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of vitriol poured on iron filings. They say it is made from sea coal. Its comparative weight is not mentioned. I am as ever, my dear friend, Yours most affectionately,
TO BENJAMIN VAUGHAN.
Fire supposed to exist in the State of a
Passy, 29 April, 1784. MY DEAR FRIEND, I received your kind letters of the 16th and 20th instant. I thank you for your philosophical news. We have none here. I see your philosophers are in the way of finding out at last what fire is. I have long been of opinion, that it exists everywhere in the state of a subtile fluid; that too much of that fluid in our flesh gives us the sensation we call heat ; too little, cold; its vibrations, light. That all solid or fluid substances, which are inflammable, have been composed of it; their dissolution in returning to their original fluid state, we call fire. This subtile fluid is attracted by plants and animals in their growth, and consolidated; is attracted by other substances, thermometers, &c. variously; has a particular affinity with water, and will quit many other bodies to attach itself to water, and go off with it in evaporation. Adieu. Yours, most sincerely,
Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures.
Passy, May, 1784. There seems to be a region high in the air over all countries, where it is always winter, where frost exists continually, since in the midst of summer, on the surface of the earth, ice falls often from above, in the form of hail.
Hailstones, of the great weight we sometimes find them, did not probably acquire their magnitude before they began to descend. The air, being eight hundred times rarer than water, is unable to support it but in the shape of vapor, a state in which its particles are separated. As soon as they are condensed by the cold of the upper region, so as to form a drop, that drop begins to fall. If it freezes into a grain of ice, that ice descends. In descending, both the drop of water and the grain of ice are augmented by particles of the vapor they pass through in falling, and which they condense by coldness, and attach to themselves.
It is possible, that, in summer, much of what is rain when it arrives at the surface of the earth, might have been snow when it began its descent ; but, being thawed in passing through the warm air near the surface, it is changed from snow into rain.
How immensely cold must be the original particle of hail, which forms the centre of the future hailstone, since it is capable of communicating sufficient cold, if I may so speak, to freeze all the mass of vapor condensed round it, and form a lump of perhaps six or eight ounces in weight!
* First printed in the Memoii s of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, Vol. II. p. 357. It was communicated to the Society by Dr. Percival, and read December 22d, 1784. -- EDITOR.
When, in summer time, the sun is high, and continues long every day above the horizon, his rays strike the earth more directly, and with longer continuance, than in the winter; hence the surface is more heated, and to a greater depth, by the effect of those rays.
When rain falls on the heated earth, and soaks down into it, it carries down with it a great part of the heat, which by that means descends still deeper.
The mass of earth, to the depth perhaps of thirty feet, being thus heated to a certain degree, continues to retain its heat for some time. Thus the first snows, that fall in the beginning of winter, seldom lie long on the surface, but are soon melted, and soon absorbed. After which, the winds, that blow over the country on which the snows had fallen, are not rendered so cold as they would have been, by those snows, if they had remained, and thus the approach of the severity of winter is retarded ; and the extreme degree of its cold is not always at the time we might expect it, viz. when the sun is at its greatest distance, and the day shortest, but some time after that period, according to the English proverb, which says, “As the day lengthens, the cold strengthens ;” the causes of refrigeration continuing to operate, while the sun returns too slowly, and his force continues too weak, to counteract them.
During several of the summer months of the year 1783, when the effects of the sun's rays to heat the earth in these northern regions should have been the greatest, there existed a constant fog over all Europe, and great part of North America. This fog was of a permanent nature; it was dry, and the rays of the sun seemed to have little effect towards dissipating it, as they easily do a moist fog, arising from water. They were indeed rendered so faint in passing through it,
that, when collected in the focus of a burning-glass, they would scarce kindle brown paper.
Of course, their summer effect in heating the earth was exceedingly diminished.
Hence the surface was early frozen.
Hence the first snows remained on it unmelted, and received continual additions.
Hence perhaps the winter of 1783-4, was more severe than any that had happened for many years.
The cause of this universal fog is not yet ascertained. Whether it was adventitious to this earth, and merely a smoke proceeding from the consumption by fire of some of those great burning balls or globes which we happen to meet with in our rapid course round the sun, and which are sometimes seen to kindle and be destroyed in passing our atmosphere, and whose smoke might be attracted and retained by our earth ; or whether it was the vast quantity of smoke, long continuing to issue during the summer from Hecla, in Iceland, and that other volcano which arose out of the sea near that island, which smoke might be spread by various winds, over the northern part of the world, is yet uncertain.
It seems however worth the inquiry, whether other hard winters, recorded in history, were preceded by similar permanent and widely extended summer fogs. Because, if found to be so, men might from such fogs conjecture the probability of a succeeding hard winter, and of the damage to be expected by the breaking up of frozen rivers in the spring; and take such measures as are possible and practicable, to secure themselves and effects from the mischiefs that attended the last.
Loose Thoughts on a Universal Fluid.
Passy, 25 June, 1784.
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, dilates the substance, by separating the constituent particles, and so rendering some 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 continual 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 statė, 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 dividing it, 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 of 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 world. We