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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 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 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
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 burnt; or transfer it from one solid to another, as when we make lime by burning stone, a part of the fire dislodged from the wood 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 vapor?
Does it not seem to have a great affinity with water, since it will quit a solid to unite with that fluid, and go off with it in vapor, leaving the solid cold to the touch, and the degree measurable by the thermometer?
The vapor rises attached to this fluid, but at a certain height they separate, and the vapor descends 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 equally with the universal mass of the same kind? Or does a spherical stratum of it, denser, or less mixed 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 afterwards 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 course 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? *
*This paper was read before the American Philosophical Society, June 20th, 1788, as a letter to David Rittenhouse, with the addition only of the following sentence, viz. "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?"— EDITOR.
Clock with three Wheels. - Gravitation of Bodies. Passy, 29 April, 1785.
I do not know that my contrivance of a clock with three wheels only, which showed hours, minutes, and seconds, has ever been published. I have seen several of them here at Paris, that were made by Mr. Whitehurst, and sent over, I believe, by Mr. Magellan. You are welcome to do what you please with it. Mr. Whitehurst's invention is very simple, and should be very effectual, provided the foot of the rod and the situation of the clock are invariably fixed, so as never to be at a greater or less distance from one another, which may be by fixing both in a straight-grained piece of wood of about four feet long; wood not changing its dimensions the lengthwise of the grain, by any common degree of heat or cold. But this cannot be trusted to in the wood of a clock-case, because in sawing boards the grain is frequently crossed, and moisture and dryness will change their dimensions.
You are at liberty also to publish, if you think fit, the experiment of the globe floating between two liquors. I suppose you remember to have seen it on my chimneypiece. Though it is a matter of no utility. Something of the same nature has been done more than a hundred years since by another person, I forget who.
What I formerly mentioned to you of hanging a weight on a spiral spring, to discover if bodies gravitated differently to the earth during the conjunctions of the sun and moon, compared with other times, was this. We suppose, that, by the force of gravity in those luminaries, the water of the ocean, an immense weight, is *For a part of this letter, on Electricity, see Vol. V. p. 480.- EDITOR