Abbildungen der Seite

discovery. Professor Richman bade fair to add much to the stock of knowledge on this subject, when an unfortunate flash from his conductor put a period to his existence. The friends of science will long remember with regret, the amiable martyr to electricity.

By these experiments Franklin's theory was established in the most convincing manner. When the. truth of it could no longer be doubted, envy and va. nity endeavoured to detract from its merit. That an American, an inhabitant of the obscure city of Philadelphia, the name of which was hardly known, should be able to make discoveries, and to frame theories, which had escaped the notice of the enlightened philosophers of Europe, was too mortifying to be admitted. He must certainly have taken the idea from some one else. An American, a being of an inferior order, make discoveries! Impossible. It was said, that the Abbe Nollet, 1748, had suggested the idea of the similarity of lightning and electricity, in his Lecons de Physique. It is true that the Abbe mentions the idea, but he throws it out as a bare conjecture, and proposes no mode of ascertaining the truth of it. He kimself acknowledges, that Franklin first entertained the bold thought of bringing lightning from the heavens, by means of pointed rods fixed in the air. The similarity of lightning and electricity is so strong, that we need not be surprised at notice being taken of it, as soon as electrical phenomena became familiar. We find it mentioned by Dr. Wall and Mr. Grey, while the science was in its infancy. But the honour of forming a regular theory of thundergusts, of suggesting a mode of determining the truth of it by experiments, and of putting these experiments in practice, and thus establishing the theory upon a firm and solid basis, is incontestibly due to Franklin. D’Alibard, who made the first experiments in France, says, that fre only followed the tract which Franklin had pointed out.

It has been of late asserted, that the honour of completing the experiment with the electrical kite, does not belong to Franklin. Some late English paragraphs have attributed it to some Frenchman, whose name they do not mention; and the Abbè Bertholon gives it 10 M. de Romas, assessor to the presideal of Nerac : the English paragraphs probably refer to the same person. But a very slight attention will convince us of the injustice of this procedure: Dr. Franklin's experiment was made in June, 1752 ; and his letier, giving an account of it, is dated October 19, 1752. M. de Romas made his first attempt on the 14th of May, 1753, but was not successful until the 7th of June, a year after Franklin had completed the dis covery, and when it was known to all the philosophers in Europe.

Besides these great principles, Franklin's letters or electricity contain a number of facts and lints, whic! have contributed greatly towards reducing this branch of knowledge to a science. His friend Mr. Kinners ley conimunicated to him a discovery of the different kinds of electricity, excited by rubbing glass and sul phur. This, we have said, was first observed by M du Faye; but it was for many years neglected. The philosophers were disposed to account for the pheno mena, rather from a difference in the quantity of electricity collected, and even Du Faye himself seems at last to have adopted this doctrine. Franklin, at first, entertained the same idea; but, upon repeating the experinents, he perceived that Mr. Kinnersley was right and that the vitreous and resinous electricity of Du Faye were nothing more than the positive and negative states which he had before observed ; and that the glass globe chaiged positively, or increased the quantity of electricity on the prime conductor, while the globe of sulphur diminished its natural quantity or charged negatively. These experiments and obser. vations opened a new field for investigation, upop which clectricians entered with avidity; and their lahours have added much to the stock of our knowledge

In September, 1752, Franklin entered upon a course of experiments, to determine the state of electricity in the clouds. From a number of experiments he formed this conclusion :-" That the clouds of a thundergust are most commonly in a negative state of electricity, but sometimes in a positive state;" and from this it follows, as a necessary consequence, “ that, for the most part, in thunder-strokes, it is the earth that strikes

into the clouds, and not the clouds that strike into the earth.” The letter containing these observations is dated in September, 1753; and yet the discovery of ascending thunder has been said to be of a modern date, and has been attributed to the Abbé Bertholon, who published his memoir on the subject in 1776.

Franklin's letters have been translated into most of the European languages, and into Latin. In proportion as they have become known, his principles have been adopted. Some opposition was made to his theories, particularly by the Abbé Nollet, who was, however but feebly supported, while the first philosophers in Europe stepped forth in defence of Franklin's principles, amongst whom D'Alibard and Beccaria were the most distinguished. The oppsition has gradually ceased, and the Franklinian systein is now universally adopted, where science flourishes.

The important practical use which Franklin made of his discoveries, the securing of houses from injury by lightning, has been already mentioned. Pointed conductors are now very common in America ; but prejudice has hitherto prevented their general intro. duction into Europe, notwithstanding the most un. doubted proofs of their utility have been given. But mankind can with difficulty be brought to lay aside established practices, or to adopt new ones. And perhaps we have more reason to be surprised that a practice, however rational, which was proposed about forty ago, should in that time have been adopt. ed in so many places, than that it has not universally prevailed. It is only by degrees that the great body of mankind can be led into new practices, how. ever salutary their tendency. It is now nearly eighty years since inoculation was introduced into Europe and America, and it is so far from being general at present, that it will require one or two centuries to render it so.

In the ycar 1745, Franklin published an account of his new invented Pennsylvania fire-places; in which he minutely and accurately states the advantages of different kinds of fire-places; and endeavours to show, that the one which he describos is to be preferred to any other. This contrivance has given riso to the open stoves row in generał use, which, how.. ever, differ from it in construction, particularly in not having an air-box at the back, through which a conslant supply cf air, warmed in its passage, is thrown into the room. The advantages of this air, that as a stream of warm air is continually flowing into the room, less fuel is necessary to preserve a proper temperature, and the room may be so tightened as that no air may enter through cracks--the consequence of which are colds, tooth-aches, &c.

Although philosophy was a principal object of Franklin's pursuit for several years, he confined hinself not to this. In the year 1747, he became a member of the general assembly of Pennsylvania, as a burgess for the city of Philadelphia. Warm disputes subsisted at this time between the Assembly and the proprietaries; each contending for what they conceiyed to be their just rights. Franklin, a friend to the rights of man from his infancy, soon distinguished himself a steady opponent of the unjust schemes of the proprietaries. He was soon looked up to as the head of the opposition; and to him have been attributed many of the spirited replies of the Assembly to the messages of the goverors. His influence in the body was very great. This arose not from any superior powers of eloquence; he spoke but seldom, and he never was known to make any thing like an ela. borate harrangue. His speeches often consisted of a single sentence, of a well-told story, the moral of which was obviously to the point. He never attempted the flowery field of oratory. His manner was plain and mild. His style in speaking was, like that of his writings, simple, anadorned, and remarkably concise. With this plain manner, and his penetrating and solid judgment, he was able to confound the most eloquent and subtle of his adversaries, to confirm the opinions ef his friends, and to make converts of the unpreju. diced who had opposed him. With a single observa. tion. he has rendered of no avail an elegant and lengthy discourse, and determined the fate of a ques. tion of importance.

But he was not contented with thus supporting the rights of the people. He wished to render them per

manently secure, which can only be done by making their value properly known; and this must depend upon increasing and extending information to every class of men. We have already seen that he was the founder of the public library, which contributed greatly towards improving the minds of the citizens. But this was not sufficient. The schools then subsisting were in general of little utility. The teachers were men ill qualified for the important duty which they had undertaken; and, after all, nothing more could be obtained than the rudiments of a common English education. Franklin drew up a plan of an academy, to be erected in the city of Philadelphia, suited to “ the state of an infant country;" but in this, as in all his plans, he confined not his views to the present time only. He looked forward to the period when an institution on an enlarged plan would become necessary. With this view, he considered his academy as “a foundation for posterity to erect a seminary of learning more extensive, and suitable to future circumstances.” In pursuance of this plan, the constitutions were drawn up and signed on the 13th of November, 1749. In these, twenty-four of the most respectable citizens of Philadelphia were named as trustees. In the choice of these, and in the formation of his plan, Franklin is said to have consulted chiefly with Thomas Hopkinson, Esq. the Rev.Richard Peters, then secretary of the province, Tench Francis, Esq. attorney-general, and Dr. Phineas Bond.

The following article shows a spirit of beneyolence worthy of imitation; and, for the honour of our city, we hope that it continues to be in force.

“In case of the disability of the rector, or any master (established on the foundation by receiving a certain salary) through sickness, or any other natu ral infirmity, whereby he may be reduced to poverty the trustees shall have power to contribute to his support, in proportion to his distress and merit, and the stock in their hands."

The last clause of the fundamental rule is expressed in language so tender and benevolent, so truly parental, that it will do everlasting nonour to the hearts and heads of the founders.


« ZurückWeiter »