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make the name of FRANKLIN, like that of NewTON, immortal. I am, Sir, with sincere respect, Your most obedient and most humble servant,
TO E. KINNERSLEY.
Answer to some of the foregoing Subjects. — How long
the Leyden Bottle may be kept charged. — Heated Glass rendered permeable by the Electric Fluid. — Electrical Attraction and Repulsion. Reply to other Subjects in the preceding Paper. - Numerous Ways of kindling Fire. — Explosion of Water. — Knobs and Points.
London, 20 February, 1762. SIR, I received your ingenious letter of the 12th of March last, and thank you cordially for the account you give me of the new experiments you have lately made in electricity. It is a subject that still affords me pleasure, though of late I have not much attended to it.
Your second experiment, in which you attempted, without success, to communicate positive electricity by vapor ascending from electrized water, reminds me of one I formerly made, to try if negative electricity might be produced by evaporation only. I placed a large heated brass plate, containing four or five square feet, on an electric stand ; a rod of metal, about four feet long, with a bullet at its end, extended from the plate horizontally. A light lock of cotton, suspended by a fine thread from the ceiling, hung opposite to, and within an inch of, the bullet. I then sprinkled the heated plate with water, which arose fast from it in vapor. If vapor should be disposed to carry off the electrical, as it does the common, fire from bodies, I expected the plate would, by losing some of its natural quantity, become negatively electrized. But I could not perceive, by any motion in the cotton, that it was at all affected; nor, by any separation of small cork balls suspended from the plate, could it be observed that the plate was in any manner electrified.
Mr. Canton here has also found, that two tea-cups, set on electric stands, and filled, one with boiling, the other with cold water, and equally electrified, continued equally so, notwithstanding the plentiful evaporation from the hot water. Your experiment and his, agreeing, show another remarkable difference between electric and common fire. For the latter quits most readily the body that contains it, where water, or any other fluid, is evaporating from the surface of that body, and escapes with the vapor. Hence the method, long in use in the East, of cooling liquors by wrapping the bottles round with a wet cloth, and exposing them to the wind. Dr. Cullen, of Edinburgh, has given some experiments of cooling by evaporation; and I was present at one made by Dr. Hadley, then Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge, when, by repeatedly wetting the ball of a thermometer with spirit, and quickening the evaporation by the blast of a bellows, the mercury fell from sixty-five, the state of warmth in the common air, to seven, which is twenty-two degrees below freezing; and, accordingly, from some water mixed with the spirit, or from the breath of the assistants, or both, ice gathered in small spicula round the ball to the thickness of near a quarter of an inch. To such a degree did the mercury lose the fire it before contained, which, as I imagine, took the opportunity of escaping, in company with the evaporating particles of the spirit, by adhering to those particles.
Your experiment of the Florence flask and boiling water is very curious. I have repeated it, and found it to succeed as you describe it, in two flasks out of three. The third would not charge when filled with either hot or cold water. I repeated it, because I remembered I had once attempted to make an electric bottle of a Florence flask, filled with cold water, but could not charge it at all; which I then imputed to some imperceptible cracks in the small, extremely thin bubbles, of which that glass is full, and I concluded none of that kind would do. But you have shown me my mistake. Mr. Wilson had formerly acquainted us, that red-hot glass would conduct electricity ; but that so small a degree of heat, as that communicated by boiling water, would so open the pores of extremely thin glass, as to suffer the electric fluid freely to pass, was not before known. Some experiments similar to yours have, however, been made here, before the receipt of your letter, of which I shall now give you an account.
I formerly had an opinion, that a Leyden bottle, charged and then sealed hermetically, might retain its electricity for ever; but having afterwards some suspicion that possibly that subtile fluid might, by slow, imperceptible degrees, soak through the glass, and in time escape, I requested some of my friends, who had conveniences for doing it, to make trial, whether, after some months, the charge of a bottle so sealed would be sensibly diminished. Being at Birmingham, in September, 1760, Mr. Bolton of that place opened a bottle that had been charged, and its long tube neck hermetically sealed in the January preceding. On breaking off the end of the neck, and introducing a wire into it, we found it possessed of a considerable quantity of electricity, which was discharged by a snap and spark. This bottle had lain near seven months on a shelf, in a closet, in contact with bodies that would undoubtedly have carried off all its electricity, if it could have come readily through the glass. Yet, as the quantity manifested by the discharge was not apparently so great as might have been expected from a bottle of that size well charged, some doubt remained, whether part had escaped while the neck was sealing, or had since, by degrees, soaked through the glass. But an experiment of Mr. Canton's, in which such a bottle was kept under water a week, without having its electricity in the least impaired, seems to show, that, when the glass is cold, though extremely thin, the electric fluid is well retained by it. As that ingenious and accurate experimenter made a discovery, like yours, of the effect of heat in rendering thin glass permeable by that fluid, it is but doing him justice to give you his account of it, in his own words, extracted from his letter to me, in which he communicated it, dated October 31st, 1760, viz.
“ Having procured some thin glass balls, of about an inch and a half in diameter, with stems or tubes, of eight or nine inches in length, I electrified them, some positively on the inside, and others negatively, after the manner of charging the Leyden bottle, and sealed them hermetically. Soon after I applied the naked balls to my electrometer, and could not discover the least sign of their being electrical, but holding them before the fire, at the distance of six or eight inches, they became strongly electrical in a very short time, and more so when they were cooling. These balls will, every time they are heated, give the electrical fluid to, or take it from, other bodies, according to the plus or minus state of it within them. Heating them frequently, I find, will sensibly diminish their power ; but keeping one of them under water a week did not appear in the least degree to impair it. That which I kept under water, was charged on the 22d of September last, was several times heated before it was kept in water, and has been heated frequently since, and yet it still retains its virtue to a very considerable degree. The breaking two of my balls accidentally gave me an opportunity of measuring their thickness, which I found to be between seven and eight parts in a thousand of an inch. “A down feather in a thin glass ball
, hermetically sealed, will not be affected by the application of an excited tube, or the wire of a charged phial, unless the ball be considerably heated; and, if a glass pane be heated till it begins to grow soft, and in that state be held between the wire of a charged phial, and the discharging wire, the course of the electrical fluid will not be through the glass, but on the surface, round by the edge of it.”
By this last experiment of Mr. Canton's it appears, , that, though by a moderate heat thin glass becomes, in some degree, a conductor of electricity, yet, when of the thickness of a common pane, it is not, though in a state near melting, so good a conductor as to pass the shock of a discharged bottle. There are other conductors, which suffer the electric fluid to pass through them gradually, and yet will not conduct a shock. For instance, a quire of paper will conduct through its whole length, so as to electrify a person, who, standing on wax, presents the paper to an electrified prime conductor; but it will not conduct a shock even through its thickness only; hence the shock either fails, or passes by rending a hole in the paper. Thus a seive will pass water gradually, but a stream from a fireengine would either be stopped by it, or tear a hole through it.