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Faraday As A Discoverer
by John Tyndall
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Faraday does not see the same difficulty in his contiguous particles. And yet, by transferring the conception from masses to particles, we simply lessen size and distance, but we do not alter the quality of the conception. Whatever difficulty the mind experiences in conceiving of action at sensible distances, besets it also when it attempts to conceive of action at insensible distances. Still the investigation of the point whether electric and magnetic effects were wrought out through the intervention of contiguous particles or not, had a physical interest altogether apart from the metaphysical difficulty. Faraday grapples with the subject experimentally. By simple intuition he sees that action at a distance must be exerted in straight lines. Gravity, he knows, will not turn a corner, but exerts its pull along a right line; hence his aim and effort to ascertain whether electric action ever takes place in curved lines. This once proved, it would follow that the action is carried on by means of a medium surrounding the electrified bodies. His experiments in 1837 reduced, in his opinion, this point of demonstration. He then found that he could electrify, by induction, an insulated sphere placed completely in the shadow of a body which screened it from direct action. He pictured the lines of electric force bending round the edges of the screen, and reuniting on the other side of it; and he proved that in many cases the augmentation of the distance between his insulated sphere and the inducing body, instead of lessening, increased the charge of the sphere. This he ascribed to the coalescence of the lines of electric force at some distance behind the screen.

Faraday's theoretic views on this subject have not received general acceptance, but they drove him to experiment, and experiment with him was always prolific of results. By suitable arrangements he placed a metallic sphere in the middle of a large hollow sphere, leaving a space of something more than half an inch between them. The interior sphere was insulated, the external one uninsulated. To the former he communicated a definite charge of electricity. It acted by induction upon the concave surface of the latter, and he examined how this act of induction was effected by placing insulators of various kinds between the two spheres. He tried gases, liquids, and solids, but the solids alone gave him positive results. He constructed two instruments of the foregoing description, equal in size and similar in form. The interior sphere of each communicated with the external air by a brass stem ending in a knob. The apparatus was virtually a Leyden jar, the two coatings of which were the two spheres, with a thick and variable insulator between them. The amount of charge in each jar was determined by bringing a proof-plane into contact with its knob and measuring by a torsion balance the charge taken away. He first charged one of his instruments, and then dividing the charge with the other, found that when air intervened in both cases the charge was equally divided. But when shellac, sulphur, or spermaceti was interposed between the two spheres of one jar, while air occupied this interval in the other, then he found that the instrument occupied by the 'solid dielectric' takes more than half the original charge. A portion of the charge was absorbed by the dielectric itself. The electricity took time to penetrate the dielectric. Immediately after the discharge of the apparatus, no trace of electricity was found upon its knob. But after a time electricity was found there, the charge having gradually returned from the dielectric in which it had been lodged. Different insulators possess this power of permitting the charge to enter them in different degrees. Faraday figured their particles as polarized, and he concluded that the force of induction is propagated from particle to particle of the dielectric from the inner sphere to the outer one. This power of propagation possessed by insulators he called their 'Specific Inductive Capacity.'

Faraday visualizes with the utmost clearness the state of his contiguous particles; one after another they become charged, each succeeding particle depending for its charge upon its predecessor. And now he seeks to break down the wall of partition between conductors and insulators. 'Can we not,' he says, 'by a gradual chain of association carry up discharge from its occurrence in air through spermaceti and water, to solutions, and then on to chlorides, oxides, and metals, without any essential change in its character?' Even copper, he urges, offers a resistance to the transmission of electricity. The action of its particles differs from those of an insulator only in degree. They are charged like the particles of the insulator, but they discharge with greater ease and rapidity; and this rapidity of molecular discharge is what we call conduction. Conduction then is always preceded by atomic induction; and when, through some quality of the body which Faraday does not define, the atomic discharge is rendered slow and difficult, conduction passes into insulation.

Though they are often obscure, a fine vein of philosophic thought runs through those investigations. The mind of the philosopher dwells amid those agencies which underlie the visible phenomena of Induction and Conduction; and he tries by the strong light of his imagination to see the very molecules of his dielectrics. It would, however, be easy to criticise these researches, easy to show the looseness, and sometimes the inaccuracy, of the phraseology employed; but this critical spirit will get little good out of Faraday. Rather let those who ponder his works seek to realise the object he set before him, not permitting his occasional vagueness to interfere with their appreciation of his speculations. We may see the ripples, and eddies, and vortices of a flowing stream, without being able to resolve all these motions into their constituent elements; and so it sometimes strikes me that Faraday clearly saw the play of fluids and ethers and atoms, though his previous training did not enable him to resolve what he saw into its constituents, or describe it in a manner satisfactory to a mind versed in mechanics. And then again occur, I confess, dark sayings, difficult to be understood, which disturb my confidence in this conclusion. It must, however, always be remembered that he works at the very boundaries of our knowledge, and that his mind habitually dwells in the 'boundless contiguity of shade' by which that knowledge is surrounded.

In the researches now under review the ratio of speculation and reasoning to experiment is far higher than in any of Faraday's previous works. Amid much that is entangled and dark we have flashes of wondrous insight and utterances which seem less the product of reasoning than of revelation. I will confine myself here to one example of this divining power. By his most ingenious device of a rapidly rotating mirror, Wheatstone had proved that electricity required time to pass through a wire, the current reaching the middle of the wire later than its two ends. 'If,' says Faraday, 'the two ends of the wire in Professor Wheatstone's experiments were immediately connected with two large insulated metallic surfaces exposed to the air, so that the primary act of induction, after making the contact for discharge, might be in part removed from the internal portion of the wire at the first instance, and disposed for the moment on its surface jointly with the air and surrounding conductors, then I venture to anticipate that the middle spark would be more retarded than before. And if those two plates were the inner and outer coatings of a large jar or Leyden battery, then the retardation of the spark would be much greater.' This was only a prediction, for the experiment was not made.[2] Sixteen years subsequently, however, the proper conditions came into play, and Faraday was able to show that the observations of Werner Siemens, and Latimer Clark, on subterraneous and submarine wires were illustrations, on a grand scale, of the principle which he had enunciated in 1838. The wires and the surrounding water act as a Leyden jar, and the retardation of the current predicted by Faraday manifests itself in every message sent by such cables.

The meaning of Faraday in these memoirs on Induction and Conduction is, as I have said, by no means always clear; and the difficulty will be most felt by those who are best trained in ordinary theoretic conceptions. He does not know the reader's needs, and he therefore does not meet them. For instance he speaks over and over again of the impossibility of charging a body with one electricity, though the impossibility is by no means evident. The key to the difficulty is this. He looks upon every insulated conductor as the inner coating of a Leyden jar. An insulated sphere in the middle of a room is to his mind such a coating; the walls are the outer coating, while the air between both is the insulator, across which the charge acts by induction. Without this reaction of the walls upon the sphere you could no more, according to Faraday, charge it with electricity than you could charge a Leyden jar, if its outer coating were removed. Distance with him is immaterial. His strength as a generalizer enables him to dissolve the idea of magnitude; and if you abolish the walls of the room—even the earth itself—he would make the sun and planets the outer coating of his jar. I dare not contend that Faraday in these memoirs made all his theoretic positions good. But a pure vein of philosophy runs through these writings; while his experiments and reasonings on the forms and phenomena of electrical discharge are of imperishable importance.

Footnotes to Chapter 8

[1] Newton's third letter to Bentley.

[2] Had Sir Charles Wheatstone been induced to resume his measurements, varying the substances through which, and the conditions under which, the current is propagated, he might have rendered great service to science, both theoretic and experimental.



Chapter 9.

Rest needed—visit to Switzerland.

The last of these memoirs was dated from the Royal Institution in June, 1838. It concludes the first volume of his 'Experimental Researches on Electricity.' In 1840, as already stated, he made his final assault on the Contact Theory, from which it never recovered.[1] He was now feeling the effects of the mental strain to which he had been subjected for so many years. During these years he repeatedly broke down. His wife alone witnessed the extent of his prostration, and to her loving care we, and the world, are indebted for the enjoyment of his presence here so long. He found occasional relief in a theatre. He frequently quitted London and went to Brighton and elsewhere, always choosing a situation which commanded a view of the sea, or of some other pleasant horizon, where he could sit and gaze and feel the gradual revival of the faith that

'Nature never did betray The heart that loved her.'

But very often for some days after his removal to the country, he would be unable to do more than sit at a window and look out upon the sea and sky.

In 1841, his state became more serious than it had ever been before. A published letter to Mr. Richard Taylor, dated March 11, 1843, contains an allusion to his previous condition. 'You are aware,' he says, 'that considerations regarding health have prevented me from working or reading on science for the last two years.' This, at one period or another of their lives, seems to be the fate of most great investigators. They do not know the limits of their constitutional strength until they have transgressed them. It is, perhaps, right that they should transgress them, in order to ascertain where they lie. Faraday, however, though he went far towards it, did not push his transgression beyond his power of restitution. In 1841 Mrs. Faraday and he went to Switzerland, under the affectionate charge of her brother, Mr. George Barnard, the artist. This time of suffering throws fresh light upon his character. I have said that sweetness and gentleness were not its only constituents; that he was also fiery and strong. At the time now referred to, his fire was low and his strength distilled away; but the residue of his life was neither irritability nor discontent. He was unfit to mingle in society, for conversation was a pain to him; but let us observe the great Man-child when alone. He is at the village of Interlaken, enjoying Jungfrau sunsets, and at times watching the Swiss nailers making their nails. He keeps a little journal, in which he describes the process of nailmaking, and incidentally throws a luminous beam upon himself.

'August 2, 1841.—Clout nailmaking goes on here rather considerably, and is a very neat and pretty operation to observe. I love a smith's shop and anything relating to smithery. My father was a smith.'

From Interlaken he went to the Falls of the Giessbach, on the pleasant lake of Brientz. And here we have him watching the shoot of the cataract down its series of precipices. It is shattered into foam at the base of each, and tossed by its own recoil as water-dust through the air. The sun is at his back, shining on the drifting spray, and he thus describes and muses on what he sees:—

'August 12, 1841.—To-day every fall was foaming from the abundance of water, and the current of wind brought down by it was in some places too strong to stand against. The sun shone brightly, and the rainbows seen from various points were very beautiful. One at the bottom of a fine but furious fall was very pleasant,—there it remained motionless, whilst the gusts and clouds of spray swept furiously across its place and were dashed against the rock. It looked like a spirit strong in faith and steadfast in the midst of the storm of passions sweeping across it, and though it might fade and revive, still it held on to the rock as in hope and giving hope. And the very drops, which in the whirlwind of their fury seemed as if they would carry all away, were made to revive it and give it greater beauty.'

Footnote to Chapter 9

[1] See note, p. 77.



Chapter 10.

Magnetization of light.

But we must quit the man and go on to the discoverer: we shall return for a brief space to his company by-and-by. Carry your thoughts back to his last experiments, and see him endeavouring to prove that induction is due to the action of contiguous particles. He knew that polarized light was a most subtle and delicate investigator of molecular condition. He used it in 1834 in exploring his electrolytes, and he tried it in 1838 upon his dielectrics. At that time he coated two opposite faces of a glass cube with tinfoil, connected one coating with his powerful electric machine and the other with the earth, and examined by polarized light the condition of the glass when thus subjected to strong electric influence. He failed to obtain any effect; still he was persuaded an action existed, and required only suitable means to call it forth.

After his return from Switzerland he was beset by these thoughts; they were more inspired than logical: but he resorted to magnets and proved his inspiration true. His dislike of 'doubtful knowledge' and his efforts to liberate his mind from the thraldom of hypotheses have been already referred to. Still this rebel against theory was incessantly theorising himself. His principal researches are all connected by an undercurrent of speculation. Theoretic ideas were the very sap of his intellect—the source from which all his strength as an experimenter was derived. While once sauntering with him through the Crystal Palace, at Sydenham, I asked him what directed his attention to the magnetization of light. It was his theoretic notions. He had certain views regarding the unity and convertibility of natural forces; certain ideas regarding the vibrations of light and their relations to the lines of magnetic force; these views and ideas drove him to investigation. And so it must always be: the great experimentalist must ever be the habitual theorist, whether or not he gives to his theories formal enunciation.

Faraday, you have been informed, endeavoured to improve the manufacture of glass for optical purposes. But though he produced a heavy glass of great refractive power, its value to optics did not repay him for the pains and labour bestowed on it. Now, however, we reach a result established by means of this same heavy glass, which made ample amends for all.

In November, 1845, he announced his discovery of the 'Magnetization of Light and the Illumination of the Lines of Magnetic Force.' This title provoked comment at the time, and caused misapprehension. He therefore added an explanatory note; but the note left his meaning as entangled as before. In fact Faraday had notions regarding the magnetization of light which were peculiar to himself, and untranslatable into the scientific language of the time. Probably no other philosopher of his day would have employed the phrases just quoted as appropriate to the discovery announced in 1845. But Faraday was more than a philosopher; he was a prophet, and often wrought by an inspiration to be understood by sympathy alone. The prophetic element in his character occasionally coloured, and even injured, the utterance of the man of science; but subtracting that element, though you might have conferred on him intellectual symmetry, you would have destroyed his motive force.

But let us pass from the label of this casket to the jewel it contains. 'I have long,' he says, 'held an opinion, almost amounting to conviction, in common, I believe, with many other lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces of matter are made manifest have one common origin; in other words, are so directly related and mutually dependent, that they are convertible, as it were, into one another, and possess equivalents of power in their action.... This strong persuasion,' he adds, 'extended to the powers of light.' And then he examines the action of magnets upon light. From conversation with him and Anderson, I should infer that the labour preceding this discovery was very great. The world knows little of the toil of the discoverer. It sees the climber jubilant on the mountain top, but does not know the labour expended in reaching it. Probably hundreds of experiments had been made on transparent crystals before he thought of testing his heavy glass. Here is his own clear and simple description of the result of his first experiment with this substance:—'A piece of this glass, about two inches square, and 0.5 of an inch thick, having flat and polished edges, was placed as a diamagnetic[1] between the poles (not as yet magnetized by the electric current), so that the polarized ray should pass through its length; the glass acted as air, water, or any other transparent substance would do; and if the eye-piece were previously turned into such a position that the polarized ray was extinguished, or rather the image produced by it rendered invisible, then the introduction of the glass made no alteration in this respect. In this state of circumstances, the force of the electro-magnet was developed by sending an electric current through its coils, and immediately the image of the lamp-flame became visible and continued so as long as the arrangement continued magnetic. On stopping the electric current, and so causing the magnetic force to cease, the light instantly disappeared. These phenomena could be renewed at pleasure, at any instant of time, and upon any occasion, showing a perfect dependence of cause and effect.'

In a beam of ordinary light the particles of the luminiferous ether vibrate in all directions perpendicular to the line of progression; by the act of polarization, performed here by Faraday, all oscillations but those parallel to a certain plane are eliminated. When the plane of vibration of the polarizer coincides with that of the analyzer, a portion of the beam passes through both; but when these two planes are at right angles to each other, the beam is extinguished. If by any means, while the polarizer and analyzer remain thus crossed, the plane of vibration of the polarized beam between them could be changed, then the light would be, in part at least, transmitted. In Faraday's experiment this was accomplished. His magnet turned the plane of polarization of the beam through a certain angle, and thus enabled it to get through the analyzer; so that 'the magnetization of light and the illumination of the magnetic lines of force' becomes, when expressed in the language of modern theory, the rotation of the plane of polarization.

To him, as to all true philosophers, the main value of a fact was its position and suggestiveness in the general sequence of scientific truth. Hence, having established the existence of a phenomenon, his habit was to look at it from all possible points of view, and to develop its relationship to other phenomena. He proved that the direction of the rotation depends upon the polarity of his magnet; being reversed when the magnetic poles are reversed. He showed that when a polarized ray passed through his heavy glass in a direction parallel to the magnetic lines of force, the rotation is a maximum, and that when the direction of the ray is at right angles to the lines of force, there is no rotation at all. He also proved that the amount of the rotation is proportional to the length of the diamagnetic through which the ray passes. He operated with liquids and solutions. Of aqueous solutions he tried 150 and more, and found the power in all of them. He then examined gases; but here all his efforts to produce any sensible action upon the polarized beam were ineffectual. He then passed from magnets to currents, enclosing bars of heavy glass, and tubes containing liquids and aqueous solutions within an electro-magnetic helix. A current sent through the helix caused the plane of polarization to rotate, and always in the direction of the current. The rotation was reversed when the current was reversed. In the case of magnets, he observed a gradual, though quick, ascent of the transmitted beam from a state of darkness to its maximum brilliancy, when the magnet was excited. In the case of currents, the beam attained at once its maximum. This he showed to be due to the time required by the iron of the electro-magnet to assume its full magnetic power, which time vanishes when a current, without iron, is employed. 'In this experiment,' he says, 'we may, I think, justly say that a ray of light is electrified, and the electric forces illuminated.' In the helix, as with the magnets, he submitted air to magnetic influence 'carefully and anxiously,' but could not discover any trace of action on the polarized ray.

Many substances possess the power of turning the plane of polarization without the intervention of magnetism. Oil of turpentine and quartz are examples; but Faraday showed that, while in one direction, that is, across the lines of magnetic force, his rotation is zero, augmenting gradually from this until it attains its maximum, when the direction of the ray is parallel to the lines of force; in the oil of turpentine the rotation is independent of the direction of the ray. But he showed that a still more profound distinction exists between the magnetic rotation and the natural one. I will try to explain how. Suppose a tube with glass ends containing oil of turpentine to be placed north and south. Fixing the eye at the south end of the tube, let a polarized beam be sent through it from the north. To the observer in this position the rotation of the plane of polarization, by the turpentine, is right-handed. Let the eye be placed at the north end of the tube, and a beam be sent through it from the south; the rotation is still right-handed. Not so, however, when a bar of heavy glass is subjected to the action of an electric current. In this case if, in the first position of the eye, the rotation be right-handed, in the second position it is left-handed. These considerations make it manifest that if a polarized beam, after having passed through the oil of turpentine in its natural state, could by any means be reflected back through the liquid, the rotation impressed upon the direct beam would be exactly neutralized by that impressed upon the reflected one. Not so with the induced magnetic effect. Here it is manifest that the rotation would be doubled by the act of reflection. Hence Faraday concludes that the particles of the oil of turpentine which rotate by virtue of their natural force, and those which rotate in virtue of the induced force, cannot be in the same condition. The same remark applies to all bodies which possess a natural power of rotating the plane of polarization.

And then he proceeded with exquisite skill and insight to take advantage of this conclusion. He silvered the ends of his piece of heavy glass, leaving, however, a narrow portion parallel to two edges diagonally opposed to each other unsilvered. He then sent his beam through this uncovered portion, and by suitably inclining his glass caused the beam within it to reach his eye first direct, and then after two, four, and six reflections. These corresponded to the passage of the ray once, three times, five times, and seven times through the glass. He thus established with numerical accuracy the exact proportionality of the rotation to the distance traversed by the polarized beam. Thus in one series of experiments where the rotation required by the direct beam was 12degrees, that acquired by three passages through the glass was 36degrees, while that acquired by five passages was 60degrees. But even when this method of magnifying was applied, he failed with various solid substances to obtain any effect; and in the case of air, though he employed to the utmost the power which these repeated reflections placed in his hands, he failed to produce the slightest sensible rotation.

These failures of Faraday to obtain the effect with gases seem to indicate the true seat of the phenomenon. The luminiferous ether surrounds and is influenced by the ultimate particles of matter. The symmetry of the one involves that of the other. Thus, if the molecules of a crystal be perfectly symmetrical round any line through the crystal, we may safely conclude that a ray will pass along this line as through ordinary glass. It will not be doubly refracted. From the symmetry of the liquid figures, known to be produced in the planes of freezing, when radiant heat is sent through ice, we may safely infer symmetry of aggregation, and hence conclude that the line perpendicular to the planes of freezing is a line of no double refraction; that it is, in fact, the optic axis of the crystal. The same remark applies to the line joining the opposite blunt angles of a crystal of Iceland spar. The arrangement of the molecules round this line being symmetrical, the condition of the ether depending upon these molecules shares their symmetry; and there is, therefore, no reason why the wavelength should alter with the alteration of the azimuth round this line. Annealed glass has its molecules symmetrically arranged round every line that can be drawn through it; hence it is not doubly refractive. But let the substance be either squeezed or strained in one direction, the molecular symmetry, and with it the symmetry of the ether, is immediately destroyed and the glass becomes doubly refractive. Unequal heating produces the same effect. Thus mechanical strains reveal themselves by optical effects; and there is little doubt that in Faraday's experiment it is the magnetic strain that produces the rotation of the plane of polarization.[2]

Footnotes to Chapter 10

[1] 'By a diamagnetic,' says Faraday, 'I mean a body through which lines of magnetic force are passing, and which does not by their action assume the usual magnetic state of iron or loadstone.' Faraday subsequently used this term in a different sense from that here given, as will immediately appear.

[2] The power of double refraction conferred on the centre of a glass rod, when it is caused to sound the fundamental note due to its longitudinal vibration, and the absence of the same power in the case of vibrating air (enclosed in a glass organ-pipe), seems to be analogous to the presence and absence of Faraday's effect in the same two substances. Faraday never, to my knowledge, attempted to give, even in conversation, a picture of the molecular condition of his heavy glass when subjected to magnetic influence. In a mathematical investigation of the subject, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society for 1856, Sir William Thomson arrives at the conclusion that the 'diamagnetic' is in a state of molecular rotation.



Chapter 11.

Discovery of diamagnetism—researches on magne-crystallic action.

Faraday's next great step in discovery was announced in a memoir on the 'Magnetic Condition of all matter,' communicated to the Royal Society on December 18, 1845. One great source of his success was the employment of extraordinary power. As already stated, he never accepted a negative answer to an experiment until he had brought to bear upon it all the force at his command. He had over and over again tried steel magnets and ordinary electro-magnets on various substances, but without detecting anything different from the ordinary attraction exhibited by a few of them. Stronger coercion, however, developed a new action. Before the pole of an electro-magnet, he suspended a fragment of his famous heavy glass; and observed that when the magnet was powerfully excited the glass fairly retreated from the pole. It was a clear case of magnetic repulsion. He then suspended a bar of the glass between two poles; the bar retreated when the poles were excited, and set its length equatorially or at right angles to the line joining them. When an ordinary magnetic body was similarly suspended, it always set axially, that is, from pole to pole.

Faraday called those bodies which were repelled by the poles of a magnet, diamagnetic bodies; using this term in a sense different from that in which he employed it in his memoir on the magnetization of light. The term magnetic he reserved for bodies which exhibited the ordinary attraction. He afterwards employed the term magnetic to cover the whole phenomena of attraction and repulsion, and used the word paramagnetic to designate such magnetic action as is exhibited by iron.

Isolated observations by Brugmanns, Becquerel, Le Baillif, Saigy, and Seebeck had indicated the existence of a repulsive force exercised by the magnet on two or three substances; but these observations, which were unknown to Faraday, had been permitted to remain without extension or examination. Having laid hold of the fact of repulsion, Faraday immediately expanded and multiplied it. He subjected bodies of the most varied qualities to the action of his magnet:—mineral salts, acids, alkalis, ethers, alcohols, aqueous solutions, glass, phosphorus, resins, oils, essences, vegetable and animal tissues, and found them all amenable to magnetic influence. No known solid or liquid proved insensible to the magnetic power when developed in sufficient strength. All the tissues of the human body, the blood—though it contains iron—included, were proved to be diamagnetic. So that if you could suspend a man between the poles of a magnet, his extremities would retreat from the poles until his length became equatorial.

Soon after he had commenced his researches on diamagnetism, Faraday noticed a remarkable phenomenon which first crossed my own path in the following way: In the year 1849, while working in the cabinet of my friend, Professor Knoblauch, of Marburg, I suspended a small copper coin between the poles of an electro-magnet. On exciting the magnet, the coin moved towards the poles and then suddenly stopped, as if it had struck against a cushion. On breaking the circuit, the coin was repelled, the revulsion being so violent as to cause it to spin several times round its axis of suspension. A Silber-groschen similarly suspended exhibited the same deportment. For a moment I thought this a new discovery; but on looking over the literature of the subject, it appeared that Faraday had observed, multiplied, and explained the same effect during his researches on diamagnetism. His explanation was based upon his own great discovery of magneto-electric currents. The effect is a most singular one. A weight of several pounds of copper may be set spinning between the electro-magnetic poles; the excitement of the magnet instantly stops the rotation. Though nothing is apparent to the eye, the copper, if moved in the excited magnetic field, appears to move through a viscous fluid; while, when a flat piece of the metal is caused to pass to and fro like a saw between the poles, the sawing of the magnetic field resembles the cutting through of cheese or butter.[1] This virtual friction of the magnetic field is so strong, that copper, by its rapid rotation between the poles, might probably be fused. We may easily dismiss this experiment by saying that the heat is due to the electric currents excited in the copper. But so long as we are unable to reply to the question, 'What is an electric current?' the explanation is only provisional. For my own part, I look with profound interest and hope on the strange action here referred to.

Faraday's thoughts ran intuitively into experimental combinations, so that subjects whose capacity for experimental treatment would, to ordinary minds, seem to be exhausted in a moment, were shown by him to be all but inexhaustible. He has now an object in view, the first step towards which is the proof that the principle of Archimedes is true of magnetism. He forms magnetic solutions of various degrees of strength, places them between the poles of his magnet, and suspends in the solutions various magnetic bodies. He proves that when the solution is stronger than the body plunged in it, the body, though magnetic, is repelled; and when an elongated piece of it is surrounded by the solution, it sets, like a diamagnetic body, equatorially between the excited poles. The same body when suspended in a solution of weaker magnetic power than itself, is attracted as a whole, while an elongated portion of it sets axially.

And now theoretic questions rush in upon him. Is this new force a true repulsion, or is it merely a differential attraction? Might not the apparent repulsion of diamagnetic bodies be really due to the greater attraction of the medium by which they are surrounded? He tries the rarefaction of air, but finds the effect insensible. He is averse to ascribing a capacity of attraction to space, or to any hypothetical medium supposed to fill space. He therefore inclines, but still with caution, to the opinion that the action of a magnet upon bismuth is a true and absolute repulsion, and not merely the result of differential attraction. And then he clearly states a theoretic view sufficient to account for the phenomena. 'Theoretically,' he says, 'an explanation of the movements of the diamagnetic bodies, and all the dynamic phenomena consequent upon the action of magnets upon them, might be offered in the supposition that magnetic induction caused in them a contrary state to that which it produced in ordinary matter.' That is to say, while in ordinary magnetic influence the exciting pole excites adjacent to itself the contrary magnetism, in diamagnetic bodies the adjacent magnetism is the same as that of the exciting pole. This theory of reversed polarity, however, does not appear to have ever laid deep hold of Faraday's mind; and his own experiments failed to give any evidence of its truth. He therefore subsequently abandoned it, and maintained the non-polarity of the diamagnetic force.

He then entered a new, though related field of inquiry. Having dealt with the metals and their compounds, and having classified all of them that came within the range of his observation under the two heads magnetic and diamagnetic, he began the investigation of the phenomena presented by crystals when subjected to magnetic power. This action of crystals had been in part theoretically predicted by Poisson,[2] and actually discovered by Plucker, whose beautiful results, at the period which we have now reached, profoundly interested all scientific men. Faraday had been frequently puzzled by the deportment of bismuth, a highly crystalline metal. Sometimes elongated masses of the substance refused to set equatorially, sometimes they set persistently oblique, and sometimes even, like a magnetic body, from pole to pole.

'The effect,' he says, 'occurs at a single pole; and it is then striking to observe a long piece of a substance so diamagnetic as bismuth repelled, and yet at the same moment set round with force, axially, or end on, as a piece of magnetic substance would do.' The effect perplexed him; and in his efforts to release himself from this perplexity, no feature of this new manifestation of force escaped his attention. His experiments are described in a memoir communicated to the Royal Society on December 7, 1848.

I have worked long myself at magne-crystallic action, amid all the light of Faraday's and Plucker's researches. The papers now before me were objects of daily and nightly study with me eighteen or nineteen years ago; but even now, though their perusal is but the last of a series of repetitions, they astonish me. Every circumstance connected with the subject; every shade of deportment; every variation in the energy of the action; almost every application which could possibly be made of magnetism to bring out in detail the character of this new force, is minutely described. The field is swept clean, and hardly anything experimental is left for the gleaner. The phenomena, he concludes, are altogether different from those of magnetism or diamagnetism: they would appear, in fact, to present to us 'a new force, or a new form of force, in the molecules of matter,' which, for convenience sake, he designates by a new word, as 'the magne-crystallic force.'

He looks at the crystal acted upon by the magnet. From its mass he passes, in idea, to its atoms, and he asks himself whether the power which can thus seize upon the crystalline molecules, after they have been fixed in their proper positions by crystallizing force, may not, when they are free, be able to determine their arrangement? He, therefore, liberates the atoms by fusing the bismuth. He places the fused substance between the poles of an electro-magnet, powerfully excited; but he fails to detect any action. I think it cannot be doubted that an action is exerted here, that a true cause comes into play; but its magnitude is not such as sensibly to interfere with the force of crystallization, which, in comparison with the diamagnetic force, is enormous. 'Perhaps,' adds Faraday, 'if a longer time were allowed, and a permanent magnet used, a better result might be obtained. I had built many hopes upon the process.' This expression, and his writings abound in such, illustrates what has been already said regarding his experiments being suggested and guided by his theoretic conceptions. His mind was full of hopes and hypotheses, but he always brought them to an experimental test. The record of his planned and executed experiments would, I doubt not, show a high ratio of hopes disappointed to hopes fulfilled; but every case of fulfilment abolished all memory of defeat; disappointment was swallowed up in victory.

After the description of the general character of this new force, Faraday states with the emphasis here reproduced its mode of action: 'The law of action appears to be that the line or axis of MAGNE-CRYSTALLIC force (being the resultant of the action of all the molecules) tends to place itself parallel, or as a tangent, to the magnetic curve, or line of magnetic force, passing through the place where the crystal is situated.' The magne-crystallic force, moreover, appears to him 'to be clearly distinguished from the magnetic or diamagnetic forces, in that it causes neither approach nor recession, consisting not in attraction or repulsion, but in giving a certain determinate position to the mass under its influence.' And then he goes on 'very carefully to examine and prove the conclusion that there was no connection of the force with attractive or repulsive influences.' With the most refined ingenuity he shows that, under certain circumstances, the magne-crystallic force can cause the centre of gravity of a highly magnetic body to retreat from the poles, and the centre of gravity of a highly diamagnetic body to approach them. His experiments root his mind more and more firmly in the conclusion that 'neither attraction nor repulsion causes the set, or governs the final position' of the crystal in the magnetic field. That the force which does so is therefore 'distinct in its character and effects from the magnetic and diamagnetic forms of force. On the other hand,' he continues, 'it has a most manifest relation to the crystalline structure of bismuth and other bodies, and therefore to the power by which their molecules are able to build up the crystalline masses.'

And here follows one of those expressions which characterize the conceptions of Faraday in regard to force generally:—'It appears to me impossible to conceive of the results in any other way than by a mutual reaction of the magnetic force, and the force of the particles of the crystals upon each other.' He proves that the action of the force, though thus molecular, is an action at a distance; he shows that a bismuth crystal can cause a freely suspended magnetic needle to set parallel to its magne-crystallic axis. Few living men are aware of the difficulty of obtaining results like this, or of the delicacy necessary to their attainment. 'But though it thus takes up the character of a force acting at a distance, still it is due to that power of the particles which makes them cohere in regular order and gives the mass its crystalline aggregation, which we call at other times the attraction of aggregation, and so often speak of as acting at insensible distances.' Thus he broods over this new force, and looks at it from all possible points of inspection. Experiment follows experiment, as thought follows thought. He will not relinquish the subject as long as a hope exists of throwing more light upon it. He knows full well the anomalous nature of the conclusion to which his experiments lead him. But experiment to him is final, and he will not shrink from the conclusion. 'This force,' he says, 'appears to me to be very strange and striking in its character. It is not polar, for there is no attraction or repulsion.' And then, as if startled by his own utterance, he asks—'What is the nature of the mechanical force which turns the crystal round, and makes it affect a magnet?'... 'I do not remember,' he continues 'heretofore such a case of force as the present one, where a body is brought into position only, without attraction or repulsion.'

Plucker, the celebrated geometer already mentioned, who pursued experimental physics for many years of his life with singular devotion and success, visited Faraday in those days, and repeated before him his beautiful experiments on magneto-optic action. Faraday repeated and verified Plucker's observations, and concluded, what he at first seemed to doubt, that Plucker's results and magne-crystallic action had the same origin.

At the end of his papers, when he takes a last look along the line of research, and then turns his eyes to the future, utterances quite as much emotional as scientific escape from Faraday. 'I cannot,' he says, at the end of his first paper on magne-crystallic action, 'conclude this series of researches without remarking how rapidly the knowledge of molecular forces grows upon us, and how strikingly every investigation tends to develop more and more their importance, and their extreme attraction as an object of study. A few years ago magnetism was to us an occult power, affecting only a few bodies, now it is found to influence all bodies, and to possess the most intimate relations with electricity, heat, chemical action, light, crystallization, and through it, with the forces concerned in cohesion; and we may, in the present state of things, well feel urged to continue in our labours, encouraged by the hope of bringing it into a bond of union with gravity itself.'

Supplementary remarks

A brief space will, perhaps, be granted me here to state the further progress of an investigation which interested Faraday so much. Drawn by the fame of Bunsen as a teacher, in the year 1848 I became a student in the University of Marburg, in Hesse Cassel. Bunsen's behaviour to me was that of a brother as well as that of a teacher, and it was also my happiness to make the acquaintance and gain the friendship of Professor Knoblauch, so highly distinguished by his researches on Radiant Heat. Plucker's and Faraday's investigations filled all minds at the time, and towards the end of 1849, Professor Knoblauch and myself commenced a joint investigation of the entire question. Long discipline was necessary to give us due mastery over it. Employing a method proposed by Dove, we examined the optical properties of our crystals ourselves; and these optical observations went hand in hand with our magnetic experiments. The number of these experiments was very great, but for a considerable time no fact of importance was added to those already published. At length, however, it was our fortune to meet with various crystals whose deportment could not be brought under the laws of magne-crystallic action enunciated by Plucker. We also discovered instances which led us to suppose that the magne-crystallic force was by no means independent, as alleged, of the magnetism or diamagnetism of the mass of the crystal. Indeed, the more we worked at the subject, the more clearly did it appear to us that the deportment of crystals in the magnetic field was due, not to a force previously unknown, but to the modification of the known forces of magnetism and diamagnetism by crystalline aggregation.

An eminent example of magne-crystallic action adduced by Plucker, and experimented on by Faraday, was Iceland spar. It is what in optics is called a negative crystal, and according to the law of Plucker, the axis of such a crystal was always repelled by a magnet. But we showed that it was only necessary to substitute, in whole or in part, carbonate of iron for carbonate of lime, thus changing the magnetic but not the optical character of the crystal, to cause the axis to be attracted. That the deportment of magnetic crystals is exactly antithetical to that of diamagnetic crystals isomorphous with the magnetic ones, was proved to be a general law of action. In all cases, the line which in a diamagnetic crystal set equatorially, always set itself in an isomorphous magnetic crystal axially. By mechanical compression other bodies were also made to imitate the Iceland spar.

These and numerous other results bearing upon the question were published at the time in the 'Philosophical Magazine' and in 'Poggendorff's Annalen'; and the investigation of diamagnetism and magne-crystallic action was subsequently continued by me in the laboratory of Professor Magnus of Berlin. In December, 1851, after I had quitted Germany, Dr. Bence Jones went to the Prussian capital to see the celebrated experiments of Du Bois Reymond. Influenced, I suppose, by what he there heard, he afterwards invited me to give a Friday evening discourse at the Royal Institution. I consented, not without fear and trembling. For the Royal Institution was to me a kind of dragon's den, where tact and strength would be necessary to save me from destruction. On February 11, 1853, the discourse was given, and it ended happily. I allude to these things, that I may mention that, though my aim and object in that lecture was to subvert the notions both of Faraday and Plucker, and to establish in opposition to their views what I regarded as the truth, it was very far from producing in Faraday either enmity or anger. At the conclusion of the lecture, he quitted his accustomed seat, crossed the theatre to the corner into which I had shrunk, shook me by the hand, and brought me back to the table. Once more, subsequently, and in connection with a related question, I ventured to differ from him still more emphatically. It was done out of trust in the greatness of his character; nor was the trust misplaced. He felt my public dissent from him; and it pained me afterwards to the quick to think that I had given him even momentary annoyance. It was, however, only momentary. His soul was above all littleness and proof to all egotism. He was the same to me afterwards that he had been before; the very chance expression which led me to conclude that he felt my dissent being one of kindness and affection.

It required long subsequent effort to subdue the complications of magne-crystallic action, and to bring under the dominion of elementary principles the vast mass of facts which the experiments of Faraday and Plucker had brought to light. It was proved by Reich, Edmond Becquerel, and myself, that the condition of diamagnetic bodies, in virtue of which they were repelled by the poles of a magnet, was excited in them by those poles; that the strength of this condition rose and fell with, and was proportional to, the strength of the acting magnet. It was not then any property possessed permanently by the bismuth, and which merely required the development of magnetism to act upon it, that caused the repulsion; for then the repulsion would have been simply proportional to the strength of the influencing magnet, whereas experiment proved it to augment as the square of the strength. The capacity to be repelled was therefore not inherent in the bismuth, but induced. So far an identity of action was established between magnetic and diamagnetic bodies. After this the deportment of magnetic bodies, 'normal' and 'abnormal'; crystalline, amorphous, and compressed, was compared with that of crystalline, amorphous, and compressed diamagnetic bodies; and by a series of experiments, executed in the laboratory of this Institution, the most complete antithesis was established between magnetism and diamagnetism. This antithesis embraced the quality of polarity,—the theory of reversed polarity, first propounded by Faraday, being proved to be true. The discussion of the question was very brisk. On the Continent Professor Wilhelm Weber was the ablest and most successful supporter of the doctrine of diamagnetic polarity; and it was with an apparatus, devised by him and constructed under his own superintendence, by Leyser of Leipzig, that the last demands of the opponents of diamagnetic polarity were satisfied. The establishment of this point was absolutely necessary to the explanation of magne-crystallic action.

With that admirable instinct which always guided him, Faraday had seen that it was possible, if not probable, that the diamagnetic force acts with different degrees of intensity in different directions, through the mass of a crystal. In his studies on electricity, he had sought an experimental reply to the question whether crystalline bodies had not different specific inductive capacities in different directions, but he failed to establish any difference of the kind. His first attempt to establish differences of diamagnetic action in different directions through bismuth, was also a failure; but he must have felt this to be a point of cardinal importance, for he returned to the subject in 1850, and proved that bismuth was repelled with different degrees of force in different directions. It seemed as if the crystal were compounded of two diamagnetic bodies of different strengths, the substance being more strongly repelled across the magne-crystallic axis than along it. The same result was obtained independently, and extended to various other bodies, magnetic as well as diamagnetic, and also to compressed substances, a little subsequently by myself.

The law of action in relation to this point is, that in diamagnetic crystals, the line along which the repulsion is a maximum, sets equatorially in the magnetic field; while in magnetic crystals the line along which the attraction is a maximum sets from pole to pole. Faraday had said that the magne-crystallic force was neither attraction nor repulsion. Thus far he was right. It was neither taken singly, but it was both. By the combination of the doctrine of diamagnetic polarity with these differential attractions and repulsions, and by paying due regard to the character of the magnetic field, every fact brought to light in the domain of magne-crystallic action received complete explanation. The most perplexing of those facts were shown to result from the action of mechanical couples, which the proved polarity both of magnetism and diamagnetism brought into play. Indeed the thoroughness with which the experiments of Faraday were thus explained, is the most striking possible demonstration of the marvellous precision with which they were executed.

Footnotes to Chapter 11

[1] See Heat as a Mode of Motion, ninth edition, p. 75.

[2] See Sir Wm. Thomson on Magne-crystallic Action. Phil. Mag., 1851.



Chapter 12.

Magnetism of flame and gases—atmospheric magnetism

When an experimental result was obtained by Faraday it was instantly enlarged by his imagination. I am acquainted with no mind whose power and suddenness of expansion at the touch of new physical truth could be ranked with his. Sometimes I have compared the action of his experiments on his mind to that of highly combustible matter thrown into a furnace; every fresh entry of fact was accompanied by the immediate development of light and heat. The light, which was intellectual, enabled him to see far beyond the boundaries of the fact itself, and the heat, which was emotional, urged him to the conquest of this newly-revealed domain. But though the force of his imagination was enormous, he bridled it like a mighty rider, and never permitted his intellect to be overthrown.

In virtue of the expansive power which his vivid imagination conferred upon him, he rose from the smallest beginnings to the grandest ends. Having heard from Zantedeschi that Bancalari had established the magnetism of flame, he repeated the experiments and augmented the results. He passed from flames to gases, examining and revealing their magnetic and diamagnetic powers; and then he suddenly rose from his bubbles of oxygen and nitrogen to the atmospheric envelope of the earth itself, and its relations to the great question of terrestrial magnetism. The rapidity with which these ever-augmenting thoughts assumed the form of experiments is unparalleled. His power in this respect is often best illustrated by his minor investigations, and, perhaps, by none more strikingly than by his paper 'On the Diamagnetic Condition of Flame and Gases,' published as a letter to Mr. Richard Taylor, in the 'Philosophical Magazine' for December, 1847. After verifying, varying, and expanding the results of Bancalari, he submitted to examination heated air-currents, produced by platinum spirals placed in the magnetic field, and raised to incandescence by electricity. He then examined the magnetic deportment of gases generally. Almost all of these gases are invisible; but he must, nevertheless, track them in their unseen courses. He could not effect this by mingling smoke with his gases, for the action of his magnet upon the smoke would have troubled his conclusions. He, therefore, 'caught' his gases in tubes, carried them out of the magnetic field, and made them reveal themselves at a distance from the magnet.

Immersing one gas in another, he determined their differential action; results of the utmost beauty being thus arrived at. Perhaps the most important are those obtained with atmospheric air and its two constituents. Oxygen, in various media, was strongly attracted by the magnet; in coal-gas, for example, it was powerfully magnetic, whereas nitrogen was diamagnetic. Some of the effects obtained with oxygen in coal-gas were strikingly beautiful. When the fumes of chloride of ammonium (a diamagnetic substance) were mingled with the oxygen, the cloud of chloride behaved in a most singular manner,—'The attraction of iron filings,' says Faraday, 'to a magnetic pole is not more striking than the appearance presented by the oxygen under these circumstances.'

On observing this deportment the question immediately occurs to him,—Can we not separate the oxygen of the atmosphere from its nitrogen by magnetic analysis? It is the perpetual occurrence of such questions that marks the great experimenter. The attempt to analyze atmospheric air by magnetic force proved a failure, like the previous attempt to influence crystallization by the magnet. The enormous comparative power of the force of crystallization I have already assigned as a reason for the incompetence of the magnet to determine molecular arrangement; in the present instance the magnetic analysis is opposed by the force of diffusion, which is also very strong comparatively. The same remark applies to, and is illustrated by, another experiment subsequently executed by Faraday. Water is diamagnetic, sulphate of iron is strongly magnetic. He enclosed 'a dilute solution of sulphate of iron in a tube, and placed the lower end of the tube between the poles of a powerful horseshoe magnet for days together,' but he could produce 'no concentration of the solution in the part near the magnet.' Here also the diffusibility of the salt was too powerful for the force brought against it.

The experiment last referred to is recorded in a paper presented to the Royal Society on the 2nd August, 1850, in which he pursues the investigation of the magnetism of gases. Newton's observations on soap-bubbles were often referred to by Faraday. His delight in a soap-bubble was like that of a boy, and he often introduced them into his lectures, causing them, when filled with air, to float on invisible seas of carbonic acid, and otherwise employing them as a means of illustration. He now finds them exceedingly useful in his experiments on the magnetic condition of gases. A bubble of air in a magnetic field occupied by air was unaffected, save through the feeble repulsion of its envelope. A bubble of nitrogen, on the contrary, was repelled from the magnetic axis with a force far surpassing that of a bubble of air. The deportment of oxygen in air 'was very impressive, the bubble being pulled inward or towards the axial line, sharply and suddenly, as if the oxygen were highly magnetic.'

He next labours to establish the true magnetic zero, a problem not so easy as might at first sight be imagined. For the action of the magnet upon any gas, while surrounded by air or any other gas, can only be differential; and if the experiment were made in vacuo, the action of the envelope, in this case necessarily of a certain thickness, would trouble the result. While dealing with this subject, Faraday makes some noteworthy observations regarding space. In reference to the Torricellian vacuum, he says, 'Perhaps it is hardly necessary for me to state that I find both iron and bismuth in such vacua perfectly obedient to the magnet. From such experiments, and also from general observations and knowledge, it seems manifest that the lines of magnetic force can traverse pure space, just as gravitating force does, and as statical electrical forces do, and therefore space has a magnetic relation of its own, and one that we shall probably find hereafter to be of the utmost importance in natural phenomena. But this character of space is not of the same kind as that which, in relation to matter, we endeavour to express by the terms magnetic and diamagnetic. To confuse these together would be to confound space with matter, and to trouble all the conceptions by which we endeavour to understand and work out a progressively clearer view of the mode of action, and the laws of natural forces. It would be as if in gravitation or electric forces, one were to confound the particles acting on each other with the space across which they are acting, and would, I think, shut the door to advancement. Mere space cannot act as matter acts, even though the utmost latitude be allowed to the hypothesis of an ether; and admitting that hypothesis, it would be a large additional assumption to suppose that the lines of magnetic force are vibrations carried on by it, whilst as yet we have no proof that time is required for their propagation, or in what respect they may, in general character, assimilate to or differ from their respective lines of gravitating, luminiferous, or electric forces.'

Pure space he assumes to be the true magnetic zero, but he pushes his inquiries to ascertain whether among material substances there may not be some which resemble space. If you follow his experiments, you will soon emerge into the light of his results. A torsion-beam was suspended by a skein of cocoon silk; at one end of the beam was fixed a cross-piece 1 1/2 inch long. Tubes of exceedingly thin glass, filled with various gases, and hermetically sealed, were suspended in pairs from the two ends of the cross-piece. The position of the rotating torsion-head was such that the two tubes were at opposite sides of, and equidistant from, the magnetic axis, that is to say from the line joining the two closely approximated polar points of an electro-magnet. His object was to compare the magnetic action of the gases in the two tubes. When one tube was filled with oxygen, and the other with nitrogen, on the supervention of the magnetic force, the oxygen was pulled towards the axis, the nitrogen being pushed out. By turning the torsion-head they could be restored to their primitive position of equidistance, where it is evident the action of the glass envelopes was annulled. The amount of torsion necessary to re-establish equidistance expressed the magnetic difference of the substances compared.

And then he compared oxygen with oxygen at different pressures. One of his tubes contained the gas at the pressure of 30 inches of mercury, another at a pressure of 15 inches of mercury, a third at a pressure of 10 inches, while a fourth was exhausted as far as a good air-pump renders exhaustion possible. 'When the first of these was compared with the other three, the effect was most striking.' It was drawn towards the axis when the magnet was excited, the tube containing the rarer gas being apparently driven away, and the greater the difference between the densities of the two gases, the greater was the energy of this action.

And now observe his mode of reaching a material magnetic zero. When a bubble of nitrogen was exposed in air in the magnetic field, on the supervention of the power, the bubble retreated from the magnet. A less acute observer would have set nitrogen down as diamagnetic; but Faraday knew that retreat, in a medium composed in part of oxygen, might be due to the attraction of the latter gas, instead of to the repulsion of the gas immersed in it. But if nitrogen be really diamagnetic, then a bubble or bulb filled with the dense gas will overcome one filled with the rarer gas. From the cross-piece of his torsion-balance he suspended his bulbs of nitrogen, at equal distances from the magnetic axis, and found that the rarefaction, or the condensation of the gas in either of the bulbs had not the slightest influence. When the magnetic force was developed, the bulbs remained in their first position, even when one was filled with nitrogen, and the other as far as possible exhausted. Nitrogen, in fact, acted 'like space itself'; it was neither magnetic nor diamagnetic.

He cannot conveniently compare the paramagnetic force of oxygen with iron, in consequence of the exceeding magnetic intensity of the latter substance; but he does compare it with the sulphate of iron, and finds that, bulk for bulk, oxygen is equally magnetic with a solution of this substance in water 'containing seventeen times the weight of the oxygen in crystallized proto-sulphate of iron, or 3.4 times its weight of metallic iron in that state of combination.' By its capability to deflect a fine glass fibre, he finds that the attraction of this bulb of oxygen, containing only 0.117 of a grain of the gas, at an average distance of more than an inch from the magnetic axis, is about equal to the gravitating force of the same amount of oxygen as expressed by its weight.

These facts could not rest for an instant in the mind of Faraday without receiving that expansion to which I have already referred. 'It is hardly necessary,' he writes, 'for me to say here that this oxygen cannot exist in the atmosphere exerting such a remarkable and high amount of magnetic force, without having a most important influence on the disposition of the magnetism of the earth, as a planet; especially if it be remembered that its magnetic condition is greatly altered by variations of its density and by variations of its temperature. I think I see here the real cause of many of the variations of that force, which have been, and are now so carefully watched on different parts of the surface of the globe. The daily variation, and the annual variation, both seem likely to come under it; also very many of the irregular continual variations, which the photographic process of record renders so beautifully manifest. If such expectations be confirmed, and the influence of the atmosphere be found able to produce results like these, then we shall probably find a new relation between the aurora borealis and the magnetism of the earth, namely, a relation established, more or less, through the air itself in connection with the space above it; and even magnetic relations and variations, which are not as yet suspected, may be suggested and rendered manifest and measurable, in the further development of what I will venture to call Atmospheric Magnetism. I may be over-sanguine in these expectations, but as yet I am sustained in them by the apparent reality, simplicity, and sufficiency of the cause assumed, as it at present appears to my mind. As soon as I have submitted these views to a close consideration, and the test of accordance with observation, and, where applicable, with experiments also, I will do myself the honour to bring them before the Royal Society.'

Two elaborate memoirs are then devoted to the subject of Atmospheric Magnetism; the first sent to the Royal Society on the 9th of October, and the second on the 19th of November, 1850. In these memoirs he discusses the effects of heat and cold upon the magnetism of the air, and the action on the magnetic needle, which must result from thermal changes. By the convergence and divergence of the lines of terrestrial magnetic force, he shows how the distribution of magnetism, in the earth's atmosphere, is effected. He applies his results to the explanation of the Annual and of the Diurnal Variation: he also considers irregular variations, including the action of magnetic storms. He discusses, at length, the observations at St. Petersburg, Greenwich, Hobarton, St. Helena, Toronto, and the Cape of Good Hope; believing that the facts, revealed by his experiments, furnish the key to the variations observed at all these places.

In the year 1851, I had the honour of an interview with Humboldt, in Berlin, and his parting words to me then were, 'Tell Faraday that I entirely agree with him, and that he has, in my opinion, completely explained the variation of the declination.' Eminent men have since informed me that Humboldt was hasty in expressing this opinion. In fact, Faraday's memoirs on atmospheric magnetism lost much of their force—perhaps too much—through the important discovery of the relation of the variation of the declination to the number of the solar spots. But I agree with him and M. Edmond Becquerel, who worked independently at this subject, in thinking, that a body so magnetic as oxygen, swathing the earth, and subject to variations of temperature, diurnal and annual, must affect the manifestations of terrestrial magnetism.[1] The air that stands upon a single square foot of the earth's surface is, according to Faraday, equivalent in magnetic force to 8160 lbs. of crystallized protosulphate of iron. Such a substance cannot be absolutely neutral as regards the deportment of the magnetic needle. But Faraday's writings on this subject are so voluminous, and the theoretic points are so novel and intricate, that I shall postpone the complete analysis of these researches to a time when I can lay hold of them more completely than my other duties allow me to do now.

Footnote to Chapter 12

[1] This persuasion has been greatly strengthened by the recent perusal of a paper by Mr. Baxendell.



Chapter 13.

Speculations: nature of matter: lines of force

The scientific picture of Faraday would not be complete without a reference to his speculative writings. On Friday, January 19, 1844, he opened the weekly evening-meetings of the Royal Institution by a discourse entitled 'A speculation touching Electric Conduction and the nature of Matter.' In this discourse he not only attempts the overthrow of Dalton's Theory of Atoms, but also the subversion of all ordinary scientific ideas regarding the nature and relations of Matter and Force. He objected to the use of the term atom:—'I have not yet found a mind,' he says, 'that did habitually separate it from its accompanying temptations; and there can be no doubt that the words definite proportions, equivalent, primes, &c., which did and do fully express all the facts of what is usually called the atomic theory in chemistry, were dismissed because they were not expressive enough, and did not say all that was in the mind of him who used the word atom in their stead.'

A moment will be granted me to indicate my own view of Faraday's position here. The word 'atom' was not used in the stead of definite proportions, equivalents, or primes. These terms represented facts that followed from, but were not equivalent to, the atomic theory. Facts cannot satisfy the mind: and the law of definite combining proportions being once established, the question 'why should combination take place according to that law?' is inevitable. Dalton answered this question by the enunciation of the Atomic Theory, the fundamental idea of which is, in my opinion, perfectly secure. The objection of Faraday to Dalton might be urged with the same substantial force against Newton: it might be stated with regard to the planetary motions that the laws of Kepler revealed the facts; that the introduction of the principle of gravitation was an addition to the facts. But this is the essence of all theory. The theory is the backward guess from fact to principle; the conjecture, or divination regarding something, which lies behind the facts, and from which they flow in necessary sequence. If Dalton's theory, then, account for the definite proportions observed in the combinations of chemistry, its justification rests upon the same basis as that of the principle of gravitation. All that can in strictness be said in either case is that the facts occur as if the principle existed.

The manner in which Faraday himself habitually deals with his hypotheses is revealed in this lecture. He incessantly employed them to gain experimental ends, but he incessantly took them down, as an architect removes the scaffolding when the edifice is complete. 'I cannot but doubt,' he says, 'that he who as a mere philosopher has most power of penetrating the secrets of nature, and guessing by hypothesis at her mode of working, will also be most careful for his own safe progress and that of others, to distinguish the knowledge which consists of assumption, by which I mean theory and hypothesis, from that which is the knowledge of facts and laws.' Faraday himself, in fact, was always 'guessing by hypothesis,' and making theoretic divination the stepping-stone to his experimental results.

I have already more than once dwelt on the vividness with which he realised molecular conditions; we have a fine example of this strength and brightness of imagination in the present 'speculation.' He grapples with the notion that matter is made up of particles, not in absolute contact, but surrounded by interatomic space. 'Space,' he observes, 'must be taken as the only continuous part of a body so constituted. Space will permeate all masses of matter in every direction like a net, except that in place of meshes it will form cells, isolating each atom from its neighbours, itself only being continuous.'

Let us follow out this notion; consider, he argues, the case of a non-conductor of electricity, such for example as shell-lac, with its molecules, and intermolecular spaces running through the mass. In its case space must be an insulator; for if it were a conductor it would resemble 'a fine metallic web,' penetrating the lac in every direction. But the fact is that it resembles the wax of black sealing-wax, which surrounds and insulates the particles of conducting carbon, interspersed throughout its mass. In the case of shell-lac, therefore, space is an insulator.

But now, take the case of a conducting metal. Here we have, as before, the swathing of space round every atom. If space be an insulator there can be no transmission of electricity from atom to atom. But there is transmission; hence space is a conductor. Thus he endeavours to hamper the atomic theory. 'The reasoning,' he says, 'ends in a subversion of that theory altogether; for if space be an insulator it cannot exist in conducting bodies, and if it be a conductor it cannot exist in insulating bodies. Any ground of reasoning,' he adds, as if carried away by the ardour of argument, 'which tends to such conclusions as these must in itself be false.'

He then tosses the atomic theory from horn to horn of his dilemmas. What do we know, he asks, of the atom apart from its force? You imagine a nucleus which may be called a, and surround it by forces which may be called m; 'to my mind the a or nucleus vanishes, and the substance consists in the powers of m. And indeed what notion can we form of the nucleus independent of its powers? What thought remains on which to hang the imagination of an a independent of the acknowledged forces?' Like Boscovich, he abolishes the atom, and puts a 'centre of force' in its place.

With his usual courage and sincerity he pushes his view to its utmost consequences. 'This view of the constitution of matter,' he continues, 'would seem to involve necessarily the conclusion that matter fills all space, or at least all space to which gravitation extends; for gravitation is a property of matter dependent on a certain force, and it is this force which constitutes the matter. In that view matter is not merely mutually penetrable;[1] but each atom extends, so to say, throughout the whole of the solar system, yet always retaining its own centre of force.'

It is the operation of a mind filled with thoughts of this profound, strange, and subtle character that we have to take into account in dealing with Faraday's later researches. A similar cast of thought pervades a letter addressed by Faraday to Mr. Richard Phillips, and published in the 'Philosophical Magazine' for May, 1846. It is entitled 'Thoughts on Ray-vibrations,' and it contains one of the most singular speculations that ever emanated from a scientific mind. It must be remembered here, that though Faraday lived amid such speculations he did not rate them highly, and that he was prepared at any moment to change them or let them go. They spurred him on, but they did not hamper him. His theoretic notions were fluent; and when minds less plastic than his own attempted to render those fluxional images rigid, he rebelled. He warns Phillips moreover, that from first to last, 'he merely threw out as matter for speculation the vague impressions of his mind; for he gave nothing as the result of sufficient consideration, or as the settled conviction, or even probable conclusion at which he had arrived.'

The gist of this communication is that gravitating force acts in lines across space, and that the vibrations of light and radiant heat consist in the tremors of these lines of force. 'This notion,' he says, 'as far as it is admitted, will dispense with the ether, which, in another view is supposed to be the medium in which these vibrations take place.' And he adds further on, that his view 'endeavours to dismiss the ether but not the vibrations.' The idea here set forth is the natural supplement of his previous notion, that it is gravitating force which constitutes matter, each atom extending, so to say, throughout the whole of the solar system.

The letter to Mr. Phillips winds up with this beautiful conclusion:—

'I think it likely that I have made many mistakes in the preceding pages, for even to myself my ideas on this point appear only as the shadow of a speculation, or as one of those impressions upon the mind which are allowable for a time as guides to thought and research. He who labours in experimental inquiries, knows how numerous these are, and how often their apparent fitness and beauty vanish before the progress and development of real natural truth.'

Let it then be remembered that Faraday entertained notions regarding matter and force altogether distinct from the views generally held by scientific men. Force seemed to him an entity dwelling along the line in which it is exerted. The lines along which gravity acts between the sun and earth seem figured in his mind as so many elastic strings; indeed he accepts the assumed instantaneity of gravity as the expression of the enormous elasticity of the 'lines of weight.' Such views, fruitful in the case of magnetism, barren, as yet, in the case of gravity, explain his efforts to transform this latter force. When he goes into the open air and permits his helices to fall, to his mind's eye they are tearing through the lines of gravitating power, and hence his hope and conviction that an effect would and ought to be produced. It must ever be borne in mind that Faraday's difficulty in dealing with these conceptions was at bottom the same as that of Newton; that he is in fact trying to overleap this difficulty, and with it probably the limits prescribed to the intellect itself.

The idea of lines of magnetic force was suggested to Faraday by the linear arrangement of iron filings when scattered over a magnet. He speaks of and illustrates by sketches, the deflection, both convergent and divergent, of the lines of force, when they pass respectively through magnetic and diamagnetic bodies. These notions of concentration and divergence are also based on the direct observation of his filings. So long did he brood upon these lines; so habitually did he associate them with his experiments on induced currents, that the association became 'indissoluble,' and he could not think without them. 'I have been so accustomed,' he writes, 'to employ them, and especially in my last researches, that I may have unwittingly become prejudiced in their favour, and ceased to be a clear-sighted judge. Still, I have always endeavoured to make experiment the test and controller of theory and opinion; but neither by that nor by close cross-examination in principle, have I been made aware of any error involved in their use.'

In his later researches on magne-crystallic action, the idea of lines of force is extensively employed; it indeed led him to an experiment which lies at the root of the whole question. In his subsequent researches on Atmospheric Magnetism the idea receives still wider application, showing itself to be wonderfully flexible and convenient. Indeed without this conception the attempt to seize upon the magnetic actions, possible or actual, of the atmosphere would be difficult in the extreme; but the notion of lines of force, and of their divergence and convergence, guides Faraday without perplexity through all the intricacies of the question. After the completion of those researches, and in a paper forwarded to the Royal Society on October 22, 1851, he devotes himself to the formal development and illustration of his favourite idea. The paper bears the title, 'On lines of magnetic force, their definite character, and their distribution within a magnet and through space.' A deep reflectiveness is the characteristic of this memoir. In his experiments, which are perfectly beautiful and profoundly suggestive, he takes but a secondary delight. His object is to illustrate the utility of his conception of lines of force. 'The study of these lines,' he says, 'has at different times been greatly influential in leading me to various results which I think prove their utility as well as fertility.'

Faraday for a long period used the lines of force merely as 'a representative idea.' He seemed for a time averse to going further in expression than the lines themselves, however much further he may have gone in idea. That he believed them to exist at all times round a magnet, and irrespective of the existence of magnetic matter, such as iron filings, external to the magnet, is certain. No doubt the space round every magnet presented itself to his imagination as traversed by loops of magnetic power; but he was chary in speaking of the physical substratum of those loops. Indeed it may be doubted whether the physical theory of lines of force presented itself with any distinctness to his own mind. The possible complicity of the luminiferous ether in magnetic phenomena was certainly in his thoughts. 'How the magnetic force,' he writes, 'is transferred through bodies or through space we know not; whether the result is merely action at a distance, as in the case of gravity; or by some intermediate agency, as in the case of light, heat, the electric current, and (as I believe) static electric action. The idea of magnetic fluids, as applied by some, or of Magnetic centres of action, does not include that of the latter kind of transmission, but the idea of lines of force does.' And he continues thus:—'I am more inclined to the notion that in the transmission of the [magnetic] force there is such an action [an intermediate agency] external to the magnet, than that the effects are merely attraction and repulsion at a distance. Such an affection may be a function of the ether; for it is not at all unlikely that, if there be an ether, it should have other uses than simply the conveyance of radiations.' When he speaks of the magnet in certain cases, 'revolving amongst its own forces,' he appears to have some conception of this kind in view.

A great part of the investigation completed in October, 1851, was taken up with the motions of wires round the poles of a magnet and the converse. He carried an insulated wire along the axis of a bar magnet from its pole to its equator, where it issued from the magnet, and was bent up so as to connect its two ends. A complete circuit, no part of which was in contact with the magnet, was thus obtained. He found that when the magnet and the external wire were rotated together no current was produced; whereas, when either of them was rotated and the other left at rest currents were evolved. He then abandoned the axial wire, and allowed the magnet itself to take its place; the result was the same.[2] It was the relative motion of the magnet and the loop that was effectual in producing a current.

The lines of force have their roots in the magnet, and though they may expand into infinite space, they eventually return to the magnet. Now these lines may be intersected close to the magnet or at a distance from it. Faraday finds distance to be perfectly immaterial so long as the number of lines intersected is the same. For example, when the loop connecting the equator and the pole of his barmagnet performs one complete revolution round the magnet, it is manifest that all the lines of force issuing from the magnet are once intersected. Now it matters not whether the loop be ten feet or ten inches in length, it matters not how it may be twisted and contorted, it matters not how near to the magnet or how distant from it the loop may be, one revolution always produces the same amount of current electricity, because in all these cases all the lines of force issuing from the magnet are once intersected and no more.

From the external portion of the circuit he passes in idea to the internal, and follows the lines of force into the body of the magnet itself. His conclusion is that there exist lines of force within the magnet of the same nature as those without. What is more, they are exactly equal in amount to those without. They have a relation in direction to those without; and in fact are continuations of them.... 'Every line of force, therefore, at whatever distance it may be taken from the magnet, must be considered as a closed circuit, passing in some part of its course through the magnet, and having an equal amount of force in every part of its course.'

All the results here described were obtained with moving metals. 'But,' he continues with profound sagacity, 'mere motion would not generate a relation, which had not a foundation in the existence of some previous state; and therefore the quiescent metals must be in some relation to the active centre of force,' that is to the magnet. He here touches the core of the whole question, and when we can state the condition into which the conducting wire is thrown before it is moved, we shall then be in a position to understand the physical constitution of the electric current generated by its motion.

In this inquiry Faraday worked with steel magnets, the force of which varies with the distance from the magnet. He then sought a uniform field of magnetic force, and found it in space as affected by the magnetism of the earth. His next memoir, sent to the Royal Society, December 31, 1851, is 'on the employment of the Induced Magnetoelectro Current as a test and measure of magnetic forces.' He forms rectangles and rings, and by ingenious and simple devices collects the opposed currents which are developed in them by rotation across the terrestrial lines of magnetic force. He varies the shapes of his rectangles while preserving their areas constant, and finds that the constant area produces always the same amount of current per revolution. The current depends solely on the number of lines of force intersected, and when this number is kept constant the current remains constant too. Thus the lines of magnetic force are continually before his eyes, by their aid he colligates his facts, and through the inspirations derived from them he vastly expands the boundaries of our experimental knowledge. The beauty and exactitude of the results of this investigation are extraordinary. I cannot help thinking while I dwell upon them, that this discovery of magneto-electricity is the greatest experimental result ever obtained by an investigator. It is the Mont Blanc of Faraday's own achievements. He always worked at great elevations, but a higher than this he never subsequently attained.

Footnotes to Chapter 13

[1] He compares the interpenetration of two atoms to the coalescence of two distinct waves, which though for a moment blended to a single mass, preserve their individuality, and afterwards separate.

[2] In this form the experiment is identical with one made twenty years earlier. See page 34.



Chapter 14.

Unity and convertibility of natural forces: theory of the electric current.

The terms unity and convertibility, as applied to natural forces, are often employed in these investigations, many profound and beautiful thoughts respecting these subjects being expressed in Faraday's memoirs. Modern inquiry has, however, much augmented our knowledge of the relationship of natural forces, and it seems worth while to say a few words here, tending to clear up certain misconceptions which appear to exist among philosophic writers regarding this relationship.

The whole stock of energy or working-power in the world consists of attractions, repulsions, and motions. If the attractions and repulsions are so circumstanced as to be able to produce motion, they are sources of working-power, but not otherwise. Let us for the sake of simplicity confine our attention to the case of attraction. The attraction exerted between the earth and a body at a distance from the earth's surface is a source of working-power; because the body can be moved by the attraction, and in falling to the earth can perform work. When it rests upon the earth's surface it is not a source of power or energy, because it can fall no further. But though it has ceased to be a source of energy, the attraction of gravity still acts as a force, which holds the earth and weight together.

The same remarks apply to attracting atoms and molecules. As long as distance separates them, they can move across it in obedience to the attraction, and the motion thus produced may, by proper appliances, be caused to perform mechanical work. When, for example, two atoms of hydrogen unite with one of oxygen, to form water the atoms are first drawn towards each other—they move, they clash, and then by virtue of their resiliency, they recoil and quiver. To this quivering motion we give the name of heat. Now this quivering motion is merely the redistribution of the motion produced by the chemical affinity; and this is the only sense in which chemical affinity can be said to be converted into heat. We must not imagine the chemical attraction destroyed, or converted into anything else. For the atoms, when mutually clasped to form a molecule of water, are held together by the very attraction which first drew them towards each other. That which has really been expended is the pull exerted through the space by which the distance between the atoms has been diminished.

If this be understood, it will be at once seen that gravity may in this sense be said to be convertible into heat; that it is in reality no more an outstanding and inconvertible agent, as it is sometimes stated to be, than chemical affinity. By the exertion of a certain pull, through a certain space, a body is caused to clash with a certain definite velocity against the earth. Heat is thereby developed, and this is the only sense in which gravity can be said to be converted into heat. In no case is the force which produces the motion annihilated or changed into anything else. The mutual attraction of the earth and weight exists when they are in contact as when they were separate; but the ability of that attraction to employ itself in the production of motion does not exist.

The transformation, in this case, is easily followed by the mind's eye. First, the weight as a whole is set in motion by the attraction of gravity. This motion of the mass is arrested by collision with the earth; being broken up into molecular tremors, to which we give the name of heat.

And when we reverse the process, and employ those tremors of heat to raise a weight, as is done through the intermediation of an elastic fluid in the steam-engine, a certain definite portion of the molecular motion is destroyed in raising the weight. In this sense, and this sense only, can the heat be said to be converted into gravity, or more correctly, into potential energy of gravity. It is not that the destruction of the heat has created any new attraction, but simply that the old attraction has now a power conferred upon it, of exerting a certain definite pull in the interval between the starting-point of the falling weight and its collision with the earth.

So also as regards magnetic attraction: when a sphere of iron placed at some distance from a magnet rushes towards the magnet, and has its motion stopped by collision, an effect mechanically the same as that produced by the attraction of gravity occurs. The magnetic attraction generates the motion of the mass, and the stoppage of that motion produces heat. In this sense, and in this sense only, is there a transformation of magnetic work into heat. And if by the mechanical action of heat, brought to bear by means of a suitable machine, the sphere be torn from the magnet and again placed at a distance, a power of exerting a pull through that distance, and producing a new motion of the sphere, is thereby conferred upon the magnet; in this sense, and in this sense only, is the heat converted into magnetic potential energy.

When, therefore, writers on the conservation of energy speak of tensions being 'consumed' and 'generated,' they do not mean thereby that old attractions have been annihilated and new ones brought into existence, but that, in the one case, the power of the attraction to produce motion has been diminished by the shortening of the distance between the attracting bodies, and that in the other case the power of producing motion has been augmented by the increase of the distance. These remarks apply to all bodies, whether they be sensible masses or molecules.

Of the inner quality that enables matter to attract matter we know nothing; and the law of conservation makes no statement regarding that quality. It takes the facts of attraction as they stand, and affirms only the constancy of working-power. That power may exist in the form of MOTION; or it may exist in the form of FORCE, with distance to act through. The former is dynamic energy, the latter is potential energy, the constancy of the sum of both being affirmed by the law of conservation. The convertibility of natural forces consists solely in transformations of dynamic into potential, and of potential into dynamic, energy, which are incessantly going on. In no other sense has the convertibility of force, at present, any scientific meaning.

By the contraction of a muscle a man lifts a weight from the earth. But the muscle can contract only through the oxidation of its own tissue or of the blood passing through it. Molecular motion is thus converted into mechanical motion. Supposing the muscle to contract without raising the weight, oxidation would also occur, but the whole of the heat produced by this oxidation would be liberated in the muscle itself. Not so when it performs external work; to do that work a certain definite portion of the heat of oxidation must be expended. It is so expended in pulling the weight away from the earth. If the weight be permitted to fall, the heat generated by its collision with the earth would exactly make up for that lacking in the muscle during the lifting of the weight. In the case here supposed, we have a conversion of molecular muscular action into potential energy of gravity; and a conversion of that potential energy into heat; the heat, however, appearing at a distance from its real origin in the muscle. The whole process consists of a transference of molecular motion from the muscle to the weight, and gravitating force is the mere go-between, by means of which the transference is effected.

These considerations will help to clear our way to the conception of the transformations which occur when a wire is moved across the lines of force in a magnetic field. In this case it is commonly said we have a conversion of magnetism into electricity. But let us endeavour to understand what really occurs. For the sake of simplicity, and with a view to its translation into a different one subsequently, let us adopt for a moment the provisional conception of a mixed fluid in the wire, composed of positive and negative electricities in equal quantities, and therefore perfectly neutralizing each other when the wire is still. By the motion of the wire, say with the hand, towards the magnet, what the Germans call a Scheidungs-Kraft—a separating force—is brought into play. This force tears the mixed fluids asunder, and drives them in two currents, the one positive and the other negative, in two opposite directions through the wire. The presence of these currents evokes a force of repulsion between the magnet and the wire; and to cause the one to approach the other, this repulsion must be overcome. The overcoming of this repulsion is, in fact, the work done in separating and impelling the two electricities. When the wire is moved away from the magnet, a Scheidungs-Kraft, or separating force, also comes into play; but now it is an attraction that has to be surmounted. In surmounting it, currents are developed in directions opposed to the former; positive takes the place of negative, and negative the place of positive; the overcoming of the attraction being the work done in separating and impelling the two electricities.

The mechanical action occurring here is different from that occurring where a sphere of soft iron is withdrawn from a magnet, and again attracted. In this case muscular force is expended during the act of separation; but the attraction of the magnet effects the reunion. In the case of the moving wire also we overcome a resistance in separating it from the magnet, and thus far the action is mechanically the same as the separation of the sphere of iron. But after the wire has ceased moving, the attraction ceases; and so far from any action occurring similar to that which draws the iron sphere back to the magnet, we have to overcome a repulsion to bring them together.

There is no potential energy conferred either by the removal or by the approach of the wire, and the only power really transformed or converted, in the experiment, is muscular power. Nothing that could in strictness be called a conversion of magnetism into electricity occurs. The muscular oxidation that moves the wire fails to produce within the muscle its due amount of heat, a portion of that heat, equivalent to the resistance overcome, appearing in the moving wire instead.

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