Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/216

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208
[August 18, 1860.
ONCE A WEEK.

told; but at this time he was certainly forming a comparison in his own mind between such different ways of spending life as he knew something of. His father had passed his years in useful bodily labour, for which he took pay in detail. He thought he was raising his son Michael by putting him to a trade in which the practices of commerce might be united with that of a handicraft. Michael had had seven years’ insight into this kind of commercial life; and he made no secret of his impression that in working for money, and in scheming to increase their gains, commercial men do what is demoralising and hurtful to themselves and others. Many, perhaps most, young people think so at one time or another, when their desires for a spiritual life are strongest, and their actual knowledge of permanent moral influences is weakest; and Michael might have held the same view if he had not formed a conception of the life of scientific pursuit which he has since so exquisitely illustrated: but he announced his expectation, from what he knew of science, that the philosopher would be found amiable and liberal, while the trader was growing hard and rapacious. So thought the youth after a season of hankering after “experiment” and extreme dislike of trade; and when Mr. Dance took him to hear four lectures of Sir Humphry Davy’s, he made a decisive effort to get out of the one mode of life into the other. He wrote out the notes he had taken at the lectures, and sent them to Sir H. Davy, with an account of his feelings about trade and science, and a petition that Sir H. Davy would remember him if he could see any way open for the fulfilment of his wishes. The philosopher received the application kindly, smiled at what he considered the delusion about the spirit and temper of philosophers, expressed a wish to serve him, and in a few weeks let him know that an assistant was wanted in the laboratory of the Royal Institution—a post which Faraday obtained. Sir H. Davy advised him to hold by his trade, saying that science was a harsh mistress, and ungrateful in regard to pecuniary recompense for service. At a later time, the philosopher found by his own experience that this was not always true, as wealth is an early consequence of discoveries which can be applied to the arts: but Faraday had other interests in his mind, and let the pecuniary question drop out of sight.

It was in April, 1813, that he entered upon his professional scientific life in the laboratory of the Royal Institution, where he has worked from that day to this, except during the year and a half when he was abroad with Sir H. Davy, as his assistant in experimenting and writing. That visit to Paris tested the morale of the man in a decisive way, and proved him worthy of his vocation, under his own lofty view of it. He went as a servant. His employer considered him so, and he considered himself so. The philosophers at Paris, while anxious to pay homage to his employer in proportion to his eminence in science, observed the singular merits of his assistant, and, finding in him a fuller measure of the true philosophic spirit and temper, they fell into sympathy with him, and sought his society on his own account, as comrades and not as patrons. Young as he was, only then twenty, he was in no way injured by this trial of his modesty and simplicity. He never forgot or attempted to disguise his position; in short, then, as ever since, the interests of science engrossed him, leaving no room for self-regards and the carking cares which belong to them. He “returned to his situation,” as simple and modest and happy as when he went forth, and for many years pursued his eager studies without making himself heard beyond the bounds of his personal acquaintance.

When he did, it was to open a new region of ideas to mankind, preparing it for a wholly fresh conception of the structure of the universe. During the quiet years when he seemed to be like other men in his ways and his talk, only disclosing occasionally to those who could comprehend it a range of view and originality of speculation which warranted any amount of expectation from him, he was learning to see the visible frame of things with new eyes, and, in fact, to pass his life, amidst a scenery of nature immeasurably more sublime, wonderful, and beautiful than untrained minds can conceive of. In 1831 he showed what he had been thinking about. Within four years he had published three treatises on the practice of experimentation, and on other practical matters; but in 1831 he first communicated to the world those researches on Electricity which have changed the conditions of life to a multitude, and the aspect of life to not a few, while they open a prospect of unlimited advance towards a comprehension of the conditions of existence. In the Philosophical Transactions the whole development of electrical science is shown in a series of papers by Faraday, extending over nearly thirty years, and the progress made in collecting the phenomena, and tracing their operation, and establishing their laws, is wonderful in the life-time of any one man. He sets out, of course, without the remotest idea of the point to which his investigations would bring him, though aware that his subject was practically unlimited. He has (as every great discoverer must have) the imagination of the poet, not the less for his absolute need in his work also of the accuracy of the mathematician, and the judicial faculty of the weigher of evidences; yet, after half a lifetime of grand speculation and growing familiarity with the mighty secrets of nature, he said, fifteen years since, that he had just then obtained glimpses into the constitution of matter which, he owned, had well nigh overwhelmed his faculties.

Even if I had his unequalled power of explanation, I could not, within my present limits, convey to my readers any true conception of Faraday’s achievements, nor even any accurate notion of their nature and value. It must suffice to say that he has detected a range of forces always at work in the universe, which, in proportion as they are studied, explain more and more of the structure and action of everything that exists, and also are seen to merge in each other, so as to suggest and justify the idea that in time we may discover that there is one force in nature under the vast variety of appearances that we think we see. If the sum of the attainment, actual and possible, could be conveyed into the reader’s mind, it would