« ZurückWeiter »
moving in the same direction when electrified, whether positively or negatively; when positively, the air opposite to the points, being electrized positively, repels the points; when negatively, the air opposite the points also, by their means, electrized negatively, attraction takes place between the electricity in the air behind the heads of the pins and the negative pins, and so
in this case drawn in the same direction that in the other they were driven. You see I am willing to meet you half way, a complaisance I have not met with in our brother Nollet; or any other hypothesismaker, and therefore may value myself a little upon it, especially as they say I have some ability in defending even the wrong side of a question, when I think fit to take it in hand.
What you give as an established law of the electric fluid, “That quantities of different densities mutually attract each other, in order to restore the equilibrium," is, I think, not well founded, or else not well expressed. Two large cork balls, suspended by silk strings, and both well and equally electrified, separate to a great distance. By bringing into contact with one of them another ball of the same size, suspended likewise by silk, you will take from it half its electricity. It will then, indeed, hang at a less distance from the other, but the full and the half quantities will not appear to attract each other, that is, the balls will not come together. Indeed, I do not know any proof we have, that one quantity of electric fluid is attracted by another quantity of that fluid, whatever difference there may be in their densities. And, supposing in nature a mutual attraction between two parcels of any kind of matter, it would be strange if this attraction should subsist strongly while those parcels were unequal, and cease when more matter of the same kind was added to the smallest parcel, so as to make it equal to the biggest. By all the laws of attraction in matter, that we are acquainted with, the attraction is stronger in proportion to the increase of the masses, and never in proportion to the difference of the masses. I should rather think the law would be, That the electric fluid is attracted strongly by all other matter that we know of, while the parts of that fluid mutually repel each other.” Hence its being equally diffused (except in particular circumstances) throughout all other matter. But this you jokingly call “ electrical orthodoxy.” It is so with some at present, but not with all ; and, perhaps, it may not always be orthodoxy with anybody. Opinions are continually varying, where we cannot have mathematical evidence of the nature of things; and they must vary. Nor is that variation without its use, since it occasions a more thorough discussion, whereby error is often dissipated, true knowledge is increased, and its principles become better understood and more firmly established.
Air should have, as you observe, “its share of the common stock of electricity, as well as glass, and, perhaps, all other electrics per se.” But I suppose, that, like them, it does not easily part with what it has, or receive more, unless when mixed with some non-electric, as moisture, for instance, of which there is some in our driest air. This, however, is only a supposition ; and your experiment of restoring electricity to a negatively electrized person, by extending his arm upwards into the air, with a needle between his fingers, on the point of which light may be seen in the night, is, indeed, a curious one. In this town the air is generally moister than with us, and here I have seen Mr. Canton electrify the air in one room positively, and in another, which communicated by a door, he has electrized the air negatively. The difference was easily discovered by his cork balls, as he passed out of one room into another. Père Beccaria, too, has a pretty experiment, which shows that air may be electrized. Suspending a pair of small light balls, by flaxen threads, to the end of his prime conductor, he turns his globe some time, electrizing positively, the balls diverging and continuing separate all the time. Then he presents the point of a needle to his conductor, which gradually drawing off the electric fluid, the balls approach each other, and touch, before all is drawn from the conductor; opening again as more is drawn off, and separating nearly as widely as at first, when the conductor is reduced to the natural state. By this it appears, that, when the balls came together, the air surrounding the balls was just as much electrized as the conductor at that time; and more than the conductor, when that was reduced to its natural state. For the balls, though in the natural state, will diverge, when the air that surrounds them is electrized plus or minus, as well as when that is in its natural state and they are electrized plus or minus themselves. I foresee that you will apply this experiment to the support of your hypothesis, and I think you may make a good deal of it.
It was a curious inquiry of yours, whether the electricity of the air, in clear dry weather, be of the same density at the height of two or three hundred yards, as near the surface of the earth ; and I am glad you made the experiment. Upon reflection, it should seem probable, that,' whether the general state of the atmosphere at any time be positive or negative, that part of it which is next the earth will be nearer the natural state, by having given to the earth in one case, or having received from it in the other. In electrizing the air of a room, that which is nearest the walls, or floor, is
least altered. There is only one small ambiguity in the experiment, which may be cleared by more trials; it arises from the supposition, that bodies may be electrized positively by the friction of air blowing strongly on them, as it does on the kite and its string. If at some times the electricity appears to be negative, as that friction is the same, the effect must be from a negative state of the upper air.
I am much pleased with your electrical thermometer, and the experiments you have made with it. I formerly satisfied myself, by an experiment with my phial and siphon, that the elasticity of the air was not increased by the mere existence of an electric atmosphere within the phial; but I did not know, till you now inform me, that heat may be given to it by an electric explosion. The continuance of its rarefaction, for some time after the discharge of your glass jar and of your case of bottles, seems to make this clear. The other experiments on wet paper, wet thread, green grass, and green wood, are not so satisfactory; as possibly the reducing part of the moisture to vapor, by the electric fluid passing through it, might occasion some expansion which would be gradually reduced by the condensation of such vapor. The fine silver thread, the very small brass wire, and the strip of gilt paper, are also subject to a similar objection, as even metals, in such circumstances, are often partly reduced to smoke, particularly the gilding on paper.
But your subsequent beautiful experiment on the wire, which you made hot by the electric explosion, and in that state fired gunpowder with it, puts it out of all question, that heat is produced by our artificial electricity, and that the melting of metals in that way, is not by what I formerly called a cold fusion. A late instance here, of the melting a bell-wire, in a house struck
by lightning, and parts of the wire burning holes in the floor on which they fell, has proved the same with regard to the electricity of nature. I was too easily led into that error by accounts given, even in philosophical books, and from remote ages downwards, of melting money in purses, swords in scabbards, &c., without burning the inflammable matters that were so near those melted metals. But men are, in general, such careless observers, that a philosopher cannot be too much on his guard in crediting their relations of things extraordinary, and should never build an hypothesis on any thing but clear facts and experiments, or it will be in danger of soon falling, as this does, like a house of cards.
How many ways there are of kindling fire, or producing heat in bodies! By the sun's rays, by collision, by friction, by hammering, by putrefaction, by fermentation, by mixtures of fluids, by mixtures of solids with fluids, and by electricity. And yet the fire when produced, though in different bodies it may differ in circumstances, as in color, vehemence, &c., yet in the same bodies is generally the same. Does not this seem to indicate that the fire existed in the body, though in a quiescent state, before it was by any of these means excited, disengaged, and brought forth to action and to view ? May it not constitute a part, and even a principal part, of the solid substance of bodies ? If this should be the case, kindling fire in a body would be nothing more than developing this inflammable principle, and setting it at liberty to act in separating the parts of that body, which then exhibits the appearances of scorching, melting, burning, &c. When a man lights a hundred candles from the flame of one, without diminishing that flame, can it be properly said to have communicated all that fire? When a single spark from