I had been trained in the orthodox scientific church, of which I am happy to be still a member; but I had acquired perhaps an almost undue respect, not only for her dogmas, but for her least sayings. Accordingly, when my own experiments did not agree with the received statement, I concluded that my experiments must be wrong, and made them all over again, till spring, summer, autumn, and winter had passed, each season giving its own testimony; and this for successive years. The final conclusion was irresistible, that the universal statement of this alleged well-known fact (inexplicable as this might seem, in so simple a matter) was directly contradicted by experiment.
I had some natural curiosity to find how every one knew this to be a fact; but search only showed the same statement (that the earth's atmosphere absorbed dark heat like glass) repeated everywhere, with absolutely nowhere any observation or evidence whatever to prove it, but each writer quoting from an earlier one, till I was almost ready to believe it a dogma superior to reason, and resting on the well-known "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, creditum est."
Finally, I appear to have found its source in the writings of Fourier, who, alluding to De Saussure's experiments (which showed that dark heat passed with comparative difficulty through glass), observes that, if the earth's atmosphere were solid, it would act as the glass does. Fourier simply takes this (in which he is wholly wrong) for granted; but as he is an authority on the theory of heat, his words are repeated without criticism, first by Poisson, then by others, and then in the text-books; and, the statement gaining weight by age, it comes to be believed absolutely, on no evidence whatever, for the next sixty years, that our atmosphere is a powerful absorber of precisely those rays which it most freely transmits.
The question of fact here, though important, is, I think, quite secondary to the query it raises as to the possible unsuspected influence of mere tradition in science, when we do not recognize it as such. Now, the Roman Church is doubtless quite logical in believing in traditions, if these are recommended to the faithful by an infallible guide; but are we, who have no infallible guide, quite safe in believing all we do, with our fond persuasion that in the scientific body mere tradition has no weight?
In even this brief sketch of the growth of the doctrine of radiant energy, we have perhaps seen that the history of the progress of this department of science is little else than a chapter in that larger history of human error which is still to be written, and which, it is safe to say, would include illustrations from other branches of science as well as my own.
But—and here I ask pardon if I speak of myself—I have been