Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/February 1894/Tyndall and his American Visit
|TYNDALL AND HIS AMERICAN VISIT.|
IN the death of Prof. Tyndall science has lost one of its greatest modern leaders, and the century one of its most striking personalities. In early life he became prominent as an original investigator, and later he was even more distinguished as a popular scientific teacher. Probably no man of his time did more toward freeing science from the shackles of ecclesiasticism, and vindicating its claims to public regard. With less than the usual advantages of birth or position, he rose by sheer force of character and natural ability to the headship of one of the foremost scientific institutions of learning and research in the world, the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Here, as Professor of Physics, which appointment he received in 1853, he continued those original researches which had already made his name familiar in scientific circles, and subsequently, on the death of Faraday, he succeeded to the directorship of the institution.
His researches in physics embraced magnetism, electricity, light, heat, and sound, the latter including a long series of experiments on the atmosphere as a vehicle of sound, with a view to the establishment of fog signals on the coast of England. Indeed, his studies branched out toward the practical in a variety of directions; chief among them being his investigations concerning the nature of the dust particles in the air, and their relation to the germ theory of disease.
It is said that he had from youth a faculty of examining his premises with extreme minuteness, so that he was hardly ever known to proceed on a false assumption; and no theory ever propounded by him as the result of mature deliberation has been upset or seriously controverted. Another of his characteristics was that a research once entered upon, the work was carried on with the unflagging industry and persistence of an enthusiast. He has himself furnished the explanation of this in the following passage taken from his later writings:
Again he says of this German experience:
But it was his power as a scientific expositor that gave Prof. Tyndall his worldwide reputation, and it is on this that his fame chiefly rests. His ability to present even abstruse subjects to a popular audience was unexcelled. The vividness of his imagination, which enabled him to form clear mental pictures of the phenomena he sought to explain, and his aptness in illustration led him to translate abstract ideas into their concrete equivalents.
On this point, the Athenæum remarks:
The qualities which characterized his lectures were reflected, as far as possible, in his writings. There was the same clearness of thought, the same vigor of expression. Most of his writings were, indeed, reproductions or developments of his lectures; witness his popular works on Sound, Light, and The Forms of Water. His best-known book, Heat considered as a Mode of Motion—in which he presented, thirty years ago, an admirable exposition of the phenomena of heat in accordance with the dynamical theory—may be accepted as typical of his felicity of expression and readiness of illustration.
It was these rare gifts as an interpreter of science which first drew the attention of American readers to Prof. Tyndall, and which finally led to his visit to this country in 1872. Many now living will recall that event and the impulse given to American science by the brilliant course of lectures which he delivered in our chief Atlantic cities.
Having been asked to prepare a brief account of this visit, and being assured that it will be of interest just now to the readers of the Monthly, I have decided to comply with the request. I am enabled to do this by the aid of documents and letters left by my lamented brother, E. L. Youmans, who for many years enjoyed the friendship of Prof. Tyndall, and was in frequent correspondence with him.
Tyndall's first book. The Glaciers of the Alps, was brought out here by Ticknor and Fields in 1861. All who read it were fascinated by the clearness and beauty of its style and the ease with which its facts and principles could be understood.
The year following, my brother made his first visit to England and while in London it was his good fortune to be introduced to Tyndall. In a letter of September 25th he writes:
The work here referred to was Heat as a Mode of Motion, at that time in the hands of the printers in London.
Another letter written from Cambridge during the same visit, when he was attending the meeting of the British Association, describes Tyndall's manner as a lecturer:
One of the consequences of that first interview with Tyndall appears in the following extract from a letter of my brother's written to Mr. Spencer in March, 1863. He says: "I received the advance sheets of Prof. Tyndall's book on Heat, and beg of you to express to him my sincere thanks for the kindness. The Appletons will issue it at the earliest moment, the cuts being already nearly all re-engraved. It is a very fascinating and altogether remarkable book, and it will be a pure pleasure for me to work for its circulation. It can not fail to have a good sale."
A letter of Prof. Tyndall's to my brother relating to the publication of his work on Heat, and bearing date April 29, 1863, is the earliest one in my possession. It is as follows:
I am now giving a short course of lectures on Sound at the Royal Institution. If I have time I may throw them into a readable form. I have for some time entertained the idea of publishing my lectures gradually and of afterward collecting them and fusing them into a book on general physics. But the time necessary to the proper accomplishment of the task deters me almost from undertaking it. However, it may perhaps be executed by slow degrees. Mr. Huxley informs me that you are thinking of bringing out his work also. I am glad to hear this, for it is an extremely able production. Indeed, there are parts of it which in point of writing power have scarcely ever been excelled. . . .
Good-by, my dear sir; accept my best thanks for the trouble you have taken in my behalf, and believe me
|Most sincerely yours,|
The book appeared in the summer of 1863, two years after that on the Glaciers, and, although dealing with a difficult subject, was received with equal favor and appreciation. These two works gave their author a high reputation in America as a popular expositor of science, and created an eager demand for his later writings, nearly all of which have been republished by the same house, and have been widely read. Meanwhile Tyndall's success as an experimenter and his gifts as a popular lecturer had come to the knowledge of many Americans, and the result was a great desire on the part of our more intelligent classes to see and hear the man. This found expression in frequent solicitations to lecture in the United States, among others Mr. John Amory Lowell sending him an urgent invitation to come over and deliver the Lowell lectures in Boston. But it was not until some years later, on the receipt of a request signed by twenty-five names "distinguished in science, in literature, and in administrative position," that, yielding to his democratic sympathies and his ardor in the diffusion of science. Prof. Tyndall finally consented to come.
The first letter in which I find any mention of his coming to America is dated December 24, 1869. I give it entire:
Your last letter made me smile. I know you imagine me to be a screw in money matters, and therefore you thought it would please me to know that I should be well paid for that short scrap from Macmillan. Well, if you feel an interest in the matter you may ask my friends whether I am a screw or not. Sometimes I certainly wish to put the screw upon publishers; for they sometimes need it much. Let mo say now that you may do just what you please with any article of mine, and feel not a thought on the money side of it, as far as I am concerned.
I am trying very hard on a boy's book on optics. Ostensibly for boys, but equally for teachers; for boys thus far do not know how to learn and teachers do not know how to teach. I am so treating the subject that boys and teachers may make the experiments for themselves. My aim is to teach them both to experiment and to reason upon experiment. I suppose a boy to be alongside, and that we are working together. I try to overcome the apathy and the repugnance arising from awkwardness in the first stages of experiment. I speak, therefore, not only to the boy's brain, but to his blood—stirring him to action.
I had a fall with ugly consequences in the Alps this year. One morning, after allowing a mountain cascade to tumble over me, I was returning across some blocks of granite naked to my clothes when I staggered and fell all my weight against the sharp crystals. Three of them stamped themselves into the fiber of my shin, and the shin was generally much bruised. But four days of perfect quiet destroyed all pain, and there was no inflammation. So I came down stairs, moved about, excited inflammation, had erysipelas twice over, and was six weeks in bed. It required three months to set me right. I am now well, and just on the point of beginning the Christmas lectures.
I wish much you would tell me what kind of lectures (scientific) you are accustomed to in New York.
The subject is again alluded to in the following letter:
April 13, 1870.
My Dear Youmans: I thank you more fully for the friendly interest you have taken in my affairs than for the money which has resulted to me through the exercise of your kindness.
I have had many letters of the most gratifying description from the United States, and this is why I mentioned lectures in my last note to you. I am not, however, certain whether it would not be better to pay you a visit without any thought of lecturing. I love freedom, and a scamper through the States, without the incubus of lectures, would be as instructive to me as it would be pleasant.
I saw Huxley last night. To him you have been acting as you have to me. The philosophers of England have much to thank you for. I was sorry to hear from Huxley that his little,book is not so successful in America as it might be. This surprises me, for it is an excellent piece of work. I wish I had time to do something similar in physics.
When I last saw Spencer he was flourishing. He told me he had written to you regarding an amanuensis. He endeavors to persuade me to lighten my labors in this way. But with me an amanuensis would not be so successful as with him. I have to rasp and rasp at my work myself before it pleases me.
With regard to the future I have to say that I am pinned this year by the meeting of the British Association at Liverpool; next year I am pinned by my lectures and researches. If I go to the States without lecturing I could probably fly off in 1872. But should I lecture, the needful preparations would throw the visit back to 1874. This is a long time to look forward to.
But whether I go or tarry, or whether I go as a lecturer or as a friendly visitor, it will make no difference in the feelings with which I reciprocate the kindness shown to me by your countrymen and yourself.
|With best regards to Mrs. Youmans,|
|Believe me, yours ever faithfully,John Tyndall.|
Tyndall's next letter referring to the subject is interesting as showing the force of custom upon a man of such independence of character:
March 26, 1871.
My Dear Youmans: . . . The desire for lecturing in America seems to be very strong. My relative. Hector Tyndale, who is now in this country, was the bearer of a very flattering proposal to me. Suppose I ask you what would be expected of me were I to close with the terms suggested in your last letter? I want to know the amount of slavery that will, under the contract, be inflicted on me.
I take it for granted that I should occupy no other position than that habitually accepted by such men as Emerson, Sumner, Wendell Phillips, Wendell Holmes. I should not, of course, dream of becoming a traveling lecturer in England, and I should as little dream of doing so in America if the constitution of society were not such as to render the work of lecturing not unworthy of your own best men.The best men in England, be it remembered, would engage in nothing of the kind.
Between the time of his first visit to Europe, in 1862, and the time, ten years later, of Prof. Tyndall's coming to this country, my brother had made several visits abroad, and his acquaintance with Tyndall had ripened into friendship. In 1871, when he was in England establishing the International Scientific Series (of which the first volume was prepared by Tyndall), he received from him much friendly counsel and important aid, and, in fact, in a letter of June 23, 1871, from my brother, I find it stated that—
May 28, 1872.
My Dear Youmans: You will have your kindness toward me tested by Prof. Henry in regard to the coming lectures. I wrote to him saying that I knew you would help me, and he has written to me to say he would call upon you.
He proposes five cities (and perhaps others) in which to lecture—I have expressed my willingness to give a course of six lectures in each at the rate of three a week. Two things render it desirable that the number should not exceed three a week. Firstly, I must keep up my physical vigor, and the night subsequent to a lecture is only too likely to be a sleepless one. Secondly, it is above all things desirable to make sure of the experimental arrangements the day before the lecture. . . .
The revelation given in the next letter of Prof. Tyndall's mental state concerning the commercial resources of Boston is too characteristically English to be omitted:
August 31, 1872.
My Dear Youmans: I am in the midst of my preparations here, and shall have them ready so as to enable me to start in the Russia on the 28th of September.
I shall need your friendly aid in getting my apparatus through the custom house. . . .
With regard to the lecture rooms, in all of them I must be able to lower the lights promptly. Most of my experiments will be projected on a screen.
I purpose mixing experiment and philosophy in due proportions.
I deal with the illustrative phenomena of light: the laws of reflection and refraction, analysis and synthesis, the bearing and significance of theories. Spectrum analysis and its revelations regarding the constitution of the sun. The higher phenomena of optics, interference and polarization, reaction of crystals upon light. The building of crystals. The extension of radiation beyond the range of the eye. The identity of light and radiant heat. This is a rough sketch of the subjects which will probably occupy me. I shall not know for a certainty until my preparations are complete.
Do your audiences look down upon the lecturer?
I suppose I can borrow an air pump in New York if I need it.
I suppose if they do not possess ice in Boston I can have a clear block sent there from New York.
Acids, of course, are to be had everywhere.
Are they in the habit of using compressed hydrogen and oxygen in iron bottles in America, and, if so, could I borrow such bottles?
I am taking one screen with me, but I shall sometimes require two. Is such a thing to be borrowed?
Now, like a good fellow, answer these questions within twenty-four hours, and oblige
|Yours, ever faithfully,|
Folkestone, September 19, 1872.
My Dear Youmans:. . . I hope they have clear ice in Boston, also nitric and sulphuric acid; if not, 1 must stock myself from New York. I have written a line to Dr. Draper on this point, but I should be truly thankful to you if you would make this point out for me, and if the acid is not to be had at Boston send there a carboy of nitric and one of sulphuric acid.
I am quite shocked at the mass of apparatus I have collected round me. Still I thought it best to take light apparatus—batteries, electric lamps, and costly optical apparatus—with me, having just given the experiments with them here.
Prof. Tyndall arrived in October, and began his work at once by giving the Lowell lectures in Boston. Then followed courses in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.
Of his Boston lectures he says:
Boston, October 24, 1872.
My Dear Youmans: The hall of the Lowell still continues crowded, but I shoot above their heads sometimes.
In fact, this is my difficulty. I do not know the scientific level of my audience.
Still the people are most kind and attentive, and the newspapers, I believe, are very civil.
I go to Niagara next week, so that the fortnight will be one of relaxation in part and in part of preparation.I have pledged myself to lecture in New Haven in January. They would be sorely disappointed if I did not do this. . . . I remain here till Wednesday, when I propose starting for Niagara.
The following letter gives Tyndall's first impressions of Niagara Falls:
International Hotel, Niagara Falls, Monday morning, November 4, 1872.
My Dear Youmans: I came here on Friday afternoon and have been active ever since. The first impression made upon me by the Falls was tame, because my point of view was not a good one; but they have grown in strength and majesty as I have seen more of them, I had a somewhat exciting day on Saturday, penetrating into unexpected regions under the Horseshoe Fall. I had a fine, strong fellow with me as guide; he had been put upon his mettle, and he led me into extraordinary places—into places, indeed, where no prudent man ought to be found. . . .
I remain here doing some work until Thursday, when T start for Philadelphia. If I find from my assistants that matters are all right in Philadelphia, I may be induced to stay till Friday. There is nothing, I suppose, to be arranged regarding New York? If there were, I could go that way and have a word with you.
I am stronger than when I came, and my work will gradually become easier to me—at least I hope so. I quitted Boston on Thursday, not completing all I wished to do, nor seeing all I wished to see. Still, my sojourn there was a most pleasant one. The only drawback was that many people—thousands I was told wished to hear the lectures who were unable to hear them.
With kind regards to Mrs. Youmans and your sister, also to Mr. Appleton,
|Believe me ever faithfully yours,|
In the following letters Prof. Tyndall gives his impressions of his audiences in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington:
Philadelphia, November 23, 1872.
My Dear Youmans: The second ordeal has been passed, and I believe successfully. The audience at first might have damped a person who reckoned on applause, for the Quaker element is strong in Philadelphia, and Quakers eschew the clapping of hands. But the attention was unflagging throughout. I drew heavily upon their patience, occupying them sometimes for nearly two hours. I did not see one yawn in the assembly, nor one mark of weariness from beginning to end.
They warmed up, moreover, and behaved very much as other Christians in the end. I hardly think any Englishman ever spoke so freely to an American audience as I did to mine last night. I repeated one of De Tocqueville's hardest sayings with reference to the poverty of their achievements in the higher walks of science. I took to pieces the claims of the so-called practical man, not attenuating his merit in the slightest, but opening to their view a region of antecedent discovery to which practical men were not contributors, but from which they drew their supplies. I managed to say all this and a good deal more without exciting a murmur; nay, I was frequently interrupted by expressions of approval, and when I ended the burst of applause was as hearty as I have ever heard.
So this matter is past, and I am now preparing for Baltimore. I have received innumerable requests and invitations to lecture, and could I hope to be able to respond to them or any of them, I should send them to you and ask you to select from the many those that you think most suitable. But I see no hope of being able to prolong my visit beyond the end of January. I dare say I shall be pretty well used up by that time.
As regards science, the newspapers that I have glanced at here are very dull and poorly reported. Perhaps I have not seen the best of them. . . .
Baltimore, December 1, 1872.
Nothing could be more genial and sympathetic than my reception at Baltimore. They declare the lectures entirely successful. Both at Philadelphia and here I have spoken very strongly about their duty as regards scientific investigation.
Washington, Welckerie Hotel, 15th St., December, 1872.
My Dear Youmans:. . . The lectures here are going off well. Lincoln Hall is crowded, and I am assured that no such audiences ever assembled in Washington before. I was brief the first night, but gave them two hours the second night, and an hour and three quarters last night. By the way, when I came to the hall I found to my horror that I had put the wrong notes in my pocket, and so I had to speak for the hour and three quarters without once looking at a note.
No sign of weariness or inattention was to be seen in the audience from first to last.
You will not forget the taking of quiet rooms for me. Expense is quite a secondary matter, so if the Brevoort be the best, please let me have rooms there. Quiet is the great thing—more precious than gold; yea, than much fine gold.
It is difficult to report these experimental lectures. Ordinary reporters can not possibly do it. Now, if you think the New York papers desire to report the lectures I might throw my notes into such a form as would help them, and let them have a copy of the notes of each lecture. What do you say to this?
I hope you are all right again. I am well aided here, and have brought a colored man from Philadelphia, who is very useful.
|Always faithfully yours,|
Prof. Tyndall's lectures in New York were given in Cooper Institute, then one of our largest public halls. It was densely crowded throughout the course by the most intelligent people of the city and adjacent towns, who listened with close and absorbing attention. The ablest men of science and the professions, successful men of business, and cultivated ladies followed him with sustained enthusiasm, and it was felt that no such assemblages had ever before been gathered in New York. Much of this success was due to the attractiveness of the experiments, and much to the felicity of the professor's manner; but the indications of an earnest desire to comprehend the argument and get a thorough understanding of the phenomena presented were abundant. The concluding part of the last lecture of the course was without experiments, and consisted of an estimate of the work of science and. of the claims of original investigators. This was listened to by the vast audience present with almost breathless attention and made a profound impression.
A remarkable test of the public enthusiasm occurred on the evening of one of the lectures. During the preceding twentyfour hours the city was the scene of a raging snowstorm, a heavy body of snow falling, which was piled into drifts by the violent wind. With all his Alpine experience Tyndall spoke of this as "stupendous weather." Although it stopped snowing and the wind went down at nightfall, the horse cars were blocked and the streets were almost impassable. Tyndall, thinking there would be no audience on such a night, questioned whether it would be worth while to go to the hall, but finally decided to do so. To his astonishment and that of everybody else, the crowd was again on hand, not a seat remaining unoccupied. Prof. Tyndall afterward alluded to "that heroic audience which paid me the memorable compliment of coming to hear me on such an inclement night."
Tyndall had always said that it was not for him to exploit the United States as a lecturer for money, and that he should not take away a dollar of the profits that might accrue from his lectures. This was not generally known, and when it was publicly announced, the statement was received with a good deal of incredulity. A widely circulated weekly said "it was a pleasant story, but not exactly true. . . . After paying all expenses he will take home about fifteen thousand dollars, which on the whole is what the printers call a 'fat take' for three months' work." But the truth is that for nearly six months' labor he did not take a dollar of his earnings above actual expenses.
The total receipts for his lectures were $23,100, made up as follows: Boston (six lectures), $1,500; Philadelphia (six lectures), $3,000; Baltimore (three lectures), $1,000; Washington (six lectures), $2,000; New York (six lectures), $8,500; Brooklyn (six lectures), $6,100; New Haven (two lectures), $1,000. After deducting expenses, $13,033 remained, and before leaving the country Prof. Tyndall placed this fund in the hands of a board of trustees consisting of Prof. Joseph Henry, Dr. E. L. Youmans, and General Hector Tyndale, with the recommendation, as expressed in his deed of trust, that they appropriate the interest of the fund in supporting or assisting to support, at such European universities as they may consider most desirable, two American pupils who may evince decided talents in physics, and who may express a determination to devote their lives to this work. "My desire would be that each pupil should spend four years at a German university, three of those to be devoted to the acquisition of knowledge, and the fourth to original investigation." The plan for carrying out this purpose was fully set forth in the deed of trust, but it did not work well in practice. Several students were aided, with satisfactory results, but the selection of young men with suitable qualifications was found to be more of a task than had been anticipated. The trustees were scattered, were busy men with little time for correspondence, and the employment of a paid secretary was deemed impracticable. As a consequence the income accrued faster than it was expended, the fund having been so well invested that in thirteen years it amounted to $32,400. Prof. Tyndall then decided to divide this sum into three equal amounts, to be given, one to Columbia College, one to Harvard University, and one to the University of Pennsylvania, for the founding of three permanent fellowships in physical science. These fellowships were designed for the benefit of students desiring to prepare themselves for the work of original research, and the incumbents might study at home or abroad, as the authorities of the respective institutions should decide.
There was a widespread feeling that in giving his genius, time, and labor to advance the cause of science in this country. Prof. Tyndall had earned the gratitude of all the friends of science and education in the country; and when it became known that he would also devote his money to the same end, this feeling was deepened and it was thought by many that there should be some form of acknowledgment of the great value of these gifts to the American public. So a meeting was called, and it was there resolved to honor Prof. Tyndall with a public banquet to give expression to the general feeling and bid him farewell. This took place the evening before his departure. About two hundred guests were present, and numerous letters were received from persons unable to attend, the list embracing the leading men of science, the professions, and public life in the country.
The following letters, written after Prof. Tyndall's return to England, and containing some interesting allusions to his American experience, may fitly close this account of his visit:
Royal Institution, London, March 11, 1873.
Many thanks to you, my dear Youmans, and many thanks to the Tribune for the cordial expression of good will contained in the number which you have just sent me.
Two hundred thousand copies! It is certainly a most extraordinary phenomenon, and one which the English public will probably take to heart. Nothing could be more gratifying.
I am throwing my experiences at Niagara into a readable shape, intending to make a Friday evening lecture out of them on the 4th of April. As soon as ever the paper is ready I shall send it to you.
I have not yet got properly into harness; indeed, this is always a difficulty with me. When I get into a rut I tend to persist in it.
Had a letter yesterday from Hector. He tells me that he has forwarded the deed of trust to Prof. Henry. I did not keep a copy of it, and should like some time to have one, but there is no hurry. . . .
April 12, 1873.
My Dear Youmans: The "Tyndall number," as the World calls it, of The Popular Science Monthly duly reached me. I wish you had sent over a dozen of them. I took the number to Bence Jones (who to my great grief is dying) and to others. They were mightily struck by its tone, and Bence Jones predicts all manner of great things for a nation which can evoke the spirit manifested in the address of President White.
. . . I send you by this post a proof of my little paper on Niagara; it may be printed as it stands if time be an element of importance, otherwise I am having a little map of the Falls prepared which will add to the clearness of the paper. . . .
- A biographical sketch of Prof. Tyndall, with a portrait on steel, appeared in The Popular Science Monthly for November, 1872.
- This includes the time spent in preparation before leaving home.
- This very interesting paper may be found in the third volume of The Popular Science Monthly, page 210.