Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/254

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sphere. Meteoric waters absorb it at the moment of their condensation. These results are absolutely new, to our knowledge, and are the fruits of an entirely original labor.


By Professor H. HELMHOLTZ.

THE majority of Faraday's own researches were connected, directly or indirectly, with questions regarding the nature of electricity, and his most important and most renowned discoveries lay in this field. The facts which he has found are universally known. Nevertheless, the fundamental conceptions by which Faraday has been led to these much-admired discoveries have not been received with much consideration. His principal aim was to express, in his new conceptions, only facts, with the least possible use of hypothetical substances and forces. This was really a progress in general scientific method, destined to purify science from the last remnants of metaphysics. Now that the mathematical interpretation of Faraday's conceptions regarding the nature of electric and magnetic force has been given by Clerk Maxwell, we see how great a degree of exactness and precision was really hidden behind his words, which to his contemporaries appeared so vague or obscure; and it is astonishing in the highest degree to see what a large number of general theories, the methodical deduction of which requires the highest powers of mathematical analysis, he has found, by a kind of intuition, with the security of instinct, without the help of a single mathematical formula.

The electrical researches of Faraday, although embracing a great number of apparently minute and disconnected questions, all of which he has treated with the same careful attention and conscientiousness, are really always aiming at two fundamental problems of natural philosophy: the one more regarding the nature of physical forces, or of forces working at a distance; the other, in the same way, regarding chemical forces, or those which act from molecule to molecule, and the relation between these and the first.

The great fundamental problem which Faraday called up anew for discussion was the existence of forces working directly at a distance without any intervening medium. During the last and the beginning of the present century the model after the likeness of which nearly all physical theories had been formed was the force of gravitation acting

  1. The Faraday Lecture, delivered before the Fellows of the Chemical Society in the Theatre of the Royal Institution, London, on Tuesday, April 5, 1881, by Professor Helmholtz. Abstract revised by the author.