MR. PRESIDENT: When I was in London a year or two ago, I passed some pleasant hours with my friend Prof. Tyndall. Among these, I think that, perhaps, the most pleasant were those of one afternoon that we spent together in the laboratory of the Royal Institution, where Davy discovered potassium and sodium, and decomposed the earths; where Young first announced the grand and fertile principle of interference, and placed on firm foundations the wave-theory of light; where Faraday made his great discoveries in electricity and magnetism. On that occasion Dr. Tyndall was showing me some of his own splendid discoveries—the action of ether-waves of short period upon gaseous matter, clouds formed by actinic decomposition. I saw the superb sky-blue light, and verified its polarized condition. It was like the light of heaven.
Well, as I laid down the Nicol prism we had been using, I could not help thinking that there was an unseen "presence" in the place—a genius loci—that inspired men to make such discoveries. Who was it that brought that genius there?
At the time of the American Revolution, there resided in the town of Rumford, N.H., one Benjamin Thompson, who occupied himself in teaching a school. He embraced, as we Americans would say, the wrong side of the question on that occasion—he sided with the king's government. He went to England, became a man of mark, and was knighted. Then he went on the Continent, again distinguished himself by his scientific attainments, again was titled, and this time, in memory of his American home, was called Count Rumford.
On his return to London, Count Rumford founded the Royal Institution, and thus to a native American the world owes that establishment which has been glorified by Davy, and Young, and Faraday, and the lustre of which is now so conspicuously maintained by Tyndall. Had it not been for Rumford, Davy might have spent his life in filling gas-bags for Dr. Beddoes' patients; Faraday might have been a bookbinder, and certainly Tyndall would not have been honoring us with his presence here tonight.
But if Benjamin Thompson, an American, founded the Royal Institution, James Smithson, an Englishman, shortly afterward founded that noble institution in Washington which bears his name, and which, under the enlightened care of Prof. Henry, has so greatly ministered to the advancement and diffusion of science. You, sir, have called on me to respond to your toast, "English and American Science," and I think these facts show you how closely they have been associated.
- Address at the Tyndall Banquet.