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but a variety of colours in succession.

According to

M. Plateau, the retina offers a resistance to the action of light, which increases with the duration of this action; whence, after looking intently at an object for a long time, it appears to decrease in brilliancy. The imagination has a powerful influence on our optical impressions, and has been known to revive the images of highly luminous objects months, and even years, afterwards.


Interference of Light-Undulatory Theory of Light-Propagation of LightNewton's Rings-Measurement of the Length of the Waves of Light, and of the Frequency of the Vibrations of Ether for each Colour-Newton's Scale of Colours-Diffraction of Light-Sir John Herschel's Theory of the Absorption of Light-Refraction and Reflection of Light.

NEWTON and most of his immediate successors imagined light to be a material substance, emitted by all self-luminous bodies in extremely minute particles, moving in straight lines with prodigious velocity, which, by impinging upon the optic nerves, produce the sensation of light. Many of the observed phenomena have been explained by this theory; it is, however, totally inadequate to account for the following circumstances.

When two equal rays of red light, proceeding from two luminous points, fall upon a sheet of white paper in a dark room, they produce a red spot on it which will be twice as bright as either ray would produce singly, provided the difference in the lengths of the two beams, from the luminous points to the red spot on the paper, be exactly the 0.0000258th part of an inch. The same effect will take place if the difference in the lengths be twice, three times, four times, &c. that quantity. But, if the difference in the lengths of the two rays be equal to one-half of the 0·0000258th part of an inch, or to its 1, 2, 3, &c., part, the one light will entirely extinguish the other, and will produce absolute darkness on the paper where the united beams fall. If the difference in the lengths of their paths be equal to the 14, 21, 31, &c., of the 0.0000258th part of an inch, the red spot arising from the combined beams will be of the same intensity which one

alone would produce. If violet light be employed, the difference in the lengths of the two beams must be equal to the 0.0000157th part of an inch, in order to produce the same phenomena; and, for the other colours, the difference must be intermediate between the 0.0000258th and the 0.0000157th part of an inch. Similar phenomena may be seen by viewing the flame of a candle through two very fine slits in a card extremely near to one another (N. 193); or by admitting the sun's light into a dark room through a pin-hole about the fortieth of an inch in diameter, receiving the image on a sheet of white paper, and holding a slender wire in the light. Its shadow will be found to consist of a bright white bar or stripe in the middle, with a series of alternate black and brightly coloured stripes on each side. The rays which bend round the wire in two streams are of equal lengths in the middle stripe; it is consequently doubly bright from their combined effect; but the rays which fall on the paper on each side of the bright stripe, being of such unequal lengths as to destroy one another, form black lines. On each side of these black lines the rays are again of such lengths as to combine to form bright stripes, and so on alternately till the light is too faint to be visible. When any homogeneous light is used, such as red, the alternations are only black and red; but, on account of the heterogeneous nature of white light, the black lines alternate with vivid stripes or fringes of prismatic colours, arising from the superposition of systems of alternate black lines and lines of each homogeneous colour. That the alternation of black lines and coloured fringes actually does arise from the mixture of the two streams of light which flow round the wire, is proved by their vanishing the instant one of the streams is interrupted. It may therefore be concluded, as often as these stripes of light and darkness occur, that they are owing to the rays combining at certain intervals to produce a joint effect, and at others to extinguish one another. Now it is contrary to all our ideas of matter to suppose that two particles of it should annihilate one another under any

circumstances whatever; while, on the contrary, two opposing motions may, and it is impossible not to be struck with the perfect similarity between the interferences of small undulations of air or of water and the preceding phenomena. The analogy is indeed so perfect, that philosophers of the highest authority concur in the supposition that the celestial regions are filled with an extremely rare, imponderable, and highly elastic medium or ether, whose particles are capable of receiving the vibrations communicated to them by self-luminous bodies, and of transmitting them to the optic nerves, so as to produce the sensation of light. The acceleration in the mean motion of Encke's comet, as well as of the comet discovered by M. Biela, renders the existence of such a medium almost certain. It is clear that, in this hypothesis, the alternate stripes of light and darkness are entirely the effect of the interference of the undulations; for, by actual measurement, the length of a wave of the mean red rays of the solar spectrum is equal to the 0·0000258th part of an inch; consequently, when the elevation of the waves combine, they produce double the intensity of light that each would do singly; and when half a wave combines with a whole,that is, when the hollow of one wave is filled up by the elevation of another,—darkness is the result. At intermediate points between these extremes, the intensity of the light corresponds to intermediate differences in the lengths of

the rays.

The theory of interferences is a particular case of the general mechanical law of the superposition of small motions; whence it appears that the disturbance of a particle of an elastic medium, produced by two coexistent undulations, is the sum of the disturbances which each undulation would produce separately; consequently, the particle will move in the diagonal of a parallelogram, whose sides are the two undulations. If, therefore, the two undulations agree in direction, or nearly so, the resulting motion will be very nearly equal to their sum, and in the same direction: if they nearly

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oppose one another, the resulting motion will be nearly equal to their difference; and, if the undulations be equal and opposite, the resultant will be zero, and the particle will remain at rest.

The preceding experiments, and the inferences deduced from them, which have led to the establishment of the doctrine of the undulations of light, are the most splendid memorials of our illustrious countryman Dr. Thomas Young, though Huygens was the first to originate the idea.

It is supposed that the particles of luminous bodies are in a state of perpetual agitation, and that they possess the property of exciting regular vibrations in the ethereal medium, corresponding to the vibrations of their own molecules; and that, on account of its elastic nature, one particle of the ether when set in motion communicates its vibrations to those adjacent, which in succession transmit them to those farther off; so that the primitive impulse is transferred from particle to particle, and the undulating motion darts through ether like a wave in water. Although the progressive motion of light is known by experience to be uniform and in a straight line, the vibrations of the particles are always at right angles to the direction of the ray. The propagation of light is like the spreading of waves in water; but, if one ray alone be considered, its motion may be conceived by supposing a rope of indefinite length stretched horizontally, one end of which is held in the hand. If it be agitated to and fro at regular intervals, with a motion perpendicular to its length, a series of similar and equal tremors or waves will be propagated along it; and if the regular impulses be given in a variety of planes, as up and down, from right to left, and also in oblique directions, the successive undulations will take place in every possible plane. An analogous motion in the ether, when communicated to the optic nerves, would produce the sensation of common light. It is evident that the waves which flow from end to end of the cord in a serpentine form are altogether different from the perpendicular vibratory

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