Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/212

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Helmholtz, however, again showed, in 1852, that a color to our unaided eyes identical with white was produced by combining yellow with indigo. At that time yellow was considered to be a simple color, and this, therefore, was regarded as an exception to the general rule, that a combination of three simple colors is required to produce white. Again, it was, and indeed still is, the general impression that a combination of blue and yellow makes green. This, however, is entirely a mistake. Of course, we all know that yellow paint and blue paint make green paint; but this results from absorption of light by the semi-transparent solid particles of the pigments, and is not a mere mixture of the colors proceeding unaltered from the yellow and the blue particles; moreover, as can easily be shown by two sheets of colored paper and a piece of window-glass, blue and yellow light, when combined, do not give a trace of green, but if pure would produce the effect of white. Green, therefore, is after all not produced by a mixture of blue and yellow. On the other hand, Clerk Maxwell proved in 1860 that yellow could be produced by a mixture of red and green, which put an end to the pretension of yellow to be considered a primary element of color. From these and other considerations it would seem, therefore, that the three primary colors—if such an expression be retained—are red, green, and violet.

The existence of rays beyond the violet, though almost invisible to our eyes, had long been demonstrated by their chemical action. Stokes, however, showed in 1852 that their existence might be proved in another manner, for that there are certain substances which, when excited by them, emit light visible to our eyes. To this phenomenon he gave the name of fluorescence. At the other end of the spectrum Abney has recently succeeded in photographing a large number of lines in the infra-red portion, the existence of which was first proved by Sir William Herschel.

From the rarity, and in many cases the entire absence, of reference to blue, in ancient literature, Geiger—adopting and extending a suggestion first thrown out by Mr. Gladstone—has maintained that, even as recently as the time of Homer, our ancestors were blue-blind. Though for my part I am unable to adopt this view, it is certainly very remarkable that neither the "Rigveda," which consists almost entirely of hymns to heaven, nor the "Zendavesta," the Bible of the Parsees or fire-worshipers, nor the Old Testament, nor the Homeric poems, ever allude to the sky as blue.

On the other hand, from the dawn of poetry, the splendors of the morning and evening skies have excited the admiration of mankind. As Ruskin says, in language almost as brilliant as the sky itself, the whole heaven, "from the zenith to the horizon, becomes one molten, mantling sea of color and fire; every black bar turns into massy gold, every ripple and wave into unsullied, shadowless crimson, and purple, and scarlet, and colors for which there are no words in language, and