Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/609

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larger towns of the country are alone opposing this scheme compounded of fraud and folly, and it is to be feared that their political influence is quite inadequate to stand against the urgency of the great majorities of the West and South.



LET us now return to London and fix our attention on the dust of its air. Suppose a room in which the house-maid has finished her work to be completely closed, with the exception of an aperture in a shutter through which a sunbeam enters and crosses the room. The floating dust reveals the track of the light. Let a lens be placed in the aperture to condense the beam. Its parallel rays are now converged to a cone, at the apex of which the dust is raised to almost unbroken whiteness by the intensity of its illumination. Defended from all glare, the eye is peculiarly sensitive to this scattered light. The floating dust of London rooms is organic, and may be burned without leaving visible residue. The action of a spirit-lamp flame upon the floating matter has been elsewhere thus described:

"In a cylindrical beam which strongly illuminated the dust of our laboratory, I placed an ignited spirit-lamp. Mingling with the flame, and round its rim, were seen curious wreaths of darkness resembling an intensely black smoke. On placing the flame at some distance below the beam, the same dark masses stormed upward. They were blacker than the blackest smoke ever seen issuing from the funnel of a steamer; and their resemblance to smoke was so perfect as to prompt the conclusion that the apparently pure flame of the alcohol-lamp required but a beam of sufficient intensity to reveal its clouds of liberated carbon. "But is the blackness smoke? This question presented itself in a moment, and was thus answered: A red-hot poker was placed underneath the beam; from it the black wreaths also ascended. A large hydrogen-flame, which emits no smoke, was next employed, and it also produced with augmented copiousness those whirling masses of darkness. Smoke being out of the question, what is the darkness? It is simply that of stellar space; that is to say, blackness resulting from the absence from the track of the beam of all matter competent to scatter its light. When the flame was placed below the beam, the floating matter was destroyed in situ; and the heated air, freed from this matter, rose into the beam, jostled aside the illuminated particles, and substituted for their light the darkness due to its own perfect transparency. Nothing could more forcibly illustrate the invisibility of the agent which renders all things visible. The beam crossed, unseen, the black chasm formed by the transparent air, while, at both sides of the gap, the thick-strewed particles shone out like a luminous solid under the powerful illumination."[1]
  1. "Fragments of Science," fifth edition, pp. 128, 129.