That book by "T and T'," as is well known, consists of chapters which are more original than the papers usually read before scientific societies. Only one volume has ever appeared—the second, alas! alas! never will now.
To test the power of the Clarendon Press to publish such a book, Tait and he wrote down at random complicated equations, lines of wholly unintelligible reasoning, and then thought it would be a good joke to send out the proofs—as copies of an original paper—to various of their friends. And one day Thomson told me with a twinkle in his eye, "Nobody has yet found any mistakes in that paper."
Every morning, except Mondays and Saturdays, Thomson lectured twice; the first lecture, 9 to 10, was on experimental physics; the second, 11 to 12, on mathematical physics.
Electricity was the subject of the 9 to 10 lecture during a particular session which I have in my mind. But the experiments generally went wrong, and Thomson used modestly to say, "Faraday's result was so and so; mine is just the opposite. But Faraday, with inferior apparatus, divined the truth. Remember his result, not what you have just seen me obtain."
Thomson with all his genius, all his power of advising how an experiment should be made, with all his creative originality in suggesting the details of scientific apparatus and methods, could not make the experiments with his own hands. We all dreaded his touching the apparatus which we had set up and adjusted. He was too impulsive, too full of exuberant energy. After the apparatus was broken when he had touched it he was profoundly sorry. At that time it gave us the feeling that we were able to help him by trying experiments on his behalf. But this feeling resembled that of the calculator who helped Newton when he became too excited to finish the application of his principles to the explanation of Kepler's laws, or the feelings of the sculptor's assistant who transfers to marble his master's inspired creation in clay. We loved him the more that he allowed us to take a part—we felt that we were the soldiers of a great warrior.
In his mathematical physics lectures—aye, even in his elementary lectures—the suggestions that he poured forth were much above the heads of the ordinary undergraduates—over 100 in this class—and they gained little by coming to them except a register of their attendance, necessary for their degrees. For, as soon as he turned round to write on the blackboard, the students row by row began to creep out of the lecture room through a back door behind the benches and steal down-stairs, their bodily presence following their mental presence, which had left as soon as the reading of the roll-call was finished. From time to time Thomson put up his eye-glass, peered at the growing empty space, and remarked on the curious gradual diminution of density in the upper part of the lecture room.