Abbildungen der Seite

out any mark that ever tree or plant had been thereon.

Above twelve miles from the sea the earth gaped and spouted out, with a prodigious force, vast quantities of water into the air, yet the greatest violences were among the mountains and rocks; and it is a general opinion, that the nearer the mountains, the greater the shake, and that the cause thereof lay there. Most of the rivers were stopped up for twenty-four hours by the falling of the mountains, till, swelling up, they found themselves new tracts and channels, tearing up in their passage trees, &c. After the great shake, those people who escaped got on board ships in the harbour, where many continued above two months; the shakes all that time being so violent, and coming so thick, sometimes two or three in an hour, accompanied with frightful noises, like a ruffling wind, or a hollow, rumbling thunder, with brimstone blasts, that they durst not come ashore. The consequence of the earthquake was a general sickness, from the noisome vapours belched forth, which swept away above three thousand persons.

After the detail of these horrible convulsions, the reader will have but little curiosity left for the less considerable phenomena of the earthquake at Lima in 1687, described by Father Alvarez de Toledo, wherein above five thousand persons were destroyed; this being of the vibratory kind, so that the bells in the church rung of themselves; or that at Batavia in 1699, by Witsen; that in the north of England in 1703, by Mr. Thoresby; or, lastly, those in New-England in 1663 and 1670, by Dr. Mather.

To David Rittenhouse. New and curious Theory of Light and Heat.—Read in the

American Philosophical Society, November 20, 1788. Universal space, as far as we know of it, seems to be filled with a subtile fluid, whose motion or vibration is called light.

This fluid may possibly be the same with that which, being attracted by, and entering into other more solid matter, dilutes the substance by separating the constituent particles, and so rendering sone solids fluid, and maintaining the fluidity of others; of which fluid, when our bodies are totally deprived, they are said to be frozen; when they have a proper quantity, they are in health, and fit to perform all their functions ; it is then called natural heat; when too much, it is called fever; and when forced into the body in too great a quantity from without, it gives pain, by separating and destroying the flesh, and is then called burning, and the fluid so entering and acting is called fire.

While organized bodies, animal or vegetable, are augmenting in growth, or are supplying their continuat waste, is not this done by attracting and consolidating this fluid called fire, so as to form of it a part of their substance ? And is it not a separation of the parts of such substance, which, dissolving its solid state, sets that subtile fluid at liberty, when it again makes its appearance as fire ?

For the power of man relative to matter seems limited to the separating or mixing the various kinds of it, or changing its form and appearance by different compositions of it; but does not extend to the making or creating new matter, or annihilating the old. Thus, if fire be an original element or kind of matter, its quantity is fixed and permanent in the universe. We cannot destroy any part of it, or make addition to it; we can only separate it from that which confines it, and so set it at liberty; as when we put wood in a situation to be burned, or transfer it from one solid to another, as when we make lime by burning stone, a part of the fire dislodged in the fuel being left in the stone. May not this fluid, when at liberty, be capable of penetrating and entering into all bodies, organized or not, quitting easily in totality those not organized, and quitting easily in part those which are; the part assumed and fixed remaining till the body is dissolved?

Is it not this fluid which keeps asunder the particles of air, permitting them to approach, or separating them more in proportion as its quantity is diminished or augmented ?

Is it not the greater gravity of the particles of air which forces the particles of this fluid to mount with the matters to which it is attached, as smoke or vapour?

Does it not seem to have a greater affinity with water, since it will quit a solid to unite with that fluid, and go off with it in vapour, leaving the solid cold to the touch, and the degree measurable by the thermometer?

The vapour rises attached to this fluid, but at a certain height they separate, and the vapour de. scends in rain, retaining but little of it, in snow or hail less. What becomes of that fluid ? Does it rise above our atmosphere, and mix with the uni, versal mass of the same kind ?

Or does a spherical stratum of it, denser, as less

ixed with air, attracted by this globe, and repelled or pushed up only to a certain height from its surface by the greater weight of air, remain there surrounding the globe, and proceeding with it round the sun?

In such case, as there may be a continuity or communication of this fluid through the air quite down to the earth, is it not by the vibrations given to it by the sun that light appears to us? And may it not be that every one of the infinitely small vibrations, striking common matter with a certain force, enters its substance, is held there by attraction, and augmented by succeeding vibrations till the matter has received as much as their force can drive into it?

Is it not thus that the surface of this globe is continually heated by such repeated vibrations in the day, and cooled by the escape of the heat when those vibrations are discontinued in the night, or intercepted and reflected by clouds ?

Is it not thus that. fire is amassed, and makes the greatest part of the substance of combustible bodies?

Perhaps, when this globe was first formed, and its original particles took their place at certain distances from the centre, in proportion to their greater or less gravity, the fluid fire, attracted towards that centre, might in great part be obliged, as lightest, to take place above the rest, and thus form the sphere of fire above supposed, which would afterward be continually diminishing by the substance it afforded to organized bodies, and the quantity restored to it again by the burning or other separating of the parts of those bodies ?

Is not the natural heat of animals thus produced, by separating in digestion the parts of food, and setting their fire at liberty?

Is it not this sphere of fire which kindles the wandering globes that sometimes pass through it in our ourse round the sun, have their surface kindled by it, and burst when their included air is greatly rarefied by the heat on their burning surfaces ?

May it not have been from such considerations that the ancient philosophers supposed a sphere of fire to exist above the air of our atmosphere?


Of Lightning; and the Methods now used in America for the securing Buildings and Persons from its mischievous Effects.

Experiments made in electricity first gave philosophers a suspicion that the matter of lightning was the same with the electric matter. Experiments afterward made on lightning obtained from the clouds by pointed rods, received into bottles, and subjected to every trial, have since proved this suspicion to be perfectly well founded; and that, whatever properties we find in electricity, are also the properties of lightning.

This matter of lightning or of electricity is an extreme subtile fluid, penetrating other bodies, and subsisting in them, equally diffused.

When, by any operation of art or nature, there happens to be a greater proportion of this fluid in one body than in another, the body which has most will communicate to that which has least, till the proportion becomes equal; provided the distance between them be not too great; or, if it is too great, till there be proper conductors to convey it from one to the other.

If the communication be through the air without any conductor, a bright light is seen between the bodies, and a sound is heard. In our small experiments we call this light and sound the electric spark and snap; but in the great operations of nature the light is what we call lightning, and the sound (produced at the same time, though generally arriving later at our ears than the light

does to our eyes) is, with its echoes, called thunder.

If the communication of this fluid is by a conductor, it may be without either light or sound, the subtile fluid passing in the substance of the conductor.

If the conductor be good and of sufficient bigness, the fluid passes through it without hurting it. If otherwise, it is damaged or destroyed.

« ZurückWeiter »