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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/269

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KELVIN IN THE SIXTIES

whom they all loved and honored. They might not be able to follow the lecture; but the affecting appeal which preceded it touched their hearts.

When he described to us how Joule in 1840 had experimentally proved that the rate of production of heat was directly proportional to the square of the electric current, and not to the first power, he used to add, "And Joule had the honor to have his paper rejected by the Royal Society. For it was an honor in those days." The rejection of the results of experimental work, although scrupulously accurate, because the experimenter was not already well known, filled Thomson with indignation. For example, the assertion of Sir William Snow Harris (Phil. Trans., Roy. Soc., 1834, p. 225) that the heating power of electricity was simply as the charge, as well as many other electrical errors which Thomson used to dilate on, was held up to scorn before the class as "fashion versus truth in science." In the Philosophical Magazine for 1851 Thomson published an article explaining and defending Joule's work on the heating of conductors.

This ability to sift the wheat from the chaff, the courage to champion what he believed to be true, even if it were not the fashion, and the readiness to give up a theory when speculation lacked accurate experimental corroboration were marked features in Thomson's character.

During the sixties the world was very much interested in the possibility of an Atlantic cable. The 1857 cable had broken while being laid; the 1858 one had failed after one short month of existence; the 1865 cable snapped after 1,186 miles had been laid, and, although nine days were spent in trying to pick it up, and, although it was grappled many times, the rope broke; and this cable, like its predecessors, had to be abandoned. A few yards of this 1865 cable that had been picked up lay on the floor of the Glasgow laboratory and was often pointed to by Thomson as being what had given them heart and kept off despair. Then a prize of over three quarters of a million sterling was offered to the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company if they could complete the 1865 cable and lay an 1866 one. And they won it.

While it was remaining doubtful whether the two sides of the Atlantic would ever be coupled electrically, Thomson's secretary not unfrequently used to be sent to the Glasgow railway station a few minutes before the mail train started with this urgent message from Thomson: "I have gone to White's to hurry on an instrument. The London mail train must on no account start to-night until I come." And such was the national importance of the problem, and such the honor in which Thomson was held, that the station-master obeyed.

Many have used a Thomson's reflecting galvanometer and have