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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

JOHN DALTON AND HIS ACHIEVEMENT: A GLIMPSE ACROSS A CENTURY[1]
By Professor R. M. WENLEY

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

IT is a melancholy reflection that the treasure laid up by great men in our memories should be corrupted often by the moth and rust of error. But, after all, this mischance roots in the nature of the case. Necessarily, our views of the past are synoptic, because the daily details, even of big events, escape us, much more the complex, ceaseless pulsations of the persons who have served their time and place rarely. Be we appreciative or critical, we lie under sore temptation to forget the inevitable limitations of human lot, and thus to lose perspective. Accordingly, my scientific colleagues,[2] with whom you have done me the honor to associate me in our effort to pay worthy homage to the genius of John Dalton.(1766-1844), whose "A New System of Chemical Philosophy," although not completed in the second part of 1810,[3] had reached all its epoch-making significance, have requested me to introduce the subject with some account of the difficulties, amazing to us in our conditions, under which this strenuous pioneer labored. To this end, we must try to pierce the cultural inwardness of English life at the close of the eighteenth century, keeping in mind the peculiar qualities that characterize English science even yet.

 
I

As usual, the bare facts of Dalton's story need interpretation, the invisible atmosphere, their setting, imports much. Born 1766, in a little village of Cumberland, a county still remarkable for its sparse population, of a Quaker family, who eked out a precarious livelihood upon the home industry of woolen-weaving, Dalton's social relations isolated him from the chief cultural organs of the national life. Till the tender age of twelve he received such instruction as the local Friends' school afforded, and he appears to have made excellent use of his opportunities: then he went to work as a teacher there, and as a

  1. Read before the Research Club of the University of Michigan at its annual memorial meeting, devoted in 1810 to a celebration of the centennial of Dalton's atomic theory.
  2. Professor S. Lawrence Bigelow, of the department of chemistry, and Professor Karl E. Guthe, of the department of physics.
  3. It was never completed; the second part of the second volume did not appear.