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PROTECTION FROM LIGHTNING. PARIs, Sept. 1767. ExPERIMENTs made in electricity first gave philosophers a suspicion that the matter of lightning was the same with the electric matter. Experiments afterwards 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 subtle 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 subtle 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. All metals, and water, are good conductors. Other bodies may become conductors by having some quantity of water in them, as wood, and other materials used in building; but not having much water in them, they are not good conductors, and, therefore, are often damaged in the operation. Glass, wax, silk, wool, hair, feathers, and even wood, perfectly dry, are non-conductors; that is, they resist instead of facilitating the passage of this subtle fluid. When this fluid has an opportunity of passing through two conductors, – one good and sufficient, as of metal, the other not so good, -it passes in the best, and will follow it in any direction. The distance at which a body charged with this fluid will discharge itself suddenly, striking through the air into another body that is not charged, or not so highly charged, is different according to the quantity of the fluid, the dimensions and form of the bodies themselves, and the state of the air between them. This distance, whatever it happens to be, between any two bodies, is called their striking distance, as, till they come within that distance of each other, no stroke will be made.
The clouds have often more of this fluid in proportion than the earth; in which case, as soon as they come near enough (that is, within the striking distance) or meet with a conductor, the fluid quits them and strikes into the earth. A cloud fully charged with this fluid, if so high as to be beyond the striking distance from the earth, passes quietly, without making noise or giving light, unless it meets with other clouds that have less.
Tall trees and lofty buildings, as the towers and spires of churches, become sometimes conductors between the clouds and the earth; but not being good ones, – that is, not conveying the fluid freely, - they are often damaged.
Buildings that have their roofs covered with lead, or other metal, the spouts of metal continued from the roof into the ground to carry off the water, are never hurt by lightning, as, whenever it falls on such a building, it passes in the metals, and not in the walls.
When other buildings happen to be within the striking distance from such clouds, the fluid passes in the walls, whether of wood, brick or stone, quitting the walls only when it can find better conductors near them, as metal rods, bolts, and hinges of windows or doors, gilding on wainscot or frames of pictures, the silvering on the backs of looking-glasses, the wires for bells, and the bodies of animals, as containing watery fluids. And, in passing through the house, it follows the direction of these conductors, taking as many in its way as can assist it in its passage, whether in a straight or crooked line, leaping from one to the other, if not far distant from each other, only rending the wall in the spaces where these partial good conductors are too distant from each other.
An iron rod being placed on the outside of a building, from the highest part continued down into the moist earth, in any direction, straight or crooked, following the form of the roof or parts of the building, will receive the lightning at its upper end, attracting it so as to prevent its striking any other part; and, affording it a good conveyance into the earth, will prevent its damaging any part of the building.
A small quantity of metal is found able to conduct a great quantity of this fluid. A wire no bigger than a goose-quill has been known to conduct (with safety to the building as far as the wire was continued) a quantity of lightning that did prodigious damage both above and below it; and probably larger rods are not necessary, though it is common in America to make them of half an inch, some of three-quarters, or an inch diameter. The rod may be fastened to the wall, chimney, &c., with staples of iron. The lightning will not leave the rod (a good conductor) to pass into the wall (a bad conductor) through those staples. It would rather, if any were in the walls, pass out of it into the rod, to get more readily by that conductor into the earth. If the building be very large and extensive, two or more rods may be placed at different parts, for greater security. Small ragged parts of clouds, suspended in the air between the great body of clouds and the earth (like leaf-gold in electrical experiments), often serve as partial conductors for the lightning, which proceeds from one of them to another, and by their help comes within the striking distance to the earth or a building. It therefore strikes through those conductors a building that would otherwise be out of the striking distance. Long sharp points communicating with the earth, and presented to such parts of clouds, drawing silently from them the fluid they are charged with, they are then attracted to the cloud, and may leave the distance so great as to be beyond the reach of striking. It is therefore that we elevate the upper end of the rod six or eight feet above the highest part of the building, tapering it gradually to a fine sharp point, which is gilt to prevent its rustIng. Thus the pointed rod either prevents a stroke from the cloud, or, if a stroke is made, conducts it to the earth with safety to the building. The lower end of the rod should enter the earth so deep as to come at the moist part, perhaps two or three feet; and if bent when under the surface so as to go in a horizontal line six or eight feet from the wall, and then bent again downwards three or four feet, it will prevent damage to any of the stones of the foundation. A person apprehensive of danger from lightning, happening during the time of thunder to be in a house not so secured, will do well to avoid sitting near the chimney, near a looking-glass, or any gilt pictures or wainscot; the safest place is the middle of the room (so it be not under a metal lustre suspended by a chain), sitting in one chair and laying the feet up in another. It is still safer to bring two or three mattresses or beds into the middle of the room, and, folding them up double, place the chair upon them; for they not being so good conductors as the walls, the lightning will not choose an interrupted course through the air of the room and the bedding, when it can go through a continued better conductor, the wall. But where it can be had, a hammock or swinging bed, suspended by silk cords equally distant from the walls on every side, and from the ceiling and floor above and below, affords the safest situation a person can have in any room whatever, and what indeed may be deemed quite free from danger of any stroke by lightning.
[To John PRINGLE, M.D.]
ON THE EFFECTS OF ELECTRICITY IN PARALYTIC
IN compliance with your request, I send you the following account of what I can at present recollect relating to the effects of electricity in paralytic cases, which have fallen under my observation.
Some years since, when the newspapers made mention of great cures performed in Italy and Germany by means of electricity, a number of paralytics were brought to me from different parts of Pennsylvania, and the neighboring provinces, to be electrized, which I did for them at their request. My method was, to place the patient first in a chair on an electric stool, and draw a number of large strong sparks from all parts of the affected limb or side. Then I fully charged two six-gallon glass jars, each of which had about three square feet of surface coated ; and sent the united shock of these through the affected limb or limbs, repeating the stroke commonly three times each day. The first thing observed was an immediate greater sensible warmth in the lame limbs that had received the stroke than in the others; and the next morning the patients usually related that they had in the night felt a pricking sensation in the flesh of the paralytic limbs; and would sometimes show a number of small red spots, which they supposed were occasioned by those prickings. The limbs, too, were found more capable of voluntary motion, and seemed to receive strength.
A man, for instance, who could not the first day lift the lame hand from off his knee, would the next day raise it four or five inches, the third day higher, and on the fifth day was able, but with a feeble, languid motion, to take off his hat. These appearances gave great spirits to the patients, and made them hope a perfect cure; but I do not remember that I ever saw any amendment after the fifth day; which the patients perceiving, and finding the shocks pretty severe, they became discouraged, went home, and in a short time relapsed; so that I never knew any advantage from electricity in palsies that was permanent. And how far the apparent temporary advantage might arise from the exercise in the patient's journey, and coming daily to my house, or from the spirits given by the hope of success, enabling then to exert more strength in moving their limbs, I will not pretend to say.
Perhaps some permanent advantage might have been obtained, if the electric shocks had been accompanied with proper medicine and regimen, under the direction of a skilful physician. It may be, too, that a few great strokes, as given in my method, may not be so proper as many small ones; since, by the account from Scotland of a case in which two hundred shocks from a vial were given daily, it seems that a perfect cure has been made. As to any uncommon strength supposed to be in the machine used in that case, I imagine it could have no share in the effect produced, since the strength of the shock from charged glass is in proportion to the quantity of surface of the glass coated; so that my shock from those large jars, must have been much greater than any that could be received from a vial held in the hand.
[To DR. PERCIVAL MANCHESTER.]
METEOROLOGICAL IMAGINATIONS AND CONJECTURES. PAssy, May 1784. THERE seems to be a region higher, 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