to a principle which he subsequently enunciated in a work on railways, in treating of the motive-power of heat, namely:
If in the single term "chaleur" Seguin intended to include both sensible and latent heat, his principle was undoubtedly correct; but it is to be inferred from an indicated method of determining the relative dynamical value of heat and mechanical units, that he had quite neglected to take into account any change of molecular energy other than that of sensible heat.
Nearly identical with these, though much more celebrated, were the subsequent speculations of Dr. J. R. Mayer upon this subject. In a memoir published in Liebig's Annalen, for May, 1842, entitled "Bemerkungen über die Kräfte der neubelebten Natur," he undertook to answer the questions: "What are we to understand by force? and how are different forces related to each other?" Toward the latter part of the disquisition he entered upon the subject of the mutual convertibility of heat and mechanical energy, considering the generation of heat by the shock or gradual stopping of a falling body, by friction, and by compression; and illustrating by the heat excited in the bearings and rubbing surfaces of water-mills and railway-trains; and by the diminution of the earth's bulk in the falling of a body to the ground.
In this he first expressly used the term equivalent, in speaking of the relation of heat, to mechanical effect; and by the same method as that employed in the deduction of Seguin's value, though with more accurate data, found the distance through which any mass of water would have to fall, in order that its temperature, by the shock of sudden stoppage, might be raised from 0° to 1° Cent., to be 365 metres.
The physical reasoning upon which he founded this determination was manifestly incomplete, if not erroneous; and, on this account, his claims as an original promoter of correct theory have been made of late the subject of considerable dispute. In view of the historical importance attaching to this point, and because an allowable explanation of the phenomenon referred to will illustrate very fully the received distinction between sensible and latent heat, we here make a slight digression to consider more particularly the thermal effect attending the compression of elastic fluids.
The term specific heat is ordinarily employed to designate that quantity which it is necessary to impart to unity of weight of any
- Entitled "Études sur l’Influence des Chemins de Fer," p. 378, et seq. Paris, 1838.
- The method indicated, with the data then at his command, for steam, gave 650 kilogrammetres as the mechanical value of an increase of temperature of 1° Cent, in one kilogramme of water.