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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/515

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ELECTRICITY IN RELATION TO SCIENCE.

ELECTRICITY IN RELATION TO SCIENCE.[1]
By Prof. WILLIAM CROOKES.

THE third annual dinner of the Institution of Electrical Engineers was held at the Criterion on Friday, November 13th, Prof. William Crookes, the president, was in the chair. In proposing the toast of the evening, "Electricity in relation to Science," Prof. Crookes delivered the following speech:

We have happily outgrown the preposterous notion that research in any department of science is mere waste of time. It is now generally admitted that pure science, irrespective of practical applications, benefits both the investigator himself and greatly enriches the community. "It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes." Between the frog's leg quivering on Galvani's work-table and the successful telegraph or telephone there exists a direct filiation. Without the one we could not have the other.

We know little as yet concerning the mighty agency of electricity. "Substantialists" tell us it is a kind of matter. Others view it, not as matter, but as a form of energy. Others, again, reject both these views. Prof. Lodge considers it "a form, or rather a mode of manifestation, of the ether." Prof. Nikola Tesla demurs to the view of Prof. Lodge, but thinks that "nothing stands in the way of our calling electricity ether associated with matter, or bound ether." Higher authorities can not even yet agree whether we have one electricity or two opposite electricities. The only way to tackle the difficulty is to persevere in experiment and observation. If we never learn what electricity is, if, like life or like matter, it should remain an unknown quantity, we shall assuredly discover more about its attributes and its functions.

The light which the study of electricity throws upon a variety of chemical phenomena—witnessed alike in our little laboratories and in the vast laboratories of the earth and the sun—can not be overlooked. The old electro-chemical theory of Berzelius is superseded, and a new and wider theory is opening out. The facts of electrolysis are by no means either completely detected or coordinated. They point to the great probability that electricity is atomic, that an electrical atom is as definite a quantity as a chemical atom. The electrical attraction between two chemical atoms being a trillion times greater than gravitational attraction is


  1. Speech delivered at the third annual dinner of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, November 13, 1891.