The Times/1867/Obituary/Michael Faraday

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The Late Professor Faraday


The world of science lost on Sunday one of its most assiduous and enthusiastic members. The life of Michael Faraday had been spent from early manhood in the single pursuit of scientific discovery, and through his years extended to 73, he preserved to the end the freshness and vivacity of youth in the exposition of his favourite subjects, coupled with a measure of simplicity which youth never attains. His perfect mastery of the branches of physical knowledge he cultivated, and the singular absence of personal display which characterized everything that he did, must have made him under any circumstances a lecturer of the highest rank, but as a man of science he was gifted with the rarest of felicity of experimenting, so that the illustrations of is subjects seemed to answer with magical ease to his call. It was this peculiar combination which made his lectures attractive to crowded audiences in Albemarle-street for so many years, and which brought, Christmas upon Christmas, troops of young people to attend his expositions of scientific processes and scientific discovery with as much zest as is usually displayed in following lighter amusements.

Faraday was born in the neighbourhood of London in the year 1794. He was one of those men who have become distinguished in spite of every disadvantage of origin and of early education, and if the contrast between the circumstances of his birth and of his later worldly distinction be not so dazzling as is sometimes seen in other walks of life, it is also true that his career was free from the vulgar ambition and uneasy strife after place and power which not commonly detract from the glory of the highest honours. His father was a smith, and he himself, after a very imperfect elementary education, was apprenticed to a bookbinder name Riebau, in Blandford-street. He was, however, already inspired with the love of natural science. His leisure was spent in the conduct of such chymical experiments as were within his means, and he ventured on the construction of an electrifying machine, thus foreshowing the particular sphere of his greatest future discoveries. He was eager to quit trade for the humblest position as a student of physical science, and his tastes becoming known to a gentleman who lived in his master's neighbourhood, he obtained for him admission to the chymical lectures which Sir Humphry Davy, then newly knighted and in the plenitude of his powers, was delivering at the Royal Institution. This was in 1812. Faraday not only attended the lectures, but took copious notes of them, which he carefully re-wrote and boldly sent to Sir Humphry, begging his assistance in his desire "to escape from trade and to enter into the service of science." The trust in Davy's kindliness which prompted the appeal was not misplaced. Sir Humphry warmly praised the powers shown in the notes of his lectures and hoped he might be able to meet the writer's wishes. Early in 1813 the opportunity came. The post of assistant in the Laboratory in Albemarle-street became vacant, and Sir Humphry offered it to Faraday, who accepted it with a pleasure which can be imagined, and thus commenced in March, 1813, the connexion between Faraday and the Royal Institution which only terminated with his life. Faraday became very soon firmly attached to Davy. The only instance of a suspension—of his connexion with the Royal Institution occurred from October, 1813, to April, 1814, during which time he accompanied Sir Humphry as his scientific assistant and secretary in his travels on the Continent. His life after his return was devoted uninterruptedly to his special studies. In 1821, while assisting Davy in pursuing the investigation of the relations between electricity and magnetism, first started by Oersted, he made the brilliant discovery of the convertible rotation of a magnetic pole and an electric current, which was the prelude to his wonderful series of experimental researches in electricity. These investigations procured him the honour of being elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences in 1823, and Fellow of the Royal Society in 1825. In 1827 he published his first work, a volume on Chymical Manipulation; and in 1829 he was appointed Chymical Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, a post he held, in conjunction with his duties at the Royal Institution, for many years. In 1831 his first paper appeared in the Philosophical Transactions on the subject of electricity, describing his experimental studies of the science, and from that time for many years, the Transactions annually contained papers by Faraday giving the method and results of his investigations, These papers, with some others, contributed to scientific journals on the same subject, were subsequently collected at different intervals in three volumes under the title of Experimental Researches in Electricity. The first volume appeared in 1839, and contained the contributions to the Philosophical Transactions up to that date. The second volume was published in 1844, and the third in 1855. It is not too much to say that by the experiments thus described Faraday formed the science of electricity. He established the identity of the forces manifested in the phenomena known as electrical, galvanic, and magnetic; he ascertained with exactness the laws of its actions; he determined its correlation with the other primal forces of the natural world. While he was still pursuing the brilliant career of investigation which thus proved so successful, the chair of Chymistry was founded at the Royal Institution in 1833, and Faraday was naturally appointed the first Professor. In 1835 he was recommended by Lord Melbourne for a pension of 300l. a year, in recognition of his great distinction as a discoverer. Oxford conferred on him an honorary degree upon the first occasion of the meeting of the British Association at the University. He was raised from the position of Corresponding Member to be one of the eight foreign Associates of the Academy of Sciences. he was an officer of the Legion of Honour, and Prussia and Italy decorated him with the crosses of different Orders. The Royal Society conferred on him its own medal and the Romford medal. In 1858 the Queen most graciously alloted to him a residence at Hampton Court, between which Albemarle-street where he spent the last years of his life, and where he peaceably died on Sunday. The belief in the disinterested Zeal and lofty purity of life of the students of philosophy, which was one motive for Faraday's whole life. No man was ever more entirely unselfish, or more entirely beloved. Modest, truthful, candid, he had the true spirit of a philosopher and of a Christian, for it may be said of him, in the words of the father of English poetry,—

"Gladly would he learn, and gladly teach."

The cause of science would meet with fewer enemies, its discoveries would command a more ready assent, were all its votaries imbued with the humility of Michael Faraday.


This work was published before January 1, 1924 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 100 years or less since publication.