Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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Thus we see that Newton, like Torricelli, first pondered his facts, illuminated them with persistent thought, and finally divined the character of the force of gravitation. But, having thus travelled inward to the principle, he reversed his steps, carried the principle outwards, and justified it by demonstrating its fitness to external nature.

And here, in passing, I would notice a point which is well worthy of attention. Kepler had deduced his laws from observation. As far back as those observations extended, the planetary motions had obeyed these laws; and neither Kepler nor Newton entertained a doubt as to their continuing to obey them. Year after year, as the ages rolled, they believed that those laws would continue to illustrate themselves in the heavens. But this was not sufficient. The scientific mind can find no repose in the mere registration of sequence in nature. The further question intrudes itself with resistless might, Whence comes the sequence? What is it that binds the consequent to its antecedent in nature? The truly scientific intellect never can attain rest until it reaches the forces by which the observed succession is produced. It was thus with Torricelli; it was thus with Newton; it is thus pre-eminently with the scientific man of to-day. In common with the most ignorant, he shares the belief that spring will succeed winter, that summer will succeed spring, that autumn will succeed summer, and that winter will succeed autumn. But he knows still further—and this knowledge is essential to his intellectual repose—that this succession, besides being permanent, is, under the circumstances, necessary; that the gravitating force exerted between the sun and a revolving sphere with an axis inclined to the plane of its orbit, must produce the observed succession of the seasons. Not until this relation between forces and phenomena has been established, is the law of reason rendered concentric with the law of nature; and not until this is effected does the mind of the scientific philosopher rest in peace.

The expectation of likeness, then, in the procession of phenomena, is not that on which the scientific mind founds its belief in the order of nature. If the force be permanent the phenomena are necessary, whether they resemble or do not resemble anything that has gone before. Hence, in judging of the order of nature, our enquiries eventually relate to the permanence of force. From Galileo to Newton, from Newton to our own time, eager eyes have been scanning the heavens, and clear heads have been pondering the phenomena of the solar system. The same eyes and minds have been also observing, experimenting, and reflecting on the action of gravity at the surface of the earth. Nothing has occurred to indicate that the operation of the law has for a moment been suspended; nothing has ever intimated that nature has been crossed by spontaneous action, or that a state of things at any time existed which could not be rigorously deduced from the preceding state.

Given the distribution of matter, and the forces in operation, in the time of Galileo, the competent mathematician of that day could predict what is now occurring in our own. We calculate eclipses in advance, and find our calculations true to the second. We determine the dates of those that have occurred in the early times of history, and find calculation and history in harmony. Anomalies and perturbations in the planets have been over and over again observed; but these, instead of demonstrating any inconstancy on the part of natural law, have invariably been reduced to consequences of that law. Instead of referring the perturbations of Uranus to any interference on the part of the Author of nature with the law of gravitation, the question which the astronomer proposed to himself was, 'How, in accordance with this law, can the perturbation be produced?' Guided by a principle, he was enabled to fix the point of space in which, if a mass of matter were placed, the observed perturbations would follow. We know the result. The practical astronomer turned his telescope towards the region which the intellect of the theoretic astronomer had already explored, and the Planet now named Neptune was found in its predicted Place. A very respectable outcome, it will be admitted, of an impulse which 'rests upon no rational grounds, and can be traced to no rational principle;' which possesses 'no intellectual character;' which 'philosophy' has uprooted from 'the ground of reason,' and fixed in that 'large irrational department' discovered for it, by Mr. Mozley, in the hitherto unexplored wilderness of the human mind.

The proper function of the inductive principle, or the belief in the order of nature, says Mr. Mozley, is 'to act as a practical basis for the affairs of life, and the carrying on of human society.' But what, it may be asked, has the planet Neptune, or the belts of Jupiter, or the whiteness about the poles of Mars, to do with the affairs of society? How is society affected by the fact that the sun's atmosphere contains sodium, or that the nebula of Orion contains hydrogen gas? Nineteen-twentieths of the force employed in the exercise of the inductive principle, which, reiterates Mr. Mozley, is 'purely practical,' have been expended upon subjects as unpractical as these. What practical interest has society in the fact that the spots on the sun have a decennial period, and that when a magnet is closely watched for half a century, it is found to perform small motions which synchronise with the appearance and disappearance of the solar spots? And yet, I doubt not, Sir Edward Sabine would deem a life of intellectual toil amply rewarded by being privileged to solve, at its close, these infinitesimal motions. The inductive principle is founded in man's desire to know—a desire arising from his position among phenomena which are reducible to order by his intellect: The material universe is the complement of the intellect; and, without the study of its laws, reason could never have awakened to the higher forms of self-consciousness at all. It is the Non-ego through and by which the Ego is endowed with self-discernment. We hold it to be an exercise of reason to explore the meaning of a universe to which we stand in this relation, and the work we have accomplished is the proper commentary on the methods we have pursued.

Before these methods were adopted the unbridled imagination roamed through nature, putting in the place of law the figments of superstitious dread. For thousands of years witchcraft, and magic, and miracles, and special providences, and Mr. Mozley's 'distinctive reason of man,' had the world to themselves. They made worse than nothing of it—worse, I say, because they let and hindered those who might have made something of it. Hence it is, that during a single lifetime of this era of 'unintelligent impulse,' the progress in knowledge is all but infinite as compared with that of the ages which preceded ours.

The believers in magic and miracles of a couple of centuries ago had all the strength of Mr. Mozley's present logic on their side. They had done for themselves what he rejoices in having so effectually done for us—cleared the ground of the belief in the order of nature, and declared magic, miracles, and witchcraft to be matters for 'ordinary evidence' to decide. 'The principle of miracles' thus 'befriended' had free scope, and we know the result. Lacking that rock-barrier of natural knowledge which we now possess, keen jurists and cultivated men were hurried on to deeds, the bare recital of which makes the blood run cold. Skilled in all the rules of human evidence, and versed in all the arts of cross-examination, these men, nevertheless, went systematically astray, and committed the deadliest wrongs against humanity. And why? Because they could not put Nature into the witness-box, and question her—of her voiceless 'testimony' they knew nothing. In all cases between man and man, their judgment was to be relied on; but in all cases between man and nature, they were blind leaders of the blind. [Footnote: 'In 1664 two women were hung in Suffolk, under a sentence of Sir Matthew Hale, who took the opportunity of declaring that the reality of witchcraft was unquestionable; "for first, the Scriptures had affirmed so much; and secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, which is an argument of their confidence of such a crime." Sir Thomas Browne, who was a great physician as well as a great writer, was called as a witness, and swore "that he was clearly of opinion that the persons were bewitched."—Lecky's History of Rationalism, vol. i. p. 120.]

Mr. Mozley concedes that it would be no great result if miracles were only accepted by the ignorant and superstitious, 'because it is easy to satisfy those who do not enquire.' But he does consider it 'a great result' that they have been accepted by the educated. In what sense educated? Like those statesmen, jurists, and church dignitaries whose education was unable to save them from the frightful errors glanced at above? Not even in this sense; for the great mass of Mr. Mozley's educated people had no legal training, and must have been absolutely defenceless against delusions which could set even that training at naught. Like nine-tenths of our clergy at the present day, they were versed in the literature of Greece, Rome, and Judea; but as regards a knowledge of nature, which is here the one thing needful, they were 'noble savages,' and nothing more. In the case of miracles, then, it behoves us to understand the weight of the negative, before we assign a value to the positive; to comprehend the depositions of nature, before we attempt to measure, with them, the evidence of men. We have only to open our eyes to see what honest and even intellectual men and women are capable of, as to judging evidence, in this nineteenth century of the Christian era, and in latitude fifty-two degrees north. The experience thus gained ought, I imagine, to influence our opinion regarding the testimony of people inhabiting a sunnier clime, with a richer imagination, and without a particle of that restraint which the discoveries of physical science have imposed upon mankind.


Having thus submitted Mr. Mozley's views to the examination which they challenged at the hands of a student of nature, I am unwilling to quit his book without expressing my admiration of his genius, and my respect for his character. Though barely known to him personally, his recent death affected me as that of a friend. With regard to the style of his book, I heartily subscribe to the description with which the 'Times' winds up its able and appreciative review. It is marked throughout with the most serious and earnest conviction, but is without a single word from first to last of asperity or insinuation against opponents; and this not from any deficiency of feeling as to the importance of the issue, but from a deliberate and resolutely maintained self-control, and from an over-ruling, ever-present sense of the duty, on themes like these, of a more than judicial calmness.'

[To the argument regarding the quantity of the miraculous, introduced at page 17, Mr. Mozley has done me the honour of publishing a Reply in the seventh volume of the 'Contemporary Review.'—J. T.]


AMONG the scraps of manuscript, written at the time when Mr. Mozley's work occupied my attention, I find the following reflections:

With regard to the influence of modern science which Mr. Mozley rates so low, one obvious effect of it is to enhance the magnitude of many of the recorded miracles, and to increase proportionably the difficulties of belief. The ancients knew but little of the vastness of the universe. The Rev. Mr. Kirkman, for example, has shown what inadequate notions the Jews entertained regarding the 'firmament of heaven;' and Sir George Airy refers to the case of a Greek philosopher who was persecuted for hazarding the assertion, then deemed monstrous, that the sun might be as large as the whole country of Greece. The concerns of a universe, regarded from this point of view, were much more commensurate with man and his concerns than those of the universe which science now reveals to us; and hence that to suit man's purposes, or that in compliance with his prayers, changes should occur in the order of the universe, was more easy of belief in the ancient world than it can be now. In the very magnitude which it assigns to natural phenomena, science has augmented the distance between them and man, and increased the popular belief in their orderly progression.

As a natural consequence the demand for evidence is more exacting than it used to be, whenever it is affirmed that the order of nature has been disturbed. Let us take as an illustration the miracle by which the victory of Joshua over the Amorites was rendered complete. In this case the sun is reported to have stood still for 'about a whole day' upon Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. An Englishman of average education at the present day would naturally demand a greater amount of evidence to prove that this occurrence took place, than would have satisfied an Israelite in the age succeeding that of Joshua. For to the one, the miracle probably consisted in the stoppage of a fiery ball less than a yard in diameter, while to the other it would be the stoppage of an orb fourteen hundred thousand times the earth in size. And even accepting the interpretation that Joshua dealt with what was apparent merely, but that what really occurred was the suspension of the earth's rotation, I think the right to exercise a greater reserve in accepting the miracle, and to demand stronger evidence in support of it than that which would have satisfied an ancient Israelite, will still be conceded to a man of science.

There is a scientific as well as an historic imagination; and when, by the exercise of the former, the stoppage of the earth's rotation is clearly realised, the event assumes proportions so vast, in comparison with the result to be obtained by it, that belief reels under the reflection. The energy here involved is equal to that of six trillions of horses working for the whole of the time employed by Joshua in the destruction of his foes. The amount of power thus expended would be sufficient to supply every individual of an army a thousand times the strength of that of Joshua, with a thousand times the fighting power of each of Joshua's soldiers, not for the few hours necessary to the extinction of a handful of Amorites, but for millions of years. All this wonder is silently passed over by the sacred historian, manifestly because he knew nothing about it. Whether, therefore, we consider the miracle as purely evidential, or as a practical means of vengeance, the same lavish squandering of energy stares us in the face. If evidential, the energy was wasted, because the Israelites knew nothing of its amount; if simply destructive, then the ratio of the quantity lost to the quantity employed, may be inferred from the foregoing figures.

To other miracles similar remarks apply. Transferring our thoughts from this little sand-grain of an earth to the immeasurable heavens, where countless worlds with freights of life probably revolve unseen, the very suns which warm them being barely visible across abysmal space; reflecting that beyond these sparks of solar fire, suns innumerable may burn, whose light can never stir the optic nerve at all; and bringing these reflections face to face with the idea of the Builder and Sustainer of it all showing Himself in a burning bush, exhibiting His hinder parts, or behaving in other familiar ways ascribed to Him in the Jewish Scriptures, the incongruity must appear. Did this credulous prattle of the ancients about miracles stand alone; were it not associated with words of imperishable wisdom, and with examples of moral grandeur unmatched elsewhere in the history of the human race, both the miracles and their 'evidences' would have long since ceased to be the transmitted inheritance of intelligent men. Influenced by the thoughts which this universe inspires, well may we exclaim in David's spirit, if not in David's words: 'When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou shouldst be mindful of him, or the son of man that thou shouldst so regard him?'

If you ask me who is to limit the outgoings of Almighty power, my answer is, Not I. If you should urge that if the Builder and Maker of this universe chose to stop the rotation of the earth, or to take the form of a burning bush, there is nothing to prevent Him from doing so, I am not prepared to contradict you. I neither agree with you nor differ from you, for it is a subject of which I know nothing. But I observe that in such questions regarding Almighty power, your enquiries relate, not to that power as it is actually displayed in the universe, but to the power of your own imagination. Your question is, not has the Omnipotent done so and so? or is it in the least degree likely that the Omnipotent should do so and so? but, is my imagination competent to picture a Being able and willing to do so and so? I am not prepared to deny your competence. To the human mind belongs the faculty of enlarging and diminishing, of distorting and combining, indefinitely the objects revealed by the senses. It can imagine a mouse as large as an elephant, an elephant as large as a mountain, and a mountain as high as the stars. It can separate congruities and unite incongruities. We see a fish and we see a woman we can drop one half of each, and unite in idea the other two halves to a mermaid. We see a horse and we see a man; we are able to drop one half of each, and unite the other two halves to a centaur. Thus also the pictorial representations of the Deity, the bodies and wings of cherubs and seraphs, the hoofs, horns, and tail of the Evil One, the joys of the blessed, and the torments of the damned, have been elaborated from materials furnished to the imagination by the senses. It behoves you and me to take care that our notions of the Power which rules the universe are not mere fanciful or ignorant enlargements of human power. The capabilities of what you call your reason are not denied. By the exercise of the faculty here adverted to, you can picture to yourself a Being able and willing to do any and every conceivable thing. You are right in saying that in opposition to this Power science is of no avail—that it is 'a weapon of air.' The man of science, however, while accepting the figure, would probably reverse its application, thinking it is not science which is here the thing of air, but that unsubstantial pageant of the imagination to which the solidity of science is opposed.


Prayer as a means to effect a private end is theft and meanness.—EMERSON.



THE Editor of the 'Contemporary Review' is liberal enough to grant me space for some remarks upon a subject, which, though my relation to it was simply that of a vehicle of transmission, has brought down upon me a considerable amount of animadversion.

It may be interesting to some of my readers if I glance at a few cases illustrative of the history of the human mind, in relation to this and kindred questions. In the fourth century the belief in Antipodes was deemed unscriptural and heretical. The pious Lactantius was as angry with the people who held this notion as my censors are now with me, and quite as unsparing in his denunciations of their 'Monstrosities.' Lactantius was irritated because, in his mind, by education and habit, cosmogony and religion were indissolubly associated, and, therefore, simultaneously disturbed. In the early part of the seventeenth century the notion that the earth was fixed, and that the sun and stars revolved round it daily, was interwoven with religious feeling, the separation then attempted by Galileo rousing the animosity and kindling the persecution of the Church. Men still living can remember the indignation excited by the first revelations of geology regarding the age of the earth, the association between chronology and religion being for the time indissoluble. In our day, however, the best-informed theologians are prepared to admit that our views of the Universe and its Author are not impaired, but improved, by the abandonment of the Mosaic account of the Creation. Look, finally, at the excitement caused by the publication of the 'Origin of Species;' and compare it with the calm attendant on the appearance of the far more outspoken, and, from the old point of view, more impious, 'Descent of Man.'

Thus religion survives-after the removal of what had been long considered essential to it. In our day the Antipodes are accepted; the fixity of the earth is given up; the period of Creation and the reputed age of the world are alike dissipated; Evolution is looked upon without terror; and other changes have occurred in the same direction too numerous to be dwelt upon here. In fact, from the earliest times to the present, religion has been undergoing a process of purification, freeing itself slowly and painfully from the physical errors which the active but uninformed intellect mingled with the aspirations of the soul. Some of us think that a final act of purification is needed, while others oppose this notion with the confidence and the warmth of ancient times. The bone of contention at present is the physical value of prayer. It is not my wish to excite surprise, much less to draw forth protest, by the employment of this phrase. I would simply ask any intelligent person to look the problem honestly in the face, and then to say whether, in the estimation of the great body of those who sincerely resort to it, prayer does not, at all events upon special occasions, invoke a Power which checks and augments the descent of rain, which changes the force and direction of winds, which affects the growth of corn and the health of men and cattle a Power, in short, which, when appealed to under pressing circumstances, produces the precise effects caused by physical energy in the ordinary course of things. To any person who deals sincerely with the subject, and refuses to blur his moral vision by intellectual subtleties, this, I think, will appear a true statement of the case.

It is under this aspect alone that the scientific student, so far as I represent him, has any wish to meddle with prayer. Forced upon his attention as a form of physical energy, or as the equivalent of such energy, he claims the right of subjecting it to those methods of examination from which all our present knowledge of the physical universe is derived. And if his researches lead him to a conclusion adverse to its claims—if his enquiries rivet him still closer to the philosophy implied in the words, 'He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust'—he contends only for the displacement of prayer, not for its extinction. He simply says, physical nature is not its legitimate domain.

This conclusion, moreover, must be based on pure physical evidence, and not on any inherent, unreasonableness in the act of prayer. The theory that the system of nature is under the control of a Being who changes phenomena in compliance with the prayers of men, is, in my opinion, a perfectly legitimate one. It may of course be rendered futile by being associated 'with conceptions which contradict it; but such conceptions form no necessary part of the theory. It is a matter of experience that an earthly father, who is at the same time both wise and tender, listens to the requests of his children, and, if they do not ask amiss, takes pleasure in granting their requests. We know also that this compliance extends to the alteration, within certain limits, of the current of events on earth. With this suggestion offered by experience, it is no departure from scientific method to place behind natural phenomena a Universal Father, who, in answer to the prayers of His children, alters the currents of those phenomena. Thus far Theology and Science go hand in hand. The conception of an aether, for example, trembling with the waves of light, is suggested by the ordinary phenomena of wave-motion in water and in air; and in like manner the conception of personal volition in nature is suggested by the ordinary action of man upon earth. I therefore urge no impossibilities, though I am constantly charged with doing so. I do not even urge inconsistency, but, on the contrary, frankly admit that the theologian has as good a right to place his conception at the root of phenomena as I have to place mine.

But without verification a theoretic conception is a mere figment of the intellect, and I am sorry to find us parting company at this point. The region of theory, both in science and theology, lies behind the world of the senses, but the verification of theory occurs in the sensible world. To check the theory we have simply to compare the deductions from it with the facts of observation. If the deductions be in accordance with the facts, we accept the theory: if in opposition, the theory is given up. A single experiment is frequently devised, by which the theory must stand or fall. Of this character was the determination of the velocity of light in liquids, as a crucial test of the Emission Theory. According to it, light travelled faster in water than in air; according to the Undulatory Theory, it travelled faster in air than in water. An experiment suggested by Arago, and executed by Fizeau and Foucault, was conclusive against Newton's theory.

But while science cheerfully submits to this ordeal, it seems impossible to devise a mode of verification of their theories which does not rouse resentment in theological minds. Is it that, while the pleasure of the scientific man culminates in the demonstrated harmony between theory and fact, the highest pleasure of the religious man has been already tasted in the very act of praying, prior to verification, any further effort in this direction being a mere disturbance of his peace? Or is it that we have before us a residue of that mysticism of the middle ages, so admirably described by Whewell—that 'practice of referring things and events not to clear and distinct notions, not to general rules capable of direct verification, but to notions vague, distant, and vast, which we cannot bring into contact with facts; as when we connect natural events with moral and historic causes.' 'Thus,' he continues, 'the character of mysticism is that it refers particulars, not to generalisations, homogeneous and immediate, but to such as are heterogeneous and remote; to which we must add, that the process of this reference is not a calm act of the intellect, but is accompanied with a glow of enthusiastic feeling.'

Every feature here depicted, and some more questionable ones, have shown themselves of late; most conspicuously, I regret to say, in the leaders' of a weekly journal of considerable influence, and one, on many grounds, entitled to the respect of thoughtful men. In the correspondence, however, published by the same journal, are to be found two or three letters well calculated to correct the temporary flightiness of the journal itself.

It is not my habit of mind to think otherwise than solemnly of the feeling which prompts prayer. It is a power which I should like to see guided, not extinguished—devoted to practicable objects instead of wasted upon air. In some form or other, not yet evident, it may, as alleged, be necessary to man's highest culture. Certain it is that, while I rank many persons who resort to prayer low in the scale of being—natural foolishness, bigotry, and intolerance being in their case intensified by the notion that they have access to the ear of God—I regard others who employ it, as forming part of the very cream of the earth. The faith that adds to the folly and ferocity of the one is turned to enduring sweetness, holiness, abounding charity, and self-sacrifice by the other. Religion, in fact, varies with the nature upon which it falls. Often unreasonable, if not contemptible, prayer, in its purer forms, hints at disciplines which few of us can neglect without moral loss. But no good can come of giving it a delusive value, by claiming for it a power in physical nature. It may strengthen the heart to meet life's losses, and thus indirectly promote physical well-being, as the digging of Aesop's orchard brought a treasure of fertility greater than the golden treasure sought. Such indirect issues we all admit; but it would be simply dishonest to affirm that it is such issues that are always in view. Here, for the present, I must end. I ask no space to reply to those railers who make such free use of the terms insolence, outrage, profanity, and blasphemy. They obviously lack the sobriety of mind necessary to give accuracy to their statements, or to render their charges worthy of serious refutation.



THE origin, growth, and energies of living things are subjects which have always engaged the attention of thinking men. To account for them it was usual to assume a special agent, free to a great extent from the limitations observed among the powers of inorganic nature. This agent was called vital force; and, under its influence, plants and animals were supposed to collect their materials and to assume determinate forms. Within the last few years, however, our ideas of vital processes have undergone profound modifications; and the interest, and even disquietude, which the change has excited are amply evidenced by the discussions and protests which are now common, regarding the phenomena of vitality. In tracing these phenomena through all their modifications, the most advanced philosophers of the present day declare that they ultimately arrive at a single source of power, from which all vital energy is derived; and the disquieting circumstance is that this source is not the direct fiat of a supernatural agent, but a reservoir of what, if we do not accept the creed of Zoroaster, must be regarded as inorganic force. In short, it is considered as proved that all the energy which we derive from plants and animals is drawn from the sun.

A few years ago, when the sun was affirmed to be the source of life, nine out of ten of those who are alarmed by the form which this assertion has latterly assumed would have assented, in a general way, to its correctness. Their assent, however, was more poetic than scientific, and they were by no means prepared to see a rigid mechanical signification attached to their words. This, however, is the peculiarity of modern conclusions: that there is no creative energy whatever in the vegetable or animal organism, but that all the power which we obtain from the muscles of man and animals, as much as that which we develop by the combustion of wood or coal, has been produced at the sun's expense. The sun is so much the colder that we may have our fires; he is also so much the colder that we may have our horse-racing and Alpine climbing. It is, for example, certain that the sun has been chilled to an extent capable of being accurately expressed in numbers, in order to furnish the power which lifted this year a certain number of tourists from the vale of Chamouni to the summit of Mont Blanc.

To most minds, however, the energy of light and heat presents itself as a thing totally distinct from ordinary mechanical energy. Either of them can nevertheless be derived from the other. Wood can be raised by friction to the temperature of ignition; while by properly striking a piece of iron a skilful blacksmith can cause it to glow. Thus, by the rude agency of his hammer, he generates light and heat. This action, if carried far enough, would produce the light and heat of the sun. In fact, the sun's light and heat have actually been referred to the fall of meteoric matter upon his surface; and whether the sun is thus supported or not, it is perfectly certain that he might be thus supported. Whether, moreover, the whilom molten condition of our planet was, as supposed by eminent men, due to the collision of cosmic masses or not, it is perfectly certain that the molten condition might be thus brought about.

If, then, solar light and heat can be produced by the impact of dead matter, and if from the light and heat thus produced we can derive the energies which we have been accustomed to call vital, it indubitably follows that vital energy may have a proximately mechanical origin.

In what sense, then, is the sun to be regarded as the origin of the energy derivable from plants and animals? Let us try to give an intelligible answer to this question. Water may be raised from the sea-level to a high elevation, and then permitted to descend. In descending it may be made to assume various forms—to fall in cascades, to spurt in fountains, to boil in eddies, or to flow tranquilly along a uniform bed. It may, moreover, be caused to set complex machinery in motion, to turn millstones, throw shuttles, work saws and hammers, and drive piles. But every form of power here indicated would be derived from the original power expended in raising the water to the height from which it fell. There is no energy generated by the machinery: the work performed by the water in descending is merely the parcelling out and distribution of the work expended in raising it. In precisely this sense is all the energy of plants and animals the parcelling out and distribution of a power originally exerted by the sun. In the case of the water, the source of the power consists in the forcible separation of a quantity of the liquid from a low level of the earth's surface, and its elevation to a higher position, the power thus expended being returned by the water in its descent. In the case of vital phenomena, the source of power consists in the forcible separation of the atoms of compound substances by the sun. We name the force which draws the water earthward 'gravity,' and that which draws atoms together 'chemical affinity'; but these different names must not mislead us regarding the qualitative identity of the two forces. They are both attractions; and, to the intellect, the falling of carbon atoms against oxygen atoms is not more difficult of conception than the falling of water to the earth.

The building up of the vegetable, then, is effected by the sun, through the reduction of chemical compounds. The phenomena of animal life are more or less complicated reversals of these processes of reduction. We eat the vegetable, and we breathe the oxygen of the air; and in our bodies the oxygen, which had been lifted from the carbon and hydrogen by the action of the sun, again falls towards them, producing animal heat and developing animal forms. Through the most complicated phenomena of vitality this law runs: the vegetable is produced while a weight rises, the animal is produced while a weight falls. But the question is not exhausted here. The water employed in our first illustration generates all the motion displayed in its descent, but the form of the motion depends on the character of the machinery interposed in the path of the water. In a similar way, the primary action of the sun's rays is qualified by the atoms and molecules among which their energy is distributed. Molecular forces determine the form which the solar energy will assume. In the separation of the carbon and oxygen this energy may be so conditioned as to result in one case in the formation of a cabbage, and in another case in the formation of an oak. So also, as regards the reunion of the carbon and the oxygen, the molecular machinery through which the combining energy acts may, in one case, weave the texture of a frog, while in another it may weave the texture of a man.

The matter of the animal body is that of inorganic nature. There is no substance in the animal tissues which is not primarily derived from the rocks, the water, and the air. Are the forces of organic matter, then, different in kind from those of inorganic matter? The philosophy of the present day negatives the question. It is the compounding, in the organic world, of forces belonging equally to the inorganic, that constitutes the mystery and the miracle of vitality. Every portion of every animal body may be reduced to purely inorganic matter. A perfect reversal of this process of reduction would carry us from the inorganic to the organic; and such a reversal is at least conceivable. The tendency, indeed, of modern science is to break down the wall of partition between organic and inorganic, and to reduce both to the operation of forces which are the same in kind, but which are differently compounded.

Consider the question of personal identity, in relation to that of molecular form. Thirty-four years ago, Mayer of Heilbronn, with that power of genius which breathes large meanings into scanty facts, pointed out that the blood was 6 the oil of the lamp of life,' the combustion of which sustains muscular action. The muscles are the machinery by which the dynamic power of the blood is brought into play. Thus the blood is consumed. But the whole body, though more slowly than the blood, wastes also, so that after a certain number of years it is entirely renewed. How is the sense of personal identity maintained across this flight of molecules? To man, as we know him, matter is necessary to consciousness; but the matter of any period may be all changed, while consciousness exhibits no solution of continuity. Like changing sentinels, the oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon that depart, seem to whisper their secret to their comrades that arrive, and thus, while the Non-ego shifts, the Ego remains the same. Constancy of form in the grouping of the molecules, and not constancy of the molecules themselves, is the correlative of this constancy of perception. Life is a wave which in no two consecutive moments of its existence is composed of the same particles.

Supposing, then, the molecules of the human body, instead of replacing others, and thus renewing a pre-existing form, to be gathered first hand from nature and put together in the same relative positions as those which they occupy in the body. Supposing them to have the selfsame forces and distribution of forces, the selfsame motions and distribution of motions—would this organised concourse of molecules stand before us as a sentient thinking being? There seems no valid reason to believe that it would not. Or, supposing a planet carved from the sun, set spinning round an axis, and revolving round the sun at a distance from him equal to that of our earth, would one of the consequences of its refrigeration be the development of organic forms? I lean to the affirmative. Structural forces are certainly in the mass, whether or not those forces reach to the extent of forming a plant or an animal. In an amorphous drop of water lie latent all the marvels of crystalline force; and who will set limits to the possible play of molecules in a cooling planet? If these statements startle, it is because matter has been defined and maligned by philosophers and theologians, who were equally unaware that it is, at bottom, essentially mystical and transcendental.

Questions such as these derive their present interest in great part from their audacity, which is sure, in due time, to disappear. And the sooner the public dread is abolished with reference to such questions the better for the cause of truth. As regards knowledge, physical science is polar. In one sense it knows, or is destined to know, everything. In another sense it knows nothing. Science understands much of this intermediate phase of things that we call nature, of which it is the product; but science knows nothing of the origin or destiny of nature. Who or what made the sun, and gave his rays their alleged power? Who or what made and bestowed upon the ultimate particles of matter their wondrous power of varied interaction? Science does not know: the mystery, though pushed back, remains unaltered. To many of us who feel that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the present philosophy of science, but who have been also taught, by baffled efforts, how vain is the attempt to grapple with the Inscrutable, the ultimate frame of mind is that of Goethe:

Who dares to name His name, Or belief in Him proclaim, Veiled in mystery as He is, the All-enfolder? Gleams across the mind His light, Feels the lifted soul His might, Dare it then deny His reign, the All-upholder?


As I rode through the Schwarzwald, I said to myself: That little fire which glows star-like across the dark-growing moor, where the sooty smith bends over his anvil, and thou hopest to replace thy lost horse-shoe,—is it a detached, separated speck, cut off from the whole Universe; or indissolubly joined to the whole? Thou fool, that smithy-fire was primarily kindled at the Sun; is fed by air that circulates from before Noah's Deluge, from beyond the Dogstar; therein, with Iron Force, and Coal Force, and the far stranger Force of Man, are cunning affinities and battles and victories of Force brought about; it is a little ganglion, or nervous centre, in the great vital system of Immensity. Call it, if thou wilt, an unconscious Altar, kindled on the bosom of the All... Detached, separated! I say there is no such separation: nothing hitherto was ever stranded, cast aside; but all, were it only a withered leaf, works together with all; is borne forward on the bottomless, shoreless flood of action, and lives through perpetual metamorphoses.—CARLYLE.



[Footnote: A Lecture delivered to the working men of Dundee, September 5, 1867, with additions.]

It is the custom of the Professors in the Royal School of Mines in London to give courses of evening lectures every year to working men. The lecture-room holds 600 people; and tickets to this amount are disposed of as quickly as they can be handed to those who apply for them. So desirous are the working men of London to attend these lectures, that the persons who fail to obtain tickets always bear a large proportion to those who succeed. Indeed, if the lecture-room could hold 2,000 instead of 600, I do not doubt that every one of its benches would be occupied on these occasions. It is, moreover, worthy of remark that the lectures are but rarely of a character which could help the working man in his daily pursuits. The information acquired is hardly ever of a nature which admits of being turned into money. It is, therefore, a pure desire for knowledge, as a thing good in itself, and without regard to its practical application, which animates the hearers of these lectures.

It is also my privilege to lecture to another audience in London, composed in part of the aristocracy of rank, while the audience just referred to is composed wholly of the aristocracy of labour. As regards attention and courtesy to the lecturer, neither of these audiences has anything to learn of the other; neither can claim superiority over the other. It would not, perhaps, be quite correct to take those persons who flock to the School of Mines as average samples of their class; they are probably picked men—the aristocracy of labour, as I have just called them. At all events, their conduct demonstrates that the essential qualities of what we in England understand by a gentleman are confined to no class; and they have often raised in my mind the wish that the gentlemen of all classes, artisans as well as lords, could, by some process of selection, be sifted from the general mass of the community, and caused to know each other better.

When pressed some months ago by the Council of the British Association to give an evening lecture to the working men of Dundee, my experience of the working men of London naturally rose to my mind; and, though heavily weighted with other duties, I could not bring myself to decline the request of the Council. Hitherto, the evening discourses of the Association have been delivered before its members and associates alone. But after the meeting at Nottingham, last year, where the working men, at their own request, were addressed by our late President, Mr. Grove, and by my excellent friend, Professor Huxley, the idea arose of incorporating with all subsequent meetings of the Association an address to the working men of the town in which the meeting is held. A resolution to that effect was sent to the Committee of Recommendations; the Committee supported the resolution; the Council of the Association ratified the decision of the Committee; and here I am to carry out to the best of my ability their united wishes.


Whether it be a consequence of long-continued development, or an endowment conferred once for all on man at his creation, we find him here gifted with a mind curious to know the causes of things, and surrounded by objects which excite its questionings, and raise the desire for an explanation. It is related of a young Prince of one of the Pacific Islands, that when he first saw himself in a looking-glass, he ran round the glass to see who was standing at the back. And thus it is with the general human intellect, as regards the phenomena of the external world. It wishes to get behind and learn the causes and connections of these phenomena. What is the sun, what is the earth, what should we see if we came to the edge of the earth and looked over? What is the meaning of thunder and lightning, of hail, rain, storm, and snow? Such questions presented themselves to early men, and by and by it was discovered that this desire for knowledge was not implanted in vain. After many trials it became evident that man's capacities were, so to speak, the complement of nature's facts, and that, within certain limits, the secret of the universe was open to the human understanding. It was found that the mind of man had the power of penetrating far beyond the boundaries of his five senses; that the things which are seen in the material world depend for their action upon things unseen; in short, that besides the phenomena which address the senses, there are laws and principles and processes which do not address the senses at all, but which must be, and can be, spiritually discerned.

To the subjects which require this discernment belong the phenomena of molecular force. But to trace the genesis of the notions now entertained upon this subject, we have to go a long way back. In the drawing of a bow, the darting of a javelin, the throwing of a stone—in the lifting of burdens, and in personal combats, even savage man became acquainted with the operation of force. Ages of discipline, moreover, taught him foresight. He laid by at the proper season stores of food, thus obtaining time to look about him, and to become an observer and enquirer. Two things which he noticed must have profoundly stirred his curiosity. He found that a kind of resin dropped from a certain tree possessed, when rubbed, the power of drawing light bodies to itself, and of causing them to cling to it; and he also found that a particular stone exerted a similar power over a particular kind of metal. I allude, of course, to electrified amber, and to the load-stone, or natural magnet, and its power to attract particles of iron. Previous experience of his own muscles had enabled our early enquirer to distinguish between a push and a pull. Augmented experience showed him that in the case of the magnet and the amber, pulls and pushes—attractions and repulsions—were also exerted; and, by a kind of poetic transfer, be applied to things external to himself, conceptions derived from himself. The magnet and the rubbed amber were credited with pushing and pulling, or, in other words, with exerting force.

In the time of the great Lord Bacon the margin of these pushes and pulls was vastly extended by Dr. Gilbert, a man probably of firmer scientific fibre, and of finer insight, than Bacon himself. Gilbert proved that a multitude of other bodies, when rubbed, exerted the power which, thousands of years previously, had been observed in amber. In this way the notion of attraction and repulsion in external nature was rendered familiar. It was a matter of experience that bodies, between which no visible link or connection existed, possessed the power of acting upon each other; and the action came to be technically called 'action at a distance.'

But out of experience in science there grows something finer than mere experience. Experience furnishes the soil for plants of higher growth; and this observation of action at a distance provided material for speculation upon the largest of problems. Bodies were observed to fall to the earth. Why should they do so? The earth was proved to revolve round the sun; and the moon to revolve round the earth. Why should they do so? What prevents them from flying straight off into space? Supposing it were ascertained that from a part of the earth's rocky crust a firmly fixed and tightly stretched chain started towards the sun, we might be inclined to conclude that the earth is held in its orbit by the chain—that the sun twirls the earth around him, as a boy twirls round his head a bullet at the end of a string. But why should the chain be needed? It is a fact of experience that bodies can attract each other at a distance, without the intervention of any chain. Why should not the sun and earth so attract each other? and why should not the fall of bodies from a height be the result of their attraction by the earth? Here then we reach one of those higher speculations which grow out of the fruitful soil of observation. Having started with the savage, and his sensations of muscular force, we pass on to the observation of force exerted between a magnet and rubbed amber and the bodies which they attract, rising, by an unbroken growth of ideas, to a conception of the force by which sun and planets are held together.

This idea of attraction between sun and planets had become familiar in the time of Newton. He set himself to examine the attraction; and here, as elsewhere, we find the speculative mind falling back for its materials upon experience. It had been observed, in the case of magnetic and electric bodies, that the nearer they were brought together the stronger was the force exerted between them; while, by increasing the distance, the force diminished until it became insensible. Hence the inference that the assumed pull between the earth and the sun would be influenced by their distance asunder. Guesses had been made as to the exact manner in which the force varied with the distance; but Newton supplemented the guess by the severe test of experiment and calculation. Comparing the pull of the earth upon a body close to its surface, with its pull upon the moon, 240,000 miles away, Newton rigidly established the law of variation with the distance. But on his way to this result Newton found room for other conceptions, some of which, indeed, constituted the necessary stepping-stones to his result. The one which here concerns us is, that not only does the sun attract the earth, and the earth attract the sun, as wholes, but every particle of the sun attracts every particle of the earth, and the reverse. His conclusion was, that the attraction of the masses was simply the sum of the attractions of their constituent particles.

This result seems so obvious that you will perhaps wonder at my dwelling upon it; but it really marks a turning point in our notions of force. You have probably heard of certain philosophers of the ancient world named Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. These men adopted, developed, and diffused the doctrine of atoms and molecules, which found its consummation at the hands of the illustrious John Dalton. But the Greek and Roman philosophers I have named, and their followers, up to the time of Newton, pictured their atoms as falling and flying through space, hitting each other, and clinging together by imaginary hooks and claws. They missed the central idea that atoms and molecules could come together, not by being fortuitously knocked Against each other, but by their own mutual attractions. This is one of the great steps taken by Newton. He familiarised the world with the conception of molecular force.

Newton, you know, was preceded by a grand fellow named John Kepler—a true working man—who, by analysing the astronomical observations of his master, Tycho Brahe, had actually found that the planets moved as they are now known to move. Kepler knew as much about the motion of the planets as Newton did; in fact, Kepler taught Newton and the world generally the facts of planetary motion. But this was not enough. The question arose—Why should the facts be so? This was the great question for Newton, and it was the solution of it which renders his name and fame immortal. Starting from the principle that every particle of matter in the solar system attracts every other particle by a force which varies as the inverse square of the distance between the particles, he proved that the Planetary motions must be what observation makes them to be. He showed that the moon fell towards the earth, and that the planets fell towards the sun, through the operation of the same force that pulls an apple from its tree. This all-pervading force, which forms the solder of the material universe, and the conception of which was necessary to Newton's intellectual peace, is called the force of gravitation.

Gravitation is a purely attractive force, but in electricity and magnetism, repulsion had been always seen to accompany attraction. Electricity and magnetism are double or polar forces. In the case of magnetism, experience soon pushed the mind beyond the bounds of experience, compelling it to conclude that the polarity of the magnet was resident in its molecules. I hold a magnetised strip of steel by its centre, and find that one half of the strip attracts, and the other half repels, the north end of a magnetic needle. I break the strip in the middle, find that this half, which a moment ago attracted throughout its entire length the north pole of a magnetic needle, is now divided into two new halves, one of which wholly attracts, and the other of which wholly repels, the north pole of the needle. The half proves to be as perfect a magnet as the whole. You may break this half and go on till further breaking becomes impossible through the very smallness of the fragments; the smallest fragment is found endowed with two poles, and is, therefore, a perfect magnet. But you cannot stop here: you imagine where you cannot experiment; and reach the conclusion entertained by all scientific men, that the magnet which you see and feel is an assemblage of molecular magnets which you cannot see and feel, but which, as before stated, must be intellectually discerned.

Magnetism then is a polar force; and experience hints that a force of this kind may exert a certain structural power. It is known, for example, that iron filings strewn round a magnet arrange themselves in definite lines, called, by some, 'magnetic curves,' and, by others, 'lines of magnetic force.' Over two magnets now before me is spread a sheet of paper. Scattering iron filings over the paper, polar force comes into play, and every particle of the iron responds to that force. We have a kind of architectural effort—if I may use the term—exerted on the part of the iron filings. Here then is a fact of experience which, as you will see immediately, furnishes further material for the mind to operate upon, rendering it possible to attain intellectual clearness and repose, while speculating upon apparently remote phenomena.

The magnetic force has here acted upon particles visible to the eye. But, as already stated, there are numerous processes in nature which entirely elude the eye of the body, and must be figured by the eye of the mind. The processes of chemistry are examples of these. Long thinking and experimenting has led philosophers to conclude that matter is composed of atoms from which, whether separate or in combination, the whole material world is built up. The air we breathe, for example, as mainly a mechanical mixture of the atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. The water we drink is also composed of oxygen and hydrogen. But it differs from the air in this particular, that in water the oxygen and hydrogen are not mechanically mixed, but chemically combined. The atoms of oxygen and those of hydrogen exert enormous attractions on each other, so that when brought into sufficient proximity they rush together with an almost incredible force to form a chemical compound. But powerful as is the force with which these atoms lock themselves together, we have the means of tearing them asunder, and the agent by which we accomplish this may here receive a few moments' attention.

Into a vessel containing acidulated water I dip two strips of metal, the one being zinc and the other platinum, not permitting them to touch each other in the liquid. I connect the two upper ends of the strips by a piece of copper wire. The wire is now the channel of what, for want of a better name, we call an 6 electric current.' What the inner change of the wire is we do not know, but we do know that a change has occurred, by the external effects produced by the wire. Let me show you one or two of these effects. Before you is a series of ten vessels, each with its pair of metals, and I wish to get the added force of all ten. The arrangement is called a voltaic battery. I plunge a piece of copper wire among these iron filings; they refuse to cling to it. I employ the selfsame wire to connect the two ends of the battery, and subject it to the same test. The iron filings now crowd round the wire and cling to it. I interrupt the current, and the filings immediately fall; the power of attraction continues only so long as the wire connects the two ends of the battery.

Here is a piece of similar wire, overspun with cotton, to prevent the contact of its various parts, and formed into a coil. I make the coil part of the wire which connects the two ends of the voltaic battery. By the attractive force with which it has become suddenly endowed, it now empties this tool-box of its iron nails. I twist a covered copper wire round this common poker; connecting the wire with the two ends of the voltaic battery, the poker is instantly transformed into a strong magnet. Two flat spirals are here suspended facing each other, about six inches apart. Sending a current through both spirals, they clash suddenly together; reversing what is called the direction of the current in one of the spirals, they fly asunder. All these effects are due to the power which we name an electric current, and which we figure as flowing through the wire when the voltaic circuit is complete.

By the same agent we tear asunder the locked atoms of a chemical compound. Into this small cell, containing water, dip two thin wires. A magnified image of the cell is thrown upon the screen before you, and you see plainly the images of the wires. From a small battery I send an electric current from wire to wire. Bubbles of gas rise immediately from each of them, and these are the two gases of which the water is composed. The oxygen is always liberated on the one wire, the hydrogen on the other. The gases may be collected either separately or mixed. I place upon my hand a soap bubble filled with the mixture of both gases. Applying a taper to the bubble, a loud explosion is heard. The atoms have rushed together with detonation, and without injury to my hand, and the water from which they were extracted is the result of their re-union.


One consequence of the rushing together of the atoms is the development of heat. What is this heat? Here are two ivory balls suspended from the same point of support by two short strings. I draw them thus apart and then liberate them. They clash together, but, by virtue of their elasticity, they quickly recoil, and a sharp vibratory rattle succeeds their collision. This experiment will enable you to figure to your mind a pair of clashing atoms. We have in the first place, a motion of the one atom towards the other—a motion of translation, as it is usually called—then a recoil, and afterwards a motion of vibration. To this vibratory motion we give the name of heat. Thus, three things are to be kept before the mind—first, the atoms themselves; secondly, the force with which they attract each other; and thirdly, the motion consequent upon the exertion of that force. This motion must be figured first as a motion of translation, and then as a motion of vibration, to which latter we give the name of heat. For some time after the act of combination this motion is so violent as to prevent the molecules from coming together, the water being maintained in a state of vapour. But as the vapour cools, or in other words loses its motion, the molecules coalesce to form a liquid.

And now we approach a new and wonderful display of force. As long as the substance remains in a liquid or vaporous condition, the play of this force is altogether masked and bidden. But as the heat is gradually withdrawn, the molecules prepare for new arrangements and combinations. Solid crystals of water are at length formed, to which we give the familiar name of ice. Looking at these beautiful edifices and their internal structure, the pondering mind has forced upon it the question, How are they built up? We have obtained clear conceptions of polar force; and we infer from our broken magnet that polar force may be resident in the molecules or smallest particles of matter, and that by the play of this force structural arrangement is possible. What, in relation to our present question, is the natural action of a mind furnished with this knowledge? It is compelled to transcend experience, and endow the atoms and molecules of which crystals are built with definite poles whence issue attractions and repulsions. In virtue of these forces some poles are drawn together, while some retreat from each other; atom is added to atom, and molecule to molecule, not boisterously or fortuitously, but silently and symmetrically, and in accordance with laws more rigid than those which guide a human builder when he places his materials together. Imagine the bricks and stones of this town of Dundee endowed with structural power.

Imagine them attracting and repelling, and arranging themselves into streets and houses and Kinnaird Halls—would not that be wonderful? Hardly less wonderful is the play of force by which the molecules of water build themselves into the sheets of ice which every winter roof your ponds and lakes.

If I could show you the actual progress of this molecular architecture, its beauty would delight and astonish you. A reversal of the process of crystallisation may be actually shown. The molecules of a piece of ice may be taken asunder before your eyes; and from the manner in which they separate, you may to some extent infer the manner in which they go together. When a beam is sent from our electric lamp through a plate of glass, a portion of the beam is intercepted, and the glass is warmed by the portion thus retained within it. When the beam is sent through a plate of ice, a portion of the beam is also absorbed; but instead of warming the ice, the intercepted heat melts it internally. It is to the delicate silent action of this beam within the ice that I now wish to direct your attention. Upon the screen is thrown a magnified image of the slab of ice: the light of the beam passes freely through the ice without melting it, and enables us to form the image; but the heat is in great part intercepted, and that heat now applies itself to the work of internal liquefaction. Selecting certain points for attack, round about those points the beam works silently, undoing the crystalline architecture, and reducing to the freedom of liquidity molecules which had been previously locked in a solid embrace. The liquefied spaces are rendered visible by strong illumination. Observe those six-petaled flowers breaking out over the white surface, and expanding in size as the action of the beam continues. These flowers are liquefied ice. Under the action of the heat the molecules of the crystals fall asunder, so as to leave behind them these exquisite forms. We have here a process of demolition which clearly reveals the reverse process of construction. In this fashion, and in strict accordance with this hexangular type, every ice molecule takes its place upon our ponds and lakes during the frosts of winter. To use the language of an American poet, 'the atoms march in tune,' moving to the music of law, which thus renders the commonest substance in nature a miracle of beauty.

It is the function of science, not as some think to divest this universe of its wonder and mystery, but, as in the case before us, to point out the wonder and the mystery of common things. Those fern-like forms, which on a frosty morning overspread your windowpanes, illustrate the action of the same force. Breathe upon such a pane before the fires are lighted, and reduce the solid crystalline film to the liquid condition; then watch its subsequent resolidification. You will see it all the better if you look at it through a common magnifying glass. After you have ceased breathing, the film, abandoned to the action of its own forces, appears for a moment to be alive. Lines of motion run through it; molecule closes with molecule, until finally the whole film passes from the state of liquidity, through this state of motion, to its final crystalline repose.

I can show you something similar. Over a piece of perfectly clean glass I pour a little water in which certain crystals have been dissolved. A film of the solution clings to the glass. By means of a microscope and a lamp, an image of the plate of glass is thrown upon the screen. The beam of the lamp, besides illuminating the glass, also heats it; evaporation sets in, and at a certain moment, when the solution has become supersaturated, splendid branches of crystal shoot out over the screen. A dozen square feet of surface are now covered by those beautiful forms. With another solution we obtain crystalline spears, feathered right and left by other spears. From distant nuclei in the middle of the field of view the spears shoot with magical rapidity in all directions. The film of water on a window-pane on a frosty morning exhibits effects quite as wonderful as these. Latent in these formless solutions, latent in every drop of water, lies this marvellous structural power, which only requires the withdrawal of opposing forces to bring it into action.

The clear liquid now held up before you is a solution of nitrate of silver—a compound of silver and nitric acid. When an electric current is sent through this liquid the silver is severed from the acid, as the hydrogen was separated from the oxygen in a former experiment; and I would ask you to observe how the metal behaves when its molecules are thus successively set free. The image of the cell, and of the two wires which dip into the liquid of the cell, are now clearly shown upon the screen. Let us close the circuit, and send the current through the liquid. From one of the wires a beautiful silver tree commences immediately to sprout. Branches of the metal are thrown out, and umbrageous foliage loads the branches. You have here a growth, apparently as wonderful as that of any vegetable, perfected in a minute before your eyes. Substituting for the nitrate of silver acetate of lead, which is a compound of lead and acetic acid, the electric current severs the lead from the acid, and you see the metal slowly branching into exquisite metallic ferns, the fronds of which, as they become too heavy, break from their roots and fall to the bottom of the cell.

These experiments show that the common matter of our earth—'brute matter,' as Dr. Young, in his Night Thoughts, is pleased to call it—when its atoms and molecules are permitted to bring their forces into free play, arranges itself, under the operation of these forces, into forms which rival in beauty those of the vegetable world. And what is the vegetable world itself, but the result of the complex play of these molecular forces? Here, as elsewhere throughout nature, if matter moves it is force that moves it, and if a certain structure, vegetable or mineral, is produced, it is through the operation of the forces exerted between the atoms and molecules.

The solid matter of which our lead and silver trees were formed was, in the first instance, disguised in a transparent liquid; the solid matter of which our woods and forests are composed is also, for the most part disguised in a transparent gas, which is mixed in small quantities with the air of our atmosphere. This gas is formed by the union of carbon and oxygen, and is called carbonic acid gas. The carbonic acid of the air being subjected to an action somewhat analogous to that of the electric current in the case of our lead and silver solutions, has its carbon liberated and deposited as woody fibre. The watery vapour of the air is subjected to similar action; its hydrogen is liberated from its oxygen, and lies down side by side with the carbon in the tissues of the tree. The oxygen in both cases is permitted to wander away into the atmosphere. But what is it in nature that plays the part of the electric current in our experiments, tearing asunder the locked atoms of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen? The rays of the sun. The leaves of plants which absorb both the carbonic acid and the aqueous vapour of the air, answer to the cells in which our decompositions took place. And just as the molecular attractions of the silver and the lead found expression in those beautiful branching forms seen in our experiments, so do the molecular attractions of the liberated carbon and hydrogen find expression in the architecture of grasses, plants, and trees.

In the fall of a cataract and the rush of the wind we have examples of mechanical power. In the combinations of chemistry and in the formation of crystals and vegetables we have examples of molecular power. You have learned how the atoms of oxygen and hydrogen rush together to form water. I have not thought it necessary to dwell upon the mighty mechanical energy of their act of combination; but it may be said, in passing, that the clashing together of 1 lb. of hydrogen and 8 lbs. of oxygen to form 9 lbs. of aqueous vapour, is greater than the shock of a weight of 1,000 tons falling from a height of 20 feet against the earth. Now, in order that the atoms of oxygen and hydrogen should rise by their mutual attractions to the velocity corresponding to this enormous mechanical effect, a certain distance must exist between the particles. It is in rushing over this that the velocity is attained.


This idea of distance between the attracting atoms is of the highest importance in our conception of the system of the world. For the matter of the world may be classified under two distinct heads: atoms and molecules which have already combined and thus satisfied their mutual attractions, and atoms and molecules which have not yet combined, and whose mutual attractions are, therefore, unsatisfied. Now, as regards motive power, we are entirely dependent on atoms and molecules of the latter kind. Their attractions can produce motion, because sufficient distance intervenes between the attracting atoms, and it is this atomic motion that we utilise in our machines. Thus we can get power out of oxygen and hydrogen by the act of their union; but once they are combined, and once the vibratory motion consequent on their combination has been expended, no further power can be got out of their mutual attraction. As dynamic agents they are dead. The materials of the earth's crust consist for the most part of substances whose atoms have already closed in chemical union—whose mutual attractions are satisfied. Granite, for instance, is a widely diffused substance; but granite consists, in great part, of silicon, oxygen, potassium, calcium, and aluminum, whose atoms united long ago, and are therefore dead. Limestone is composed of carbon, oxygen, and a metal called calcium, the atoms of which have already closed in chemical union, and are therefore finally at rest. In this way we might go over nearly the whole of the materials of the earth's crust, and satisfy ourselves that though they were sources of power in ages past, and long before any creature appeared on the earth capable of turning their power to account, they are sources of power no longer. And here we might halt for a moment to remark on that tendency, so prevalent in the world, to regard everything as made for human use. Those who entertain this notion, hold, I think, an overweening opinion of their own importance in the system of nature. Flowers bloomed before men saw them, and the quantity of power wasted before man could utilise it is all but infinite compared with what now remains. We are truly heirs of all the ages; but as honest men it behoves us to learn the extent of our inheritance, and as brave ones not to whimper if it should prove less than we had supposed. The healthy attitude of mind with reference to this subject is that of the poet, who, when asked whence came the rhodora, joyfully acknowledged his brotherhood with the flower:

Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose! I never thought to ask, I never knew, But in my simple ignorance supposed The self-same power that brought me there brought you.


A few exceptions to the general state of union of the molecules of the earth's crust—vast in relation to us, but trivial in comparison to the total store of which they are the residue—still remain. They constitute our main sources of motive power. By far the most important of these are our beds of coal. Distance still intervenes between the atoms of carbon and those of atmospheric oxygen, across which the atoms may be urged by their mutual attractions; and we can utilise the motion thus produced. Once the carbon and the oxygen have rushed together, so as to form carbonic acid, their mutual attractions are satisfied; and, while they continue in this condition, as dynamic agents they are dead. Our woods and forests are also sources of mechanical energy, because they have the power of uniting with the atmospheric oxygen. Passing from plants to animals, we find that the source of motive power just referred to is also the source of muscular power. A horse can perform work, and so can a man; but this work is at bottom the molecular work of the transmuted food and the oxygen of the air. We inhale this vital gas, and bring it into sufficiently close proximity with the carbon and the hydrogen of the body. These unite in obedience to their mutual, attractions; and their motion towards each other, properly turned to account by the wonderful mechanism of the body, becomes muscular motion.

One fundamental thought pervades all these statements: there is one tap root from which they all spring. This is the ancient maxim that out of nothing nothing comes; that neither in the organic world nor in the inorganic is power produced without the expenditure of power; that neither in the plant nor in the animal is there a creation of force or motion. Trees grow, and so do men and horses; and here we have new power incessantly introduced upon the earth. But its source, as I have already stated, is the sun. It is the sun that separates the carbon from the oxygen of the carbonic acid, and thus enables them to recombine. Whether they recombine in the furnace of the steam-engine or in the animal body, the origin of the power they produce is the same. In this sense we are all 'souls of fire and children of the sun.' But, as remarked by Helmholtz, we must be content to share our celestial pedigree with the meanest of living things.

Some estimable persons, here present, very possibly shrink from accepting these statements; they may be frightened by their apparent tendency towards what is called materialism—a word which, to many minds, expresses something very dreadful. But it ought to be known and avowed that the physical philosopher, as such, must be a pure materialist. His enquiries deal with matter and force, and with them alone. And whatever be the forms which matter and force assume, whether in the organic world or the inorganic, whether in the coal-beds and forests of the earth, or in the brains and muscles of men, the physical philosopher will make good his right to investigate them. It is perfectly vain to attempt to stop enquiry in this direction. Depend upon it, if a chemist by bringing the proper materials together, in a retort or crucible, could make a baby, he would do it. There is no law, moral or physical, forbidding him to do it. At the present moment there are, no doubt, persons experimenting on the possibility of producing what we call life out of inorganic materials. Let them pursue their studies in peace; it is only by such trials that they will learn the limits of their own powers and the operation of the laws of matter and force.

But while thus making the largest demand for freedom of investigation—while I consider science to be alike powerful as an instrument of intellectual culture and as a ministrant to the material wants of men; if you ask me whether it has solved, or is likely in our day to solve, the problem of this universe, I must shake my head in doubt. You remember the first Napoleon's question, when the savants who accompanied him to Egypt discussed in his presence the origin of the universe, and solved it to their own apparent satisfaction. He looked aloft to the starry heavens, and said, 'It is all very well, gentlemen; but who made these?' That question still remains unanswered, and science makes no attempt to answer it. As far as I can see, there is no quality in the human intellect which is fit to be applied to the solution of the problem. It entirely transcends us. The mind of man may be compared to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions we have an infinitude of silence. The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range, and as far as they reach we will at all hazards push our enquiries. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of this universe lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution. Fashion this mystery as you will, with that I have nothing to do. But let your conception of it not be an unworthy one. Invest that conception with your highest and holiest thought, but be careful of pretending to know more about it than is given to man to know. Be careful, above all things, of professing to see in the phenomena of the material world the evidences of Divine pleasure or displeasure. Doubt those who would deduce from the fall of the tower of Siloam the anger of the Lord against those who were crushed. Doubt equally those who pretend to see in cholera, cattle-plague, and bad harvests, evidences of Divine anger. Doubt those spiritual guides who in Scotland have lately propounded the monstrous theory that the depreciation of railway scrip is a consequence of railway travelling on Sundays. Let them not, as far as you are concerned, libel the system of nature with their ignorant hypotheses. Looking from the solitudes of thought into this highest of questions, and seeing the puerile attempts often made to solve it, well might the mightiest of living Scotchmen—that strong and earnest soul, who has made every soul of like nature in these islands his debtor—well, I say, might your noble old Carlyle scornfully retort on such interpreters of the ways of God to men:

The Builder of this universe was wise, He formed all souls, all systems, planets, particles; The plan he formed his worlds and Aeons by, Was—Heavens!—was thy small nine-and-thirty articles!


Here, indeed, we arrive at the barrier which needs to be perpetually pointed out; alike to those who seek materialistic explanations of mental phenomena, and to those who are alarmed lest such explanations may be found. The last class prove by their fear almost as much as the first prove by their hope, that they believe Mind may possibly be interpreted in terms of Matter; whereas many whom they vituperate as materialists are profoundly convinced that there is not the remotest possibility of so interpreting them.




[Footnote: President's Address to the Mathematical and Physical Section of the British Association at Norwich.]


THE celebrated Fichte, in his lectures on the 'Vocation of the Scholar,' insisted on a culture which should be not one-sided, but all-sided. The scholar's intellect was to expand spherically, and not in a single direction only. In one direction, however, Fichte required that the scholar should apply himself directly to nature, become a creator of knowledge, and thus repay, by original labours of his own, the immense debt he owed to the labours of others. It was these which enabled him to supplement the knowledge derived from his own researches, so as to render his culture rounded and not one-sided.

As regards science, Fichte's idea is to some extent illustrated by the constitution and labours of the British Association. We have here a body of men engaged in the pursuit of Natural Knowledge, but variously engaged. While sympathising with each of its departments, and supplementing his culture by knowledge drawn from all of them, each student amongst us selects one subject for the exercise of his own original faculty—one line, along which he may carry the light of his private intelligence a little way into the darkness by which all knowledge is surrounded. Thus, the geologist deals with the rocks; the biologist with the conditions and phenomena of life; the astronomer with stellar masses and motions; the mathematician with the relations of space and number; the chemist pursues his atoms; while the physical investigator has his own large field in optical, thermal, electrical, acoustical, and other phenomena. The British Association then, as a whole, faces physical nature on all sides, and pushes knowledge centrifugally outwards, the sum of its labours constituting what Fichte might call the sphere of natural knowledge. In the meetings of the Association it is found necessary to resolve this sphere into its component parts, which take concrete form under the respective letters of our Sections.

Mathematics and Physics have been long accustomed to coalesce, and here they form a single section. No matter how subtle a natural phenomenon may be, whether we observe it in the region of sense, or follow it into that of imagination, it is in the long run reducible to mechanical laws. But the mechanical data once guessed or given, mathematics are all-powerful as an instrument of deduction. The command of Geometry over the relations of space, and the far-reaching power which Analysis confers, are potent both As means of physical discovery, and of reaping the entire fruits of discovery. Indeed, without mathematics, expressed or implied, our knowledge of physical science would be both friable and incomplete.

Side by side with the mathematical method we have the method of experiment. Here from a starting-point furnished by his own researches or those of others, the investigator proceeds by combining intuition and verication. He ponders the knowledge he possesses, and tries to push it further; he guesses, and checks his guess; he conjectures, and confirms or explodes his conjecture. These guesses and conjectures are by no means leaps in the dark; for knowledge once gained casts a faint light beyond its own immediate boundaries. There is no discovery so limited as not to illuminate something beyond itself. The force of intellectual penetration into this penumbral region which surrounds actual knowledge is not, as some seem to think, dependent upon method, but upon the genius of the investigator. There is, however, no genius so gifted as not to need control and verification. The profoundest minds know best that Nature's ways are not at all times their ways, and that the brightest flashes in the world of thought are incomplete until they have been proved to have their counterparts in the world of fact. Thus the vocation of the true experimentalist may be defined as the continued exercise of spiritual insight, and its incessant correction and realisation. His experiments constitute a body, of which his purified intuitions are, as it were, the soul.

Partly through mathematical and partly through experimental research, physical science has, of late years, assumed a momentous position in the world. Both in a material and in an intellectual point of view it has produced, and it is destined to produce, immense changes—vast social ameliorations, and vast alterations in the popular conception of the origin, rule, and governance of natural things. By science, in the physical world, miracles are wrought, while philosophy is forsaking its ancient metaphysical channels, and pursuing others which have been opened, or indicated by, scientific research. This must become more and more the case as philosophical writers become more deeply imbued with the methods of science, better acquainted with the facts which scientific men have established, and with the great theories which they have elaborated.

If you look at the face of a watch, you see the hour and minute-hands, and possibly also a second-hand, moving over the graduated dial. Why do these hands move? and why are their relative motions such as they are observed to be? These questions cannot be answered without opening the watch, mastering its various parts, and ascertaining their relationship to each other. When this is done, we find that the observed motion of the hands follows of necessity from the inner mechanism of the watch when acted upon by the force invested in the spring. The motion of the hands may be called a phenomenon of art, but the case is similar with the phenomena of nature. These also have their inner mechanism and their store of force to set that mechanism going. The ultimate problem of physical science is to reveal this mechanism, to discern this store, and to show that from the combined action of both, the phenomena of which they constitute the basis, must, of necessity, flow.

I thought an attempt to give you even a brief and sketchy illustration of the manner in which scientific thinkers regard this problem, would not be uninteresting to you on the present occasion; more especially as it will give me occasion to say a word or two on the tendencies and limits of modern science; to point out the region which men of science claim as their own, and where it is futile to oppose their advance; and also to define, if possible, the bourne between this and that other region, to which the questionings and yearnings of the scientific intellect are directed in vain.

But here your tolerance will be needed. It was the American Emerson, I think, who said that it is hardly possible to state any truth strongly, without apparent injustice to some other truth. Truth is often of a dual character, taking the form of a magnet with two poles; and many of the differences which agitate the thinking part of mankind are to be traced to the exclusiveness with which partisan reasoners dwell upon one half of the duality, in forgetfulness of the other. The proper course appears to be to state both halves strongly, and allow each its fair share in the formation of the resultant conviction. But this waiting for the statement of the two sides of a question implies patience. It implies a resolution to suppress indignation, if the statement of the one half should clash with our convictions; and to repress equally undue elation, if the half-statement should happen to chime in with our views. It implies a determination to wait calmly for the statement of the whole, before we pronounce judgment in the form of either acquiescence or dissent.

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