Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/217

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August 18, 1860.]
209
REPRESENTATIVE MEN.

still afford no conception of the marvellous things learned by the way. Now and then there comes such a startling fact as the electric telegraph, to show the ignorant something of the seriousness of the pursuits of the learned; but the profit and pleasure of such pursuits cannot be described to the uninitiated, any more than colours to the blind, music to the deaf, or the charms of mountain-climbing to the cripple who has never gone abroad on his own feet. What we have to do here and now is to look at the winner of these challenges of nature as a Representative of that method of life, and of the order of men to which he belongs. It is impossible to convey what he knows, or what it is in which he is so learned; but any one can understand what sort of man he is.

His love of knowledge is so pure that it is the same thing to him whether any addition to the stock is made by himself or somebody else. Very great men, such as he is now, can afford to let lesser men do all they can, and to help them to do it, without an uneasy thought about their own position and credit; but it is a test of a man’s real greatness whether he is aware of this, or whether he is still subject to a jealousy which he might have left behind long ago. The highest man of all is he who does not consider the thing, one way or another, but simply rejoices in something being gained, and does not care about who has the credit of it, himself or another. Probably Faraday does not care. He certainly never stops to discuss it; never stoops to urge any personal claim; never wastes precious thought and time in settling his own position, or calculating his own greatness. But he always has leisure and patience for other people’s claims. He has sympathy for every new success, and the most winning respect and tenderness for every modest and sensible effort in that direction. What his power of sympathy is appears in his lectures to every class of persons. No treat that can be offered can tempt scientific men to forego a lecture of Faraday’s, while children, when he addresses them, understand all he tells them, or can go up to him afterwards to ask him to settle their difficulty. The same simple hearty sympathy is always ready in his heart for the child who is trying for the first time to discern invisible things, and for the discoverer who is treading on his heels in his own path. Thus does he justify the view which excited Sir H. Davy’s smile,—that the spirit of the philosopher should be amiable and liberal.

It is not often that he puts himself forward otherwise than in his function as a lecturer; but now and then, when he may hope to be useful, we hear of him and his opinion in counsel. When our discontent with the Thames was reaching its height, Faraday employed himself, during a trip in a Thames steamer, in throwing bits of paper into the water, to ascertain its density and other qualities: and he then sent a business-like and rousing letter to the “Times” which did more good than all the vague complaints of meaner men.

His next effort was not, in some people’s opinion, so entirely fortunate; but it did some good, and by its weakness prepared the way for more profit. At the time when heads were getting turned with table-turning, Faraday published his opinion that the phenomenon was occasioned by the unconscious action of the hands of the experimenters, under the full idea and expectation of the table moving in a certain direction. This explanation was eagerly seized upon by puzzled persons, as was natural, and by scornful despisers of the experiment; while it was regarded as rather meagre by some who dared not say so, and openly repudiated, in regard to its sufficiency, by the experienced.

Time seems to have decided that it is an excellent and very useful explanation of many deceptive appearances, and might be applied to half the cases in the absence of the other half; but it casts no light on the phenomenon of tables walking and turning and ascending under certain conditions, without being touched in any way whatever. If, after a series of trials, a heavy table without castors (or cover to hide deception) moves several feet on a Turkey carpet or rises from the floor, while all the persons present are ranged by the wall of the room, Faraday’s explanation is of no avail; and the question is why he does not go the one step further, and himself witness the fact, in order to decided speech or silence in regard to it. No fact is said to be more securely attested; and it seems to crave investigation from the man most capable of it.

If any one wishes for material for a conception of a wise and happy man, I do not know where he could better look for it than in the successive volumes in which Faraday’s researches are given in a collected form from the “Philosophical Transactions” and other scientific publications. Bacon would have delighted in that course of investigation and its results; and the humblest of us may delight in it as an exemplification of the true philosophical spirit. We see the great electrician advancing, step by step, towards the mighty feat, the hope of which he has set before him,—of proving the oneness of several agencies which, not very long ago, were regarded as elements and forces of essentially different natures, and having no necessary connection with each other. Such men are more likely than others to live to attain their objects, because the full occupation and serene pleasures of their lives are favourable to health of brain. Philosophers who are afflicted with a jealous temper or a passionate nature which exhausts itself under pretence of enthusiasm, and sinks under an intemperate love of either personal fame or the marvellous in nature, may, and usually do, suffer through a few years of vanity and irritability which encroach more and more on the greatness of their aims, and then die, worn out in body and mind; but this is not the natural course of the philosopher’s life. After Faraday’s example of a philosophic life, we ought to hear no more of intemperate action and bad passions being characteristic of genius. Whether genius tracks the lightning, or analyses human character, or gives us inventions, or utters poems, it is simply the perfection of sense, acting in one direction or another. The highest genius must have that strength of sense which keeps the world under its feet, and can never more be troubled by passion. To belong to the order supposed to consist of the sage and