Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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Consider the cycle of operations by which the seed produces the plant, the plant the flower, the flower again the seed, the causal line, returning with the fidelity of a planetary orbit to its original point of departure. Who or what planned this molecular rhythm? We do not know—science fails even to inform us whether it was ever 'planned' at all. Yonder butterfly has a spot of orange on its wing; and if we look at a drawing made a century ago, of one of the ancestors of that butterfly, we probably find the selfsame spot upon the wing. For a century the molecules have described their cycles. Butterflies have been begotten, have been born, and have died; still we find the molecular architecture unchanged. Who or what determined this persistency of recurrence? We do not know; but we stand within our intellectual range when we say that there is probably nothing in that wing which may not yet find its Newton to prove that the principles involved in its construction are qualitatively the same as those brought into play in the formation of the solar system. We may even take a step further, and affirm that the brain of man—the organ of his reason—without which he can neither think nor feel, is also an assemblage of molecules, acting and reacting according to law. Here, however, the methods pursued in mechanical science come to an end; and if asked to deduce from the physical interaction of the brain molecules the least of the phenomena of sensation or thought, I acknowledge my helplessness. The association of both with the matter of the brain may be as certain as the association of light with the rising of the sun. But whereas in the latter case we have unbroken mechanical connection between the sun and our organs, in the former case logical continuity disappears. Between molecular mechanics and consciousness is interposed a fissure over which the ladder of physical reasoning is incompetent to carry us. We must, therefore, accept the observed association as an empirical fact, without being able to bring it under the yoke of a priori deduction.


Such were the ponderings which ran habitually through my mind in the days of my scientific youth. They illustrate two things—a determination to push physical considerations to their utmost legitimate limit; and an acknowledgment that physical considerations do not lead to the final explanation of all that we feel and know. This acknowledgment, be it said in passing, was by no means made with the view of providing room for the play of considerations other than physical. The same intellectual duality, if I may use the phrase, manifests itself in the following extract from an article entitled 'Physics and Metaphysics,' published in the 'Saturday Review' for August 4, 1860:

'The philosophy of the future will assuredly take more account than that of the past of the dependence of thought and feeling on physical processes; and it may be that the qualities of the mind will be studied through organic combinations as we now study the character of a force through the affections of ordinary matter. We believe that every thought and every feeling has its definite mechanical correlative—that it is accompanied by a certain breaking up and remarshalling of the atoms of the brain. This latter process is purely physical; and were the faculties we now possess sufficiently expanded, without the creation of any new faculty, it would doubtless be within the range of our augmented powers to infer from the molecular state of the brain the character of the thought acting on it, and, conversely, to infer from the thought the exact molecular condition of the brain. We do not say—and this, as will be seen, is all-important—that the inference here referred to would be an a priori one. But by observing, with the faculties we assume, the state of the brain and the associated mental affections, both might be so tabulated side by side that, if one were given, a mere reference to the table would declare the other. Our present powers, it is true, shrivel into nothingness when brought to bear on such a problem, but it is because of its complexity and our limits that this is the case. The quality of the problem and of our powers are, we believe, so related, that a mere expansion of the latter would enable them to cope with the former. Why, then, in scientific speculation should we turn our eyes exclusively to the past? May it not be that a time is coming—ages no doubt distant, but still advancing—when the dwellers upon this fair earth, starting from the gross human brain of to-day as a rudiment, may be able to apply to these mighty questions faculties of commensurate extent? Given the requisite expansibility to the present senses and intelligence of man—given also the time necessary for their expansion—and this high goal may be attained. Development is all that is required, and not a change of quality. There need be no absolute breach of continuity between us and our loftier brothers yet to come.

We have guarded ourselves against saying that the inferring of thought from material combinations and arrangements would be an inference a priori. The inference meant would be the same in kind as that which the observation of the effects of food and drink upon the mind would enable us to make, differing only from the latter in the degree of analytical insight which we suppose attained. Given the masses and distances of the planets, we can infer the perturbations consequent on their mutual attractions. Given the nature of a disturbance in water, air, or aether—knowing the physical qualities of the medium we can infer how its particles will be affected. In all this we deal with physical laws. The mind runs with certainty along the line of thought which connects the phenomena, and from beginning to end there is no break in the chain. But when we endeavour to pass by a similar process from the phenomena of physics to those of thought, we meet a problem which transcends any conceivable expansion of the powers which we now possess. We may think over the subject again and again, but it eludes all intellectual presentation. We stand at length face to face with the Incomprehensible. The territory of physics is wide, but it has its limits from which we look with vacant gaze into the region beyond. Let us follow matter to its utmost bounds, let us claim it in all its forms—even in the muscles, blood, and brain of man himself—as ours to experiment with and to speculate upon. Casting the term "vital force" from our vocabulary, let us reduce, if we can, the visible phenomena of life to mechanical attractions and repulsions. Having thus exhausted physics, and reached its very rim, a mighty Mystery still looms beyond us. We have, in fact, made no step towards its solution. And thus it will ever loom, compelling the philosophies of successive ages to confess that

"We are such stuff As dreams are made of, and our little life Is rounded by a sleep."

In my work on 'Heat,' published in 1863 and republished many times since, I employ the precise language thus extracted from the 'Saturday Review.'

The distinction is here clearly brought out which I had resolved at all hazards to draw—that, namely, between what men knew or might know, and what they could never hope to know. Impart simple magnifying power to our present vision, and the atomic motions of the brain itself might be brought into view. Compare these motions with the corresponding states of consciousness, and an empirical nexus might be established; but 'we try to soar in a vacuum when we endeavour to pass by logical deduction from the one to the other.' Among these brain-effects a new product appears which defies mechanical treatment. We cannot deduce motion from consciousness or consciousness from motion as we deduce one motion from another. Nevertheless observation is open to us, and by it relations may be established which are at least as valid as those of the deductive reason. The difficulty may really lie in the attempt to convert a datum into an inference—an ultimate fact into a product of logic. My desire for the moment, however, is not to theorise, but to let facts speak in reply to accusation.

The most 'materialistic' speculation for which I was responsible, prior to the 'Belfast Address,' is embodied in the following extract from a brief article written as far back as 1865: 'Supposing 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 placed in the exact relative positions which they occupy in the body. Supposing them to have the same forces and distribution of forces, the same 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 assume that it would not. Or supposing a planet carved from the sun, set spinning round an axis, and sent revolving round the sun at a distance equal to that of our earth, would one consequence of the refrigeration of the mass be the development of organic forms? I lean to the affirmative.' This is plain speaking, but it is without 'dogmatism.' An opinion is expressed, a belief, a leaning—not an established 'doctrine.'

The burthen of my writings in this connection is as much a recognition of the weakness of science as an assertion of its strength. In 1867, I told the working men of Dundee that while making the largest demand for freedom of investigation; while considering science to be alike powerful as an instrument of intellectual culture, and as a ministrant to the material wants of men; if asked whether science has solved, or is likely in our day to solve, 'the problem of the universe,' I must shake my head in doubt. I compare the mind of man to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions exists infinite silence. The phenomena of matter and force come within our intellectual range; but behind, and above, and around us the real mystery of the universe lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution.

While refreshing my mind on these old themes I appear to myself as a person possessing one idea, which so over-masters him that he is never weary of repeating it. That idea is the polar conception of the grandeur and the littleness of man—the vastness of his range in some respects and directions, and his powerlessness to take a single step in others. In 1868, before the Mathematical and Physical Section of the British Association, then assembled at Norwich, I repeat the same well-worn note:

'In thus affirming the growth of the human body to be mechanical, and thought as exercised by us to have its correlative in the physics of the brain, the position of the "materialist," as far as that position is tenable, is stated. I think the materialist will be able finally to maintain this position against all attacks, but I do not think he can pass beyond it. The problem of the connection of body and soul is as insoluble in its modern form as it was in the pre-scientific ages. Phosphorus is a constituent of the human brain, and a trenchant German writer has exclaimed, "Ohne Phosphor kein Gedanke!" That may or may not be the case; but, even if we knew it to be the case, the knowledge would not lighten our darkness. On both sides of the zone here assigned to the materialist, he is equally helpless. If you ask him whence is this "matter" of which we have been discoursing—who or what divided it into molecules, and impressed upon them this necessity of running into organic forms—he has no answer. Science is also mute in regard to such questions. But if the materialist is confounded and science is rendered dumb, who else is prepared with an answer? Let us lower our heads and acknowledge our ignorance, priest and philosopher, one and all.'


The roll of echoes which succeeded the Lecture delivered by Professor Virchow at Munich on September 22, 1877, was long and loud. The 'Times' published a nearly full translation of the lecture, and it was eagerly commented on in other journals. Glances from it to an Address delivered by me before the Midland Institute in the autumn of 1877, and published in this volume, were very frequent. Professor Virchow was held up to me in some quarters as a model of philosophic caution, who by his reasonableness reproved my rashness, and by his depth reproved my shallowness. With true theologic courtesy I was sedulously emptied, not only of the 'principles of scientific thought,' but of 'common modesty' and 'common sense.' And though I am indebted to Professor Clifford for recalling in the 'Nineteenth Century' for April the public mind in this connection from heated fancy to sober fact, I do not think a brief additional examination of Virchow's views, and of my relation to them, will be out of place here.

The key-note of his position is struck in the preface to the excellent English translation of his lecture—a preface written expressly by himself. 'Nothing,' he says, 'was farther from his intention than any wish to disparage the great services rendered by Mr. Darwin to the advancement of biological science, of which no one has expressed more admiration than himself. On the other hand, it seemed high time to him to enter an energetic protest against the attempts that are made to proclaim the problems of research as actual facts, and the opinions of scientists as established science.' On the ground, among others, that it promotes the pernicious delusions of the Socialist, Virchow considers the theory of evolution dangerous; but his fidelity to truth is so great that he would brave the danger and teach the theory, if it were only proved. 'However dangerous the state of things might be, let the confederates be as mischievous as they might, still I do not hesitate to say that from the moment when we had become convinced that the evolution theory was a perfectly established doctrine—so certain that we could pledge our oath to it, so sure that we could say, "Thus it is"—from that moment we could not dare to feel any scruple about introducing it into our actual life, so as not only to communicate it to every educated man, but to impart it to every child, to make it the foundation of our whole ideas of the world, of society, and the State, and to base upon it our whole system of education. This I hold to be a necessity.'

It would be interesting to know the persons designated by the pronoun 'we' in the first sentence of the foregoing quotation. No doubt Professor Haeckel would accept this canon in all its fulness, and found on it his justification. He would say without hesitation: 'I am convinced that the theory of evolution is a perfectly established doctrine, and hence on your own showing I am justified in urging its introduction into our schools.' It is plain, however, that Professor Virchow would not accept this retort as valid. His 'we' must cover something more than Professor Haeckel. It would probably cover more even than the audience he addressed; for he would hardly affirm, even if every one of his hearers accepted the theory of evolution, that that would be a sufficient warrant for forcing it upon the public at large. His 'we,' I submit, needs definition. If he means that the theory of evolution ought to be introduced into our schools, not when experts are agreed as to its truth, but when the community is prepared for its introduction, then, I think, he is right, and that, as a matter of social policy, Dr. Haeckel would be wrong in seeking to antedate the period of its introduction. In dealing with the community great changes must have timeliness as well as truth upon their side. But if the mouths of thinkers be stopped, the necessary social preparation will be impossible; an unwholesome divorce will be established between the expert and the public, and the slow and natural process of leavening the social lump by discovery and discussion will be displaced by something far less safe and salutary.

The burthen, however, of this celebrated lecture is a warning that a marked distinction ought to be made between that which is experimentally proved and that which is still in the region of speculation. As to the latter, Virchow by no means imposes silence. He is far too sagacious a man to commit himself, at the present time of day, to any such absurdity. But he insists that it ought not to be put on the same evidential level as the former. 'It ought,' as he poetically expresses it, I to be written in small letters under the text.' The audience ought to be warned that the speculative matter is only possible, not actual truth—that it belongs to the region of 'belief,' and not to that of demonstration. As long as a problem continues in this speculative stage it would be mischievous, he considers, to teach it in our schools. 'We ought not,' he urges, 'to represent our conjecture as a certainty, nor our hypothesis as a doctrine: this is inadmissible.' With regard to the connection between physical processes and mental phenomena he says: 'I will, indeed, willingly grant that we can find certain gradations, certain definite points at which we trace a passage from mental processes to processes purely physical, or of a physical character. Throughout this discourse I am not asserting that it will never be possible to bring psychical processes into an immediate connection with those that are physical. All I say is that we have at present no right to set up this possible connection as a doctrine of science.' In the next paragraph be reiterates his position with reference to the introduction of such topics into school teaching. 'We must draw,' he says, 'a strict distinction between what we wish to teach, and what we wish to search for. The objects of our research are expressed as problems (or hypotheses). We need not keep them to ourselves; we are ready to communicate them to all the world, and say "There is the problem; that is what we strive for." ... The investigation of such problems, in which the whole nation may be interested, cannot be restricted to any one. This is Freedom of Enquiry. But the problem (or hypothesis) is not, without further debate, to be made a doctrine.' He will not concede to Dr. Haeckel 'that it is a question for the schoolmasters to decide, whether the Darwinian theory of man's descent should be at once laid down as the basis of instruction, and the protoplastic soul be assumed as the foundation of all ideas concerning spiritual being.' The Professor concludes his lecture thus: 'With perfect truth did Bacon say of old "Scientia est potentia." But he also defined that knowledge; and the knowledge he meant was not speculative knowledge, not the knowledge of hypotheses, but it was objective and actual knowledge. Gentlemen, I think we should be abusing our power, we should be imperilling our power, unless in our teaching we restrict ourselves to this perfectly safe and unassailable domain. From this domain we may make incursions into the field of problems, and I am sure that every venture of that kind will then find all needful security and support.' I have emphasised by italics two sentences in the foregoing series of quotations; the other italics are the author's own.

Virchow's position could not be made clearer by any comments of mine than he has here made it himself. That position is one of the highest practical importance. Throughout our whole German Fatherland,' he says, men are busied in renovating, extending, and developing the system of education, and in inventing fixed forms in which to mould it. On the threshold of coming events stands the Prussian law of education. In all the German States larger schools are being built, new educational establishments are set up, the universities are extended, "higher" and "middle" schools are founded. Finally comes the question, What is to be the chief substance of the teaching?' What Virchow thinks it ought and ought not to be, is disclosed by the foregoing quotations. There ought to be a clear distinction made between science in the state of hypothesis, and science in the state of fact. In school teaching the former ought to be excluded. And, as he assumes it to be still in its hypothetical stage, the ban of exclusion ought, he thinks, to fall upon the theory of evolution.


I now freely offer myself for judgment before the tribunal whose law is here laid down. First and foremost, then, I have never advocated the introduction of the theory of evolution into our schools. I should even be disposed to resist its introduction before its meaning had been better understood and its utility more fully recognised than it is now by the great body of the community. The theory ought, I think, to bide its time until the free conflict of discovery, argument, and opinion has won for it this recognition. A necessary condition here, however, is that free discussion should not be prevented, either by the ferocity of reviewers or the arm of the law; otherwise, as I said before, the work of social preparation cannot go on. On this count, then, I claim acquittal, being for the moment on the side of Virchow.

Besides the duties of the chair, which I have been privileged to occupy in London for more than a quarter of a century, and which never involved a word on my part, pro or con, in reference to the theory of evolution, I have had the honour of addressing audiences in Liverpool, Belfast, and Birmingham; and in these addresses the theory of evolution, and the connected doctrine of spontaneous generation, have been more or less touched upon. Let us now examine whether in my references I have departed from the views of Virchow or not.

In the Liverpool discourse, after speaking of the theory of evolution when applied to the primitive condition of matter, as belonging to 'the dim twilight of conjecture,' and affirming that 'the certainty of experimental enquiry is here shut out,' I sketch the nebular theory as enunciated by Kant and Laplace, and afterwards proceed thus: 'Accepting some such view of the construction of our system as probable, a desire immediately arises to connect the present life of our planet with the past. We wish to know something of our remotest ancestry. On its first detachment from the sun, life, as we understand it, could not have been present on the earth. How, then, did it come there? The thing to be encouraged here is a reverent freedom—a freedom preceded by the hard discipline which checks licentiousness in speculation—while the thing to be repressed, both in science and out of it, is dogmatism. And here I am in the hands of the meeting, willing to end but ready to go on. I have no right to intrude upon you unasked the unformed notions which are floating like clouds, or gathering to more solid consistency in the modern speculative mind.'

I then notice more especially the basis of the theory. Those who hold the doctrine of evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. They regard the nebular hypothesis as probable; and, in the utter absence of any proof of the illegality of the act, they prolong the method of nature from the present into the past. Here the observed uniformity of nature is their only guide. Having determined the elements of their curve in a world of observation and experiment, they prolong that curve into an antecedent world, and accept as probable the unbroken sequence of development from the nebula to the present time.' Thus it appears that, long antecedent to the publication of his advice, I did exactly what Professor Virchow recommends, showing myself as careful as he could be not to claim for a scientific doctrine a certainty which did not belong to it.

I now pass on to the Belfast Address, and will cite at once from it the passage which has given rise to the most violent animadversion. 'Believing as I do in the continuity of nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. At this point the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements that of the eye. By an intellectual necessity I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern in that "matter" which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial life.' Without halting for a moment I go on to do the precise thing which Professor Virchow declares to be necessary. 'If you ask me,' I say, 'whether there exists the least evidence to prove that any form of life can be developed out of matter independently of antecedent life, my reply is that evidence considered perfectly conclusive by many has been adduced, and that were we to follow a common example, and accept testimony because it falls in with our belief, we should eagerly close with the evidence referred to. But there is in the true man of science a desire stronger than the wish to have his beliefs upheld; namely, the desire to have them true. And those to whom I refer as having studied this question, believing the evidence offered in favour of "spontaneous generation" to be vitiated by error, cannot accept it. They know full well that the chemist now prepares from inorganic matter a vast array of substances, which were some time ago regarded as the products solely of vitality. They are intimately acquainted with the structural power of matter, as evidenced in the phenomena of crystallisation. They can justify scientifically their belief in its potency, under the proper conditions, to produce organisms. But, in reply to your question, they will frankly admit their inability to point to any satisfactory experimental proof that life can be developed, save from demonstrable antecedent life.' [Footnote: Quoted by Clifford, 'Nineteenth Century,' 3, p. 726.]

Comparing the theory of evolution with other theories, I thus express myself: 'The basis of the doctrine of evolution consists, not in an experimental demonstration—for the subject is hardly accessible to this mode of proof—but in its general harmony with scientific thought. From contrast, moreover, it derives enormous relative strength. On the one side we have a theory, which converts the Power whose garment is seen in the visible universe into an Artificer, fashioned after the human model, and acting by broken efforts, as man is seen to act. On the other side we have the conception that all we see around us and feel within us—the phenomena of physical nature as well as those of the human mind—have their unsearchable roots in a cosmical life, if I dare apply the term, an infinitesimal span of which is offered to the investigation of man.' Among thinking people, in my opinion, this last conception has a higher ethical value than that of a personal artificer. Be that as it may, I make here no claim for the theory of evolution which can reasonably be refused.

'Ten years have elapsed' said Dr. Hooker at Norwich in 1868 [Footnote: President's Address to the British Association.] 'since the publication of "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection," and it is therefore not too early now to ask what progress that bold theory has made in scientific estimation. Since the "Origin" appeared it has passed through four English editions,' [Footnote: Published by Mr. John Murray, the English publisher of Virchow's Lecture. Bane and antidote are thus impartially distributed by the same hand.] two American, two German, two French, several Russian, a Dutch, and an Italian edition. So far from Natural Selection being a thing of the past [the 'Athenaeum' had stated it to be so] it is an accepted doctrine with almost every philosophical naturalist, including, it will always be understood, a considerable proportion who are not prepared to admit that it accounts for all Mr. Darwin assigns to it.' In the following year, at Innsbruck, Helmholtz took up the same ground. [Footnote: 'Noch besteht lebhafter Streit um die Wahrheit oder Wahrscheinlichkeit von Darwin's Theorie; er dreht sich aber doch eigentlich nur um die Grenzen, welche wir fuer die Veraenderlichkeit der Arten annehmen duerfen. Dass innerhalb derselben Species erbliche Racenverschiedenheiten auf die von Darwin beschriebene Weise zu kommen koennen, ja dass viele der bisher als verschiedene Species derselben Gattung betrachteten Formen von derselben Urform abstammen, werden auch seine Gegner kaum leugnen.'—(Populaere Vortraege.)] Another decade has now passed, and he is simply blind who cannot see the enormous progress made by the theory during that time. Some of the outward and visible signs of this advance are readily indicated. The hostility and fear which so long prevented the recognition of Mr. Darwin by his own university have vanished, and this year Cambridge, amid universal acclamation, conferred on him her Doctor's degree. The Academy of Sciences in Paris, which had so long persistently closed its doors against Mr. Darwin, has also yielded at last; while sermons, lectures, and published articles plainly show that even the clergy have, to a great extent, become acclimatised to the Darwinian air. My brief reference to Mr. Darwin in the Birmingham Address was based upon the knowledge that such changes had been accomplished, and were still going on.

That the lecture of Professor Virchow can, to any practical extent disturb this progress of public faith in the theory of evolution, I do not believe. That the special lessons of caution which he inculcates were exemplified by me, years before his voice was heard upon this subject, has been proved in the foregoing pages. In point of fact, if he had preceded me instead of following me, and if my desire had been to incorporate his wishes in my words, I could not have accomplished this more completely. It is possible, moreover, to draw the coincident lines still further, for most of what he has said about spontaneous generation might have been uttered by me. I share his opinion that the theory of evolution in its complete form involves the passage from matter which we now hold to be inorganic into organised matter; in other words, involves the assumption that at some period or other of the earth's history there occurred what would be now called 'spontaneous generation.' I agree with him that the proofs of it are still wanting.' 'Whoever,' he says, recalls to mind the lamentable failure of all the attempts made very recently to discover a decided support for the generatio aequivoca in the lower forms of transition from the inorganic to the organic world will feel it doubly serious to demand that this theory, so utterly discredited, should be in any way accepted as the basis of all our views of life.' I hold with Virchow that the failures have been lamentable, that the doctrine is utterly discredited. But my position here is so well known that I need not dwell upon it further.

With one special utterance of Professor Virchow his translator connects me by name. 'I have no objection,' observes the Professor, 'to your saying that atoms of carbon also possess mind, or that in their connection with the Plastidule company they acquire mind; only I do not know how I am to perceive this.' This is substantially what I had said seventeen years previously in the 'Saturday Review.' The Professor continues: 'If I explain attraction and repulsion as exhibitions of mind, as psychical phenomena, I simply throw the Psyche out of the window, and the Psyche ceases to be a Psyche.' I may say, in passing, that the Psyche that could be cast out of the window is not worth houseroom. At this point the translator, who is evidently a man of culture, strikes in with a foot-note. 'As an illustration of Professor Virchow's meaning, we may quote the conclusion at which Doctor Tyndall arrives respecting the hypothesis of a human soul, offered as an explanation or a simplification of a series of obscure phenomena—psychical phenomena, as he calls them. "If you are content to make your soul a poetic rendering of a phenomenon which refuses the yoke of ordinary physical laws, I, for one, would not object to this exercise of ideality."' [Footnote: 'Presidential Address delivered before the Birmingham and Midland Institute, October 1, 1877. Fortnightly Review,' Nov. 1, 1877, p. 60] Professor Virchow's meaning, I admit, required illustration; but I do not clearly see how the quotation from me subserves this purpose. I do not even know whether I am cited as meriting praise or deserving opprobrium. In a far coarser fashion this utterance of mine has been dealt with in other places: it may therefore be worth while to spend a few words upon it.

The sting of a wasp at the finger-end announces itself to the brain as pain. The impression made by the sting travels, in the first place, with comparative slowness along the nerves affected; and only when it reaches the brain have we the fact of consciousness. Those who think most profoundly on this subject hold that a chemical change, which, strictly interpreted, is atomic motion, is, in such a case, propagated along the nerve, and communicated to the brain. Again, on feeling the sting I flap the insect violently away. What has caused this motion of my hand? The command from the brain to remove the insect travels along the motor nerves to the proper muscles, and, their force being unlocked, they perform the work demanded of them. But what moved the nerve molecules which unlocked the muscle? The sense of pain, it may be replied. But how can a sense of pain, or any other state of consciousness, make matter move? Not all the sense of pain or pleasure in the world could lift a stone or move a billiard-ball; why should it stir a molecule? Try to express the motion numerically in terms of the sensation, and the difficulty immediately appears. Hence the idea long ago entertained by philosophers, but lately brought into special prominence, that the physical processes are complete in themselves, and would go on just as they do if consciousness were not at all implicated. Consciousness, on this view, is a kind of by-product inexpressible in terms of force and motion, and unessential to the molecular changes going on in the brain.

Four years ago, I wrote thus: 'Do states of consciousness enter as links into the chain of antecedence and sequence, which gives rise to bodily actions? Speaking for myself, it is certain that I have no power of imagining such states interposed between the molecules of the brain, and influencing the transference of motion among the molecules. The thing "eludes all mental presentation." Hence an iron strength seems to belong to the logic which claims for the brain an automatic action uninfluenced by consciousness. But it is, I believe, admitted by those who hold the automaton theory, that states of consciousness are produced by the motion of the molecules of the brain; and this production of consciousness by molecular motion is to me quite as unpresentable to the mental vision as the production of molecular motion by consciousness. If I reject one result I must reject both. I, however, reject neither, and thus stand in the presence of two Incomprehensibles, instead of one Incomprehensible.' Here I secede from the automaton theory, though maintained by friends who have all my esteem, and fall back upon the avowal which occurs with such wearisome iteration throughout the foregoing pages; namely, my own utter incapacity to grasp the problem.

This avowal is repeated with emphasis in the passage to which Professor Virchow's translator draws attention. What, I there ask, is the causal connection between the objective and the subjective—between molecular motions and states of consciousness? My answer is: I do not see the connection, nor am I acquainted with anybody who does. It is no explanation to say that the objective and subjective are two sides of one and the same phenomenon. Why should the phenomenon have two sides? This is the very core of the difficulty. There are plenty of molecular motions which do exhibit this two-sidedness. Does water think or feel when it runs into frost-ferns upon a window pane? If not, why should the molecular motion of the brain be yoked to this mysterious companion—consciousness? We can form a coherent picture of all the purely physical processes—the stirring of the brain, the thrilling of the nerves, the discharging of the muscles, and all the subsequent motions of the organism. We are here dealing with mechanical problems which are mentally presentable.

But we can form no picture of the process whereby consciousness emerges, either as a necessary link, or as an accidental by-product, of this series of actions. The reverse process of the production of motion by consciousness is equally unpresentable to the mind. We are here in fact on the boundary line of the intellect, where the ordinary canons of science fail to extricate us. If we are true to these canons, we must deny to subjective phenomena all influence on physical processes. The mechanical philosopher, as such, will never place a state of consciousness and a group of molecules in the relation of mover and moved. Observation proves them to interact; but, in passing from the one to the other, we meet a blank which the logic of deduction is unable to fill. This, the reader will remember, is the conclusion at which I had arrived more than twenty years ago. I lay bare unsparingly the central difficulty of the materialist, and tell him that the facts of observation which he considers so simple are 'almost as difficult to be seized mentally as the idea of a soul.' I go further, and say, in effect, to those who wish to retain this idea, 'If you abandon the interpretations of grosser minds, who image the soul as a Psyche which could be thrown out of the window—an entity which is usually occupied, we know not how, among the molecules of the brain, but which on due occasion, such as the intrusion of a bullet or the blow of a club, can fly away into other regions of space—if, abandoning this heathen notion, you consent to approach the subject in the only way in which approach is possible—if you consent to make your soul a poetic rendering of a phenomenon which, as I have taken more pains than anybody else to show you, refuses the yoke of ordinary physical laws—then I, for one, would not object to this exercise of ideality.' I say it strongly, but with good temper, that the theologian, or the defender of theology, who hacks and scourges me for putting the question in this light is guilty of black ingratitude.


Notwithstanding the agreement thus far pointed out, there are certain points in Professor Virchow's lecture to which I should feel inclined to take exception. I think it was hardly necessary to associate the theory of evolution with Socialism; it may be even questioned whether it was correct to do so. As Lange remarks, the aim of Socialism, or of its extreme leaders, is to overthrow the existing systems of government, and anything that helps them to this end is welcomed, whether it be atheism or papal infallibility. For long years the Socialists saw Church and State united against them, and both were therefore regarded with a common hatred. But no sooner does a serious difference arise between Church and State, than a portion of the Socialists begin immediately to dally with the former. [Footnote: 'Geschichte des Materialismus,' 2e Auflage, vol. ii. p. 538.] The experience of the last German elections illustrates Lange's position. Far nobler and truer to my mind than this fear of promoting Socialism by a scientific theory which the best and soberest heads in the world have substantially accepted, is the position assumed by Helmholtz, who in his 'Popular Lectures' describes Darwin's theory as embracing 'an essentially new creative thought' (einen wesentlich neuen schoepferischen Gedanken), and who illustrates the greatness of this thought by copious references to the solutions, previously undreamt of, which it offers of the enigmas of life and organisation. He points to the clouds of error and confusion which it has already dispersed, and shows how the progress of discovery since its first enunciation is simply a record of the approach of the theory towards complete demonstration. One point in this 'popular' exposition deserves especial mention here. Helmholtz refers to the dominant position acquired by Germany in physiology and medicine, while other nations have kept abreast of her in the investigation of inorganic nature. He claims for German men the credit of pursuing with unflagging and self-denying industry, with purely ideal aims, and without any immediate prospect of practical utility, the cultivation of pure science. But that which has determined German superiority in the fields referred to was, in his opinion, something different from this. Enquiries into the nature of life are intimately connected with psychological and ethical questions; and he claims for his countrymen a greater fearlessness of the consequences which a full knowledge of the truth may here carry along with it, than reigns among the enquirers of other nations. And why is this the case? 'England and France,' he says, 'possess distinguished investigators—men competent to follow up and illustrate with vigorous energy the methods of natural science; but they have hitherto been compelled to bend before social and theological prejudices, and could only utter their convictions under the penalty of injuring their social influence and usefulness. Germany has gone forward more courageously. She has cherished the trust, which has never been deceived, that complete truth carries with it the antidote against the bane and danger which follow in the train of half knowledge. A cheerfully laborious and temperate people—a people morally strong—can well afford to look truth full in the face. Nor are they to be ruined by the enunciation of one-sided theories, even when these may appear to threaten the bases of society.' These words of Helmholtz are, in my opinion, wiser and more applicable to the condition of Germany at the present moment than those which express the fears of Professor Virchow. It will be remembered that at the time of his lecture his chief anxieties were directed towards France; but France has since that time given ample evidence of her ability to crush, not only Socialists, but anti-Socialists, who would impose on her a yoke which she refuses to bear.

In close connection with these utterances of Helmholtz, I place another utterance not less noble, which I trust was understood and appreciated by those to whom it was addressed. 'If,' said the President of the British Association in his opening address in Dublin, we could lay down beforehand the precise limits of possible knowledge, the problem of physical science would be already half solved. But the question to which the scientific explorer has often to address himself is, not merely whether he is able to solve this or that problem; but whether he can so far unravel the tangled threads of the matter with which he has to deal, as to weave them into a definite problem at all ... If his eye seem dim, he must look steadfastly and with hope into the misty vision, until the very clouds wreathe themselves into definite forms. If his ear seem dull, he must listen patiently and with sympathetic trust to the intricate whisperings of Nature—the goddess, as she has been called, of a hundred voices—until here and there he can pick out a few simple notes to which his own powers can resound. If, then, at a moment when he finds himself placed on a pinnacle from which he is called upon to take a perspective survey of the range of science, and to tell us what he can see from his vantage ground; if at such a moment after straining his gaze to the very verge of the horizon, and after describing the most distant of well-defined objects, he should give utterance also to some of the subjective impressions which he is conscious of receiving from regions beyond; if he should depict possibilities which seem opening to his view; if he should explain why he thinks this a mere blind alley and that an open path; then the fault and the loss would be alike ours if we refused to listen calmly, and temperately to form our own judgment on what we hear; then assuredly it is we who would be committing the error of confounding matters of fact with matters of opinion, if we failed to discriminate between the various elements contained in such a discourse, and assumed that they had been all put on the same footing.'


While largely agreeing with him, I cannot quite accept the setting in which Professor Virchow places the confessedly abortive attempts to secure an experimental basis for the doctrine of spontaneous generation. It is not a doctrine 'so discredited' that some of the scientific thinkers of England accept 'as the basis of all their views of life.' Their induction is by no means thus limited. They have on their side more than the 'reasonable probability' deemed sufficient by Bishop Butler for practical guidance in the gravest affairs, that the members of the solar system which are now discrete once formed a continuous mass; that in the course of untold ages, during which the work of condensation, through the waste of heat in space, went on, the planets were detached; and that our present sun is the residual nucleus of the flocculent or gaseous ball from which the planets were successively separated. Life, as we define it, was not possible for aeons subsequent to this separation. When and how did it appear? I have already pressed this question, but have received no answer. [Footnote: In the 'Apology for the Belfast Address,' the question is reasoned out.] If, with Professor Knight, we regard the Bible account of the introduction of life upon the earth as a poem, not as a statement of fact, where are we to seek for guidance as to the fact? There does not exist a barrier possessing the strength of a cobweb to oppose to the hypothesis, which ascribes the appearance of life to that 'potency of matter' which finds expression in natural evolution. [Footnote: 'We feel it an undeniable necessity,' says Professor Virchow, not to sever the organic world from the whole, as if it were something disjoined from the whole.' This grave statement cannot be weakened by the subsequent pleasantry regarding 'Carbon & Co.']

This hypothesis is not without its difficulties, but they vanish when compared with those which encumber its rivals. There are various facts in science obviously connected, and whose connections we are unable to trace; but we do not think of filling the gap between them by the intrusion of a separable spiritual agent. In like manner though we are unable to trace the course of things from the nebula, when there was no life in our sense, to the present earth where life abounds, the spirit and practice of science pronounce against the intrusion of an anthropomorphic creator. Theologians must liberate and refine their conceptions or be prepared for the rejection of them by thoughtful minds. It is they, not we, who lay claim to knowledge never given to man. Our refusal of the creative hypothesis is less an assertion of knowledge than a protest against the assumption of knowledge which must long, if not always, lie beyond us, and the claim to which is a source of perpetual confusion.' At the same time, when I look with strenuous gaze into the whole problem as far as my capacities allow, overwhelming wonder is the predominant feeling. This wonder has come to me from the ages just as much as my understanding, and it has an equal right to satisfaction. Hence I say, if, abandoning your illegitimate claim to knowledge, you place, with Job, your forehead in the dust and acknowledge the authorship of this universe to be past finding out—if, having made this confession, and relinquished the views of the mechanical theologian, you desire for the satisfaction of feelings which I admit to be, in great part, those of humanity at large, to give ideal form to the Power that moves all things—it is not by me that you will find objections raised to this exercise of ideality, if it be only consciously and worthily carried out.


Again, I think Professor Virchow's position, in regard to the question of contagium animatum, is not altogether that of true philosophy. He points to the antiquity of the doctrine. 'It is lost,' he says, 'in the darkness of the middle ages. We have received this name from our forefathers, and it already appears distinctly in the sixteenth century. We possess several works of that time which put forward contagium animatum as a scientific doctrine, with the same confidence, with the same sort of proof, with which the "Plastidulic soul" is now set forth.'

These speculations of our 'forefathers' will appeal differently to different minds. By some they will be dismissed with a sneer; to others they will appeal as proofs of genius on the part of those who enunciated them. There are men, and by no means the minority, who, however wealthy in regard to facts, can never rise into the region of principles; and they are sometimes intolerant of those who can. They are formed to plod meritoriously on the lower levels of thought, unpossessed of the pinions necessary to reach the heights. They cannot realise the mental act—the act of inspiration it might well be called—by which a man of genius, after long pondering and proving, reaches a theoretic conception which unravels and illuminates the tangle of centuries of observation and experiment. There are minds, it may be said in passing, who at the present moment stand in this relation to Mr. Darwin. For my part, I should be inclined to ascribe to penetration rather than to presumption the notion of a contagium animatum. He who invented the term ought, I think, to be held in esteem; for he had before him the quantity of fact, and the measure of analogy, that would justify a man of genius in taking a step so bold. 'Nevertheless,' says Professor Virchow, 'no one was able throughout a long time to discover these living germs of disease. The sixteenth century did not find them, nor did the seventeenth, nor the eighteenth.' But it may be urged, in reply to this, that the theoretic conjecture often legitimately comes first. It is the forecast of genius which anticipates the fact and constitutes a spur towards its discovery. If, instead of being a spur, the theoretic guess rendered men content with imperfect knowledge, it would be a thing to be deprecated. But in modern investigation this is distinctly not the case; Darwin's theory, for example, like the undulatory theory, has been a motive power and not an anodyne. 'At last,' continues Professor Virchow, 'in the nineteenth century we have begun little by little really to find contagia animata.' So much the more honour, I infer, is due to those who, three centuries in advance, so put together the facts and analogies of contagious disease as to divine its root and character. Professor Virchow seems to deprecate the 'obstinacy' with which this notion of a contagium vivum emerged. Here I should not be inclined to follow him; because I do not know, nor does he tell me, how much the discovery of facts in the nineteenth century is indebted to the stimulus derived from the theoretic discussions of preceding centuries. The genesis of scientific ideas is a subject of profound interest and importance. He would be but a poor philosopher who would sever modern chemistry from the efforts of the alchemists, who would detach modern atomic doctrines from the speculations of Lucretius and his predecessors, or who would claim for our present knowledge of contagia an origin altogether independent of the efforts of our 'forefathers' to penetrate this enigma.


Finally, I do not know that I should agree with Professor Virchow as to what a theory is or ought to be. I call a theory a principle or conception of the mind which accounts for observed facts, and which helps us to look for and predict facts not yet observed. Every new discovery which fits into a theory strengthens it. The theory is not a thing complete from the first, but a thing which grows, as it were asymptotically, towards certainty. Darwin's theory, as pointed out nine and ten years ago by Helmholtz and Hooker, was then exactly in this condition of growth; and had they to speak of the subject to-day they would be able to announce an enormous strengthening of the theoretic fibre. Fissures in continuity which then existed, and which left little hope of being ever spanned, have been since filled in, so that the further the theory is tested the more fully does it harmonise with progressive experience and discovery. We shall probably never fill all the gaps; but this will not prevent a profound belief in the truth of the theory from taking root in the general mind. Much less will it justify a total denial of the theory. The man of science who assumes in such a case the position of a denier is sure to be stranded and isolated. The proper attitude, in my opinion, is to give to the theory during the phases of its growth as nearly as possible a proportionate assent; and, if it be a theory which influences practice, our wisdom is to follow its probable suggestions where more than probability is for the moment unattainable. I write thus with the theory of contagium vivum, more especially in my mind, and must regret the attitude of denial assumed by Professor Virchow towards that theory. 'I must beg my friend Klebs to pardon me,' he says, 'if, notwithstanding the late advances made by the doctrine of infectious fungi, I still persist in my reserve so far as to admit only the fungus which is really proved while I deny all other fungi so long as they are not actually brought before me.' Professor Virchow, that is to say, will continue to deny the Germ Theory, however great the probabilities on its side, however numerous be the cases of which it renders a just account, until it has ceased to be a theory at all, and has become a congeries of sensible facts. Had he said, 'As long as a single fungus of disease remains to be discovered, it is your bounden duty to search for it,' I should cordially agree with him. But by his unreserved denial he quenches the light of probability which ought to guide the practice of the medical man. Both here and in relation to the theory of evolution excess upon one side has begotten excess upon the other.


NOTE.—As might have been expected, Professor Virchow, shows himself in practice far too sound a philosopher to be restricted by the canon laid down in his critique of Dr. Haeckel. In his recent discourse upon the plague, he asks and answers the question, 'What is the contagium?' in the following words: 'Et qu'est-ce que le contagium? A mon avis, l'analogie de la peste aver le charbon contagieux me parait si grande qu'il me semble possible de trouver un organisme microscopique qui contient le germe de l'affection. Mais jusqu' a present on a peu cherche a trouver cet organisme.'—Revue Scientifique, March, 1879.



[Footnote: A discourse delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on Friday, January 17, 1879, and introduced here as the latest Fragment.]

THE subject of this evening's discourse was proposed by our late honorary secretary. [Footnote: Mr. William Spottiswoode, now President of the Royal Society] That word 'late' has for me its own connotations. It implies, among other things, the loss of a comrade by whose side I have worked for thirteen years. On the other hand, regret is not without its opposite in the feeling with which I have seen him rise by sheer intrinsic merit, moral and intellectual, to the highest official position which it is in the power of English science to bestow. Well, he, whose constant desire and practice were to promote the interests and extend the usefulness of this institution, thought that at a time when the electric light occupied so much of public attention, a few sound notions regarding it, on the more purely scientific side, might, to use his own pithy expression, be 'planted' in the public mind. I am here to-night with the view of trying, to the best of my ability, to realise the idea of our friend.

In the year 1800, Volta announced his immortal discovery of the pile. Whetted to eagerness by the previous conflict between him and Galvani, the scientific men of the age flung themselves with ardour upon the new discovery, repeating Volta's experiments, and extending them in many ways. The light and heat of the voltaic circuit attracted marked attention, and in the innumerable tests and trials to which this question was subjected, the utility of platinum and charcoal as means of exalting the light was on all hands recognised. Mr. Children, with a battery surpassing in strength all its predecessors, fused platinum wires eighteen inches long, while 'points of charcoal produced a light so vivid that the sunshine, compared with it, appeared feeble.' [Footnote: Davy, 'Chemical Philosophy,' p. 110.] Such effects reached their culmination when, in 1808, through the liberality of a few members of the Royal Institution, Davy was enabled to construct a battery of two thousand pairs of plates, with which he afterwards obtained calorific and luminous effects far transcending anything previously observed. The arc of flame between the carbon terminals was four inches long, and by its heat quartz, sapphire, magnesia, and lime, were melted like wax in a candle flame; while fragments of diamond and plumbago rapidly disappeared as if reduced to vapour. [Footnote: In the concluding lecture at the Royal Institution in June, 1810, Davy showed the action of this battery. He then fused iridium, the alloy of iridium and osmium, and other refractory substances. 'Philosophical Magazine,' vol. xxxv. p. 463. Quetelet assigns the first production of the spark between coal-points to Curtet in 1802. Davy certainly in that year showed the carbon light with a battery of 150 pairs of plates in the theatre of the Royal Institution ('Jour. Roy. Inst.' vol. i. p. 166).]

The first condition to be fulfilled in the development of heat and light by the electric current is that it shall encounter and overcome resistance. Flowing through a perfect conductor, no matter what the strength of the current might be, neither heat nor light could be developed. A rod of unresisting copper carries away uninjured and unwarmed an atmospheric discharge competent to shiver to splinters a resisting oak. I send the self-same current through a wire composed of alternate lengths of silver and platinum. The silver offers little resistance, the platinum offers much. The consequence is that the platinum is raised to a white heat, while the silver is not visibly warmed. The same holds good with regard to the carbon terminals employed for the production of the electric light. The interval between them offers a powerful resistance to the passage of the current, and it is by the gathering up of the force necessary to burst across this interval that the voltaic current is able to throw the carbon into that state of violent intestine commotion which we call heat, and to which its effulgence is due. The smallest interval of air usually suffices to stop the current. But when the carbon points are first brought together and then separated, there occurs between them a discharge of incandescent matter which carries, or may carry, the current over a considerable space. The light comes almost wholly from the incandescent carbons. The space between them is filled with a blue flame which, being usually bent by the earth's magnetism, receives the name of the Voltaic Arc. [Footnote: The part played by resistance is strikingly illustrated by the deportment of silver and thallium when mixed together and volatilised in the arc. The current first selects as its carrier the most volatile metal, which in this case is thallium. While it continues abundant, the passage of the current is so free—the resistance to it is so small—that the heat generated is incompetent to volatilise the silver. As the thallium disappears the current is forced to concentrate its power; it presses the silver into its service, and finally fills the space between the carbons with a vapour which, as long as the necessary resistance is absent, it is incompetent to produce. I have on a former occasion drawn attention to a danger which besets the spectroscopist when operating upon a mixture of constituents volatile in different degrees. When, in 1872, I first observed the effect here described, had I not known that silver was present, I should have inferred its absence.]

For seventy years, then, we have been in possession of this transcendent light without applying it to the illumination of our streets and houses. Such applications suggested themselves at the outset, but there were grave difficulties in their way. The first difficulty arose from the waste of the carbons, which are dissipated in part by ordinary combustion, and in part by the electric transfer of matter from the one carbon to the other. To keep the carbons at the proper distance asunder regulators were devised, the earliest, I believe, by Staite, and the most successful by Duboscq, Foucault, and Serrin, who have been succeeded by Holmes, Siemens, Browning, Carre, Gramme, Lontin, and others. By such arrangements the first difficulty was practically overcome; but the second, a graver one, is probably inseparable from the construction of the voltaic battery. It arises from the operation of that inexorable law which throughout the material universe demands an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, refusing to yield the faintest glow of heat or glimmer of light without the expenditure of an absolutely equal quantity of some other power. Hence, in practice, the desirability of any transformation must depend upon the value of the product in relation to that of the power expended. The metal zinc can be burnt like paper; it might be ignited in a flame, but it is possible to avoid the introduction of all foreign heat and to burn the zinc in air of the temperature of this room. This is done by placing zinc foil at the focus of a concave mirror, which concentrates to a point the divergent electric beam, but which does not warm the air. The zinc burns at the focus with a violet flame, and we could readily determine the amount of heat generated by its combustion. But zinc can be burnt not only in air but in liquids. It is thus burnt when acidulated water is poured over it; it is also thus burnt in the voltaic battery. Here, however, to obtain the oxygen necessary for its combustion, the zinc has to dislodge the hydrogen with which the oxygen is combined. The consequence is that the heat due to the combustion of the metal in the liquid falls short of that developed by its combustion in air, by the exact quantity necessary to separate the oxygen from the hydrogen. Fully four-fifths of the total heat are used up in this molecular work, only one-fifth remaining to warm the battery. It is upon this residue that we must now fix our attention, for it is solely out of it that we manufacture our electric light.

Before you are two small voltaic batteries of ten cells each. The two ends of one of them are united by a thick copper wire, while into the circuit of the other a thin platinum wire is introduced. The platinum glows with a white heat, while the copper wire is not sensibly warmed. Now an ounce of zinc, like an ounce of coal, produces by its complete combustion in air a constant quantity of heat. The total heat developed by an ounce of zinc through its union with oxygen in the battery is also absolutely invariable. Let our two batteries, then, continue in action until an ounce of zinc in each of them is consumed. In the one case the heat generated is purely domestic, being liberated on the hearth where the fuel is burnt, that is to say in the cells of the battery itself. In the other case, the heat is in part domestic and in part foreign—in part within the battery and in part outside. One of the fundamental truths to be borne in mind is that the sum of the foreign and domestic—of the external and internal—heats is fixed and invariable. Hence, to have heat outside, you must draw upon the heat within. These remarks apply to the electric light. By the inter-mediation of the electric current the moderate warmth of the battery is not only carried away, but concentrated, so as to produce, at any distance from its origin, a heat next in order to that of the sun. The current might therefore be defined as the swift carrier of heat. Loading itself here with invisible power, by a process of transmutation which outstrips the dreams of the alchemist, it can discharge its load, in the fraction of a second, as light and heat, at the opposite side of the world.

Thus, the light and heat produced outside the battery are derived from the metallic fuel burnt within the battery; and, as zinc happens to be an expensive fuel, though we have possessed the electric light for more than seventy years, it has been too costly to come into general use. But within these walls, in the autumn of 1831, Faraday discovered a new source of electricity, which we have now to investigate. On the table before me lies a coil of covered copper wire, with its ends disunited. I lift one side of the coil from the table, and in doing so exert the muscular effort necessary to overcome the simple weight of the coil. I unite its two ends and repeat the experiment. The effort now required, if accurately measured, would be found greater than before. In lifting the coil I cut the lines of the earth's magnetic force, such cutting, as proved by Faraday, being always accompanied, in a closed conductor, by the production of an 'induced' electric current which, as long as the ends of the coil remained separate, had no circuit through which it could pass. The current here evoked subsides immediately as heat; this heat being the exact equivalent of the excess of effort just referred to as over and above that necessary to overcome the simple weight of the coil. When the coil is liberated it falls back to the table, and when its ends are united it encounters a resistance over and above that of the air. It generates an electric current opposed in direction to the first, and reaches the table with a diminished shock. The amount of the diminution is accurately represented by the warmth which the momentary current developer in the coil. Various devices were employed to exalt these induced currents, among which the instruments of Pixii, Clarke, and Saxton were long conspicuous. Faraday, indeed, foresaw that such attempts were sure to be made; but he chose to leave them in the hands of the mechanician, while he himself pursued the deeper study of facts and principles. 'I have rather,' he writes in 1831, 'been desirous of discovering new facts and new relations dependent on magneto-electric induction, than of exalting the force of those already obtained; being assured that the latter would find their full development hereafter.'

For more than twenty years magneto-electricity had subserved its first and noblest purpose of augmenting our knowledge of the powers of nature. It had been discovered and applied to intellectual ends, its application to practical ends being still unrealised. The Drummond light had raised thoughts and hopes of vast improvements in public illumination. Many inventors tried to obtain it cheaply; and in 1853 an attempt was made to organise a company in Paris for the purpose of procuring, through the decomposition of water by a powerful magneto-electric machine constructed by M. Nollet, the oxygen and hydrogen necessary for the lime light. The experiment failed, but the apparatus by which it was attempted suggested to Mr. Holmes other and more hopeful applications. Abandoning the attempt to produce the lime light, with persevering skill Holmes continued to improve the apparatus and to augment its power, until it was finally able to yield a magneto-electric light comparable to that of the voltaic battery. Judged by later knowledge, this first machine would be considered cumbrous and defective in the extreme; but judged by the light of antecedent events, it marked a great step forward.

Faraday was profoundly interested in the growth of his own discovery. The Elder Brethren of the Trinity House had had the wisdom to make him their 'Scientific Adviser;' and it is interesting to notice in his reports regarding the light, the mixture of enthusiasm and caution which characterised him. Enthusiasm was with him a motive power, guided and controlled by a disciplined judgment. He rode it as a charger, holding it in by a strong rein. While dealing with Holmes, he states the case of the light pro and con. He checks the ardour of the inventor, and, as regards cost, rejecting sanguine estimates, he insists over and over again on the necessity of continued experiment for the solution of this important question. His matured opinion was, however, strongly in favour of the light. With reference to an experiment made at the South Foreland on the 20th of April, 1859, he thus expresses himself: 'The beauty of the light was wonderful. At a mile off, the Apparent streams of light issuing from the lantern were twice as long as those from the lower lighthouse, and apparently three or four times as bright. The horizontal plane in which they chiefly took their way made all above or below it black. The tops of the bills, the churches, and the houses illuminated by it were striking in their effect upon the eye.' Further on in his report he expresses himself thus: 'In fulfilment of this part of my duty, I beg to state that, in my opinion, Professor Holmes has practically established the fitness and sufficiency of the magneto-electric light for lighthouse purposes, so far as its nature and management are concerned. The light produced is powerful beyond any other that I have yet seen so applied, and in principle may be accumulated to any degree; its regularity in the lantern is great; its management easy, and its care there may be confided to attentive keepers of the ordinary degree of intellect and knowledge.' Finally, as regards the conduct of Professor Holmes during these memorable experiments, it is only fair to add the following remark with which Faraday closes the report submitted to the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House on the 29th of April, 1859: 'I must bear my testimony,' he says, 'to the perfect openness, candour, and honour of Professor Holmes. He has answered every question, concealed no weak point, explained every applied principle, given every reason for a change either in this or that direction, during several periods of close questioning, in a manner that was very agreeable to me, whose duty it was to search for real faults or possible objections, in respect both of the present time and the future.' [Footnote: Holmes's first offer of his machine to the Trinity House bears date February 2, 1857.]

Soon afterwards the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House had the intelligent courage to establish the machines of Holmes permanently at Dungeness, where the magneto-electric light continued to shine for many years.

The magneto-electric machine of the Alliance Company soon succeeded to that of Holmes, being in various ways a very marked improvement on the latter. Its currents were stronger and its light was brighter than those of its predecessor. In it, moreover, the commutator, the flashing and destruction of which were sources of irregularity and deterioration in the machine of Holmes, was, at the suggestion of M. Masson, entirely abandoned; alternating currents instead of the direct current being employed. [Footnote: Du Moncel, 'l'Electricite,' August, 1878, p. 150.] M. Serrin modified his excellent lamp with the express view of enabling it to cope with alternating currents. During the International Exhibition of 1862, where the machine was shown, M. Berlioz offered to dispose of the invention to the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House. They referred the matter to Faraday, and he replied as follows: 'I am not aware that the Trinity House authorities have advanced so far as to be able to decide whether they will require more magneto-electric machines, or whether, if they should require them, they see reason to suppose the means of their supply in this country, from the source already open to them, would not be sufficient. Therefore I do not see that at present they want to purchase a machine.' Faraday was obviously swayed by the desire to protect the interests of Holmes, who had borne the burden and heat which fall upon the pioneer. The Alliance machines were introduced with success at Cape la Heve, near Havre; and the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, determined to have the best available apparatus, decided, in 1868, on the introduction of machines on the Alliance principle into the lighthouses at Souter Point and the South Foreland. These, machines were constructed by Professor Holmes, and they still continue in operation. With regard, then, to the application of electricity to lighthouse purposes, the course of events was this: The Dungeness light was introduced on January 31, 1862; the light at La Heve on December 26, 1863, or nearly two years later. But Faraday's experimental trial at the South Foreland preceded the lighting of Dungeness by more than two years. The electric light was afterwards established at Cape Grisnez. The light was started at Souter Point on January 11, 1871; and at the South Foreland on January 1, 1872.

At the Lizard, which enjoys the newest and most powerful development of the electric light, it began to shine on January 1, 1878.


I have now to revert to a point of apparently small moment, but which really constitutes an important step in the development of this subject. I refer to the form given in 1857 to the rotating armature by Dr. Werner Siemens, of Berlin. Instead of employing coils wound transversely round cores of iron, as in the machine of Saxton, Siemens, after giving a bar of iron the proper shape, wound his wire longitudinally round it, and obtained thereby greatly augmented effects between suitably placed magnetic poles. Such an armature is employed in the small magneto-electric machine which I now introduce to your notice, and for which the institution is indebted to Mr. Henry Wilde, of Manchester. There are here sixteen permanent horse-shoe magnets placed parallel to each other, and between their poles a Siemens armature. The two ends of the wire which surrounds the armature are now disconnected. In turning the handle and causing the armature to rotate, I simply overcome ordinary mechanical friction. But the two ends of the armature coil can be united in a moment, and when this is done I immediately experience a greatly increased resistance to rotation. Something over and above the ordinary friction of the machine is now to be overcome, and by the expenditure of an additional amount of muscular force I am able to overcome it. The excess of labour thus thrown upon my arm has its exact equivalent in the electric currents generated, and the heat produced by their subsidence in the coil of the armature. A portion of this heat may be rendered visible by connecting the two ends of the coil with a thin platinum wire. When the handle of the machine is rapidly turned the wire glows, first with a red heat, then with a white heat, and finally with the heat of fusion. The moment the wire melts, the circuit round the armature is broken, an instant relief from the labour thrown upon the arm being the consequence. Clearly realise the equivalent of the heat here developed. During the period of turning the machine a certain amount of combustible substance was oxidised or burnt in the muscles of my arm. Had it done no external work, the matter consumed would have produced a definite amount of heat. Now, the muscular heat actually developed during the rotation of the machine fell short of this definite amount, the missing heat being reproduced to the last fraction in the glowing platinum wire and the other parts of the machine. Here, then, the electric current intervenes between my muscles and the generated heat, exactly as it did a moment ago between the voltaic battery and its generated heat. The electric current is to all intents and purposes a vehicle which transports the heat both of muscle and battery to any distance from the hearth where the fuel is consumed. Not only is the current a messenger, but it is also an intensifier of magical power. The temperature of my arm is, in round numbers, 100 deg. Fahr, and it is by the intensification of this heat that one of the most refractory of metals, which requires a heat of 3,600 deg. Fahr. to fuse it, has been reduced to the molten condition.

Zinc, as I have said, is a fuel far too expensive to permit of the electric light produced by its combustion being used for the common purposes of life, and you will readily perceive that the human muscles, or even the muscles of a horse, would be more expensive still. Here, however, we can employ the force of burning coal to turn our machine, and it is this employment of our cheapest fuel, rendered possible by Faraday's discovery, which opens out to us the prospect of being able to apply the electric light to public use.

In 1866 a great step in the intensification of induced currents, and the consequent augmentation of the magneto-electric light, was taken by Mr. Henry Wilde. It fell to my lot to report upon them to the Royal Society, but before doing so I took the trouble of going to Manchester to witness Mr. Wilde's experiments. He operated in this way: starting from a small machine like that worked in your presence a moment ago, he employed its current to excite an electro-magnet of a peculiar shape, between whose poles rotated a Siemens armature; [Footnote: Page and Moigno had previously shown that the magneto-electric current could produce powerful electro-magnets.] from this armature currents were obtained vastly stronger than those generated by the small magneto-electric machine. These currents might have been immediately employed to produce the electric light; but instead of this they were conducted round a second electro-magnet of vast size, between whose poles rotated a Siemens armature of corresponding dimensions. Three armatures therefore were involved in this series of operations: first, the armature of the small magneto-electric machine; secondly, the armature of the first electro-magnet, which was of considerable size; and, thirdly, the armature of the second electro-magnet, which was of vast dimensions. With the currents drawn from this third armature, Mr. Wilde obtained effects, both as regards heat and light, enormously transcending those previously known. [Footnote: Mr. Wilde's paper is published in the 'Philosophical Transactions 'for 1867, p. 89. My opinion regarding Wilde's machine was briefly expressed in a report to the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House on May 17, 1866: 'It gives me pleasure to state that the machine is exceedingly effective, and that it far transcends in power all other apparatus of the kind.']

But the discovery which, above all others, brought the practical question to the front is now to be considered. On the 4th of February, 1867, a paper was received by the Royal Society from Dr. William Siemens bearing the title, 'On the Conversion of Dynamic into Electrical Force without the use of Permanent Magnetism.' [Footnote: A paper on the same subject, by Dr. Werner Siemens, was read on January 17, 1867, before the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. In a letter to 'Engineering,' No. 622, p. 45, Mr. Robert Sabine states that Professor Wheatstone's machines were constructed by Mr. Stroh in the months of July and August, 1866. I do not doubt Mr. Sabine's statement; still it would be dangerous in the highest degree to depart from the canon, in asserting which Faraday was specially strenuous, that the date of a discovery is the date of its publication. Towards the end of December, 1866, Mr. Alfred Varley' also lodged a provisional specification (which, I believe, is a sealed document) embodying the principles of the dynamo-electric machine, but some years elapsed before he made anything public. His brother, Mr. Cromwell varlet', when writing on this subject in 1867, does not mention him (Proc. Roy. Soc, March 14, 1867). It probably marks a national trait, that sealed communications, though allowed in France, have never been recognised by the scientific societies of England.] On the 14th of February a paper from Sir Charles Wheatstone was received, bearing the title, 'On the Augmentation of the Power of a Magnet by the reaction thereon of Currents induced by the Magnet itself.' Both papers, which dealt with the same discovery, and which were illustrated by experiments, were read upon the same night, viz. the 14th of February. It would be difficult to find in the whole field of science a more beautiful example of the interaction of natural forces than that set forth in these two papers. You can hardly find a bit of iron—you can hardly pick up an old horse-shoe, for example—that does not possess a trace of permanent magnetism; and from such a small beginning Siemens and Wheatstone have taught us to rise by a series of interactions between magnet and armature to a magnetic intensity previously unapproached. Conceive the Siemens armature placed between the poles of a suitable electro-magnet. Suppose this latter to possess at starting the faintest, trace of magnetism; when the armature rotates, currents of infinitesimal strength are generated in its coil. Let the ends of that coil be connected with the wire surrounding the electro-magnet. The infinitesimal current generated in the armature will then circulate round the magnet, augmenting its intensity by an infinitesimal amount. The strengthened magnet instantly reacts upon the coil which feeds it, producing a current of greater strength. This current again passes round the magnet, which immediately brings its enhanced power to bear upon the coil. By this play of mutual give and take between magnet and armature, the strength of the former is raised in a very brief interval from almost nothing to complete magnetic saturation. Such a magnet and armature are able to produce currents of extraordinary power, and if an electric lamp be introduced into the common circuit of magnet and armature, we can readily obtain a most powerful light. [Footnote: In 1867 Mr. Ladd introduced the modification of dividing the armature into two separate coils, one of which fed the electro-magnets, while the other yielded the induced currents.] By this discovery, then, we are enabled to avoid the trouble and expense involved in the employment of permanent magnets; we are also enabled to drop the exciting magneto-electric machine, and the duplication of the electro-magnets. By it, in short, the electric generator is so far simplified, and reduced in cost, as to enable electricity to enter the lists as the rival of our present means of illumination.

Soon after the announcement of their discovery by Siemens and Wheatstone, Mr. Holmes, at the instance of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, endeavoured to turn this discovery to account for lighthouse purposes. Already, in the spring of 1869, he had constructed a machine which, though hampered with defects, exhibited extraordinary power. The light was developed in the focus of a dioptric apparatus placed on the Trinity Wharf at Blackwall, and witnessed by the Elder Brethren, Mr. Douglass, and myself, from an observatory at Charlton, on the opposite side of the Thames. Falling upon the suspended haze, the light illuminated the atmosphere for miles all round. Anything so sunlike in splendour had not, I imagine, been previously witnessed. The apparatus of Holmes, however, was rapidly distanced by the safer and more powerful machines of Siemens and Gramme.

As regards lighthouse illumination, the next step forward was taken by the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House in 1876-77. Having previously decided on the establishment of the electric light at the Lizard in Cornwall, they instituted, at the time referred to, an elaborate series of comparative experiments wherein the machines of Holmes, of the Alliance Company, of Siemens, and of Gramme, were pitted against each other. The Siemens and the Gramme machines delivered direct currents, while those of Holmes and the Alliance Company delivered alternating currents. The light of the latter was of the same intensity in all azimuths; that of the former was different in different azimuths, the discharge being so regulated as to yield a gush of light of special intensity in one direction. The following table gives in standard candles the performance of the respective machines:

Name of Machines. Maximum. Minimum.

Holmes 1,523 1,523

Alliance 1,953 1,953

Gramme (No. 1). 6,663 4,016

Gramme (No. 2). 6,663 4,016

Siemens (Large) 14,818 8,932

Siemens (Small, No. 1) 5,539 3,339

Siemens (Small, No. 2) 6,864 4,138

Two Holmes's coupled 2,811 2,811

Two Gramme's (Nos. 1 and 2) 11,396 6,869

Two Siemens' (Nos. 1 and 2) 14,134 8,520

[Footnote: Observations from the sea on the night of November 21, 1876, made the Gramme and small Siemens practically equal to the Alliance. But the photometric observations, in which the external resistance was abolished, and previous to which the light-keepers had become more skilled in the management of the direct current, showed the differences recorded in the table. A close inspection of these powerful lights at the South Foreland caused my face to peel, as if it had been irritated by an Alpine sun.]

These determinations were made with extreme care and accuracy by Mr. Douglass, the engineer-in-chief, and Mr. Ayres, the assistant engineer of the Trinity House. It is practically impossible to compare photo-metrically and directly the flame of the candle with these sun-like lights. A light of intermediate intensity—that of the six-wick Trinity oil lamp—was therefore in the first instance compared with the electric light. The candle power of the oil lamp being afterwards determined, the intensity of the electric light became known. The numbers given in the table prove the superiority of the Alliance machine over that of Holmes. They prove the great superiority both of the Gramme machine and of the small Siemens machine over the Alliance. The large Siemens machine is shown to yield a light far exceeding all the others, while the coupling of two Grammes, or of two Siemens together, here effected for the first time, was followed by a very great augmentation of the light, rising in the one case from 6663 candles to 11,396, and in the other case from 6864 candles to 14,134. Where the arc is single and the external resistance small, great advantages attach to the Siemens light. After this contest, which was conducted throughout in the most amicable manner, Siemens machines of type No. 2 were chosen for the Lizard. [Footnote: As the result of a recent trial by Mr. Schwendler, they have been also chosen for India.]


We have machines capable of sustaining a single light, and also machines capable of sustaining several lights. The Gramme machine, for example, which ignites the Jablochkoff candles on the Thames Embankment and at the Holborn Viaduct, delivers four currents, each passing through its own circuit. In each circuit are five lamps through which the current belonging to the circuit passes in succession. The lights correspond to so many resisting spaces, over which, as already explained, the current has to leap; the force which accomplishes the leap being that which produces the light. Whether the current is to be competent to pass through five lamps in succession, or to sustain only a single lamp, depends entirely upon the will and skill of the maker of the machine. He has, to guide him, definite laws laid down by Ohm half a century ago, by which he must abide.

Ohm has taught us how to arrange the elements of a Voltaic battery so as to augment indefinitely its electromotive force—that force, namely, which urges the current forward and enables it to surmount external obstacles. We have only to link the cells together so that the current generated by each cell shall pass through all the others, and add its electro-motive force to that of all the others. We increase, it is true, at the same time the resistance of the battery, diminishing thereby the quantity of the current from each cell, but we augment the power of the integrated current to overcome external hindrances. The resistance of the battery itself may, indeed, be rendered so great, that the external resistance shall vanish in comparison. What is here said regarding the voltaic battery is equally true of magneto-electric machines. If we wish our current to leap over five intervals, and produce five lights in succession, we must invoke a sufficient electromotive force. This is done through multiplying, by the use of thin wires, the convolutions of the rotating armature as, a moment ago, we augmented the cells of our voltaic battery. Each additional convolution, like each additional cell, adds its electro-motive force to that of all the others; and though it also adds its resistance, thereby diminishing the quantity of current contributed by each convolution, the integrated current becomes endowed with the power of leaping across the successive spaces necessary for the production of a series of lights in its course. The current is, as it were, rendered at once thinner and more piercing by the simultaneous addition of internal resistance and electro-motive power. The machines, on the other hand, which produce only a single light have a small internal resistance associated with a small electro-motive force. In such machines the wire of the rotating armature is comparatively short and thick, copper riband instead of wire being commonly employed. Such machines deliver a large quantity of electricity of low tension—in other words, of low leaping power. Hence, though competent when their power is converged upon a single interval, to produce one splendid light, their currents are unable to force a passage when the number of intervals is increased. Thus, by augmenting the convolutions of our machines we sacrifice quantity and gain electro-motive force; while by lessening the number of the convolutions, we sacrifice electro-motive force and gain quantity. Whether we ought to choose the one form of machine or the other depends entirely upon the external work the machine has to perform. If the object be to obtain a single light of great splendour, machines of low resistance and large quantity must be employed. If we want to obtain in the same circuit several lights of moderate intensity, machines of high internal resistance and of correspondingly high electro-motive power must be invoked.

When a coil of covered wire surrounds a bar of iron, the two ends of the coil being connected together, every alteration of the magnetism of the bar is accompanied by the development of an induced current in the coil. The current is only excited during the period of magnetic change. No matter how strong or how weak the magnetism of the bar may be, as long as its condition remains permanent no current is developed. Conceive, then, the pole of a magnet placed near one end of the bar to be moved along it towards the other end. During the time of the pole's motion there will be an incessant change in the magnetism of the bar, and accompanying this change we shall have an induced current in the surrounding coil. If, instead of moving the magnet, we move the bar and its surrounding coil past the magnetic pole, a similar alteration of the magnetism of the bar will occur, and a similar current will be induced in the coil. You have here the fundamental conception which led M. Gramme to the construction of his beautiful machine. [Footnote: 'Comptes Rendus,' 1871, p. 176. See also Gaugain on the Gramme machine, 'Ann. de Chem. et de Phys,' vol. xxviii. p. 324] He aimed at giving continuous motion to such a bar as we have here described; and for this purpose he bent it into a continuous ring, which, by a suitable mechanism, he caused to rotate rapidly close to the poles of a horse-shoe magnet. The direction of the current varied with the motion and with the character of the influencing pole. The result was that the currents in the two semicircles of the coil surrounding the ring flowed in opposite directions. But it was easy, by the mechanical arrangement called a commutator, to gather up the currents and cause them to flow in the same direction. The first machines of Gramme, therefore, furnished direct currents, similar to those yielded by the voltaic pile. M. Gramme subsequently so modified his machine as to produce alternating currents. Such alternating machines are employed to produce the lights now exhibited on the Holborn Viaduct and the Thames Embankment.

Another machine of great alleged merit is that of M. Lontin. It resembles in shape a toothed iron wheel, the teeth being used as cores, round which are wound coils of copper wire. The wheel is caused to rotate between the opposite poles of powerful electromagnets. On passing each pole the core or tooth is strongly magnetised, and instantly evokes in its surrounding coil an induced current of corresponding strength. The currents excited in approaching to and retreating from a pole, and in passing different poles, move in opposite directions, but by means of a commutator these conflicting electric streams are gathered up and caused to flow in a common bed. The bobbins, in which the currents are induced, can be so increased in number as to augment indefinitely the power of the machine. To excite his electro-magnets, M. Lontin applies the principle of Mr. Wilde. A small machine furnishes a direct current, which is carried round the electro-magnets of a second and larger machine. Wilde's principle, it may be added, is also applied on the Thames Embankment and the Holborn Viaduct; a small Gramme machine being used in each case to excite the electro-magnets of the large one.

The Farmer-Wallace machine is also an apparatus of great power. It consists of a combination of bobbins for induced currents, and of inducing electro-magnets, the latter being excited by the method discovered by Siemens and Wheatstone. In the machines intended for the production of the electric light, the electromotive force is so great as to permit of the introduction of several lights in the same circuit. A peculiarly novel feature of the Farmer-Wallace system is the shape of the carbons. Instead of rods, two large plates of carbons with bevelled edges are employed, one above the other. The electric discharge passes from edge to edge, and shifts its position according as the carbon is dissipated. The duration of the light in this case far exceeds that obtainable with rods. I have myself seen four of these lights in the same circuit in Mr. Ladd's workshop in the City, and they are now, I believe, employed at the Liverpool Street Station of the Metropolitan Railway. The Farmer-Wallace 'quantity machine' pours forth a flood of electricity of low tension. It is unable to cross the interval necessary for the production of the electric light, but it can fuse thick copper wires. When sent through a short bar of iridium, this refractory metal emits a light of extraordinary splendour. [Footnote: The iridium light was shown by Mr. Ladd. It brilliantly illuminated the theatre of the Royal Institution.]

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