Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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We thus find the luminous radiation appearing when the radiant body has attained a certain temperature; or, in other words, when the vibrating atoms of the body have attained a certain width of swing. In solid and molten bodies a certain amplitude cannot be surpassed without the introduction of periods of vibration, which provoke the sense of vision. How are we to figure this? If permitted to speculate, we might ask, are not these more rapid vibrations the progeny of the slower? Is it not really the mutual action of the atoms, when they swing through very wide spaces, and thus encroach upon each other, that causes them to tremble in quicker periods? If so, whatever be the agency by which the large swinging space is obtained, we shall have light-giving vibrations associated with it. It matters not whether the large amplitudes be produced by the strokes of a hammer, or by the blows of the molecules of a non-luminous gas, like air at some height above a gas-flame; or by the shock of the aether particles when transmitting radiant heat. The result in all cases will be incandescence. Thus, the invisible waves of our filtered electric beam may be regarded as generating synchronous vibrations among the atoms of the platinum on which they impinge; but, once these vibrations have attained a certain amplitude, the mutual jostling of the atoms produces quicker tremors, and the light-giving waves follow as the necessary product of the heat-giving ones.


11. Absorption of Radiant Heat by Vapours and Odours.

We commenced the demonstrations brought forward in this lecture by experiments on permanent gases, and we have now to turn our attention to the vapours of volatile liquids. Here, as in the case of the gases, vast differences have been proved to exist between various kinds of molecules, as regards their power of intercepting the calorific waves. While some vapours allow the waves a comparatively free passage, the faintest mixture of other vapours causes a deflection of the magnetic needle. Assuming the absorption effected by air, at a pressure of one atmosphere, to be unity, the following are the absorptions effected by a series of vapours at a pressure of 1/60th of an atmosphere:

Name of vapour Absorption

Bisulphide of carbon 47

Iodide of methyl 115

Benzol 136

Amylene 321

Sulphuric ether 440

Formic ether 548

Acetic ether 612

Bisulphide of carbon is the most transparent vapour in this list; and acetic ether the most opaque; 1/60th of an atmosphere of the former, however, produces 47 times the effect of a whole atmosphere of air, while 1/60th of an atmosphere of the latter produces 612 times the effect of a whole atmosphere of air. Reducing dry air to the pressure of the acetic ether here employed, and comparing them then together, the quantity of wave-motion intercepted by the ether would be many thousand times that intercepted by the air.

Any one of these vapours discharged into the free atmosphere, in front of a body emitting obscure rays, intercepts more or less of the radiation. A similar effect is produced by perfumes diffused in the air, though their attenuation is known to be almost infinite. Carrying, for example, a current of dry air over bibulous paper, moistened by patchouli, the scent taken up by the current absorbs 30 times the quantity of heat intercepted by the air which carries it; and yet patchouli acts more feebly on radiant heat than any other perfume yet examined.

Here follow the results obtained with various essential oils, the odour, in each case, being carried by a current of dry air into the be already employed for gases and vapours:

Name of perfume Absorption

Patchouli 30

Sandal wood 32

Geranium 33

Oil of cloves 34

Otto of roses 37

Bergamot 44

Neroli 47

Lavender 60

Lemon 65

Portugal 67

Thyme 68

Rosemary 74

Oil of laurel 80

Camomile flowers 87

Cassia 109

Spikenard 355

Aniseed 372

Thus the absorption by a tube full of dry air being 1, that of the odour of patchouli diffused in it is 30, at of lavender 60, that of rosemary 74, whilst that of aniseed amounts to 372. It would be idle to speculate the quantities of matter concerned in these actions.


12. Aqueous Vapour in relation to the Terrestrial Temperatures.

We are now fully prepared for a result which, without such preparation, might appear incredible. Water is, to some extent, a volatile body, and our atmosphere, resting as it does upon the surface of the ocean, receives from it a continual supply of aqueous vapour. It would be an error to confound clouds or fog or any visible mist with the vapour of water, which is a perfectly impalpable gas, diffused, even on the clearest days, throughout the atmosphere. Compared with the great body of the air, the aqueous vapour it contains is of almost infinitesimal amount, 99.5 out of every 100 parts of the atmosphere being composed of oxygen and nitrogen. In the absence of experiment, we should never think of ascribing to this scant and varying constituent any important influence on terrestrial radiation; and yet its influence is far more potent than that of the great body of the air. To say that on a day of average humidity in England, the atmospheric vapour exerts 100 times the action of the air itself, would certainly be an understatement of the fact. Comparing a single molecule of aqueous vapour with an atom of either of the main constituents of our atmosphere, I am not prepared to say how many thousand times the action of the former exceeds that of the latter.

But it must be borne in mind that these large numbers depend, in part, on the extreme feebleness of the air; the power of aqueous vapour seems vast, because that of the air with which it is compared is infinitesimal. Absolutely considered, however, this substance, notwithstanding its small specific gravity, exercises a very potent action. Probably from 10 to 15 per cent. of the heat radiated from the earth is absorbed within 10 or 20 feet of the earth's surface. This must evidently be of the utmost consequence to the life of the world. Imagine the superficial molecules of the earth agitated with the motion of heat, and imparting it to the surrounding aether; this motion would be carried rapidly away, and lost for ever to our planet, if the waves of aether had nothing but the air to contend with in their outward course. But the aqueous vapour takes up the motion, and becomes hereby heated, thus wrapping the earth like a warm garment, and protecting its surface from the deadly chill which it would otherwise sustain. Various philosophers have speculated on the influence of an atmospheric envelope. De Saussure, Fourier, M. Pouillet, and Mr. Hopkins have, one and all, enriched scientific literature with contributions on this subject, but the considerations which these eminent men have applied to atmospheric air, have, if my experiments be correct, to be transferred to the aqueous vapour.

The observations of meteorologists furnish important, though hitherto unconscious evidence of the influence of this agent. Wherever the air is dry we are liable to daily extremes of temperature. By day, such places, the sun's heat reaches the earth unimpeded, and renders the maximum high; by night, on the other hand, the earth's heat escapes unhindered to space, and renders the minimum low. Hence the difference between the maximum and minimum is greatest where the air is driest. In the plains of India, the heights of the Himalaya, in central Asia, in Australia—wherever drought reigns, we have the heat of day forcibly contrasted with the chill of night. In the Sahara itself, when the sun's rays cease to impinge on the burning soil, the temperature runs rapidly down to freezing, because there is no vapour overhead to check the calorific drain. And here another instance might be added to the numbers already known, in which nature tends as it were to check her own excess. By nocturnal refrigeration, the aqueous vapour of the air is condensed to water on the surface of the earth; and, as only the superficial portions radiate, the act of condensation makes water the radiating body. Now experiment proves that to the rays emitted by water, aqueous vapour is especially opaque. Hence the very act of condensation, consequent on terrestrial cooling, becomes a safeguard to the earth, imparting to its radiation that particular character which renders it most liable to be prevented from escaping into space.

It might however be urged that, inasmuch as we derive all our heat from the sun, the selfsame covering which protects the earth from chill must also shut out the solar radiation. This is partially true, but only partially; the sun's rays are different in quality from the earth's rays, and it does not at all follow that the substance which absorbs the one must necessarily absorb the other. Through a layer of water, for example, one tenth of an inch in thickness, the sun's rays are transmitted with comparative freedom; but through a layer half this thickness, as Melloni has proved, no single ray from the warmed earth could pass. In like manner, the sun's rays pass with comparative freedom through the aqueous vapour of the air: the absorbing power of this substance being mainly exerted upon the invisible heat that endeavours to escape from the earth. In consequence of this differential action upon solar and terrestrial heat, the mean temperature of our planet is higher than is due to its distance from the sun.


13. Liquids and their Vapours in relation to Radiant Heat.

The deportment here assigned to atmospheric vapour has been established by direct experiments on it taken from the streets and parks of London, from the downs of Epsom, from the hills and sea-beach of the Isle of Wight, and also by experiments on air in the first instance dried, and afterwards rendered artificially humid by pure distilled water. It has also en established in the following way: Ten volatile quids were taken at random and the power of these quids, at a common thickness, to intercept the waves f heat, was carefully determined. The vapours of the quids were next taken, in quantities proportional to e quantities of liquid, and the power of the vapours intercept the waves of heat was also determined.

Commencing with the substance which exerted the least absorptive power, and proceeding onwards to the most energetic, the following order of absorption was observed:

Liquids Vapours

Bisulphide of carbon. Bisulphide of carbon.

Chloroform. Chloroform.

Iodide of methyl. Iodide of methyl.

Iodide of ethyl. Iodide of ethyl.

Benzol. Benzol.

Amylene. Amylene.

Sulphuric aether. Sulphuric aether.

Acetic aether. Acetic aether.

Formic aether. Formic aether.

Alcohol. Alcohol.


We here find the order of absorption in both cases be the same. We have liberated the molecules from the bonds which trammel them more or less in a liquid condition; but this change in their state of aggregation does not change their relative powers of absorption. Nothing could more clearly prove that the act of absorption depends upon the individual molecule, which equally asserts its power in the liquid and the gaseous state. We may safely conclude from the above table that the position of a vapour is determined by that of its liquid. Now at the very foot of the list of liquids stands water, signalising itself above all others by its enormous power of absorption. And from this fact, even if no direct experiment on the vapour of water had ever been made, we should be entitled to rank that vapour as our most powerful absorber of radiant heat. Its attenuation, however, diminishes its action. I have proved that a shell of air two inches in thickness surrounding our planet, and saturated with the vapour of sulphuric aether, would intercept 35 per cent. of the earth's radiation. And though the quantity of aqueous vapour necessary to saturate air is much less than the amount of sulphuric aether vapour which it can sustain, it is still extremely probable that the estimate already made of the action of atmospheric vapour within 10 feet of the earth's surface, is under the mark; and that we are indebted to this wonderful substance, to an extent not accurately determined, but certainly far beyond what has hitherto been imagined, for the temperature now existing at the surface of the globe.


14. Reciprocity of Radiation and Absorption.

Throughout the reflections which have hitherto occupied us, the image before the mind has been that of a radiant source sending forth calorific waves, which on passing among the molecules of a gas or vapour were intercepted by those molecules in various degrees. In all cases it was the transference of motion from the aether to the comparatively quiescent molecules of the gas or vapour that occupied our thoughts. We have now to change the form of our conception, and to figure these molecules not as absorbers but as radiators, not as the recipients but as the originators of wave-motion. That is to say, we must figure them vibrating, and generating in the surrounding aether undulations which speed through it with the velocity of light. Our object now is to enquire whether the act of chemical combination, which proves so potent as regards the phenomena of absorption, does not also manifest its power in the phenomena of radiation. For the examination of this question it is necessary, in the first place, to heat our gases and vapours to the same temperature, and then examine their power of discharging the motion thus imparted to them upon the aether in which they swing.

A heated copper ball was placed above a ring gas-burner possessing a great number of small apertures, the burner being connected by a tube with vessels containing the various gases to be examined. By gentle pressure the gases were forced through the orifices of the burner against the copper ball, where each of them, being heated, rose in an ascending column. A thermoelectric pile, entirely screened from the hot ball, was exposed to the radiation of the warm gas, while the deflection of a magnetic needle connected with the pile declared the energy of the radiation.

By this mode of experiment it was proved that the selfsame molecular arrangement which renders a gas a powerful absorber, renders it a powerful radiator—that the atom or molecule which is competent to intercept the calorific waves is, in the same degree, competent to send them forth. Thus, while the atoms of elementary gases proved themselves unable to emit any sensible amount of radiant heat, the molecules of compound gases were shown to be capable of powerfully disturbing the surrounding aether. By special modes of experiment the same was proved to hold good for the vapours of volatile liquids, the radiative power of every vapour being found proportional to its absorptive power.

The method of experiment here pursued, though not of the simplest character, is still easy to grasp. When air is permitted to rush into an exhausted tube, the temperature of the air is raised to a degree equivalent to the vis viva extinguished. [Footnote: See above for a definition of vis viva.] Such air is said to be dynamically heated, and, if pure, it shows itself incompetent to radiate, even when a rock-salt window is provided for the passage of its rays. But if instead of being empty the tube contain a small quantity of vapour, the warmed air communicates its heat by contact to the vapour, the molecules of which convert into the radiant form the heat imparted to them by the atoms of the air. By this process also, which I have called Dynamic Radiation, the reciprocity of radiation and absorption has been conclusively proved. [Footnote: When heated air imparts its motion to another gas or vapour, the transference of heat is accompanied by a change of vibrating period. The Dynamic Radiation of vapours is rendered possible by this transmutation of vibrations.]

In the excellent researches of Leslie, De la Provostaye and Detains, and Balfour Stewart, the same reciprocity, as regards solid bodies, has been variously illustrated; while the labours, theoretical and experimental, of Kirchhoff have given this subject a wonderful expansion, and enriched it by applications of the highest kind. To their results are now to be added the foregoing, whereby gases and vapours, which have been hitherto thought inaccessible to experiments with the thermo-electric pile, are proved by it to exhibit the indissoluble duality of radiation and absorption, the influence of chemical combination on both being exhibited in the most decisive and extraordinary way.


15. Influence of Vibrating Period and Molecular Form. Physical Analysis of the Human Breath.

In the foregoing experiments with gases and vapours have employed throughout invisible rays, and found e of these bodies so impervious to radiant heat, that lengths of a few feet they intercept every ray as actually as a layer of pitch. The substances, however, which show themselves thus opaque to radiant heat perfectly transparent to light. Now the rays of light differ from those of invisible heat merely in point period, the former failing to affect the retina because their periods of recurrence are too slow. Hence, in one way or other, the transparency of our gases and vapours depends upon the periods of the waves which impinge upon them. What is the nature of this dependence? The admirable researches of Kirchhoff help us an answer. The atoms and molecules of every gas e certain definite rates of oscillation, and those waves aether are most copiously absorbed whose periods recurrence synchronise with those of the atomic ups amongst which they pass. Thus, when we find invisible rays absorbed and the visible ones transmitted by a layer of gas, we conclude that the oscillating periods of the atoms constituting the gaseous molecules coincide with those of the invisible, and not with those of the visible spectrum.

It requires some discipline of the imagination to form a clear picture of this process. Such a picture is, however, possible, and ought to be obtained. When the waves of aether impinge upon molecules whose periods of vibration coincide with the recurrence of the undulations, the timed strokes of the waves augment the vibration of the molecules, as a heavy pendulum is set in motion by well-timed puffs of breath. Millions of millions of shocks are received every second from the calorific waves; and it is not difficult to see that as every wave arrives just in time to repeat the action of its predecessor, the molecules must finally be caused to swing through wider spaces than if the arrivals were not so timed. In fact, it is not difficult to see that an assemblage of molecules, operated upon by contending waves, might remain practically quiescent. This is actually the case when the waves of the visible spectrum pass through a transparent gas or vapour. There is here no sensible transference of motion from the aether to the molecules; in other words, there is no sensible absorption of heat.

One striking example of the influence of period may be here recorded. Carbonic acid gas is one of the feeblest absorbers of the radiant heat emitted by solid bodies. It is, for example, to a great extent transparent to the rays emitted by the heated copper plate already referred to. There are, however, certain rays, comparatively few in number, emitted by the copper, to which the carbonic acid is impervious; and could we obtain a source of heat emitting such rays only, we should find carbonic acid more opaque to the radiation from that source, than any other gas. Such a source is actually found in the flame of carbonic oxide, where hot carbonic acid constitutes the main radiating body. Of the rays emitted by our heated plate of copper, olefiant gas absorbs ten times the quantity absorbed by carbonic acid. Of the rays emitted by a carbonic oxide flame, carbonic acid absorbs twice as much as olefiant gas. This wonderful change in the power of the former, as an absorber, is simply due to the fact, that the periods of the hot and cold carbonic acid are identical, and that the waves from the flame freely transfer their motion to the molecules which synchronise with them. Thus it is that the tenth an atmosphere of carbonic acid, enclosed in a tube four feet long, absorbs 60 per cent. of the radiation from carbonic oxide flame, while one-thirtieth of an atmosphere absorbs 48 per cent. of the heat from the same source.

In fact, the presence of the minutest quantity of carbonic acid may be detected by its action on the rays from the carbonic oxide flame. Carrying, for example, the dried human breath into a tube four feet long, the absorption there effected by the carbonic acid of the breath amounts to 50 per cent. of the entire radiation. Radiant heat may indeed be employed as a means of determining practically the amount of carbonic acid expired from the lungs. My late assistant, Mr. Barrett, while under my direction, made this determination. The absorption produced by the breath freed from its moisture, but retaining its carbonic acid, was first determined. Carbonic acid, artificially prepared, was then mixed with dry air in such proportions that the action of the mixture upon the rays of heat was the same as that of the dried breath. The percentage of the former being known, immediately gave that of the latter. The same breath, analysed chemically by Dr. Frankland, and physically by Mr. Barrett, gave the following results:

Percentage of Carbonic Acid in the Human Breath.

Chemical analysis Physical analysis

4.66 4.56

5.33 5.22

It is thus proved that in the quantity of aethereal motion which it is competent to take up, we have a practical measure of the carbonic acid of the breath, and hence of the combustion going on in the human lungs.

Still this question of period, though of the utmost importance, is not competent to account for the whole of the observed facts. The aether, as far as we know, accepts vibrations of all periods with the same readiness. To it the oscillations of an atom of free oxygen are just as acceptable as those of the atoms in a molecule of olefiant gas; that the vibrating oxygen then stands so far below the olefiant gas in radiant power must be referred not to period, but to some other peculiarity. The atomic group which constitutes the molecule of olefiant gas, produces many thousand times the disturbance caused by the oxygen, it may be because the group is able to lay a vastly more powerful hold upon the aether than single atoms can. Another, and probably very potent cause of the difference may be, that the vibrations, being those of the constituent atoms of the molecule, [Footnote: See 'Physical Considerations,' Art. iv.] are generated in highly condensed aether, which acts like: condensed air upon sound. But whatever may be the fate of these attempts to visualise the physics of the process, it will still remain true, that to account for the phenomena of radiation and absorption we must take into consideration the shape, size, and condition of the aether within the molecules, by which the external aether is disturbed.


16. Summary and Conclusion.

Let us now cast a momentary glance over the ground that we have left behind. The general nature of light and heat was first briefly described: the compounding of matter from elementary atoms, and the influence of the act of combination on radiation and absorption, were considered and experimentally illustrated. Through the transparent elementary gases radiant heat was found to pass as through a vacuum, while many of the compound gases presented almost impassable obstacles to the calorific-waves. This deportment of the simple gases directed our attention to other elementary bodies, the examination of which led to the discovery that the element iodine, dissolved in bisulphide of carbon, possesses the power detaching, with extraordinary sharpness, the light of the spectrum from its heat, intercepting all luminous rays up to the extreme red, and permitting the calorific rays beyond the red to pass freely through it. This substance was then employed to filter the beams of the electric light, and to form foci of invisible rays so intense as to produce almost all the effects obtainable in ordinary fire. Combustible bodies were burnt, and refractory ones were raised to a white heat, by the concentrated invisible rays. Thus, by exalting their refrangibility, the invisible rays of the electric light were rendered visible, and all the colours of the solar spectrum were extracted from utter darkness. The extreme richness of the electric light in invisible rays of low refrangibility was demonstrated, one-eighth only of its radiation consisting of luminous rays. The deadness of the optic nerve to those invisible rays was proved, and experiments were then added to show that the bright and the dark rays of a solid body, raised gradually to incandescence, are strengthened together; intense dark heat being an invariable accompaniment of intense white heat. A sun could not be formed, or a meteorite rendered luminous, on any other condition. The light-giving rays constituting only a small fraction of the total radiation, their unspeakable importance to us is due to the fact, that their periods are attuned to the special requirements of the eye.

Among the vapours of volatile liquids vast differences were also found to exist, as regards their powers of absorption. We followed various molecules from a state of liquid to a state of gas, and found, in both states of aggregation, the power of the individual molecules equally asserted. The position of a vapour as an absorber of radiant heat was shown to be determined by that of the liquid from which it is derived. Reversing our conceptions, and regarding the molecules of gases and vapours not as the recipients but as the originators of wave-motion; not as absorbers but as radiators; it was proved that the powers of absorption and radiation went hand in hand, the self-same chemical act which rendered a body competent to intercept the waves of aether, rendering it competent, in the same degree, to generate them. Perfumes were next subjected to examination, and, notwithstanding their extraordinary tenuity, they were found vastly superior, in point of absorptive power, to the body of the air in which they were diffused. We were led thus slowly up to the examination of the most widely diffused and most important of all vapours—the aqueous vapour of our atmosphere, and we found in it a potent absorber of the purely calorific rays. The power of this substance to influence climate, and its general influence on the temperature of the earth, were then briefly dwelt upon. A cobweb spread above a blossom is sufficient to protect it from nightly chill; and thus the aqueous vapour of our air, attenuated as it is, checks the drain of terrestrial heat, and saves the surface of our planet from the refrigeration which would assuredly accrue, were no such substance interposed between it and the voids of space. We considered the influence of vibrating period, and molecular form, on absorption and radiation, and finally deduced, from its action upon radiant heat, the exact amount of carbonic acid expired by the human lungs.

Thus, in brief outline, were placed before you some ofthe results of recent enquiries in the domain of Radiation, and my aim throughout has been to raise in your minds distinct physical images of the various processes involved in our researches. It is thought by some that natural science has a deadening influence on the imagination, and a doubt might fairly be raised as to the value of any study which would necessarily have this effect. But the experience of the last hour must, I think, have convinced you, that the study of natural science goes hand in hand with the culture of the imagination. Throughout the greater part of this discourse we have been sustained by this faculty. We have been picturing atoms, and molecules, and vibrations, and waves, which eye has never seen nor ear heard, and which can only be discerned by the exercise of imagination. This, in fact, is the faculty which enables us transcend the boundaries of sense, and connect the phenomena of our visible world with those of an invisible one. Without imagination we never could have risen to the conceptions which have occupied us here today; and in proportion to your power of exercising this faculty aright, and of associating definite mental images with the terms employed, will be the pleasure and the profit which you will derive from this lecture.

The outward facts of nature are insufficient to satisfy the mind. We cannot be content with knowing that the light and heat of the sun illuminate and warm the world. We are led irresistibly to enquire, 'What is light, and what is heat?' and this question leads us at once out of the region of sense into that of imagination. [Footnote: This line of thought was pursued further five years subsequently. See 'Scientific Use of the Imagination' in Vol. II.]

Thus pondering, and questioning, and striving to supplement that which is felt and seen, but which is incomplete, by something unfelt and unseen which is necessary to its completeness, men of genius have in part discerned, not only the nature of light and heat, but also, through them, the general relationship of natural phenomena. The working power of Nature consists of actual or potential motion, of which all its phenomena are but special forms. This motion manifests itself in tangible and in intangible matter, being incessantly transferred from the one to the other, and incessantly transformed by the change. It is as real in the waves of the aether as in the waves of the sea; the latter—derived as they are from winds, which in their turn are derived from the sun—are, indeed, nothing more than the heaped-up motion of the aether waves. It is the calorific waves emitted by the sun which heat our air, produce our winds, and hence agitate our ocean. And whether they break in foam upon the shore, or rub silently against the ocean's bed, or subside by the mutual friction of their own parts, the sea waves, which cannot subside without producing heat, finally resolve themselves into waves of aether, thus regenerating the motion from which their temporary existence was derived. This connection is typical. Nature is not an aggregate of independent parts, but an organic whole. If you open a piano and sing into it, a certain string will respond. Change the pitch of our voice; the first string ceases to vibrate, but another replies. Change again the pitch; the first two strings are silent, while another resounds. Thus is sentient man acted on by Nature, the optic, the auditory, and other nerves of the human body being so many strings differently tuned, and responsive to different forms of the universal power.



[Footnote: A discourse delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Jan. 19, 1866.]

ONE of the most important functions of physical science, considered as a discipline of the mind, is to enable us by means of the sensible processes of Nature to apprehend the insensible. The sensible processes give direction to the line of thought; but this once given, the length of the line is not limited by the boundaries of the senses. Indeed, the domain of the senses, in Nature, is almost infinitely small in comparison with the vast region accessible to thought which lies beyond them. From a few observations of a comet, when it comes within the range of his telescope, an astronomer can calculate its path in regions which no telescope can reach: and in like manner, by means of data furnished in the narrow world of the senses, we make ourselves at home in other and wider worlds, which are traversed by the intellect alone.

From the earliest ages the questions, 'What is light?' and 'What is heat?' have occurred to the minds of men; but these questions never would have been answered had they not been preceded by the question, 'What is sound?' Amid the grosser phenomena of acoustics the mind was first disciplined, conceptions being thus obtained from direct observation, which were afterwards applied to phenomena of a character far too subtle to be observed directly. Sound we know to be due to vibratory motion. A vibrating tuning-fork, for example, moulds the air around it into undulations or waves, which speed away on all sides with a certain measured velocity, impinge upon the drum of the ear, shake the auditory nerve, and awake in the brain the sensation of sound. When sufficiently near a sounding body we can feel the vibrations of the air. A deaf man, for example, plunging his hand into a bell when it is sounded, feels through the common nerves of his body those tremors which, when imparted to the nerves of healthy ears, are translated into sound. There are various ways of rendering those sonorous vibrations not only tangible but visible; and it was not until numberless experiments of this kind had been executed, that the scientific investigator abandoned himself wholly, and without a shadow of misgiving, to the conviction that what is sound within us is, outside of us, a motion of the air.

But once having established this fact—once having proved beyond all doubt that the sensation of sound is produced by an agitation of the auditory nerve—the thought soon suggested itself that light might be due to an agitation of the optic nerve. This was a great step in advance of that ancient notion which regarded light as something emitted by the eye, and not as anything imparted to it. But if light be produced by an agitation of the retina, what is it that produces the agitation? Newton, you know, supposed minute particles to be shot through the humours of the eye against the retina, which he supposed to hang like a target at the back of the eye. The impact of these particles against the target, Newton believed to be the cause of light. But Newton's notion has not held its ground, being entirely driven from the field by the more wonderful and far more philosophical notion that light, like sound, is a product of wave-motion.

The domain in which this motion of light is carried on lies entirely beyond the reach of our senses. The waves of light require a medium for their formation and propagation; but we cannot see, or feel, or taste, or smell this medium. How, then, has its existence been established? By showing, that by the assumption of this wonderful intangible aether, all the phenomena of optics are accounted for, with a fulness, and clearness, and conclusiveness, which leave no desire of the intellect unsatisfied. When the law of gravitation first suggested itself to the mind of Newton, what did he do? He set himself to examine whether it accounted for all the facts. He determined the courses of the planets; he calculated the rapidity of the moon's fall towards the earth; he considered the precession of the equinoxes, the ebb and flow of the tides, and found all explained by the law of gravitation. He therefore regarded this law as established, and the verdict of science subsequently confirmed his conclusion. On similar, and, if possible, on stronger grounds, we found our belief in the existence of the universal aether. It explains facts far more various and complicated than those on which Newton based his law. If a single phenomenon could be pointed out which the aether is proved incompetent to explain, we should have to give it up; but no such phenomenon has ever been pointed out. It is, therefore, at least as certain that space is filled with a medium, by means of which suns and stars diffuse their radiant power, as that it is traversed by that force which holds in its grasp, not only our planetary system, but the immeasurable heavens themselves.

There is no more wonderful instance than this of the production of a line of thought, from the world of the senses into the region of pure imagination. I mean by imagination here, not that play of fancy which can give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name, but that power which enables the mind to conceive realities which lie beyond the range of the senses—to present to itself distinct images of processes which, though mighty in the aggregate beyond all conception, are so minute individually as to elude all observation. It is the waves of air excited by a tuning-fork which render its vibrations audible. It is the waves of aether sent forth from those lamps overhead which render them luminous to us; but so minute are these waves, that it would take from 30,000 to 60,000 of them placed end to end to cover a single inch. Their number, however, compensates for their minuteness. Trillions of them have entered your eyes, and hit the retina at the backs of your eyes, in the time consumed in the utterance of the shortest sentence of this discourse. This is the steadfast result of modern research; but we never could have reached it without previous discipline. We never could have measured the waves of light, nor even imagined them to exist, had we not previously exercised ourselves among the waves of sound. Sound and light are now mutually helpful, the conceptions of each being expanded, strengthened, and defined by the conceptions of the other.

The aether which conveys the pulses of light and heat not only fills celestial space, swathing suns, and planets, and moons, but it also encircles the atoms of which these bodies are composed. It is the motion of these atoms, and not that of any sensible parts of bodies, that the aether conveys. This motion is the objective cause of what, in our sensations, are light and heat. An atom, then, sending its pulses through the aether, resembles a tuning-fork sending its pulses through the air. Let us look for a moment at this thrilling medium, and briefly consider its relation to the bodies whose vibrations it conveys. Different bodies, when heated to the same temperature, possess very different powers of agitating the aether: some are good radiators, others are bad radiators; which means that some are so constituted as to communicate their atomic motion freely to the aether, producing therein powerful undulations; while the atoms of others are unable thus to communicate their motions, but glide through the medium without materially disturbing its repose. Recent experiments have proved that elementary bodies, except under certain anomalous conditions, belong to the class of bad radiators. An atom, vibrating in the aether, resembles a naked tuning-fork vibrating in the air. The amount of motion communicated to the air by the thin prongs is too small to evoke at any distance the sensation of sound. But if we permit the atoms to combine chemically and form molecules, the result, in many cases, is an enormous change in the power of radiation. The amount of aethereal disturbance, produced by the combined atoms of a body, may be many thousand times that produced by the same atoms when uncombined.

The pitch of a musical note depends upon the rapidity of its vibrations, or, in other words, on the length of its waves. Now, the pitch of a note answers to the colour of light. Taking a slice of white light from the sun, or from an electric lamp, and causing the light to pass through an arrangement of prisms, it is decomposed. We have the effect obtained by Newton, who first unrolled the solar beam into the splendours of the solar spectrum. At one end of this spectrum we have red light, at the other, violet; and between those extremes lie the other prismatic colours. As we advance along the spectrum from the red to the violet, the pitch of the light—if I may use the expression—heightens, the sensation of violet being produced by a more rapid succession of impulses than that which produces the impression of red. The vibrations of the violet are about twice as rapid as those of the red; in other words, the range of the visible spectrum is about an octave.

There is no solution of continuity in this spectrum one colour changes into another by insensible gradations. It is as if an infinite number of tuning-forks, of gradually augmenting pitch, were vibrating at the same time. But turning to another spectrum—that, namely, obtained from the incandescent vapour of silver—you observe that it consists of two narrow and intensely luminous green bands. Here it is as if two forks only, of slightly different pitch, were vibrating. The length of the waves which produce this first band is such that 47,460 of them, placed end to end, would fill an inch. The waves which produce the second band are a little shorter; it would take of these 47,920 to fill an inch. In the case of the first band, the number of impulses imparted, in one second, to every eye which sees it, is 677 millions of millions; while the number of impulses imparted, in the same time, by the second band is 600 millions of millions. We may project upon a white screen the beautiful stream of green light from which these bands were derived. This luminous stream is the incandescent vapour of silver. The rates of vibration of the atoms of that vapour are as rigidly fixed as those of two tuning-forks; and to whatever height the temperature of the vapour may be raised, the rapidity of its vibrations, and consequently its colour, which wholly depends upon that rapidity, remain unchanged.

The vapour of water, as well as the vapour of silver, has its definite periods of vibration, and these are such as to disqualify the vapour, when acting freely as such, from being raised to a white heat. The oxyhydrogen flame, for example, consists of hot aqueous vapour. It is scarcely visible in the air of this room, and it would be still less visible if we could burn the gas in a clean atmosphere. But the atmosphere, even at the summit of Mont Blanc, is dirty; in London it is more than dirty; and the burning dirt gives to this flame the greater portion of its present light. But the heat of the flame is enormous. Cast iron fuses at a temperature of 2,000 deg. Fahr; while the temperature of the oxyhydrogen flame is 6,000 deg. Fahr. A piece of platinum is heated to vivid redness, at a distance of two inches beyond the visible termination of the flame. The vapour which produces incandescence is here absolutely dark. In the flame itself the platinum is raised to dazzling whiteness, and is even pierced by the flame. When this flame impinges on a piece of lime, we have the dazzling Drummond light. But the light is here due to the fact that when it impinges upon the solid body, the vibrations excited in that body by the flame are of periods different from its own.

Thus far we have fixed our attention on atoms and molecules in a state of vibration, and surrounded by a medium which accepts their vibrations, and transmits them through space. But suppose the waves generated by one system of molecules to impinge upon another system, how will the waves be affected? Will they be stopped, or will they be permitted to pass? Will they transfer their motion to the molecules on which they impinge, or will they glide round the molecules, through the intermolecular spaces, and thus escape?

The answer to this question depends upon a condition which may be beautifully exemplified by an experiment on sound. These two tuning-forks are tuned absolutely alike. They vibrate with the same rapidity, and, mounted thus upon their resonant cases, you hear them loudly sounding the same musical note. Stopping one of the forks, I throw the other into strong vibration, and bring that other near the silent fork, but not into contact with it. Allowing them to continue in this position for four or five seconds, and then stopping the vibrating fork, the sound does not cease. The second fork has taken up the vibrations of its neighbour, and is now sounding in its turn. Dismounting one of the forks, and permitting the other to remain upon its stand, I throw the dismounted fork into strong vibration. You cannot hear it sound. Detached from its case, the amount of motion which it can communicate to the air is too small to be sensible at any distance. When the dismounted fork is brought close to the mounted one, but not into actual contact with it, out of the silence rises a mellow sound. Whence comes it? From the vibrations which have been transferred from the dismounted fork to the mounted one.

That the motion should thus transfer itself through the air it is necessary that the two forks should be in perfect unison. If a morsel of wax not larger than a pea be placed on one of the forks, it is rendered thereby powerless to affect, or to be affected by, the other. It is easy to understand this experiment. The pulses of the one fork can affect the other, because they are perfectly timed. A single pulse causes the prong of the silent fork to vibrate through an infinitesimal space. But just as it has completed this small vibration another pulse is ready to strike it. Thus, the impulses add themselves together. In the five seconds during which the forks were held near each other, the vibrating fork sent 1,280 waves against its neighbour and those 1,280 shocks, all delivered at the proper moment, all, as I have said, perfectly timed, have given such strength to the vibrations of the mounted fork as to render them audible to all.

Another curious illustration of the influence of synchronism on musical vibrations, is this: Three small gas-flames are inserted into three glass tubes of different lengths. Each of these flames can be caused to emit a musical note, the pitch of which is determined by the length of the tube surrounding the flame. The shorter the tube the higher is the pitch. The flames are now silent within their respective tubes, but each of them can be caused to respond to a proper note sounded anywhere in this room. With an instrument called a syren, a powerful musical note, of gradually increasing pitch, can be produced. Beginning with a low note, and ascending gradually to a higher one, we finally attain the pitch of the flame in the longest tube. The moment it is reached, the flame bursts into song. The other flames are still silent within their tubes. But by urging the instrument on to higher notes, the second flame is started, and the third alone remains. A still higher note starts it also. Thus, as the sound of the syren rises gradually in pitch, it awakens every flame in passing, by striking it with a series of waves whose periods of recurrence are similar to its own.

Now the wave-motion from the syren is in part taken up by the flame which synchronises with the waves; and were these waves to impinge upon a multitude of flames, instead of upon one flame only, the transference might be so great as to absorb the whole of the original wave motion. Let us apply these facts to radiant heat. This blue flame is the flame of carbonic oxide; this transparent gas is carbonic acid gas. In the blue flame we have carbonic acid intensely heated, or, in other words, in a state of intense vibration. It thus resembles the sounding fork, while this cold carbonic acid resembles the silent one. What is the consequence? Through the synchronism of the hot and cold gas, the waves emitted by the former are intercepted by the latter, the transmission of the radiant heat being thus prevented. The cold gas is intensely opaque to the radiation from this particular flame, though highly transparent to heat of every other kind. We are here manifestly dealing with that great principle which lies at the basis of spectrum analysis, and which has enabled scientific men to determine the substances of which the sun, the stars, and even the nebulae are composed; the principle, namely, that a body which is competent to emit any ray, whether of heat or light, is competent in the same degree to absorb that ray. The absorption depends on the synchronism existing between the vibrations of the toms from which the rays, or more correctly the waves, sue, and those of the atoms on which they impinge.

To its almost total incompetence to emit white light, aqueous vapour adds a similar incompetence to absorb bite light. It cannot, for example, absorb the luminous rays of the sun, though it can absorb the non-luminous rays of the earth. This incompetence of the vapour to absorb luminous rays is shared by water and ice—in fact, by all really transparent substances. Their transparency is due to their inability to absorb luminous rays. The molecules of such substances are in dissonance with luminous waves; and hence such waves pass through transparent bodies without disturbing the molecular rest. A purely luminous beam, however intense may be its heat, is sensibly incompetent to melt ice. We can, for example, converge a powerful luminous beam upon a surface covered with hoar frost, without melting a single spicula of the crystals. How then, it may be asked, are the snows of the Alps swept away by the sunshine of summer? I answer, they are not swept away by sunshine at all, but by rays which have no sunshine whatever in them. The luminous rays of the sun fall upon the snow-fields and are flashed in echoes from crystal to crystal, but they find next to no lodgment within the crystals. They are hardly at all absorbed, and hence they cannot produce fusion. But a body of powerful dark rays is emitted by the sun; and it is these that cause the glaciers to shrink and the snows to disappear; it is they that fill the banks of the Arve and Arveyron, and liberate from their frozen captivity the Rhone and the Rhine.

Placing a concave silvered mirror behind the electric light its rays are converged to a focus of dazzling brilliancy. Placing in the path of the rays, between the light and the focus, a vessel of water, and introducing at the focus a piece of ice, the ice is not melted by the concentrated beam. Matches, at the same place, are ignited, and wood is set on fire. The powerful heat, then, of this luminous beam is incompetent to melt the ice. On withdrawing the cell of water, the ice immediately liquefies, and the water trickles from it in drops. Reintroducing the cell of water, the fusion is arrested, and the drops cease to fall. The transparent water of the cell exerts no sensible absorption on the luminous rays, still it withdraws something from the beam, which, when permitted to act, is competent to melt the ice. This something is the dark radiation of the electric light. Again, I place a slab of pure ice in front of the electric lamp; send a luminous beam first through our cell of water and then through the ice. By means of a lens an image of the slab is cast upon a white screen. The beam, sifted by the water, has little power upon the ice. But observe what occurs when the water is removed; we have here a star and there a star, each star resembling a flower of six petals, and growing visibly larger before our eyes. As the leaves enlarge, their edges become serrated, but there is no deviation from the six-rayed type. We have here, in fact, the crystallisation of the ice reversed by the invisible rays of the electric beam. They take the molecules down in this wonderful way, and reveal to us the exquisite atomic structure of the substance with which Nature every winter roofs our ponds and lakes.

Numberless effects, apparently anomalous, might be adduced in illustration of the action of these lightless rays. These two powders, for example, are both white, and undistinguishable from each other by the eye. The luminous rays of the sun are unabsorbed by both—from such rays these powders acquire no heat; still one of them, sugar, is heated so highly by the concentrated beam of the electric lamp, that it first smokes and then violently inflames, while the other substance, salt, is barely warmed at the focus. Placing two perfectly transparent liquids in test-tubes at the focus, one of them boils in a couple of seconds, while the other, in a similar position, is hardly warmed. The boiling-point of the first liquid is 78 deg.C, which is speedily reached; that of the second liquid is only 48 deg.C, which is never reached at all. These anomalies are entirely due to the unseen element which mingles with the luminous rays of the electric beam, and indeed constitutes 90 per cent. of its calorific power.

A substance, as many of you know, has been discovered, by which these dark rays may be detached from the total emission of the electric lamp. This ray-filter is a liquid, black as pitch to the luminous, but bright as a diamond to the non-luminous, radiation. It mercilessly cuts off the former, but allows the latter free transmission. When these invisible rays are brought to a focus, at a distance of several feet from the electric lamp, the dark rays form an invisible image of their source. By proper means, this image may be transformed into a visible one of dazzling brightness. It might, moreover, be shown, if time permitted, how, out of those perfectly dark rays, could be extracted, by a process of transmutation, all the colours of the solar spectrum. It might also be proved that those rays, powerful as they are, and sufficient to fuse many metals, can be permitted to enter the eye, and to break upon the retina, without producing the least luminous impression.

The dark rays being thus collected, you see nothing at their place of convergence. With a proper thermometer it could be proved that even the air at the focus is just as cold as the surrounding air. And mark the conclusion to which this leads. It proves the aether at the focus to be practically detached from the air,—that the most violent aethereal motion may there exist, without the least aerial motion. But, though you see it not, there is sufficient heat at that focus to set London on fire. The heat there is competent to raise iron to a temperature at which it throws off brilliant scintillations. It can heat platinum to whiteness, and almost fuse that refractory metal. It actually can fuse gold, silver, copper, and aluminium. The moment, moreover, that wood is placed at the focus it bursts into a blaze.

It has been already affirmed that, whether as regards radiation or absorption, the elementary atoms possess but little power. This might be illustrated by a long array of facts; and one of the most singular of these is furnished by the deportment of that extremely combustible substance, phosphorus, when placed at the dark focus. It is impossible to ignite there a fragment of amorphous phosphorus. But ordinary phosphorus is a far quicker combustible, and its deportment towards radiant heat is still more impressive. It may be exposed to the intense radiation of an ordinary fire without bursting into flame. It may also be exposed for twenty or thirty seconds at an obscure focus, of sufficient power to raise platinum to a red heat, without ignition. Notwithstanding the energy of the aethereal waves here concentrated, notwithstanding the extremely inflammable character of the elementary body exposed to their action, the atoms of that body refuse to partake of the motion of the powerful waves of low refrangibility, and consequently cannot be affected by their heat.

The knowledge we now possess will enable us to analyse with profit a practical question. White dresses are worn in summer, because they are found to be cooler than dark ones. The celebrated Benjamin Franklin placed bits of cloth of various colours upon snow, exposed them to direct sunshine, and found that they sank to different depths in the snow. The black cloth sank deepest, the white did not sink at all. Franklin inferred from this experiment that black-bodies are the best absorbers, and white ones the worst absorbers, of radiant heat. Let us test the generality of this conclusion. One of these two cards is coated with a very dark powder, and the other with a perfectly white one. I place the powdered surfaces before a fire, and leave them there until they have acquired as high a temperature as they can attain in this position. Which of the cards is then most highly heated? It requires no thermometer to answer this question. Simply pressing the back of the card, on which the white powder is strewn, against the cheek or forehead, it is found intolerably hot. Placing the dark card in the same position, it is found cool. The white powder has absorbed far more heat than the dark one. This simple result abolishes a hundred conclusions which have been hastily drawn from the experiments of Franklin. Again, here are suspended two delicate mercurial thermometers at the same distance from a gas-flame. The bulb of one of them is covered by a dark substance, the bulb of the other by a white one. Both bulbs have received the radiation from the flame, but the white bulb has absorbed most, and its mercury stands much higher than that of the other thermometer. This experiment might be varied in a hundred ways: it proves that from the darkness of a body you can draw no certain conclusion regarding its power of absorption.

The reason of this simply is, that colour gives us intelligence of only one portion, and that the smallest one, of the rays impinging on the coloured body. Were the rays all luminous, we might with certainty infer from the colour of a body its power of absorption; but the great mass of the radiation from our fire, our gas-flame, and even from the sun itself, consists of invisible calorific rays, regarding which colour teaches us nothing. A body may be highly transparent to the one class of rays, and highly opaque to the other. Thus the white powder, which has shown itself so powerful an absorber, has been specially selected on account of its extreme perviousness to the visible rays, and its extreme imperviousness to the invisible ones; while the dark powder was chosen on account of its extreme transparency to the invisible, and its extreme opacity to the visible, rays. In the case of the radiation from our fire, about 98 per cent of the whole emission consists of invisible rays; the body, therefore, which was most opaque to these triumphed as an absorber, though that body was a white one.

And here it is worth while to consider the manner in which we obtain from natural facts what may be called their intellectual value. Throughout the processes of Nature we have interdependence and harmony; and the main value of physics, considered as a mental discipline, consists in the tracing out of this interdependence, and the demonstration of this harmony. The outward and visible phenomena are the counters of the intellect; and our science would not be worthy of its name and fame if it halted at facts, however practically useful, and neglected the laws which accompany and rule the phenomena. Let us endeavour, then, to extract from the experiment of Franklin all that it can yield, calling to our aid the knowledge which our predecessors have already stored. Let us imagine two pieces of cloth of the same texture, the one black and the other white, placed upon sunned snow. Fixing our attention on the white piece, let us enquire whether there is any reason to expect that it will sink in the snow at all. There is knowledge at hand which enables us to reply at once in the negative. There is, on the contrary, reason to expect that, after a sufficient exposure, the bit of cloth will be found on an eminence instead of in a hollow; that instead of a depression, we shall have a relative elevation of the bit of cloth. For, as regards the luminous rays of the sun, the cloth and the snow are alike powerless; the one cannot be warmed, nor the other melted, by such rays. The cloth is white and the snow is white, because their confusedly mingled fibres and particles are incompetent to absorb the luminous rays. Whether, then, the cloth will sink or not depends entirely upon the dark rays of the sun. Now the substance which absorbs these dark rays with the greatest avidity is ice,—or snow, which is merely ice in powder. Hence, a less amounts of heat will be lodged in the cloth than in the surrounding snow. The cloth must therefore act as a shield to the snow on which it rests; and, in consequence of the more rapid fusion of the exposed snow, its shield must, in due time, be left behind, perched upon an eminence like a glacier-table.

But though the snow transcends the cloth, both as a radiator and absorber, it does not much transcend it. Cloth is very powerful in both these respects. Let us now turn our attention to the piece of black cloth, the texture and fabric of which I assume to be the same as that of the white. For our object being to compare the effects of colour, we must, in order to study this effect in its purity, preserve all the other conditions constant. Let us then suppose the black cloth to be obtained from the dyeing of the white. The cloth itself, without reference to the dye, is nearly as good an absorber of heat as the snow around it. But to the absorption of the dark solar rays by the undyed cloth, is now added the absorption of the whole of the luminous rays, and this great additional influx of heat is far more than sufficient to turn the balance in favour of the black cloth. The sum of its actions on the dark and luminous rays, exceeds the action of the snow on the dark rays alone. Hence the cloth will sink in the snow, and this is the complete analysis of Franklin's experiments.

Throughout this discourse the main stress has been laid on chemical constitution, as influencing most powerfully the phenomena of radiation and absorption.

With regard to gases and vapours, and to the liquids from which these vapours are derived, it has been proved by the most varied and conclusive experiments that the acts of radiation and absorption are molecular—that they depend upon chemical, and not upon mechanical, condition. In attempting to extend this principle to solids I was met by a multitude of facts, obtained by celebrated experimenters, which seemed flatly to forbid such an extension. Mellon, for example, had found the same radiant and absorbent power for chalk and lamp-black. MM. Masson and Courtepee had performed a most elaborate series of experiments on chemical precipitates of various kinds, and found that they one and all manifested the same power of radiation. They concluded from their researches, that when bodies are reduced to an extremely fine state of division, the influence of this state is so powerful as entirely to mask and override whatever influence may be due to chemical constitution.

But it appears to me that through the whole of these researches an oversight has run, the mere mention of which will show what caution is essential in the operations of experimental philosophy; while an experiments or two will make clear wherein the oversight consists. Filling a brightly polished metal cube with boiling water, I determine the quantity of heat emitted by two of the bright surfaces. As a radiator of heat one of them far transcends the other. Both surfaces appear to be metallic; what, then, is the cause of the observed difference in their radiative power? Simply this: one of the surfaces is coated with transparent gum, through which, of course, is seen the metallic lustre behind; and this varnish, though so perfectly transparent to luminous rays, is as opaque as pitch, or lamp-black, to non-luminous ones. It is a powerful emitter of dark rays; it is also a powerful absorber. While, therefore, at the present moment, it is copiously pouring forth radiant heat itself, it does not allow a single ray from the metal behind to pass through it. The varnish then, and not the metal, is the real radiator.

Now Melloni, and Masson, and Courtepee experimented thus: they mixed their powders and precipitates with gum-water, and laid them, by means of a brush, upon the surfaces of a cube like this. True, they saw their red powders red, their white ones white, and their black ones black, but they saw these colours through the coat of varnish which surrounded every particle. When, therefore, it was concluded that colour had no influence on radiation, no chance had been given to it of asserting its influence; when it was found that all chemical precipitates radiated alike, it was the radiation from a varnish, common to them all, which showed the observed constancy. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of experiments on' radiant heat have been performed in this way, by various enquirers, but the work will, I fear, have to be done over again. I am not, indeed, acquainted with an instance in which an oversight of so trivial a character has been committed by so many able men in succession, vitiating so large an amounts of otherwise excellent work. Basing our reasonings thus on demonstrated facts, we arrive at the extremely probable conclusion that the envelope of the particles, and not the particles themselves, was the real radiator in the experiments just referred to. To reason thus, and deduce their more or less probable consequences from experimental facts, is an incessant exercise of the student of physical science. But having thus followed, for a time, the light of reason alone through a series of phenomena, and emerged from them with a purely intellectual conclusion, our duty is to bring that conclusion to an experimental test. In this way we fortify our science.

For the purpose of testing our conclusion regarding the influence of the gum, I take two powders presenting the same physical appearance; one of them is a compound of mercury, and the other a compound of lead. On two surfaces of a cube are spread these bright red powders, without varnish of any kind. Filling the cube with boiling water, and determining the radiation from the' two surfaces, one of them is found to emit thirty-nine units of heat, while the other emits seventy-four. This, surely, is a great difference. Here, however, is a second cube, having two of its surfaces coated with the same powders, the only difference being that the powders are laid on by means of a transparent gum. Both surfaces are now absolutely alike in radiative power. Both of them emit somewhat more than was emitted by either of the unvarnished powders, simply because the gum employed is a better radiator than either of them. Excluding all varnish, and comparing white with white, vast differences are found; comparing black with black, they are also different; and when black and white are compared, in some cases the black radiates far more than the white, while in other cases the white radiates far more than the black. Determining, moreover, the absorptive power of those powders, it is found to go hand-in-hand with their radiative power. The good radiator is a good absorber, and the bad radiator is a bad absorber. From all this it is evident that as regards the radiation and absorption of non-luminous heat, colour teaches us nothing; and that even as regards the radiation of the sun, consisting as it does mainly of non-luminous rays, conclusions as to the influence of colour may be altogether delusive. This is the strict scientific upshot of our researches. But it is not the less true that in the case of wearing apparel—and this for reasons which I have given in analysing the experiments of Franklin—black dresses are more potent than white ones as absorbers of solar heat.

Thus, in brief outline, have been brought before you a few of the results of recent enquiry. If you ask me what is the use of them, I can hardly answer you, unless you define the term use. If you meant to ask whether those dark rays which clear away the Alpine snows, will ever be applied to the roasting of turkeys, or the driving of steam-engines—while affirming their power to do both, I would frankly confess that they are not at present capable of competing profitably with coal in these particulars. Still they may have great uses unknown to me; and when our coal-fields are exhausted, it is possible that a more aethereal race than we are may cook their victuals, and perform their work, in this transcendental way. But is it necessary that the student of science should have his labours tested by their possible practical applications? What is the practical value of Homer's Iliad? You smile, and possibly think that Homer's Iliad is good as a means of culture. There's the rub. The people who demand of science practical uses, forget, or do not know, that it also is great as a means of culture—that the knowledge of this wonderful universe is a thing profitable in itself, and requiring no practical application to justify its pursuit.

But while the student of Nature distinctly refuses to have his labours judged by their practical issues, unless the term practical be made to include mental as well as material good, he knows full well that the greatest practical triumphs have been episodes in the search after pure natural truth. The electric telegraph is the standing wonder of this age, and the men whose scientific knowledge, and mechanical skill, have made the telegraph what it is, are deserving of all honour. In fact, they have had their reward, both in reputation and in those more substantial benefits which the direct service of the public always carries in its train. But who, I would ask, put the soul into this telegraphic body? Who snatched from heaven the fire that flashes along the line? This, I am bound to say, was done by two men, the one a dweller in Italy, [Footnote: Volta] the other a dweller in England, [Footnote: Faraday] who never in their enquiries consciously set a practical object before them—whose only stimulus was the fascination which draws the climber to a never-trodden peak, and would have made Caesar quit his victories for the sources of the Nile. That the knowledge brought to us by those prophets, priests, and kings of science is what the world calls 'useful knowledge,' the triumphant application of their discoveries proves. But science has another function to fulfil, in the storing and the training of the human mind; and I would base my appeal to you on the specimen which has this evening been brought before you, whether any system of education at the present day can be deemed even approximately complete, in which the knowledge of Nature is neglected or ignored.





MEASURED by their power, not to excite vision, but to produce heat—in other words, measured by their absolute energy—the ultra-red waves of the sun and of the electric light, as shown in the preceding articles, far transcend the visible. In the domain of chemistry, however, there are numerous cases in which the more powerful waves are ineffectual, while the more minute waves, through what may be called their timeliness of application, are able to produce great effects. A series of these, of a novel and beautiful character, discovered in 1868, and further illustrated in subsequent years, may be exhibited by subjecting the vapours of volatile liquids to the action of concentrated sunlight, or to the concentrated beam of the electric light. Their investigation led up to the discourse on 'Dust and Disease' which follows in this volume; and for this reason some account of them is introduced here.


A glass tube 3 feet long and 3 inches wide, which had been frequently employed in my researches on radiant heat, was supported horizontally on two stands. At one end of the tube was placed an electric lamp, the height and position of both being so arranged, that the axis of the tube, and that of the beam issuing from the lamp, were coincident. In the first experiments the two ends of the tube were closed by plates of rock-salt, and subsequently by plates of glass. For the sake of distinction, I call this tube the experimental tube. It was connected with an air-pump, and also with a series of drying and other tubes used for the purification of the air.

A number of test-tubes, like F, fig. 2 (I have used at least fifty of them), were converted into Woulf's flasks. Each of them was stopped by a cork, through which passed two glass tubes: one of these tubes (a) ended immediately below the cork, while the other (b) descended to the bottom of the flask, being drawn out at its lower end to an orifice about 0.03 of an inch in diameter. It was found necessary to coat the cork carefully with cement. In the later experiments corks of vulcanised India-rubber were invariably employed.

The little flask, thus formed, being partially filled with the liquid whose vapour was to be examined, was introduced into the path of the purified current Of air. The experimental tube being exhausted, and the cock hick cut off the supply of purified air being cautiously turned on, the air entered the flask through the tube b, and escaped by the small orifice at the lower end of into the liquid. Through this it bubbled, loading itself with vapour, after which the mixed air and vapour, passing from the flask by the tube a, entered the experimental tube, where they were subjected to the action of light.

The whole arrangement is shown in fig. 3, where L represents the electric lamp, ss' the experimental tube, pp' the pipe leading to the air-pump, and F the test-tube containing the volatile liquid. The tube tt' is plugged with cotton-wool intended to intercept the floating matter of the air; the bent tube T' contains caustic potash, the tube T sulphuric acid, the one intended to remove the carbonic acid and the other the aqueous vapour of the air.

The power of the electric beam to reveal the existence of anything within the experimental tube, or the impurities of the tube itself, is extraordinary. When the experiments is made in a darkened room, a tube which in ordinary daylight appears absolutely clean, is often shown by the present mode of examination to be exceedingly filthy.

The following are some of the results obtained with this arrangement:

Nitrite of amyl. The vapour of this liquid was in the first instance permitted to enter the experimental tube, while the beam from the electric lamp was passing through it. Curious clouds, the cause of which was then unknown, were observed to form near the place of entry, being afterwards whirled through the tube.

The tube being again exhausted, the mixed air and vapour were allowed to enter it in the dark. The slightly convergent beam of the electric light was then sent through the mixture. For a moment the tube was optically empty, nothing whatever being seen within it; but before a second had elapsed a shower of particles was precipitated on the beam. The cloud thus generated became denser as the light continued to act, slowing at some places vivid iridescence.

The lens of the electric lamp was now placed so as to form within the tube a strongly convergent cone of rays. The tube was cleansed and again filled in darkness. When the light was sent through it, the precipitation upon the beam was so rapid and intense that the cone, which a moment before was invisible, flashed suddenly forth like a solid luminous spear. The effect was the same when the air and vapour were allowed to enter the tube in diffuse daylight. The cloud, however, which shone with such extraordinary radiance under the electric beam, was invisible in the ordinary light of the laboratory.

The quantity of mixed air and vapour within the experimental tube could of course be regulated at pleasure. The rapidity of the action diminished with the attenuation of the vapour. When, for example, the mercurial column associated with the experimental tube was depressed only five inches, the action was not nearly so rapid as when the tube was full. In such cases, however, it was exceedingly interesting to observe, after some seconds of waiting, a thin streamer of delicate bluish-white cloud slowly forming along the axis of the tube, and finally swelling so as to fill it.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

When dry oxygen was employed to carry in the vapour the effect was the same as that obtained with air.

When dry hydrogen was used as a vehicle, the effect was also the same.

The effect, therefore, is not due to any interaction between the vapour of the nitrite and its vehicle.

This was further demonstrated by the deportment of the vapour itself. When it was permitted to enter the experimental tube unmixed with air or any other gas, the effect was substantially the same. Hence the seat of the observed action is the vapour.

This action is not to be ascribed to heat. As regards the glass of the experimental tube, and the air within the tube, the beam employed in these experiments was perfectly cold. It had been sifted by passing it through a solution of alum, and through the thick double-convex lens of the lamp. When the unsifted beam of the lamp was employed, the effect was still the same; the obscure calorific rays did not appear to interfere with the result.

My object here being simply to point out to chemists a method of experiments which reveals a new and beautiful series of reactions, I left to them the examination of the products of decomposition. The group of atoms forming the molecule of nitrite of amyl is obviously shaken asunder by certain specific waves of the electric beam, nitric oxide and other products, of which the nitrate of amyl is probably one, being the result of the decomposition. The brown fumes of nitrous acid were seen mingling with the cloud within the experimental tube. The nitrate of amyl, being less volatile than the nitrite, and not being able to maintain itself in the condition of vapour, would be precipitated as a visible cloud along the track of the beam.

In the anterior portions of the tube a powerful sifting of the beam by the vapour occurs, which diminishes the chemical action in the posterior portions. In some experiments the precipitated cloud only extended halfway down the tube. When, under these circumstances, the lamp was shifted so as to send the beam through the other end of the tube, copious precipitation occurred there also.

Solar light also effects the decomposition of the nitrite-of-amyl vapour. On October 10, 1868, I partially darkened a small room in the Royal Institution, into which the sun shone, permitting the light to enter through an open portion of the window-shutter. In the track of the beam was placed a large plano-convex lens, which formed a fine convergent cone in the dust of the room behind it. The experimental tube was filled in the laboratory, covered with a black cloth, and carried into the partially darkened room. On thrusting one end of the tube into the cone of rays behind the lens, precipitation within the cone was copious and immediate. The vapour at the distant end of the tube was in part shielded by that in front, and was also more feebly acted on through the divergence of the rays. On reversing the tube, a second and similar cone was precipitated.

Physical Considerations.

I sought to determine the particular portion of the light which produced the foregoing effects. When, previous to entering the experimental tube, the beam was caused to pass through a red glass, the effect was greatly weakened, but not extinguished. This was also the case with various samples of yellow glass. A blue glass being introduced before the removal of the yellow or the red, on taking the latter away prompt precipitation occurred along the track of the blue beam. Hence, in this case, the more refrangible rays are the most chemically active. The colour of the liquid nitrite of amyl indicates that this must be the case; it is a feeble but distinct yellow: in other words, the yellow portion of the beam is most freely transmitted. It is not, however, the transmitted portion of any beam which produces chemical action, but the absorbed portion. Blue, as the complementary colour to yellow, is here absorbed, and hence the more energetic action of the blue rays.

This reasoning, however, assumes that the same rays are absorbed by the liquid and its vapour. The assumption is worth testing. A solution of the yellow chromate of potash, the colour of which may be made almost, if not altogether, identical with that of the liquid nitrite of amyl, was found far more effective in stopping the chemical rays than either the red or the yellow glass. But of all substances the liquid nitrite itself is most potent in arresting the rays which act upon its vapour. A layer one-eighth of an inch in thickness, which scarcely perceptibly affected the luminous intensity, absorbed the entire chemical energy of the concentrated beam of the electric light.

The close relation subsisting between a liquid and its vapour, as regards their action upon radiant heat, has been already amply demonstrated. [Footnote: 'Phil. Trans.' 1864; 'Heat, a Mode of Motion,' chap, xii; and P. 61 of this volume.] As regards the nitrite of amyl, this relation is more specific than in the cases hitherto adduced; for here the special constituent of the beam, which provokes the decomposition of the vapour, is shown to be arrested by the liquid.

A question of extreme importance in molecular physics here arises: What is the real mechanism of this absorption, and where is its seat? [Footnote: My attention was very forcibly directed to this subject some years ago by a conversation with my excellent friend Professor Clausius.]

I figure, as others do, a molecule as a group of atoms, held together by their mutual forces, but still capable of motion among themselves. The vapour of the nitrite of amyl is to be regarded as an assemblage of such molecules. The question now before us is this: In the act of absorption, is it the molecules that are effective, or is it their constituent atoms? Is the vis viva of the intercepted light-waves transferred to the molecule as a whole, or to its constituent parts?

The molecule, as a whole, can only vibrate in virtue of the forces exerted between it and its neighbour molecules. The intensity of these forces, and consequently the rate of vibration, would, in this case, be a Junction of the distance between the molecules. Now the identical absorption of the liquid and of the vaporous nitrite of amyl indicates an identical vibrating period on the part of liquid and vapour, and this, to my mind, amounts to an experimental proof that the absorption occurs in the main within the molecule. For it can hardly be supposed, if the absorption were the act of the molecule as a whole, that it could continue to affect waves of the same period after the substance had passed from the vaporous to the liquid state.

In point of fact, the decomposition of the nitrite of amyl is itself to some extent an illustration of this internal molecular absorption; for were the absorption the act of the molecule as a whole, the relative motions of its constituent atoms would remain unchanged, and there would be no mechanical cause for their separation. It is probably the synchronism of the vibrations of one portion of the molecule with the incident waves, that enables the amplitude of those vibrations to augment, until the chain which binds the parts of the molecule together is snapped asunder.

I anticipate wide, if not entire, generality for the fact that a liquid and its vapour absorb the same rays. A cell of liquid chlorine would, I imagine, deprive light more effectually of its power of causing chlorine and hydrogen to combine than any other filter of the luminous rays. The rays which give chlorine its colour have nothing to do with this combination, those that are absorbed by the chlorine being really effective rays. A highly sensitive bulb, containing chlorine and hydrogen, in the exact proportions necessary for the formation of hydrochloric acid, was placed at one end of an experimental tube, the beam of the electric lamp being sent through it from the other. The bulb did not explode when the tube was filled with chlorine, while the explosion was violent and immediate when the tube was filled with air. I anticipate for the liquid chlorine an action similar to, but still more energetic than, that exhibited by the gas. If this should prove to be the case, it will favour the view that chlorine itself is molecular and not monatomic.

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