This class consisted mainly of divinity, medical and law students, who, of course, should have been taught the elements of natural philosophy by some assistant provided by the university. To waste the time, energy and extraordinary original power of a genius like Thomson on such teaching was like using a razor to chop firewood. The junior clerks in Downing Street require instruction, but the prime minister is not expected to personally hold daily classes for them. And yet, during the past eighty years, there have been many prime ministers, but only one William Thomson.
But to those, like myself, who, after receiving some scientific training, had come from other countries to hear Thomson's talks, his suggestions, his buoyancy, were like the rays of brilliant May sunshine following April showers. The ideas of those students sprouted as never had they done before. The more thoughful gazed with eyes of wonder at Thomson developing an original paper during a lecture on anything that he might be talking about, we knowing that any notes or calculations that he might previously have made were on the back of some old envelope and left probably with his great-coat in the hall. "If you want to know what's in books go and read them for yourselves. I am telling you what is not in books," he used to remark at those lectures at the old University of Glasgow (now a railway goods station), the "Academia Glasgnana," founded by a bull of Pope Nicholas V., and built on the east side of the High Street in 1450 under the authority of Gulielmus Turnbull, Bishop of Glasgow.
The present university did not exist in my student days; in fact the classic stream Kelvin, although beginning to show signs of the drainage from manufactories spreading to the northwest of the city, flowed through a park and a dale still of a sufficiently sylvan character to make the words of the old song, "Oh! let us haste to Kelvin grove," not absolutely inapplicable.
To my question, "What books on electricity shall I read?" he replied "None! there are none. But you might read some of my papers in the Philosophical Magazine." Clerk Maxwell's classical treatise, Fleeming Jenkin's "Electricity and Magnetism," and the reprint of Thomson's own papers did not appear until some years afterwards. Fleeming Jenkin, who with Cromwell Varley became a partner in that famous firm of consulting telegraph engineers, "Thomson, Varley and Jenkin," was the first person to write a text-book which brought together disconnected and disjointed experiments and gave the elementary mathematical theory underlying them. In the preface of this book, which first appeared in 1873, the author said: