A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism/Part I/Chapter I

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Electrification by Friction.

27.] Experiment I[1]. Let a piece of glass and a piece of resin, neither of which exhibits any electrical properties, be rubbed together and left with the rubbed surfaces in contact. They will still exhibit no electrical properties. Let them be separated. They will now attract each other.

If a second piece of glass be rubbed with a second piece of resin, and if the pieces be then separated and suspended in the neighbourhood of the former pieces of glass and resin, it may be observed—

  1. That the two pieces of glass repel each other.
  2. That each piece of glass attracts each piece of resin.
  3. That the two pieces of resin repel each other.

These phenomena of attraction and repulsion are called Electrical phenomena, and the bodies which exhibit them are said to be electrified, or to be charged with electricity

Bodies may be electrified in many other ways, as well as by friction.

The electrical properties of the two pieces of glass are similar to each other but opposite to those of the two pieces of resin, the glass attracts what the resin repels and repels what the resin attracts.

If a body electrified in any manner whatever behaves as the glass does, that is, if it repels the glass and attracts the resin, the body is said to be vitreously electrified, and if it attracts the glass and repels the resin it is said to be resinously electrified. All electrified bodies are found to be either vitreously or resinously electrified.

It is the established practice of men of science to call the vitreous electrification positive, and the resinous electrification negative. The exactly opposite properties of the two kinds of electrification justify us in indicating them by opposite signs, but the application of the positive sign to one rather than to the other kind must be considered as a matter of arbitrary convention, just as it is a matter of convention in mathematical diagrams to reckon positive distances towards the right hand.

No force, either of attraction or of repulsion, can be observed between an electrified body and a body not electrified. When, in any case, bodies not previously electrified are observed to be acted on by an electrified body, it is because they have become electrified by induction.

Electrification by Induction

28.] Experiment II[2]. Let a hollow vessel of metal be hung up by white silk threads, and let a similar thread be attached to the lid of the vessel so that the vessel may be opened or closed without touching it.

Fig. 4.

Let the pieces of glass and resin be similarly suspended and electrified as before.

Let the vessel be originally unelectrified, then if an electrified piece of glass is hung up within it by its thread without touching the vessel, and the lid closed, the outside of the vessel will be found to be vitreously electrified, and it may be shewn that the electrification outside of the vessel is exactly the same in whatever part of the interior space the glass is suspended.

If the glass is now taken out of the vessel without touching it, the electrification of the glass will be the same as before it was put in, and that of the vessel will have disappeared.

This electrification of the vessel, which depends on the glass being within it, and which vanishes when the glass is removed, is called Electrification by induction.

Similar effects would be produced if the glass were suspended near the vessel on the outside, but in that case we should find an electrification vitreous in one part of the outside of the vessel and resinous in another, When the glass is inside the vessel the whole of the outside is vitreously and the whole of the inside resinously electrified.

Electrification by Conduction.

29] Experiment III. Let the metal vessel he electrified by induction, as in the last experiment, let a second metallic body be suspended by white silk threads near it, and let a metal wire, similarly suspended, he brought so as to touch simultaneously the electrified vessel and the second body.

The second body will now be found to be vitreously electrified, and the vitreous electrification of the vessel will have diminished. The electrical condition has been transferred from the vessel to the second body by means of the wire. The wire is called a conductor of electricity, and the second body is said to be electrified by conduction.

Conductors and Insulators.

Experiment IV. If a glass rod, a stick of resin or gutta-percha, or a white silk thread, had been used instead of the metal wire, no transfer of electricity would have taken place. Hence these latter substances are called Non-conductors of electricity. Non-conductors are used in electrical experiments to support electrified bodies without carrying off their electricity. They are then called Insulators.

The metals are good conductors; air, glass, resins, gutta-percha, vulcanite, paraffin, &c. are good insulators; but, as we shall see afterwards, all substances resist the passage of electricity, and all substances allow it to pass, though in exceedingly different degrees. This subject will be considered when we come to treat of the Motion of electricity. For the present we shall consider only two classes of bodies, good conductors, and good insulators.

In Experiment II an electrified body produced electrification in the metal vessel while separated from it by air, a non-conducting medium. Such a medium, considered as transmitting these electrical effects without conduction, has been called by Faraday a Dielectric medium, and the action which takes place through it is called Induction.

In Experiment III the electrified vessel produced electrification in the second metallic body through the medium of the wire. Let us suppose the wire removed, and the electrified piece of glass taken out of the vessel without touching it, and removed to a sufficient distance. The second body will still exhibit vitreous electrification, but the vessel, when the glass is removed, will have resinous electrification. If we now bring the wire into contact with both bodies, conduction will take place along the wire, and all electrification will disappear from both bodies, showing that the electrification of the two bodies was equal and opposite,

30.] Experiment V. In Experiment II it was shown that if a piece of glass, electrified by rubbing it with resin, is hung up in an insulated metal vessel, the electrification observed outside does not depend on the position of the glass. If we now introduce the piece of resin with which the glass was rubbled into the same vessel, without touching it or the vessel, it will be found that there is no electrification outside the vessel. From this we conclude that the electrification of the resin is exactly equal and opposite to that of the glass. By putting in any number of bodies, electrified in any way, it may be shown that the electrification of the outside of the vessel is that due to the algebraic sum of all the electrifications, those being reckoned negative which are resinous. We have thus a practical method of adding the electrical effects of several bodies without altering the electrification of each.

31.] Experiment VI. Let a second insulated metallic vessel, B, be provided, and let the electrified piece of glass be put into the first vessel A, and the electrified piece of resin into the second vessel B. Let the two vessels be then put in communication by the metal wire, as in Experiment III. All signs of electrification will disappear.

Next, let the wire be removed, and let the pieces of glass and of resin to be taken out of the vessels without touching them. It will be found that A is electrified resinously and B vitreously.

If now the glass and the vessel A be introduced together into a larger insulated vessel C, it will be found that there is no electrification outside C. This shows that the electrification of A is exactly equal and opposite to that of the piece of glass, and that if B may be shown in the same way to be equal and opposite to that of the piece of resin.

We have thus obtained a method of charging a vessel with a quantity of electricity exactly equal and opposite to that of an electrified body without altering the electrification of the latter, and we may in this way, charge any number of vessels with exactly equal quantities of electricity of either kind, which we may take for provisional units.

32.] Experiment VII. Let the vessel B, charged with a quantity of positive electricity, which we shall call, for the present, unity, be introduced into the larger insulated vessel C without touching it. It will produce a positive electrification on the outside of C. Now let B be made to touch the inside of C. No change of the external electrification will be observed. If B is now taken out of C without touching it, and removed to a sufficient distance, it will be found that B is completely discharged, and that C has become charged with a unit of positive electricity.

We have thus a method of transferring the charge of B to C.

Let B be now recharged with a unit of electricity, introduced into C already charged, made to touch the inside of C, and removed. It will be found that B is again completely discharged, so that the charge of C is doubled.

If this process is repeated, it will be found that however highly C is previously charged, and in whatever way B is charged, when B is first entirely enclosed in C, then made to touch C , and finally removed without touching C, the charge of B is completely transferred to C, and B is entirely free from electrification.

This experiment indicates a method of charging a body with any number of units of electricity. We shall find, when we come to the mathematical theory of electricity, that the result of this experiment affords an accurate test of the truth or the theory.

33.] Before we proceed to the investigation of the law of electrical force, let us enumerate the facts we have already established.

By placing any electrified system inside an insulated hollow conducting vessel, and examining the resultant effect on the outside of the vessel, we ascertain the character of the total electrification of the system placed inside, without any communication of electricity between the different bodies of the system.

The electrification of the outside of the vessel may be tested with great delicacy by putting it in communication with an electroscope.

We may suppose the electroscope to consist of a strip of gold leaf hanging between two bodies charged,one positively, and the other negatively. If the gold leaf becomes electrified it will incline towards the body whose electrification is opposite to its own. By increasing the electrification of the two bodies and the delicacy of the suspension, an exceedingly small electrification of the gold leaf may be detected.

When we come to describe electrometers and multipliers we shall find that there are still more delicate methods of' detecting electrification and of testing the accuracy of our theorems, but at present we shall suppose the testing to be made by connecting the hollow vessel with a gold leaf electroscope.

This method was used by Faraday in his very admirable demonstration of the laws of electrical phenomena[3].

34.] I. The total electrification of a body, or system of bodies, remains always the same, except in so far as it receives electrification from or gives electrification to other bodies.

In all electrical experiments the electrification of bodies is found to change, but it is always found that this change is due to want of perfect insulation, and that as the means of insulation are improved, the loss of electrification becomes less. We may therefore assert that the electrification of a body placed in a perfectly insulating medium would remain perfectly constant.

II. When one body electrifies another by conduction, the total electrification of the two bodies remains the same, that is, the one loses as much positive or gains as much negative electrification as the other gains of positive or loses of negative electrification.

For if the two bodies are enclosed in the hollow vessel, no change of the total electrification is observed.

III. When electrification is produced by friction, or by any other known method, equal quantities of positive and negative electrification are produced.

For the electrification of the whole system may be tested in the hollow vessel, or the process of electrification may be carried on within the vessel itself, and however intense the electrification of the parts of the system may be, the electrification of the whole, as indicated by the gold leaf electroscope, is invariably zero.

The electrification of a body is therefore a physical quantity capable of measurement, and two or more electrifications can be combined experimentally with a result of the same kind as when two quantities are added algebraically, We therefore are entitled to use language fitted to deal with electrification as a as quantity as well as a quality, and to speak of any electrified body as 'charged with a certain quantity of positive or negative electricity.'

35.] While admitting electricity, as we have now done, to the rank of a physical quantity, we must not too hastily assume that it is, or is not, a substance, or that it is, or is not, a form of energy, or that it belongs to any known category of physical quantities. All that we have hitherto proved is that it cannot be created or annihilated, so that if the total quantity of electricity within a closed surface is increased or diminished, the increase or diminution must have passed in or out through the closed surface.

This is true of matter, and is expressed by the equation known as the Equation of Continuity in Hydrodynamics.

It is not true of heat, for heat may be increased or diminished within a closed surface, without passing in or out through the surface, by the transformation of some other form of energy into heat, or of heat into some other form of energy.

It is not true even of energy in general if we admit the immediate action of bodies at a distance. For a body outside the closed surface may make an exchange of energy with a body within the surface. But if all apparent action at a distance is the result of the action between the parts of an intervening medium, and if the nature of this action of the parts of the medium is clearly understood, then it is conceivable that in all cases of the increases or diminution of the energy within a closed surface we may be able to trace the passage of the energy in or out through that surface.

There is, however, another reason which warrants us in asserting that electricity, as a physical quantity, synonymous with the total electrification of a body, is not, like heat, a form of energy. An electrified system has a certain amount or energy, and this energy can be calculated by multiplying the quantity of electricity in each of its parts by another physical quantity, called the Potential, of that part, and taking half the sum of the products. The quantities 'Electricity ' and 'Potential,' when multiplied together, produce the quantity 'Energy.' It is impossible, therefore, that electricity and energy should be quantities of the same category, for electricity is only one of the factors of energy, the other factor being 'Potential.'

Energy, which is the product of these factors, may also be considered as the product of several other pairs of factors, such as

A Force ×A distance through which the force is to act.
A Mass ×Gravitation acting through a certain height.
A Mass ×Half the square of its velocity,
A Pressure ×A volume of fluid introduced into a vessal at that pressure
A Chemical Affinity ×A chemical change, measured by the number of electro-chemical equivalents which enter into combination.

If we obtain distinct mechanical ideas of the nature of electric potential, we may combine these with the idea of energy to determine the physical category in which 'Electricity' is to be placed.

36.] In most theories on the subject, Electricity is treated as a substance, but inasmuch as there are two kinds of electrification which, being combined, annul each other, and since we cannot conceive of two substances annulling each other, a distinction has been drawn between Free Electricity and Combined Electricity.

Theory of Two Fluids

In the theory called that of Two Fluids, all bodies, in their un-electrified state, are supposed to be charged with equal quantities of positive and negative electricity. These quantities are supposed to be so great that no process of electrification has ever yet deprived a body of all the electricity of either kind. The process of electrification, according to this theory, consists in taking a certain quantity P of positive electricity from the body A and communicating it to B, or in taking a quantity N of negative electricity from B and communicating it to A, or in some combination or these processes.

The result will be that A will have P+N units of negative electricity over and above its remaining positive electricity, which is supposed to be in a state of combination with an equal quantity of negative electricity. This quantity P+N is called the Free electricity, the rest is called the Combined, Latent, or Fixed electricity.

In most expositions of this theory the two electricities are called 'Fluids,' because they are capable of being transferred from one body to another, and are, within conducting bodies, extremely mobile. The other properties of fluids, such as their inertia, weight, and elasticity, are not attributed to them by those who have used the theory for merely mathematical purposes; but the use of the word Fluid has been apt to mislead the vulgar, including many men of science who are not natural philosophers, and who have seized on the word Fluid as the only term in the statement of the theory which seemed intelligible to them.

We shall see that the mathematical treatment of the subject has been greatly developed by writers who express themselves in terms of the 'Two Fluids' theory. Their results, however, have been deduced entirely from data which can be proved by experiment, and which must therefore be true, whether we adopt the theory of two fluids or not. The experimental verification of the mathematical results therefore is no evidence for or against the peculiar doctrines of this theory.

The introduction of two fluids permits us to consider the negative electrification of A and the positive electrification of B as the effect of any one of three different processes which would lead to the same result. We have already supposed it produced by the transfer of P units of positive electricity from A to B, together with the transfer of N units of negative electricity from B to A. But if 'P+N' units of positive electricity had been transferred from A to B, or if P+N units of negative electricity had been transferred from B to A, the resulting 'free electricity' on A and on B would have been the same as before, but the quantity of 'combined electricity' in A would have been less in the second case and greater in the third than it was in the first.

It would appear therefore, according to this theory, that it is possible to alter not only the amount of free electricity in a body, but the amount of combined electricity. But no phenomena have ever been observed in electrified bodies which can be traced to the varying amount of their combined electricities. Hence either the combined electricities have no observable properties, or the amount of the combined electricities is incapable of variation. The first of these alternatives presents no difficulty to the mere mathematician, who attributes no properties to the fluids except those of attraction and repulsion, for in this point of view the two fluids simply annul one another, and their combination is a true mathematical zero. But to those who cannot use the word Fluid without thinking of a substance it is difficult to conceive that the combination of the two fluids shall have no properties at all, so that the addition of more or less of the combination to a body shall not in any way affect it, either by increasing its mass or its weight, or altering some or its other properties. Hence it has been supposed by some, that in every process of electrification exactly equal quantities of the two fluids are transferred in opposite directions, so that the total quantity of the two fluids in any body taken together remains always the same. By this new law they 'contrive to save appearances,' forgetting that there would have been no need of the law except to reconcile the 'two fluids' theory with facts, and to prevent it from predicting non-existent phenomena.

Theory of One Fluid

37.] In the theory of One Fluid everything is the same as in the theory of Two Fluids except that, instead of supposing the two substances equal and opposite in all respects, one of them, generally the negative one, has been endowed with the properties and name of Ordinary Matter, while the other retains the name of The Electric Fluid. The particles of the fluid are supposed to repel one another according to the law of the inverse square of the distance, and to attract those of matter according to the same law. Those of matter are supposed to repel each other and attract those of electricity. The attraction, however, between units of the different substances at unit of distance is supposed to be a very little greater than the repulsion between units of the same kind, so that a unit of matter combined with a unit of electricity will exert a force of attraction on a similar combination at a distance, this force, however, being exceedingly small compared with the force between two uncombined units.

This residual force is supposed to account for the attraction of gravitation. Unelectrified bodies are supposed to be charged with as many units of electricity as they contain of ordinary matter. When they contain more electricity or less, they are said to be positively or negatively electrified.

This theory does not, like the Two-Field theory, explain too much. It requires us, however, to suppose the mass of the electric fluid so small that no attainable positive or negative electrification has yet perceptibly increased or diminished either the mass or the weight of a body, and it has not yet been able to assign sufficient reasons why the vitreous rather than the resinous electrification should be supposed due to an excess of electricity.

One objection has sometimes been urged against this theory by men who ought to have reasoned better. It has been said that the doctrine that the particles of matter uncombined with electricity repel one another, is in direct antagonism with the well established fact that every particle of matter attracts every other particle throughout the universe. If the theory of One Fluid were true we should have the heavenly bodies repelling one another.

But it is manifest that the heavenly bodies, according to this theory, if they consisted of matter uncombined with electricity, would be in the highest state of negative electrification, and would repel each other. We have no reason to believe that they are in such a highly electrified state, or could be maintained in that state. The earth and all the bodies whose attraction has been observed are rather in an unelectrified state, that is, they contain the normal charge of electricity, and the only action between them is the residual force lately mentioned. The artificial manner, however, in which this residual force is introduced is a much more valid objection to the theory.

In the present treatise I propose, at different stages of the investigation, to test the different theories in the light of additional classes of phenomena. For my own part, I look for additional light on the nature of electricity from a study of what takes place in the space intervening between the electrified bodies. Such is the essential character of the mode of investigation pursued by Faraday in his Experimental Researches, and as we go on I intend to exhibit the results, as developed by Faraday, W. Thomson, &c., in a connected and mathematical form, so that we may perceive what phenomena are explained equally well by all the theories, and what phenomena indicate the peculiar difficulties of each theory.

Measurement of the Force between Electrified Bodies.

38.] Forces may be measured in various ways. For instance, one of the bodies may be suspended from one arm of a delicate balance, and weights suspended from the other arm, till the body, when unelectrified, is in equilibrium. The other body may then be placed at a known distance beneath the first, so that the attraction or repulsion of the bodies when electrified may increase or diminish the apparent weight of the first. The weight which must be added to or taken from the other arm, when expressed in dynamical measure, will measure the force between the bodies. This arrangement was used by Sir W. Snow Harris, and is that adopted in Sir W. Thomson's absolute electrometers. See Art. 217.

It is sometimes more convenient to use a torsion-balance in which a horizontal arm is suspended by a fine wire or fibre, so as to be capable of vibrating about the vertical wire as an axis, and the body is attached to one end of the arm and acted on by the force in the tangential direction, so as to turn the arm round the vertical axis, and so twist the suspension wire through a certain angle. The torsional rigidity of the wire is found by observing the time of oscillation of the arm, the moment of inertia of the arm being otherwise known, and from the angle of torsion and the torsional rigidity the force of attraction or repulsion can be deduced. The torsion-balance was devised by Michell for the determination of the force of gravitation between small bodies, and was used by Cavendish for this purpose. Coulomb,working independently of these philosophers, reinvented it, and successfully applied it to discover the laws of electric and magnetic forces; and the torsion-balance has ever since been used in all researches where small forces have to be measured. See Art. 215.

39.] Let us suppose that by either of these methods we can measure the force between two electrified bodies. We shall suppose the dimensions of the bodies small compared with the distance between them, so that the result may not be much altered by any inequality of distribution of the electrification on either body, and we shall suppose that both bodies are so suspended in air as to be at a considerable distance from other bodies on which they might induce electrification.

It is then found that if the bodies are placed at a fixed distance and charged respectively with and of our provisional units of electricity, they will repel each other with a force proportional to the product of and . If either or is negative, that is, if one of the charges is vitreous and the other resinous, the force will be attractive, but if both and are negative the force is again repulsive.

We may suppose the first body, , charged with units of vitreous and units of resinous electricity, which may be conceived separately placed within the body, as in Experiment V.

Let the second body, , be charged with units of positive and units of negative electricity.

Then each of the positive units in will repel each of the positive units in with a certain force, say , making a total effect equal to .

Since the effect of negative electricity is exactly equal and opposite to that of positive electricity, each of the positive units in will attract each of the negative units in with the same force , making a total effect equal to .

Similarly the negative units in will attract the positive units in with a force , and will repel the negative units in with a force

The total repulsion will therefore be ; and the total attraction will be

The resultant repulsion will be


Now is the algebraical value of the charge on , and is that of the charge on , so that the resultant repulsion may be written , the quantities and being always understood to be taken with their proper signs.

Variation of the Force with the Distance.

40.] Having established the law of force at a fixed distance, we may measure the force between bodies charged in a constant manner and placed at different distances. It is found by direct measurement that the force, whether of attraction or repulsion, varies inversely as the square of the distance, so that if is the repulsion between two units at unit distance, the repulsion at distance will be and the general expression for the repulsion between units and units at distance will be


Definition of the Electrostatic Unit of Electricity.

41.] We have hitherto used a wholly arbitrary standard for our unit of electricity, namely, the electrification of a certain piece of glass as it happened to be electrified at the commencement of our experiments. We are now able to select a unit on a definite principle, and in order that this unit may belong to a general system we define it so that may be unity, or in other words—

The electrostatic unit of electricity is that quantity of electricity which, when placed at unit of distance from an equal quantity, repels it with unit of force.

This unit is called the Electrostatic unit to distinguish it from the Electromagnetic unit, to be afterwards defined.

We may now write the general law of electrical action in the simple form


The repulsion between two small bodies charged respectively with, and units of electricity is numerically equal to the product of the charges divided by the square of the distance.

Dimensions of the Electrostatic Unit of Quantity.

42.] If is the concrete electrostatic unit of quantity itself, and , the numerical values of particular quantities; if is the unit of length, and the numerical value of the distance; and if is the unit of force, and the numerical value of the force, then the equation becomes.


This unit is called the Electrostatic Unit of electricity. Other units may be employed for practical purposes, and in other departments of electrical science, but in the equations of electrostatics quantities of electricity are understood to be estimated in electrostatic units, just as in physical astronomy we employ a unit of mass which is founded on the phenomena of gravitation, and which differs from the units of mass in common use.

Proof of the Law of Electrical Force.

43.] The experiments of Coulomb with the torsion-balance may be considered to have established the law of force with a certain approximation to accuracy. Experiments of this kind, however, are rendered difficult, and in some degree uncertain, by several disturbing causes, which must be carefully traced and corrected for.

In the first place, the two electrified bodies must be of sensible dimensions relative to the distance between them, in order to be capable of carrying charges sufficient to produce measurable forces. The action of each body will then produce an effect on the distribution of electricity on the other, so that the charge cannot be considered as evenly distributed over the surface, or collected at the centre of gravity; but its effect must be calculated by an intricate investigation. This, however, has been done as regards two spheres by Poisson in an extremely able manner, and the investigation has been greatly simplified by Sir W. Thomson in his Theory of Electrical Images. See Arts. 172-174.

Another difficulty arises from the action of the electricity induced on the sides of the case containing the instrument. By making the inside of the instrument accurately cylindric, and making its inner surface of metal, this effect can be rendered definite and measurable.

An independent difficulty arises from the imperfect insulation of the bodies, on account of which the charge continually decreases. Coulomb investigated the law of dissipation, and made corrections for it in his experiments.

The methods of insulating charged conductors, and of measuring electrical effects, have been greatly improved since the time of Coulomb, particularly by Sir W. Thomson; but the perfect accuracy of Coulomb's law of force is established, not by any direct experiments and measurements (which may be used as illustrations of the law), but by a mathematical consideration of the phenomenon described as Experiment VII, namely, that an electrified conductor , if made to touch the inside of a hollow closed conductor and then withdrawn without touching , is perfectly discharged, in whatever manner the outside of may be electrified. By means of delicate electroscopes it is easy to show that no electricity remains on after the operation, and by the mathematical theory given at Art. 74, this can only be the case if the force varies inversely as the square of the distance, for if the law had been of any different form would have been electrified.

The Electric Field.

44.] The Electric Field is the portion of space in the neighbourhood of electrified bodies, considered with reference to electric phenomena. It may be occupied by air or other bodies, or it may be a so-called vacuum, from which we have withdrawn every substance which we can act upon with the means at our disposal.

If an electrified body be placed at any part of the electric field it will be acted on by a force which will depend, in general, on the shape of the body and on its charge, if the body is so highly charged as to produce a sensible disturbance in the previous electrification of the other bodies.

But if the body is very small and its charge also very small, the electrification of the other bodies will not be sensibly disturbed, and we may consider the body as indicating by its centre of gravity a certain point of the field. The force acting on the body will then be proportional to its charge, and will be reversed when the charge is reversed. Let be the charge of the body, and the force acting on the body in a certain direction, then when is very small is proportional to , or

where is a quantity depending on the other bodies in the field. If the charge could be made equal to unity without disturbing the electrification of other bodies we should have .

We shall call the Resultant electric force at the given point of the field.

Electric Potential.

45.] If the small body carrying the small charge be moved from the given point to an indefinite distance from the electrified bodies, it will experience at each point of its course a force , where varies from point to point of the course. Let the whole work done on the body by these electrical forces be , then is the potential at the point of the field from which the body started. If the charge could be made equal to unity without disturbing the electrification of other bodies, we might define the potential at any point as the work done on a body charged with unit of electricity in moving from that point to an infinite distance.

A body electrified positively tends to move from places of greater positive potential to places of smaller positive, or of negative potential, and a body negatively electrified tends to move in the opposite direction.

In a conductor the electrification is distributed exactly as if it were free to move in the conductor according to the same law. If therefore two parts of a conductor have different potentials, positive electricity will move from the part having greater potential to the part having less potential as long as that difference continues. A conductor therefore cannot be in electrical equilibrium unless every point in it has the same potential. This potential is called the Potential of the Conductor.

Equipotential Surfaces.

46.] If a surface described or supposed to be described in the electric field is such that the electric potential is the same at every point of the surface it is called an Equipotential surface.

An electrified point constrained to rest upon such a surface will have no tendency to move from one part of the surface to another, because the potential is the same at every point. An equipotential surface is therefore a surface of equilibrium or a level surface. The resultant force at any point of the surface is in the direction of the normal to the surface, and the magnitude of the force is such that the work done on an electrical unit in passing from the surface V to the surface V' is V-V'.

No two equipotential surfaces having different potentials can meet one another, because the same point cannot have more than one potential, but one equipotential surface may meet itself, and this takes place at all points and lines of equilibrium.

The surface of a conductor in electrical equilibrium is necessarily an equipotential surface. If the electrification of the conductor is the whole surface, then the potential will diminish as we move away from the surface on every side, and the conductor will be surrounded by a series of surfaces of lower potential.

But if (owing to the action of external electrified bodies) some regions of the conductor are electrified positively and others negatively, the complete equipotential surface will consist of the surface of the conductor itself together with a system of other surfaces, meeting the surface of the conductor in the lines which divide the positive from the negative regions. These lines will be lines of equilibrium, so that an electrified point placed on one of these lines will experience no force in any direction.

When the surface of a conductor is electrified positively in some parts and negatively in others, there most be some other electrified body in the field besides itself. For if we allow a positively electrified point, starting from a positively electrified part of the surface, to move always in the direction of the resultant force upon it, the potential at the point will continually diminish till the point reaches either a negatively electrified surface at a potential less than that of the first conductor, or moves off to an infinite distance. Since the potential at an infinite distance is zero, the latter case can only occur when the potential of the conductor is positive.

In the same way a negatively electrified point, moving off from a negatively electrified part of the surface, must either reach a positively electrified surface, or pass off to infinity, and the latter case can only happen when the potential of the conductor is negative.

Therefore, if both positive and negative electrification exists on a conductor, there must be some other body in the field whose potential has the same sign as that of the conductor but a greater numerical value, and if a conductor of any form is alone in the field the electrification of every part is of the same sign as the potential of the conductor.

Line of Force.

47.] The line described by a point moving always in the direction of the resultant force is called a Line of force. It cuts the equipotential surfaces at right angles. The properties of lines of force will be more fully explained afterwards, because Faraday has expressed many of the laws of electrical action in terms of his conception of lines of force drawn in the electric field, and indicating both the direction and the magnitude of the force at every point.

Electric Tension.

48.] Since the surface of a conductor is an equipotential surface, the resultant force is normal to the surface, and it will be shown in Art. 78 that it is proportional to the superficial density of the electrification. Hence the electricity on any small area of the surface will be acted on by a force tending from the conductor and proportional to the product of the resultant force and the density, that is, proportional to the square of the resultant force.

This force which acts outwards as a tension on every part of the conductor will be called electric Tension. It is measured like ordinary mechanical tension, by the force exerted on unit of area.

The word Tension has been used by electricians in several vague senses, and it has been attempted to adopt it in mathematical language as a synonym for Potential; but on examining the cases in which the word has been used, I think it will be more consistent with usage and with mechanical analogy to understand by tension a pulling force of so many pounds per square inch exerted on the surface of a conductor or elsewhere. We shall find that the conception of Faraday, that this electric tension exists not only at the electrified surface but all along the lines of force, leads to a theory of electric action as a phenomenon of stress in a medium.

Electromotive Force.

49.] When two conductors at different potentials are connected by a thin conducting wire, the tendency of electricity to flow along the wire is measured by the difference of the potentials of the two bodies. The difference of potentials between two conductors or two points is therefore called the Electromotive force between them.

Electromotive force may arise from other causes than difference of potential, but these causes are not considered in treating of statical electricity. We shall consider them when we come to chemical actions, motions of magnets, inequalities of temperature, &c.

Capacity of a Conductor.

50.] If one conductor is insulated while all the surrounding conductors are kept at the zero potential by being put in communication with the earth, and if the conductor, when charged with a quantity of electricity, has a potential , the ratio of to is called the Capacity of the conductor. If the conductor is completely enclosed within a conducting vessel without touching it, then the charge on the inner conductor will be equal and opposite to the charge on the inner surface of the outer conductor, and will be equal to the capacity of the inner conductor multiplied by the difference of the potentials of the two conductors.

Electric Accumulators.

A system consisting of two conductors whose opposed surfaces are separated from each other by a thin stratum of an insulating medium is called an electric Accumulator. Its capacity is directly proportional to the area of the opposed surfaces and inversely proportional to the thickness of the stratum between them. A Leyden jar is an accumulator in which glass is the insulating medium. Accumulators are sometimes called Condensers, but I prefer to restrict the term condenser to an instrument which is used not to hold electricity but to increase its superficial density.


Resistance to the Passage of Electricity through a Body.

51.] When a charge of electricity is communicated to any part of a mass of metal the electricity is rapidly transferred from places of high to places of low potential till the potential of the whole mass becomes the same. In the case of pieces of metal used in ordinary experiments this process is completed in a time too short to be observed, but in the case of very long and thin wires, such as those used in telegraphs, the potential does not become uniform till after a sensible time, on account of the resistance of the wire to the passage of electricity through it. The resistance to the passage of electricity is exceedingly different in different substances, as may be seen from the tables at Arts. 362, 366, and 369, which will be explained in treating of Electric Currents.

All the metals are good conductors, though the resistance of lead is 12 times that of copper or silver, that of iron 6 times, and that of mercury 60 times that of copper. The resistance of all metals increases as their temperature rises.

Selenium in its crystalline state may also be regarded as a conductor, though its resistance is 3.7×1012 times that of a piece of copper of the same dimensions. Its resistance increases as the temperature rises. Selenium in the amorphous form is a good insulator, like sulphur.

Many liquids conduct electricity by electrolysis. This mode of conduction will be considered in Part II. For the present, we may regard all liquids containing water and all damp bodies as conductors, far inferior to the metals, but incapable of insulating a charge of electricity for a sufficient time to be observed.

On the other hand, the gases at the atmospheric pressure, whether dry or moist, are insulators so nearly perfect when the electric tension is small that we have as yet obtained no evidence of electricity passing through them by ordinary conduction. The gradual loss of charge by electrified bodies may in every case be traced to imperfect insulation in the supports, the electricity either passing through the substance of the support or creeping over its surface. Hence, when two charged bodies are hung up near each other, they will preserve their charges longer if they are electrified in opposite ways, than if they are electrified in the same way. For though the electromotive force tending to make the electricity pass through the air between them is much greater when they are oppositely electrified, no perceptible loss occurs in this way. The actual loss takes place through the supports, and the electromotive force through the supports is greatest when the bodies are electrified in the same way. The result appears anomalous only when we expect the loss to occur by the passage of electricity through the air between the bodies.

Certain kinds of glass when cold are marvelously perfect insulators, and Sir W. Thomson has preserved charges of electricity for years in bulbs hermetically sealed. The same glass, however, becomes a conductor at a temperature below that of boiling water.

Gutta-percha, caoutchoue, vulcanite, paraffin, and resins are good insulators, the resistance of gutta-percha at 75°F. being about 6×1019 times that of copper.

Ice, crystals, and solidified electrolytes, are also insulators.

Certain liquids, such as naphtha, turpentine, and some oils, are insulators, but inferior to most of the solid insulators. The resistance of most substances, except the metals, and selenium and carbon, seems to diminish as the temperature rises.


Specific Inductive Capacity.

52.] All bodies whose insulating power is such that when they are placed between two conductors at different potentials the electromotive force acting on them does not immediately distribute their electricity so as to reduce the potential to a constant value, are called by Faraday Dielectrics.

Faraday discovered that the capacity of an accumulator depends on the nature of the insulating medium between the two conductors, as well as on the dimensions and relative position of the conductors themselves. By substituting other insulating media for air as the dielectric of the accumulator, without altering it in any other respect, he found that when air and other gases were employed as the insulating medium the capacity of the accumulator remained the same, but that when shell-lac, sulphur, glass, &c., were substituted for air, the capacity was increased in a ratio which was different for each substance.

The ratio of the capacity of an accumulator formed of any dielectric medium to the capacity of an accumulator of the same form and dimensions filled with air, was named by Faraday the Specific Inductive Capacity of the dielectric medium. It is equal to unity for air and other gases at all pressures, and probably at all temperatures, and it is greater than unity for all other liquid or solid dielectrics which have been examined.

If the dielectric is not a good insulator, it is difficult to measure its inductive capacity, because the accumulator will not hold a charge for a sufficient time to allow it to be measured; but it is certain that inductive capacity is a property not confined to good insulators, and it is probable that it exists in all bodies.

Absorption of Electricity.

53.] It is found that when an accumulator is formed of certain dielectrics, the following phenomena occur. When the accumulator has been for some time electrified and is then suddenly discharged and again insulated, it becomes recharged in the same sense as at first, but to a smaller degree, so that it may be discharged again several times in succession, these discharges always diminishing. This phenomenon is called that of the Residual Discharge.

The instantaneous discharge appears always to be proportional to the difference of potentials at the instant of discharge, and the ratio of these quantities is the true capacity of the accumulator; but if the contact of the discharger is prolonged so as to include some of the residual discharge, the apparent capacity of the accumulator, calculated from such a discharge, will be too great.

The accumulator if charged and left insulated appears to lose its charge by conduction, but it is found that the proportionate rate of loss is much greater at first than it is afterwards, so that the measure of conductivity, if deduced from what takes place at first, would be too great. Thus, when the insulation of a submarine cable is tested, the insulation appears to improve as the electrification continues.

Thermal phenomena of a kind at first sight analogous take place in the case of the conduction of heat when the opposite sides of a body are kept at different temperatures. In the case of heat we know that they depend on the heat taken in and given out by the body itself. Hence, in the case of the electrical phenomena, it has been supposed that electricity is absorbed and emitted by the parts of the body. We shall see, however, in Art. 329, that the phenomena can be explained without the hypothesis of absorption of electricity, by supposing the dielectric in some degree heterogeneous.

That the phenomenon called Electric Absorption is not an actual absorption of electricity by the substance may be shewn by charging the substance in any manner with electricity while it is surrounded by a closed metallic insulated vessel. If, when the substance is charged and insulated, the vessel be instantaneously discharged and then left insulated, no charge is ever communicated to the vessel by the gradual dissipation of the electrification of the charged substance within it.

54.] This fact is expressed by the statement of Faraday that it is impossible to charge matter with an absolute and independent charge of one kind of electricity [4].

In fact it appears from the result of every experiment which has been tried that in whatever way electrical actions may take place among a system of bodies surrounded by a metallic vessel, the charge on the outside of that vessel is not altered.

Now if any portion of electricity could be forced into a body so as to be absorbed in it, or to become latent, or in any way to exist in it, without being connected with an equal portion of the opposite electricity by lines of induction, or if, after having being absorbed, it could gradually emerge and return to its ordinary mode of action, we should find some change of electrification in the surrounding vessel.

As this is never found to be the case, Faraday concluded that it is impossible to communicate an absolute charge to matter, and that no portion of matter can by any change of state evolve or render latent one kind of electricity or the other. He therefore regarded induction as 'the essential function both in the first development and the consequent phenomena of electricity'. His 'induction' is (1298) a polarized state of the particles of the dielectric, each particle being positive on one side and negative on the other, the positive and the negative electrification of each particle being always exactly equal.

Disruptive Discharge [5]

55.] If the electromotive force acting at any point of a dielectric is gradually increased, a limit is at length reached at which there is a sudden electrical discharge through the dielectric, generally accompanied with light and sound, and with a temporary or permanent rupture of the dielectric.

The intensity of the electromotive force when this takes place depends on the nature of the dielectric. It is greater, for instance, in dense air than in rare air, and greater in glass than in air, but in every case, if the electromotive force be made great enough, the dielectric gives way and its insulating power is destroyed, so that a current of electricity takes place through it. It is for this reason that distributions of electricity for which the electric resultant force becomes anywhere infinite cannot exist in nature.

The Electric Glow.

Thus, when a conductor having a sharp point is electrified, the theory, based on the hypothesis that it retains its charge, leads to the conclusion that as we approach the point the superficial density of the electricity increases without limit, so that at the point itself the surface-density, and therefore the resultant electrical force, would be infinite. If the air, or other surrounding dielectric, had an invincible insulating power, this result would actually occur; but the fact is, that as soon as the resultant force in the neighbourhood of the point has reached a certain limit, the insulating power of the air gives way, so that the air close to the point becomes a conductor. At a certain distance from the point the resultant force is not sufficient to break through the insulation of the air, so that the electric current is checked, and the electricity accumulates in the air round the point.

The point is thus surrounded by particles of air charged with electricity of the same kind with its own. The effect of this charged air round the point is to relieve the air at the point itself from part of the enormous electromotive force which it would have experienced if the conductor alone had been electrified. In fact the surface of the electrified body is no longer pointed, because the point is enveloped by a rounded mass of electrified air, the surface of which, rather than that of the solid conductor, may be regarded as the outer electrified surface.

If this portion of electrified air could be kept still, the electrified body would retain its charge, if not on itself at least in its neighbourhood, but the charged particles of air being free to move under the action of electrical force, tend to move away from the electrified body because it is charged with the same kind of electricity. The charged particles of air therefore tend to move off in the direction of the lines of force and to approach those surrounding bodies which are oppositely electrified. When they are gone, other uncharged particles take their place round the point, and since these cannot shield those next the point itself from the excessive electric tension, a new discharge takes place, after which the newly charged particles move off, and so on as long as the body remains electrified.

In this way the following phenomena are produced: At and close to the point there is a steady glow, arising from the constant discharges which are taking place between the point and the air very near it.

The charged particles of air tend to move off in the same general direction, and thus produce a current of air from the point, consisting of the charged particles, and probably of others carried along by them. By artificially aiding this current we may increase the glow, and by checking the formation of the current we may prevent the continuance of the glow.

The electric wind in the neighbourhood of the point is sometimes very rapid, but it soon loses its velocity, and the air with its charged particles is carried about with the general motions of the atmosphere, and constitutes an invisible electric cloud. When the charged particles come near to any conducting surface, such as a wall, they induce on that surface an electrification opposite to their own, and are then attracted towards the wall, but since the electromotive force is small they may remain for a long time near the wall without being drawn up to the surface and discharged. They thus form an electrified atmosphere clinging to conductors, the presence of which may sometimes be detected by the electrometer. The electrical forces, however, acting between charged portions of air and other bodies are exceedingly feeble compared with the forces which produce winds arising from inequalities of density due to differences of temperature, so that it is very improbable that any observable part of the motion of ordinary thunder clouds arises from electrical causes.

The passage of electricity from one place to another by the motion of charged particles is called Electrical Convection or Convective Discharge.

The electrical glow is therefore produced by the constant passage of electricity through a small portion of air in which the tension is very high, so as to charge the surrounding particles of air which are continually swept off by the electric wind, which is an essential part of the phenomenon.

The glow is more easily formed in rare air than in dense air, and more easily when the point is positive than when it is negative. This and many other differences between positive and negative electrification must be studied by those who desire to discover some thing about the nature of electricity. They have not, however, been satisfactorily brought to bear upon any existing theory.

The Electric Brush.

56.] The electric brush is a phenomenon which may be produced by electrifying a blunt point or small ball so as to produce an electric field in which the tension diminishes, but in a less, rapid manner, as we leave the surface. It consists of a succession of discharges, ramifying as they diverge from the ball into the air, and terminating either by charging portions of air or by reaching some other conductor. It is accompanied by a sound, the pitch of which depends on the interval between the successive discharges, and there is no current of air as in the case of the glow.

The Electric Spark.

57.] When the tension in the space between two conductors is considerable all the way between them, as in the case of two balls whose distance is not great compared with their radii, the discharge, when it occurs, usually takes the form of a spark, by which nearly the whole electrification is discharged at once.

In this case, when any part of the dielectric has given way, the parts on either side of it in the direction of the electric force are put into a state of greater tension so that they also give way, and so the discharge proceeds right through the dielectric, just as when a little rent is made in the edge of a piece of paper a tension applied to the paper in the direction of the edge causes the paper to be torn through, beginning at the rent, but diverging occasionally where there are weak places in the paper. The electric spark in the same way begins at the point where the electric tension first overcomes the insulation of the dielectric, and proceeds from that point, in an apparently irregular path, so as to take in other weak points, such as particles of dust floating in air.

On the Electric Force required to produce a Spark in Air.

In the experiments of Sir W. Thomson [6] the electromotive force required to produce a spark across strata of air of various thicknesses was measured by means of an electrometer.

The sparks were made to pass between two surfaces, one of which was plane, and the other only sufficiently convex to make the sparks occur always at the same place.

The difference of potential required to cause a spark to pass was found to increase with the distance, but in a less rapid ratio, so that the electric force at any point between the surfaces, which is the quotient of the difference of potential divided by the distance, can be raised to a greater value without a discharge when the stratum of air is thin.

When the stratum of air is very thin, say .00254 of a centimetre, the resultant force required to produce a spark was found to be 527.7, in terms of centimètres and grammes. This corresponds to an electric tension of 11.29 grammes weight per square centimètre.

When the distance between the surfaces is about a millimètre the electric force is about 130, and the electric tension .68 grammes weight per square centimètre. It is probable that the value for greater distances is not much less than this. The ordinary pressure of the atmosphere is about 1032 grammes per square centimetre.

It is difficult to explain why a thin stratum of air should require a greater force to produce a disruptive discharge across it than a thicker stratum. Is it possible that the air very near to the surface of dense bodies is condensed, so as to become a better insulator? or does the potential of an electrified conductor differ from that of the air in contact with it by a quantity having a maximum value just before discharge, so that the observed difference of potential of the conductors is in every case greater than the difference of potentials on the two sides of the stratum of air by a constant quantity equivalent to the addition of about .005 of an inch to the thickness of the stratum? See Art. 370.

All these phenomena differ considerably in different gases, and in the same gas at different densities. Some of the forms of electrical discharge through rare gases are exceedingly remarkable. In some cases there is a regular alternation of luminous and dark strata, so that if the electricity, for example, is passing along a tube containing a very small quantity of gas, a number of luminous disks will be seen arranged transversely at nearly equal intervals along the axis of the tube and separated by dark strata. If the strength of the current be increased a new disk will start into existence, and it and the old disks will arrange themselves in closer order. In a tube described by Mr. Gassiot[7] the light of each of the disks is bluish on the negative and reddish on the positive side, and bright red in the central stratum.

These, and many other phenomena of electrical discharge, are exceedingly important, and when they are better understood they will probably throw great light on the nature of electricity as well as on the nature of gases and of the medium pervading space. At present, however, they must be considered as outside the domain of the mathematical theory of electricity.

Electric Phenomena of Tourmaline.

58.] Certain crystals of tourmaline, and of other minerals, possess what may be called Electric Polarity. Suppose a crystal of tourmaline to be at a uniform temperature, and apparently free from electrification on its surface. Let its temperature be now raised, the crystal remaining insulated. One end will be found positively and the other end negatively electrified. Let the surface be deprived of this apparent electrification by means of a flame or otherwise, then if the crystal be made still hotter, electrification of the same kind as before will appear, but if the crystal be cooled the end which was positive when the crystal was heated will become negative.

These electrifications are observed at the extremities of the crystallographic axis. Some crystals are terminated by a six-sided pyramid at one end and by a three-sided pyramid at the other. In these the end having the six-sided pyramid becomes positive when the crystal is heated.

Sir W. Thomson supposes every portion of these and other hemihedral crystals to have a definite electric polarity, the intensity of which depends on the temperature. When the surface is passed through a flame, every part of the surface becomes electrified to such an extent as to exactly neutralize, for all external points, the effect of the internal polarity. The crystal then has no external electrical action, nor any tendency to change its mode of electrification. But if it be heated or cooled the interior polarization of each particle of the crystal is altered, and can no longer be balanced by the superficial electrification, so that there is a resultant external action.

Plan of this Treatise.

59.] In the following treatise I propose first to explain the ordinary theory of electrical action, which considers it as depending only on the electrified bodies and on their relative position, without taking account of any phenomena which may take place in the surrounding media. In this way we shall establish the law of the inverse square, the theory of the potential, and the equations of Laplace and Poisson. We shall next consider the charges and potentials of a system of electrified conductors as connected by a system of equations, the coefficients of which may be supposed to be determined by experiment in those cases in which our present mathematical methods are not applicable, and from these we shall determine the mechanical forces acting between the different electrified bodies.

We shall then investigate certain general theorems by which Green, Gauss, and Thomson have indicated the conditions of solution of problems in the distribution of electricity. One result of these theorems is, that if Poisson's equation is satisfied by any function, and if at the surface of every conductor the function has the value of the potential of that conductor, then the function expresses the actual potential of the system at every point. We also deduce a method of finding problems capable of exact solution.

In Thomson's theorem, the total energy of the system is expressed in the form of the integral of a certain quantity extended over the whole space between the electrified bodies, and also in the form of an integral extended over the electrified surfaces only. The equation between these two expressions may be thus interpreted physically. We may conceive the relation into which the electrified bodies are thrown, either as the result of the state of the intervening medium, or as the result of a direct action between the electrified bodies at a distance. If we adopt the latter conception, we may determine the law of the action, but we can go no further in speculating on its cause. If, on the other hand, we adopt the conception of action through a medium, we are led to enquire into the nature of that action in each part of the medium.

It appears from the theorem, that if we are to look for the seat of the electric energy in the different parts of the dielectric medium, the amount of energy in any small part must depend on the square of the intensity of the resultant electromotive force at that place multiplied by a coefficient called the specific inductive capacity of the medium.

It is better, however, in considering the theory of dielectrics in the most general point of view, to distinguish between the electromotive force at any point and the electric polarization of the medium at that point, since these directed quantities, though re-lated to one another, are not, in some solid substances, in the same direction. The most general expression for the electric energy of the medium per unit of volume is half the product of the electro motive force and the electric polarization multiplied by the cosine of the angle between their directions.

In all fluid dielectrics the electromotive force and the electric polarization are in the same direction and in a constant ratio.

If we calculate on this hypothesis the total energy residing in the medium, we shall find it equal to the energy due to the electrification of the conductors on the hypothesis of direct action at a distance. Hence the two hypotheses are mathematically equivalent.

If we now proceed to investigate the mechanical state of the medium on the hypothesis that the mechanical action observed between electrified bodies is exerted through and by means of the medium, as in the familiar instances of the action of one body on another by means of the tension of a rope or the pressure of a rod, we find that the medium must be in a state of mechanical stress.

The nature of this stress is, as Faraday pointed out [8], a tension along the lines of force combined with an equal pressure in all directions at right angles to these lines. The magnitude of these stresses is proportional to the energy of the electrification, or, in other words, to the square of the resultant electromotive force multiplied by the specific inductive capacity of the medium.

This distribution of stress is the only one consistent with the observed mechanical action on the electrified bodies, and also with the observed equilibrium of the fluid dielectric which surrounds them. I have therefore thought it a warrantable step in scientific procedure to assume the actual existence of this state of stress, and to follow the assumption into its consequences. Finding the phrase electric tension used in several vague senses, I have attempted to confine it to what I conceive to have been in the mind of some of those who have used it, namely, the state of stress in the dielectric medium which causes motion of the electrified bodies, and leads, when continually augmented, to disruptive discharge. Electric tension, in this sense, is a tension of exactly the same kind, and measured in the same way, as the tension of a rope, and the dielectric medium, which can support a certain tension and no more, may be said to have a certain strength in exactly the same sense as the rope is said to have a certain strength. Thus, for example, Thomson has found that air at the ordinary pressure and temperature can support an electric tension of 9600 grains weight per square foot before a spark passes.

60.] From the hypothesis that electric action is not a direct action between bodies at a distance, but is exerted by means of the medium between the bodies, we have deduced that this medium must be in a state of stress. We have also ascertained the character of the stress, and compared it with the stresses which may occur in solid bodies. Along the lines of force there is tension, and perpendicular to them there is pressure, the numerical magnitude of these forces being equal, and each proportional to the square of the resultant force at the point. Having established these results, we are prepared to take another step, and to form an idea of the nature of the electric polarization of the dielectric medium.

An elementary portion of a body may be said to be polarized when it acquires equal and opposite properties on two opposite sides. The idea of internal polarity may be studied to the greatest advantage as exemplified in permanent magnets, and it will be explained at greater length when we come to treat of magnetism.

The electric polarization of an elementary portion of a dielectric is a forced state into which the medium is thrown by the action of electromotive force, and which disappears when that force is removed. We may conceive it to consist in what we may call an electrical displacement, produced by the electromotive force. When the electromotive force acts on a conducting medium it produces a current through it, but if the medium is a non-conductor or dielectric, the current cannot flow through the medium, but the electricity is displaced within the medium in the direction of the electromotive force, the extent of this displacement depending on the magnitude of the electromotive force, so that if the electromotive force increases or diminishes the electric displacement increases and diminishes in the same ratio.

The amount of the displacement is measured by the quantity of electricity which crosses unit of area, while the displacement increases from zero to its actual amount. This, therefore, is the measure of the electric polarization.

The analogy between the action of electromotive force in producing electric displacement and of ordinary mechanical force in producing the displacement of an elastic body is so obvious that I have ventured to call the ratio of the electromotive force to the corresponding electric displacement the coefficient of electric elasticity of the medium. This coefficient is different in different media, and varies inversely as the specific inductive capacity of each medium.

The variations of electric displacement evidently constitute electric currents. These currents, however, can only exist during the variation of the displacement, and therefore, since the displacement cannot exceed a certain value without causing disruptive discharge, they cannot be continued indefinitely in the same direction, like the currents through conductors.

In tourmaline, and other pyro-electric crystals, it is probable that a state of electric polarization exists, which depends upon temperature, and does not require an external electromotive force to produce it If the interior of a body were in a state of permanent electric polarization, the outside would gradually become charged in such a manner as to neutralize the action of the internal electrification for all points outside the body. This external superficial charge could not be detected by any of the ordinary tests, and could not be removed by any of the ordinary methods for discharging superficial electrification. The internal polarization of the substance would therefore never be discovered unless by some means, such as change of temperature, the amount of the internal polarization could be increased or diminished. The external electrification would then be no longer capable of neutralizing the external effect of the internal polarization, and an apparent electrification would be observed, as in the case of tourmaline.

If a charge is uniformly distributed over the surface of a sphere, the resultant force at any point of the medium surrounding the sphere is numerically equal to the charge e divided by the square of the distance from the centre of the sphere. This resultant force, according to our theory, is accompanied by a displacement of electricity in a direction outwards from the sphere.

If we now draw a concentric spherical surface of radius , the whole displacement, , through this surface will be proportional to the resultant force multiplied by the area of the spherical surface. But the resultant force is directly as the charge e and inversely as the square of the radius, while the area of the surface is directly as the square of the radius.

Hence the whole displacement, , is proportional to the charge , and is independent of the radius.

To determine the ratio between the charge , and the quantity of electricity, , displaced outwards through the spherical surface, let us consider the work done upon the medium in the region between two concentric spherical surfaces, while the displacement is increased from to . If and denote the potentials at the inner and the outer of these surfaces respectively, the electromotive force by which the additional displacement is produced is , so that the work spent in augmenting the displacement is .

If we now make the inner surface coincide with that of the electrified sphere, and make the radius of the other infinite, becomes , the potential of the sphere, and becomes zero, so that the whole work done in the surrounding medium is .

But by the ordinary theory, the work done in augmenting the charge is , and if this is spent, as we suppose, in augmenting the displacement, = , and since and vanish together, , or—

The displacement outwards through any spherical surface concentric with the sphere is equal to the charge on the sphere.

To fix our ideas of electric displacement, let us consider an accumulator formed of two conducting plates and , separated by a stratum of a dielectric . Let be a conducting wire joining and , and let us suppose that by the action of an electromotive force a quantity of positive electricity is transferred along the wire from to . The positive electrification of and the negative electrification of will produce a certain electromotive force acting from towards in the dielectric stratum, and this will produce an electric displacement from towards within the dielectric. The amount of this displacement, as measured by the quantity of electricity forced across an imaginary section of the dielectric dividing it into two strata, will be, according to our theory, exactly . See Arts. 75, 76, 111.

It appears, therefore, that at the same time that a quantity of electricity is being transferred along the wire by the electromotive force from towards , so as to cross every section of the wire, the same quantity of electricity crosses every section of the dielectric from towards by reason of the electric displacement.

The reverse motions of electricity will take place during the discharge of the accumulator. In the wire the discharge will be from to , and in the dielectric the displacement will subside, and a quantity of electricity will cross every section from towards .

Every case of electrification or discharge may therefore be considered as a motion in a closed circuit, such that at every section of the circuit the same quantity of electricity crosses in the same time, and this is the case, not only in the voltaic circuit where it has always been recognised, but in those cases in which electricity has been generally supposed to be accumulated in certain places.

61.] We are thus led to a very remarkable consequence of the theory which we are examining, namely, that the motions of electricity are like those of an incompressible fluid, so that the total quantity within an imaginary fixed closed surface remains always the same. This result appears at first sight in direct contradiction to the fact that we can charge a conductor and then introduce it into the closed space, and so alter the quantity of electricity within that space. But we must remember that the ordinary theory takes no account of the electric displacement in the substance of dielectrics which we have been investigating, but confines its attention to the electrification at the bounding surfaces of the conductors and dielectrics. In the case of the charged conductor let us suppose the charge to be positive, then if the surrounding dielectric extends on all sides beyond the closed surface there will be electric polarization, accompanied with displacement from within outwards all over the closed surface, and the surface-integral of the displacement taken over the surface will be equal to the charge on the conductor within.

Thus when the charged conductor is introduced into the closed space there is immediately a displacement of a quantity of electricity equal to the charge through the surface from within out wards, and the whole quantity within the surface remains the same.

The theory of electric polarization will be discussed at greater length in Chapter V, and a mechanical illustration of it will be given in Art. 334, but its importance cannot be fully understood till we arrive at the study of electromagnetic phenomena.

62.] The peculiar features of the theory as we have now developed them are: -

That the energy of electrification resides in the dielectric medium, whether that medium be solid, liquid, or gaseous, dense or rare, or even deprived of ordinary gross matter, provided it be still capable of transmitting electrical action.

That the energy in any part of the medium is stored up in the form of a state of constraint called electric polarization, the amount of which depends on the resultant electromotive force at the place.

That electromotive force acting on a dielectric produces what we have called electric displacement, the relation between the force and the displacement being in the most general case of a kind to be afterwards investigated in treating of conduction, but in the most important cases the force is in the same direction as the displacement, and is numerically equal to the displacement multiplied by a quantity which we have called the coefficient of electric elasticity of the dielectric.

That the energy per unit of volume of the dielectric arising from the electric polarization is half the product of the electromotive force and the electric displacement multiplied, if necessary, by the cosine of the angle between their directions.

That in fluid dielectrics the electric polarization is accompanied by a tension in the direction of the lines of force combined with an equal pressure in all directions at right angles to the lines of force, the amount of the tension or pressure per unit of area being numerically equal to the energy per unit of volume at the same place.

That the surfaces of any elementary portion into which we may conceive the volume of the dielectric divided must be conceived to be electrified, so that the surface-density at any point of the surface is equal in magnitude to the displacement through that point of the surface reckoned inwards, so that if the displacement is in the positive direction, the surface of the element will be electrified negatively on the positive side and positively on the negative side. These superficial electrifications will in general destroy one another when consecutive elements are considered, except where the dielectric has an internal charge, or at the surface of the dielectric.

That whatever electricity may be, and whatever we may understand by the movement of electricity, the phenomenon which we have called electric displacement is a movement of electricity in the same sense as the transference of a definite quantity of electricity through a wire is a movement of electricity, the only difference being that in the dielectric there is a force which we have called electric elasticity which acts against the electric displacement, and forces the electricity back when the electromotive force is removed; whereas in the conducting wire the electric elasticity is continually giving way, so that a current of true conduction is set up, and the resistance depends, not on the total quantity of electricity displaced from its position of equilibrium, but on the quantity which crosses a section of the conductor in a given time.

That in every case the motion of electricity is subject to the same condition as that of an incompressible fluid, namely, that at every instant as much must flow out of any given closed space as flows into it.

It follows from this that every electric current must form a closed circuit. The importance of this result will be seen when we investigate the laws of electro-magnetism. Since, as we have seen, the theory of direct action at a distance is mathematically identical with that of action by means of a medium, the actual phenomena may be explained by the one theory as well as by the other, provided suitable hypotheses be introduced when any difficulty occurs. Thus, Mossotti has deduced the mathematical theory of dielectrics from the ordinary theory of attraction by merely giving an electric instead of a magnetic interpretation to the symbols in the investigation by which Poisson has deduced the theory of magnetic induction from the theory of magnetic fluids. He assumes the existence within the dielectric of small conducting elements, capable of having their opposite surfaces oppositely electrified by induction,, but not capable of losing or gaining electricity on the whole, owing to their being insulated from each other by a non-conducting medium. This theory of dielectrics is consistent with the laws of electricity, and may be actually true. If it is true, the specific inductive capacity of a dielectric may be greater, but cannot be less, than that of air or vacuum. No instance has yet been found of a dielectric having an inductive capacity less than that of air, but if such should be discovered, Mossotti's theory must be abandoned, although his formulae would all remain exact, and would only require us to alter the sign of a coefficient.

In the theory which I propose to develope, the mathematical methods are founded upon the smallest possible amount of hypothesis, and thus equations of the same form are found applicable to phenomena which are certainly of quite different natures, as, for instance, electric induction through dielectrics; conduction through conductors, and magnetic induction. In all these cases the relation between the force and the effect produced is expressed by a set of equations of the same kind, so that when a problem in one of these subjects is solved, the problem and its solution may be translated into the language of the other subjects and the results in their new form will also be true.

  1. See Sir W. Thomson 'On the Mathematical Theory of Electricity,' Cambridge and Dublin Mathematical Journal, March, 1848
  2. This, and several experiments which follow, are due to Faraday, ' On Static Electrical Inductive Action.' Phil. Mag., 1843, or Exp. Res., vol. ii. p. 279.
  3. On Static Electrical Inductive Action.'Phil. Mag., 1843, or Exp. Res., vol. ii. p.249.
  4. Exp. Res., vol. i. series xi. ¶ ii. 'On the Absolute Charge of Matter,' and (1244).
  5. See Faraday, Exp. Rts., vol. i., series xii. and xiii.
  6. Proc. R. S., 1860; or, Reprint, chap. xix.
  7. Intellectual Observer, March, 1866.
  8. Exp. Res., series xi, 1297.