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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/231

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THE HISTORY OF A DOCTRINE.

time, but formed a part of the common pabulum during the eighteenth century to an extent that has been singularly forgotten.

The last years of the eighteenth century were destined to see the most remarkable experiments in heat made in the whole of the hundred; for the memoir of Rumford appeared in the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1798; and in the very year 1800 appeared in the same place Sir William Herschel's paper, in which he describes how he placed a thermometer in successive colors of the solar spectrum, finding the heat increase progressively from the violet to the red, and increase yet more beyond the red where there was no color or light whatever; so that there are, he observes, invisible rays as well as visible. More than that, the first outnumber the second; and these dark rays are found in the very source and fount of light itself. These dark rays can also be obtained, he observes, from a candle or a piece of non-luminous hot iron, and, what is very significant, they are found to pass through glass, and to be refracted by it like luminous ones.

And now Herschel, searching for the final verity through a series of excellent experiments, asks a question which shows that he has truth, so to speak, in his hands—he asks himself the great question whether heat and light be occasioned by the same or different rays.

Remember the importance of this (which the querist himself fully recognized); remember that, after long hunting in the blindfold search, he has laid hands, as we now know, on Truth herself, and then see him—let go. He decides that heat and light are not occasioned by the same rays, and we seem to see the fugitive escape from his grasp, and not to be again fairly caught till the next generation. I hardly know more remarkable papers than these of Herschel's in the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1800, or anything more instructive in little men's successes than in this great man's failure, which came in the moment of success. I would strongly recommend the reading of these remarkable original memoirs to any physicist who knows them only at second hand.

One more significant lesson remains, in the effect of this on the minds of his contemporaries. Herschel's observation is to us almost a demonstration of the identity of radiant heat and light; but now, though the nineteenth century is opening, it is with the doctrine still in the minds of most physicists, and perhaps of all chemists, that heat is occasioned by a certain material fluid. Phlogiston is by this time dead or dying, but caloric is very much alive, and never more perniciously active than now, when, for instance, years after Herschel's observation, we find this cited as "demonstrating the existence of caloric," which was, it seems, the way it looked to a contemporary.