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Micrographia - or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon/Chapter 8

Observ. VIII.Of the fiery Sparks struck from a Flint or Steel.

IT is a very common Experiment, by striking with a Flint against a Steel,Schem. 5. to make certain fiery and shining Sparks to fly out from between those two compressing Bodies. About eight years since, upon casually reading the Explication of this odd Phænomenon, by the most Ingenious Des Cartes, I had a great desire to be satisfied, what that Substance was that gave such a shining and bright Light: And to that end I spread a sheet of white Paper, and on it, observing the place where several of these Sparks seemed to vanish, I found certain very small, black, but glittering Spots of a movable Substance, each of which examining with my Microscope, I found to be a small round Globule; some of which, as they looked prety small, so did they from their Surface yield a very bright and strong reflection on that side which was next the Light; and each look'd almost like a prety bright Iron-Ball, whose Surface was prety regular, such as is represented by the Figure A. In this I could perceive the Image of the Window prety well, or of a Stick, which I moved up and down between the Light and it. Others I found, which were, as to the bulk of the Ball, prety regularly round, but the Surface of them, as it was not very smooth, but rough, and more irregular, so was the reflection from it more faint and confused. Such were the Surfaces of B. C. D. and E. Some of these I found cleft or cracked, as C, others quite broken in two and hollow, as D. which seemed to be half the hollow shell of a Granado, broken irregularly in pieces. Several others I found of other shapes; but that which is represented by E, I observed to be a very big Spark of fire, which went out upon one side of the Flint that I struck fire withall, to which it stuck by the root F, at the end of which small Stem was fastened-on a Hemisphere, or half a hollow Ball, with the mouth of it open from the stemwards, so that it looked much like a Funnel, or an old fashioned Bowl without a foot. This night, making many tryals and observations of this Experiment, I met, among a multitude of the Globular ones which I had observed, a couple of Instances, which are very remarkable to the confirmation of my Hypothesis.

And the First was of a pretty big Ball fastened on to the end of a small sliver of Iron, which Compositum seemed to be nothing else but a long thin chip of Iron, one of whose ends was melted into a small round Globul; the other end remaining unmelted and irregular, and perfectly Iron.

The Second Instance was not less remarkable then the First; for I found, when a Spark went out, nothing but a very small thin long sliver of Iron or Steel, unmelted at either end. So that it seems, that some of these Sparks are the slivers or chips of the Iron vitrified, Others are only the slivers melted into Balls without vitrification, And the third kind are only small slivers of the Iron, made red-hot with the violence of the stroke given on the Steel by the Flint.

He that shall diligently examine the Phænomena of this Experiment, will, I doubt not, find cause to believe, that the reason I have heretofore given of it, is the true and genuine cause of it, namely, That the Spark, appearing so bright in the falling, is nothing else but a small piece of the Steel or Flint, but most commonly of the Steel, which by the violence of the stroke is at the same time sever'd and heat red-hot, and that sometimes to such a degree, as to make it melt together into a small Globule of Steel; and sometimes also is that heat so very intense, as further to melt it and vitrifie it; but many times the heat is so gentle, as to be able to make the sliver only red hot, which notwithstanding falling upon the tinder (that is only a very curious small Coal made of the small threads of Linnen burnt to coals and char'd) it easily sets it on fire. Nor will any part of this Hypothesis seem strange to him that considers, First, that either hammering, or filing or otherwise violently rubbing of Steel, will presently make it so hot as to be able to burn ones fingers. Next, that the whole force of the stroke is exerted upon that small part where the Flint and Steel first touch: For the Bodies being each of them so very hard, the puls cannot be far communicated, that is, the parts of each can yield but very little, and therefore the violence of the concussion will be exerted on that piece of Steel which is cut off by the Flint. Thirdly, that the filings or small parts of Steel are very apt, as it were, to take fire, and are presently red hot, that is, there seems to be a very combustible sulphureous Body in Iron or Steel, which the Air very readily preys upon, as soon as the body is a little violently heated.

And this is obvious in the filings of Steel or Iron cast through the flame of a Candle; for even by that sudden transitus of the small chips of Iron, they are heat red hot, and that combustible sulphureous Body is presently prey'd upon and devoured by the aereal incompassing Menstruum, whose office in this Particular I have shewn in the Explication of Charcole. And in prosecution of this Experiment, having taken the filings of Iron and Steel, and with the point of a Knife cast them through the flame of a Candle, I observed where some conspicuous shining Particles fell, and looking on them with my Microscope, I found them to be nothing else but such round Globules, as I formerly found the Sparks struck from the Steel by a stroke to be, only a little bigger; and shaking together all the filings that had fallen upon the sheet of Paper underneath and observing them with the Microscope, I found a great number of small Globules, such as the former, though there were also many of the parts that had remained untoucht and rough filings or chips of Iron. So that, it seems, Iron does contain a very combustible sulphureous Body, which is, in all likelihood, one of the causes of this Phænomenon, and which may be perhaps very much concerned in the business of its hardening and tempering: of which somewhat it said in the Description of Muscovy-glass.

So that, these things considered, we need not trouble our selves to find out what kind of Pores they are, both in the Flint and Steel, that contain the Atoms of fire, nor how those Atoms come to be hindred from running all out, when a dore or passage in their Pores is made by the concussion: nor need we trouble our selves to examine by what Prometheus the Element of Fire comes to be fetcht down from above the Regions of the Air, in what Cells or Boxes it is kept, and what Epimetheus lets it go: Nor to consider what it is that causes so great a conflux of the atomical Particles of Fire, which are said to fly to a flaming Body, like Vultures or Eagles to a putrifying Carcass, and there to make a very great pudder. Since we have nothing more difficult in this Hypothesis to conceive, first, as to the kindling of Tinder, then how a large Iron-bullet, let fall red or glowing hot upon a heap of Small-coal, should set fire to those that are next to it first: Nor secondly, is this last more difficult to be explicated, then that a Body, as Silver for Instance, put into a weak Menstruum, as unrectified Aqua fortis should, when it is put in a great heat, be there dissolved by it, and not before; which Hypothesis is more largely explicated in the Description of Charcoal. To conclude, we see by this Instance, how much Experiments may conduce to the regulating of Philosophical notions. For if the most Acute Des Cartes had applied himself experimentally to have examined what substance it was that caused that shining of the falling Sparks struck from a Flint and a Steel, he would certainly have a little altered his Hypothesis, and we should have found, that his Ingenious Principles would have admitted a very plausible Explication of this Phænomenon; whereas by not examining so far as he might, he has set down an Explication which Experiment do's contradict.

But before I leave this Description, I must not forget to take notice of the Globular form into which each of these is most curiously formed. And this Phænomenon, as I have elsewhere more largely shewn, proceeds from a propriety which belongs to all kinds of fluid Bodies more or less, and is caused by the Incongruity of the Ambient and included Fluid, which so acts and modulates each other, that they acquire, as neer as is
Schem. V.
possible, a sperical or globular form, which propriety and several of the Phænomena that proceed from it, I have more fully explicated in the sixth Observation.

One Experiment, which does very much illustrate my present Explication, and is in it self exceeding pretty, I must not pass by: And that is a way of making small Globules or Balls of Lead, or Tin, as small almost as these of Iron or Steel, and that exceeding easily and quickly, by turning the filings or chips of those Metals also into perfectly round Globules. The way, in short, as I received it from the Learned Physitian Doctor I.G. is this;

Reduce the Metal you would thus shape, into exceeding fine filings, the finer the filings are, the finer will the Balls be: Stratifie these filings with the fine and well dryed powder of quick Lime in a Crucible proportioned to the quantity you intend to make: When you have thus filled your Crucible, by continual stratifications of the filings and powder, so that, as neer as may be, no one of the filings may touch another, place the Crucible in a gradual fire, and by degrees let it be brought to a heat big enough to make all the filings, that are mixt with the quick Lime, to melt, and no more; for if the fire be too hot, many of these filings will joyn and run together; whereas if the heat be proportioned, upon washing the Lime-dust in fair Water, all those small filings of the Metal will subside to the bottom in a most curious powder, consisting all of exactly round Globules, which, if it be very fine, is very excellent to make Hour-glasses of.

Now though quick Lime be the powder that this direction makes choice of, yet I doubt not, but that there may be much more convenient ones found out, one of which I have made tryal of, and found very effectual; and were it not for discovering, by the mentioning of it, another Secret, which I am not free to impart, I should have here inserted it.