia, he was accustomed to
spend a month or so every summer with Lady Kelvin at Aix-les-Bains, from
which visits he always derived much benefit.

While making some experiments in a corridor of his beautiful home at
Netherhall, he caught a chill on November 23d, 1907, from which he never
rallied, despite the cares and attentions that were fondly lavished upon
him. The bulletins that were issued concerning his condition were read
all the world over with more concern than if they referred to a reigning
sovereign or an heir apparent. Every teacher of physics, mathematical
or experimental; every man interested in the advance of science and the
spread of knowledge, anxiously awaited news from the sick-room of the
illustrious patient--news that was transmitted to the ends of the earth
by the siphon-recorder invented by the dying scientist in the heyday of
his life; and when the word came that Kelvin had breathed his last, that
cablegram brought universal sorrow for the quenching of the brightest
light of the age and the loss of the leading scientist, the model man
and faithful Christian.

It was in the fitness of things that the man who was considered the
greatest since Newton should be buried in Westminster Abbey, and that
the mortal remains of Lord Kelvin should find a resting-place next to
the grave of the genius who thought out the _Principia_ and discovered
the gravitational law which governs the planetary as well as the stellar

If asked to say what impressed me most in Lord Kelvin, I would mention
the cordial manner in which he welcomed those who sought advice; the
encouragement which he held out to students; his absolute devotion to
truth; his fair-mindedness and candor; his reverence in dealing with the
problems of the soul and the destiny of man; and the uniform, tranquil
happiness of his life, due, under God, to his profound religious belief
and noble Christian life.

A man of strong convictions, Kelvin did not, however, wear his religion
on his sleeve, but treasured it in the depths of his heart, where it was
never disturbed by the tossing and ever-changing wave-forms of
individual opinion. He quietly but uniformly maintained that physical
science demands the existence and action of creative power; and he did
not shrink from affirming this conviction whenever circumstances seemed
to require it, as was the case on the memorable occasion of his
Presidential address to the members of the British Association in 1871.
In concluding that brilliant discourse, he said: "But strong,
overpowering proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all around
us; and if ever perplexities, whether metaphysical or scientific, turn
us away from them for a time, they come back upon us with irresistible
force, showing to us, through nature, the influence of free will, and
teaching us that all living beings depend on one ever-acting Creator and

Once when particularly disgusted with the materialistic views of those
who, while denying the existence of a Creator, attributed the wonders of
nature, animate and inanimate, to the potency of a fortuitous concourse
of atoms, he wrote to Liebig, asking him if a leaf or a flower could be
formed or even made grow by chemical forces, to which he received the
significant reply from the famous chemist of Giessen: "I would more
readily believe that a book on chemistry or on botany could grow out of
dead matter by chemical processes."

We have already referred to the custom which obtained in the University
of Glasgow, of beginning the daily sessions by invoking the blessing of
heaven on the work about to be undertaken. Having liberty in the matter
of choice, Prof. Thomson selected for this purpose a prayer from the
morning service of the Church of England, which reads: "O Lord, our
heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought
us to the beginning of this day; defend us in the same with Thy mighty
power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any
kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by Thy
governance, to do always what is righteous in Thy sight; through Jesus
Christ, our Lord, Amen."

Academical honors were showered upon Lord Kelvin by seats of learning,
ancient and modern; he was a D. C. L. Oxford, LL. D. Cambridge, and a D.
Sc. London; he was President of the Royal Society from 1890 to 1895;
President of the British Association in 1871; Knight of the Prussian
Order _Pour le Mérite_, and Foreign Associate of the _Institut de

His published works include a "Treatise on Natural Philosophy," 2 vols.,
written in collaboration with Prof. Tait, of Edinburgh (the two authors
were often referred to as T and T'); "Contributions to Electrostatics
and Magnetism"; "Collected mathematical and physical Papers," 3 vols.;
"Popular Lectures and Addresses," 3 vols.; and the "Baltimore Lectures."
These, as well as the instruments which he devised for navigation, for
the finest work of the laboratory, as well as for the commercial
measurement of current, potential, and energy, form a monument to Lord
Kelvin that will be _aere perennius_.



[35] Water was decomposed in 1789 by Van Troostwijk and
Cuthberson, by means of sparks from an electrical machine. Prof. Ostwald
considers this the first instance of the decomposition of a chemical
compound by electricity.

[36] The thimble was borrowed from Miss Fitzgerald, daughter of
the Knight of Kerry, who was living at Valentia.

[37] Broken up a few years ago for scrap iron.



Abbey, Westminster, 393

Academical honors, 395

Academy of Science, Royal, 202

Action at a distance, 356

Adams Prize, 339

Addison, 215, 216

Advancement of learning, 65

Affinity, 70

Agonic line, 22, 23

Akenside, 216

Albert the Great, 36

Albertus Magnus, 70

Alibert, 159

Aldin, 141, 207

Alfonso el Sabio, 8

Almanack, Poor Richard's, 103

Ampère, Jean Jacques, 233, 210, 232, 361

Amperean currents, 214

Amundsen, 30, 51

Anaesthesia, 308

Anaxagoras, 244

Anatomy, Comparative, 136

Ancients in the exact sciences, 1

Anderson, 381

Anelectrica, 70

Animal electricity, 146, 149, 175, 205, 320

Annus mirabilis, 86

Apollonius, 244

Arago, 177, 232, 243

Archimedes, 1, 13, 139, 244, 213;
  burning mirror, 14

Architecture, 199

Architectonics of metaphysics, 222

Aristarchus of Samos, 53

Aristotle, 52

Arsinoe, Queen, 5

Aspects of pain, 352

Assisi, Poor little man of, 161

Atheism, 160

Atlantic Telegraph Co., 373

Atoms, 355

Attraction and repulsion, 197

Auenbrugger, 274

Autobiography of Franklin, 126

Ayrton, 369


Bacon, Chancellor, 13

Bacon, Roger, 3, 10, 64

Balance, Electric, 200

Balancing of energies, 331

Baltimore lecture, 395

Barlowe, Wm., 40, 70, 326

Barometer, 70

Barrett, Father, 254

Bassi, Laura, 154

Battery, Voltaic, 206

Bauernfeind, 292

Baxter, Richard, 359

Bear, Little, 24

Bede, 54

Beet sugar, 306

Bembo, Cardinal, 215

Bence Jones, 333

Bernoulli, 236, 245, 348

Bernoulli, Daniel, 280

Bernoulli, Johann, 280

Bertelli, 27

Bertholinus, 147

Berthollet, 224

Beuve, Saint, 253

Bevis, 95

Biot, 198, 203, 224

Birds' ears; kidneys; semi-circular canals, 137

Boethius, 54

Bolivar, 255

Bond, 70

Bose, 87

Boyle, 70, 301

Brewster, Sir David, 218

Briggs, 50

Bright, Sir Charles, 387

Brook Taylor, 280

Browne, Sir Thomas, 70

Brugnatelli, Prof., 179

Brunetto Latini, 9

Buffon, 14, 99, 132

Bunyan, 386

Burning mirror, 14

Byron, 328


Cabanis, 246

Cabeo, 3, 26, 73

Cable, submarine, 362;
  telegraph, 322

Cabot, Sebastian, 23

Calculus of variations, 245

Canada balsam, 348

Canals, Semi-circular, 348

Canton, 91

Carthesian ovals, 337

Carminate, Prof., 141

Cascade, 90

Cassini, 26

Cavallo, 26

Cavendish, 93, 101, 173, 338;
  Laboratory, 340

Cayley, 364

Cell, Gun-cap, 380

Charles, Law of, 173, 224

Chelonian, Complaisant, 52

Chemical manipulation, 307

Childe Harold, 328

Christianity, 257

Chrystal, 258

Churchmen in Science, 162

Cingari, 153

Circle, Graduated, 19

Circuit, 70

Clark, Latimer, 218, 387

Clausius, 348

Clergymen Pioneers in Electricity, 162

Clerk Maxwell, 32, 94, 324

Clerk of Penicuik, 335

Cluny, 8

Coffin of Mahomet, 5

Coleridge, 261, 328

Collinson, Peter, 81

Color vision, 345

Columbian line, 23

Columbus, 21, 23;
  on electricity, 208

Como, College of, 172

Compass-card, 386;
  variation of the, 25

Concentration, 367

Concourse of atoms, 394

Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, 254

Contributions to molecular physics, 285

Copernicus, 54

Copley medal, 284

Coulomb, 84, 93, 188;
  character, 203;
  memoirs, 199

Creator and Ruler, 394

Creatures, 331

Crookes, 86, 246

Cumming, 70

Cunatus, 87

Current, Oscillatory, 206

Curves, Rolling, 337

Cuthberson, 361

Cuvier, 252, 224

Cynosure, 24


Dante, 161

Darwin, 227, 327, 351

Davy, Sir Humphry, 303, 326

Davy, 209, 306

D'Alembert, 280

D'Alibard, 99, 106

De Causis et Sedibus Morborum, 167

Declination, 21

De Civitate Dei, 5

Degrees and residence, 205

De Heer, 284

Dellman, 286

De Magnete, 35

De Mundo Nostro, 61

De Mundo Nostro Sublunari, 63

De Natura Rerum, 2

De Romas, 107

De Vi Attractiva, 170

De Viribus Electricitatis, 141

Development, Process of, 228

Devotion, Life of, 231

Dewar, 41

Dickerson, William, 380

Didactic lecture, 295

Digby, Sir Kenelen, 40

Dip-circle, 30

Discoveries by accident, 311;
  in science, 283;
  new, 251;
  practical, 213

Disposer, Great, 332

Divinia Commedia, 161

Divisch, 107

Dobereiner's lamp, 173

Dryden, 65

Dubois, Reymond, 298

Dufay, 83, 95

Dumas, 290

Dynamics of bodies, 291


Earth's magnetism, 22

Earthquakes and electricity, 148

Earthquakes and magnetism, 315

Ear of the bird, 139

Elastic solids, 337

Electrica, 70

Electrical bumper, 96;
  jack, 95;
  pistol, 172;
  treatment, 147;
  tube, 81

Electricitatis, 134

Electric light, 316;
  matter, 92;
  motor, 76

Electricity, 70

Electro-dynamics, 250

Electromagnet, 70

Electro-magnetics, 250

Electro-magnetism, 70

Electro-magnetismos, 41

Electron, 86

Electronic theory, 85

Electrophorus, 171

Electroscope, 171

Epilepsy, 292

Epitaph of Franklin, 129

Eratosthenes, 1

Ether, 309;
  universal, 60

Euclid, 1

Eudiometer, 172

Eugénie, Empress, 310

Euler, 107, 236, 280

Ewing, 42

Examination of conscience, 79

Existence, History of, 247;
  of God, 354


Failure, Triumph of, 283, 391

Faith, Confession of, 186

Faraday, 32, 41, 189, 298, 338, 361, 366;
  eloquence, 323;
  marriage, 329;
  money making, 309;
  notebooks, 302, 317;
  parents, 300;
  passing of, 332;
  perseverance, 318;
  poverty, 300;
  statement of law, 314

Faraday-Maxwell Theory, 344

Father of Mercies, 327

Father of Pathology, 167

Fechner, 276, 284

Fénelon, 235

Fichte, 324

Field, Cyrus W., 322, 377, 384

Field of force, 42

Filial tributes, 267

Flavio Gioja, 20

Foster, Carey, 388

Foucault, 55

Fourier, 363

Fowler, 149

Francis I., Emperor, 110

Franklin, 68, 77;
  and Paine, 128

Franklinian rods, 115

Franz, Father, 110

Freedom of the Press, 225

Free will, 352, 394

Fresnel, 251, 361

Frog dancing master, 151

Fuller, 65

Fulminating pane, 89

Future, Truth of, 331


Galileo, 40, 245

Gateway of Knowledge, 386

Galtoni, Father, 16, 8

Galvani, 133, 205, 211;
  anticipation of original experiment, 144;
  Madame, 141;
  the physician, the teacher, 151;
  wife, 140

Galvanometer, 70, 375

Garnett, 339

Gasser, 28

Gauss, 271, 375

Gay-Lussac, 209

Gellibrand, 26, 49

Genius, Precocious, 234

Geometry, 1; and intellectual culture, 267, 268

Gilbert, 3, 13, 26, 32

Giliani, Alessandra, 155

Gioja, 200

Gladstone, 236, 332

Glass harmonica, 115

God disposes, 289

Goethe, 222

Graduation, Early, 165

Graft, 192

Graham, 26

Gray, Stephen, 77;
  Prof. Andrew, 369

Great Eastern, 382

Green, 70

Gregory, 244

Grind, 263

Guericke, Otto von, 74

Guyot de Provins, 7

Gymnotus electricus, 150

Gyrostat, 372


Hakewill, 216

Hallam, 36

Hamilton, 76

Handy-men, 273

Hansteen, 208

Happy in life, 355

Hartmann, 26, 31

Harvey, 133, 334

Hauksbee, 74

Haüy, Abbé, 224

Headaches, 52

Helmholtz, 279, 321, 366

Heis, 271

Henry, 214, 361; Joseph, 92, 206, 284, 388

Herapath, 348

Herschel, Sir John, 225

Hertzian waves, 342

Hippocrates, 244

Hobby, 345

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 262

Homer, 235

Horace, 204, 355

Hottentots, 129

Hunter, John, 138

Huyghens, 244

Hymn to Mont Blanc, 328


Identity of lightning and electricity, 98

Il mago benefico, 184

Imitation of Christ, 255

Inclination, 70

Induction, 311;
  theory of, 311;
  sparks, 316

Institute of France, 202

Interference, Phenomena of, 287

Iron filings, 3;
  raspings of, 2

Isidore of Seville, 54

Isomagnetic lines, 24

Invisible things of God, 331

Izarn, 207


Jacobi, 284

Jesuit gymnasium, 270

Johns Hopkins University, 389

Joule, 385, 388


Kant, 119, 260

Kelvin, Lord, 139, 228, 258

Kepler, 40, 333

Kidneys of the bird, 136

Kinnersley, 83

Kircher, 26, 41, 70

Kite incident, 131;
  lightning, 121

Klaproth, 7, 224

Kleist, Dean von, 87

Klopstock, 223

Kneller, Father, 177

Knowledge, subjective and objective, 247

Koerner, 223, 265

Kohlrausch, 286


Laboratory, First physical, 368

Laennec, 139

Lagrange, 244, 343

Lamont, 270

Larmor, Dr. Joseph, 66

Langberg, 287

Langsdorff, 260

Languages, Special gift for, 167

Laplace, 254, 391

Learning, A little, 160

Lectures to the working people, 350

Leibnitz, 245

Lejeune Dirichlet, 271

Lenz, 284

Lesage, 219

Lessing, 222

Leverrier, 251

Libri, 27

Light an electric phenomenon, 344;
  polarized, 316

Lightning conductor, The Divisch, 111;
  kite, 121;
  rods, 101, 104, 114;
  storm, 116

Life, Future, 331;
  happiness, 355

Lines of magnetic force, 313

Linnæus, 238

Livius Sanutus, 49

Livres dou Tresor, 9

Lockwood, Thomas D., 275

Lodestone, 2

Lodge, Sir Oliver, 71, 246

Lombroso, 246

Lor, M. de, 122

Lucretius, 2, 167

Ludwig I., 278

Lucan, 235


Mackenzie, Colin, 358

Machines, Simple, 192, 199

Magaud, 187

Magiae Naturalis, 35

Magic, Natural, 215

Magnes, Loadstone challenge, 34

Magnetic declination, 47;
  dip, 29;
  fields, 42, 313;
  figures, 3;
  inclination, 31;
  meridian, 45;
  motor, 16

Magnet and Chinese, 7;
  flesh, 5;
  gold, 6;
  polarity of, 4;
  white, 6

Magnetism, 70, 202;
  into electricity, 315

Magnetismus, 40

Magnetization, Permanent, 206

Magnetometer, 44

Mahomet's sarcophagus, 65

Makers of Modern Medicine, 13

Malebranche, 248

Man proposes, 289

Manzolini, Madame, 154

Marcet, Mrs., 301

Maria Theresa, 110

Mariotte, 245

Marriage, Faraday's, 329

Marshall, Chas., 218

Martinique, 191

Martius, 298

Mass and weight, 56;
  of the earth, 58

Mathematics, Without a taste for, 262

Matter and force, 320;
  ultimate structure of, 282;
  al tripos, 364

Maxwell, 313, 388;
  the man, 359

Memberships, Honorary, 332

Memory, Wonderful, 236

Menon, Abbé, 77

Mental powers and morals, 331

Message, Inaugural, 376

Metaphysics, 247, 222

Meteorological machine, 112

Mind, Concentration of, 169

Mirror, Galvanometer, 375

Mitchell, John, 84, 189

Mojon, 207

Molecular torrent, 86

Molecules, 353

Money-making, Faraday on, 309

Monge, 224

Montucla, 244

Morality, Absolute, 247

Morrison, Charles, 218

Motion, Perpetual, 18

Moscow, 265

Mottelay, P. Fleury, 66

Mullaly, John, 377

Müller, Johann, 338

Mullock, Bishop, 373

Muscle-twitchings, 175

Musschenbroek, 86, 211

Myopia, 239


Napoleon, 179, 202, 247

Near-sightedness, 239

Negative, 126

Neptune, 251

Newe Attractive, 33

Newman, Cardinal, 353

Newton, 74, 139, 197, 244, 333, 389;
  Principia, 62, 208

Nollet, Abbé, 77, 95, 101, 170

Norman, 29, 59

Novum Organum, 13


Oersted, 208, 232, 249;
  discusses evolution, 227

Ohm, Martin, 262, 270

Ohm's law, 189, 251, 258;
  of acoustics, 282;
  goodness of heart, 296

Ohm's personal appearance, 293;
  preface, 274

Olbers, 224

Opus Majus, 10

Opus Tertiam, 12

Orb of virtue, 33

Orchestrion, 115

Origin of Species, 227

Ostwald, 361

Oval curves, 337

Ozanam, 253


Paine, 127

Palladius, 5

Paralysis, 148

Paris, Dr., 304

Parkinson, 365

Pascal, 256

Pasteur, 185, 282, 310

Pavia, University of, 173

Pellagra, 184

Pellico, Sylvio, 187

Peregrinus, 3, 8, 11

Perry, Prof. John, 369

Pfaff, 276

Philosopher of Copenhagen, 210

Philosophia Magnetica, 3

Philosophical Society, 307

Philosophy, Small draughts of, 160

Physics text-book, 291

Pierre le Pélérin, 12

Pile, 205

Pivoted compass, 9

Plagiarism, 63

Planta, Martin de, 74

Plato, 1, 213

Pliny, 4

Poet and scientist, 323

Poem, Mathematical, 364

Poggendorff, 276, 284, 375

Pohl, 276

Poincaré, 344

Polaric, 24

Polarity, 4, 200

Polarization, 200

Polyhedrons, 244

Pope Alexander VI., 24;
  Clement IV., 10;
  Paul III., 54;
  Leo X., 215

Popularization of science, 350

Porta, 215

Positive, 126

Potential, 70

Potato, 174

Pouillet, 284

Power, Feeble directive, 51

Preece, Sir William, 107

Premonstratensian Order, 107

Premonition, 266

Priestley, 106, 121, 167, 171, 231

Pringle, Sir John, 101

Priority in discoveries, 133

Prometheus, Modern, 119

Providence, 327;
  particular, general, 127

Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 70

Psychology, 246

Ptolemy, 54


Quacks, 52

Quackery, 149


Radowitz, General, 278

Rainbow, 333

Ramsay, Sir Wm., 369

Ramsden, 74

Rayleigh, Lord, 388

Raymond Lully, 10

Reid, 368

Religion, 129

Republic, Cis-Alpine, 156

Repulsion, Magnetic, 2

Resurrection, 129

Retina, 348

Richet, 246

Richmann, 106

Righi, 71

Ritter, 224

Robespierre, 114

Roentgen, 211

Romagnosi, 206

Ronaldo, 219

Ross, Sir James, 30

Rotch, 104

Rousseau, 238

Rowland, 94

Rush, Benjamin, 165


Sacchetti, 153

Samothracian rings, 3

Saturn's Rings, 339

Scarpa, 137

Schelling, 224

Schiller, 223

Schlegel, 223

Schweigger, 273

Science and free will, 352;
  and religion, 185;
  classification of, 252;
  experimental, 37;
  high priest of, 295

Sebec, 281

Secular variation, 49

Semi-circular canals, 138

Senses, Seven, 387

Series, 90

Seventh Sense, 387

Shakespeare's Cliff, 329

Siena, Cathedral, 115

Siger, 17

Silurus electricus, 150

Siphon-recorder, 375

Skill, Mechanical, 273

Smith's Prize, 336, 365

Snell, 244

Sophocles, 355

Soundings of deep sea, 384

Sound, Perception of, 282

Southey, 8

Spectator, 215

Spence, Dr., 82

Sphere, Electrified, 198

Spirit of mathematical analysis, 262

Squaring of the circle, 243

Saint Aloysius, 134;
  Augustine, 53, 254;
  Francis, Third Order of, 161;
  Thomas, 63

Saint-Hilaire, Geoffroy, 252

Statics, 199

Stereoscope, Real image, 348

Stethoscope, 139

Stevin, 49

Stewart, Balfour, 388

Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, 177

Stokes, 364

Stoney, 388

Strada, 216

Strain in the ether, 356

Structure of physical bodies, 282

Stuber, Dr., 119

Sturgeon, 70

Sugar from beet-root, 306

Sulzer, 176

Superfluous, Elimination of, 283

Suspension of the earth, 60

Swammerdam, 144


Taisnier, 26, 63

Tait, 334, 337, 342

Tampering with the lodestone, 6

Tandem, 90

Taprobane, 5

Tasso, 166, 235

Taylor's scientific memoirs, 276

Telephone, 70

Terrella, 44

Terrestrial magnetism, 51

Terror, Reign of, 201

Test-nail method, 44

Text-books, Maxwell's, 349

Thales, 2

Theory of induction, 314;
  of the Leyden-jar, 88;
  two-fluid, 126

Thévenot, 20

Thimble-cell, 379

Thompson, James, 362;
  Silvanus P., 27, 63, 80, 371;
  Wm., 361

Thunderbolt, 117

Toaldo, Padre, 115

Torpedo, 150

Torsion balance, 84, 188

Torque, 200

Tripos, 365

Truth of the future, 331

Twitchings of frogs, 135

Tycho Brahé, 68

Tyndall, 299


Uhland, 223, 265

Understanding and personal investigation, 268

University degrees, 265

Unworkable, 357;
  extension, 225

Uranus, 251


Van Helmont, 70

Van Troostwijk, 361

Variation of the compass, 21

Vaults, The statics of, 191

Venedey, 271

Venturoli, 156

Verses, Latin, 239

Virchow, 293

Virgil, 166

Virgilius, 53

Vitry, Cardinal Jacques de, 8

Volta, 162;
  anticipation of, 176;
  faith, 186;
  honored, 180;
  pile, 177

Voltaic pile, 176

Voltaire, 235

Vortex, 372


Wallace, 244, 246

Watson, 70, 95

Waves, Hertzian, 342

Wealth, Three ways to, 127

Weber, 342

Weight, Accidental, 57;
  and mass of the earth, 56, 58

Wenckebach, 21

Werner, 224

Wheatstone, 70

Wilson, Dr. Benjamin, 101

Wimshurst, 74

Windmills, 199

Winkelmann, 222

Winkler, 91

Works, sham, pilfered, distorted, 63;
  under-water, 99

Worthies of England, 65


Young, 313


Zák, Father Alphons, 108


MAKERS OF MODERN MEDICINE--A series Of Biographies of the men to whom we
owe the important advances in the development of modern medicine. By
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Every man of science looks to the beacon--truth--as his guiding mark,
and every opportunity to replace even time-honored misconceptions by
what is really the truth must be welcomed."

_The Independent_ (New York) said: "Dr. Walsh's books should be read in
connection with attacks upon the Popes in the matter of science by those
who want to get both sides."



MAKERS OF MODERN MEDICINE (second thousand). Lives of the dozen men to
whom nineteenth century medical science owes most. Cloth, octavo, 362
pp., with portrait of Pasteur. New York, 1907: second edition, 1909.
$2.00, net.

THE POPES AND SCIENCE (second thousand). The history of The Papal
Relations to Science during the Middle Ages and down to our own time.
New York, 1908. $2.00, net.

OLD-TIME MAKERS OF MEDICINE, in preparation. To be issued Winter, 1909.

MAKERS OF ASTRONOMY, in preparation.


CATHOLIC CHURCHMEN IN SCIENCE (first series). Lives of Seven Catholic
Ecclesiastics who were among the great founders of science. The Dolphin
Press, Philadelphia, 1906. Price, $1.00, net.

CATHOLIC CHURCHMEN IN SCIENCE (second series). Lives of four great
clerical founders in science and clerical pioneers in electricity and
Jesuit astronomers. The Dolphin Press, Philadelphia, 1909. Price, $1.00,

       *       *       *       *       *

THE THIRTEENTH GREATEST OF CENTURIES (second edition, third thousand).
The story of the rise of the universities, and of the origin of modern
art, letters, science, liberty and democracy in a single century.
Catholic Summer School Press, New York, 1907. $2.50, net.


ESSAYS IN PASTORAL MEDICINE. O'Malley and Walsh. Medical information for
pastors, superiors and nurses, and applications of ethical principles
for physicians, judges, lawyers, etc. Longmans, Green & Co. (fourth
thousand), New York, 1906. $2.50, net.

Transcriber's Notes:

Page 5, "passings" changed to "passing" (...nails from passing ships and
how wooden pegs were substituted for nails in vessels...)

Page 27, "Conville" changed to "Gonville" (Gonville and Caius,

Page 36, added word "of" (...contribute effectively to the advancement
of learning.)

Page 98, changed "Philosphical" to "Philosophical" (Philosophical

Page 145, changed "formal" to "former" (...the muscle will recover the
former motion...)

Page 169, changed "inadventently" to "inadvertently" (...miss meals, and
inadvertently to put off...)

Page 206, changed "cicumstances" to "circumstances" (...that, under
ordinary circumstances, all...)

Page 246, changed two cases of "pyschology" to "psychology" (...widely
known as students of psychology, of whom...); (...great a passion for
psychology, and...)

Page 266, changed "Allegmeine" to "Allgemeine" (...German biographer in
the Allgemeine Deutsche...)

Page 296, changed "know" to "known" (...who had known him

Page 319, changed "galvonometer" to "galvanometer" (...machine deflected
the needle of his galvanometer in the...)

Page 340, changed "Abderdeen" to "Aberdeen" (...physical sciences, at
Marischal College, Aberdeen.)

Page 367, changed "realtive" to "relative" (...thoughts that occurred
relative to problems...)

Page 368, changed "suface" to "surface" (...as we go below the earth's
surface, he...)

Page 400, changed numerical order of index entry "Henry; Joseph"

Page 400, changed "Keppler" to "Kepler"

Page 401, added missing page reference "65" to "Mahomet; sarcophagus"

Page 402, changed "Poggendorf" to "Poggendorff"

Page 404, changed alphabetical order of "Winkelmann"

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