Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

to distance, but I think it is about an hour to every hundred miles.*

From thence I formed an idea of the cause of these storms, which I would explain by a familiar instance or two. Suppose a long canal of water stopped at the end by a gate. The water is quite at rest till the gate is open, then it begins to move out through the gate; the water next the gate is first in motion, and moves towards the gate; the water next to that first water moves next, and so on successively, till the water at the head of the canal is in motion, which is last of all. In this case, all the water moves indeed towards the gate, but the successive times of beginning motion are the contrary way, viz. from the gate backwards to the head of the canal. Again, suppose the air in a chamber at rest, no current through the room till you make a fire in the chimney. Immediately the air in the chimney, being rarefied by the fire, rises; the air next the chimney flows in to supply its place, moving towards the chimney; and, in consequence, the rest of the air successively, quite back to the door. Thus to produce our northeast storms, I suppose some great heat and rarefaction of the air in or about the Gulf of Mexico; the air thence rising has its place supplied by the next more northern, cooler, and therefore denser and heavier, air; that, being in motion, is followed by the next more northern air, &c. &c., in a successive current, to which current our coast and inland ridge of mountains give the direction of northeast, as they lie northeast and southwest.

This I offer only as an hypothesis to account for this particular fact; and perhaps, on farther examination, a better and truer may be found. I do not suppose all

* See a more full account of this subject above, (p. 105,) in a letter tc the Reverend Jared Eliot.-EDITor.

storms generated in the same manner. Our northwest thunder-gusts in America, I know are not; but of them I have written my opinion fully in a paper which you

have seen.

I am, &c.

B. FRANKLIN.

TO MISS MARY STEVENSON.

On the Effect of Air on the Barometer, and the Benefits derived from the Study of Insects.

Craven Street, 11 June, 1760.

It is a very sensible question you ask, how the air can affect the barometer, when its opening appears covered with wood? If indeed it was so closely covered as to admit of no communication of the outward air to the surface of the mercury, the change of weight in the air could not possibly affect it. But the least crevice is sufficient for the purpose; a pinhole will do the business. And if you could look behind the frame to which your barometer is fixed, you would certainly find some small opening.

There are indeed some barometers in which the body of mercury at the lower end is contained in a close leather bag, and so the air cannot come into immediate contact with the mercury; yet the same effect is produced. For, the leather being flexible, when the bag is pressed by any additional weight of air, it contracts, and the mercury is forced up into the tube; when the air becomes lighter, and its pressure less, the weight of the mercury prevails, and it descends again into the bag

Your observation on what you have lately read concerning insects is very just and solid. Superficial minds are apt to despise those who make that part of the creation their study, as mere triflers; but certainly the world has been much obliged to them. Under the care and management of man, the labors of the little silkworm afford employment and subsistence to thousands of families, and become an immense article of coninierce. The bee, too, yields us its delicious honey, and its wax useful to a multitude of purposes. Another insect, it is said, produces the cochineal, from whence we have our rich scarlet dye. The usefulness of the cantharides, or Spanish flies, in medicine, is known to all, and thousands owe their lives to that knowledge. By human industry and observation, other properties of other insects may possibly be hereafter discovered, and of equal utility. A thorough acquaintance with the nature of these little creatures may also enable mankind to prevent the increase of such as are noxious, or secure us against the mischiefs they occasion. These things doubtless your books make mention of; I can only add a particular late instance which I had from a Swedish gentleman of good credit. In the green timber, intended for ship-building at the King's yards in that country, a kind of worms were found, which every year became more numerous and more pernicious, so that the ships were greatly damaged before they came into use. The King sent Linnæus, the great naturalist, from Stockholm, to inquire into the affair, and see if the mischief was capable of any remedy. He found, on examination, that the worm was produced from a small egg, deposited in the little. roughnesses on the surface of the wood, by a particular kind of fly or beetle; from whence the worm, as soon as it was hatched, began to eat into the substance of

the wood, and after some time came out again a fly of the parent kind, and so the species increased. The season in which the fly laid its eggs, Linnæus knew to be about a fortnight (I think) in the month of May, and at no other time in the year. He therefore advised, that, some days before that season, all the green timber should be thrown into the water, and kept under water till the season was over. Which being done by the King's order, the flies missing their usual nests, could not increase; and the species was either destroyed or went elsewhere; and the wood was effectually preserved; for, after the first year, it became too dry and hard for their purpose.

There is, however, a prudent moderation to be used in studies of this kind. The knowledge of nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful; but if, to attain an eminence in that, we neglect the knowledge and practice of essential duties, we deserve reprehension. For there is no rank in natural knowledge of equal dignity and importance with that of being a good parent, a good child, a good husband or wife, a good neighbour or friend, a good subject or citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian. Nicholas Gimcrack, therefore, who neglected the care of his family, to pursue butterflies, was a just object of ridicule, and we must give him up as fair game to the satirist.

Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever
Yours affectionately,

B. FRANKLES

TO MISS MARY STEVENSON.

On the Bristol Waters, and the Tide in Rivers.

London, 13 September, 1760

MY DEAR FRIEND,

I have your agreeable letter from Bristol, which I take this first leisure hour to answer, having for some time been much engaged in business.

Your first question, What is the reason the water at this place, though cold at the spring, becomes warm by pumping? it will be most prudent in me to forbear attempting to answer, till, by a more circumstantial account, you assure me of the fact. I own I should expect that operation to warm, not so much the water pumped, as the person pumping. The rubbing of dry solids together has been long observed to produce heat; but the like effect has never yet, that I have heard, been produced by the mere agitation of fluids, or friction of fluids with solids. Water in a bottle, shook for hours by a mill-hopper, it is said, discovered no sensible addition of heat. The production of animal heat by exercise is therefore to be accounted for in another manner, which I may hereafter endeavour to make you acquainted with.

This prudence of not attempting to give reasons before one is sure of facts, I learned from one of your sex, who, as Selden tells us, being in company with some gentlemen that were viewing and considering something which they called a Chinese shoe, and disputing earnestly about the manner of wearing it, and how it could possibly be put on; put in her word, and said modestly, Gentlemen, are you sure it is a shoe? Should not that be settled first?

But I shall now endeavour to explain what I said to

VOL. VI.

15

« ZurückWeiter »