Page images

electricity from the earth's surface if it be of the same kind with their own, and will attract the other kind; and if a discharge should suddenly take place at one end of the cloud, the equilibrium will be instantly restored by a flash at that point of the earth which is under the other. Though the back stroke is often sufficiently powerful to destroy life, it is never so terrible in its effects as the direct stroke, which is often of inconceivable intensity. Instances have occurred when large masses of iron and stone, and even many feet of a stone wall, have been carried to a considerable distance by a stroke of lightning. Rocks and the tops of mountains often bear the marks of fusion from its intense heat; and occasionally vitreous tubes descending many feet into banks of sand mark its path. Dr. Fiedler exhibited several of these fulgorites in London of considerable length, which had been dug out of the sandy plains of Silesia and Eastern Prussia. One found at Paderborn was forty feet long. Their ramifications generally terminate in pools or springs of water below the sand, which are supposed to determine the course of the lightning. No doubt the soil and substrata must influence its direction, since it is found by experience that places which have been once struck by lightning are often struck again. An insulated conductor on the approach of a storm gives out such quantities of sparks that it is dangerous to approach it, as was fatally experienced by Professor Richman at Petersburg, who was struck dead by a globe of fire from the extremity of a conductor, while making experiments on atmospheric electricity. Copper conductors afford the best protection, especially if they expose a broad surface, since electricity is conveyed along the surface of bodies. There is no instance of an electric cloud of high tension being dispelled by a conductor, yet those invented by Sir William Snow Harris, and universally employed in the navy, afford a complete protection in the most imminent danger. The Shannon, a 50-gun frigate, commanded by the brave and lamented Sir William Peel, was enveloped in a thunder-storm when about 90 miles to the north-west of Java. It began at fifty minutes past four in the afternoon; the ship was driven before the storm, in a high sea, amid streams of vivid lightning, deafening thunder, hail, and rain. At five o'clock an immense ball of fire covered the maintopgallant mast, ran up the royal pole, and exploded in the air with a terrific concussion, covering all the surrounding space

with sparks of electric light, which were driven rapidly to leeward by the wind. Fifteen minutes later an immense mass of lightning struck the mainmast, attended by a violent gust of wind; and another heavy discharge fell on it a quarter of an hour afterwards. From that time till six o'clock the ship was continually encompassed by sharp forked lightning, accompanied by incessant peals of thunder. Though actually enveloped in electricity, and struck three times, neither the hull nor the rigging sustained the slightest injury.

When the air is rarefied by heat, its coercive power is diminished, so that the electricity escapes from the clouds in those lambent diffuse flashes without thunder so frequent in warm summer evenings; and when the atmosphere is highly charged with electricity, it not unfrequently happens that electric light, in the form of a star, is seen on the topmasts and yard-arms of ships. In 1831 the French officers at Algiers were surprised to see brushes of light on the heads of their comrades, and at the points of their fingers when they held up their hands. This phenomenon was well known to the ancients, who reckoned it a lucky omen. Many substances, in decaying, emit light, which is attributed to electricity, such as fish and rotten wood. Oyster-shells, and a variety of minerals, become phosphorescent at certain temperatures when exposed to electric shocks or friction: indeed, most of the causes which disturb molecular equilibrium give rise to phosphoric phenomena. The minerals possessing this property are generally coloured or imperfectly transparent; and, though the colour of this light varies in different substances, it has no fixed relation to the colour of the mineral. An intense heat entirely destroys this property, and the phosphorescent light developed by heat has no connexion with light produced by friction; for Sir David Brewster observed that bodies deprived of the faculty of emitting the one are still capable of giving out the other. Among the bodies which generally become phosphorescent when exposed to heat, there are some specimens which do not possess this property; wherefore phosphorescence cannot be regarded as an essential character of the minerals possessing it. Sulphuret of calcium, known as Canton's phosphorus, and the sulphuret of barium, or Bologna stone, possess the phosphorescent property in an eminent degree.

Multitudes of fish are endowed with the power of emitting

light at pleasure, no doubt to enable them to pursue their prey at depths where the sunbeams cannot penetrate. Flashes of light are frequently seen to dart along a shoal of herrings or pilchards; and the Medusa tribes are noted for their phosphorescent brilliancy, many of which are extremely small, and so numerous as to make the wake of a vessel look like a stream of silver. Nevertheless, the luminous appearance which is frequently observed in the sea during the summer months cannot always be attributed to marine animalculæ, as the following narrative will show:

Captain Bonnycastle, coming up the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the 7th of September, 1826, was roused by the mate of the vessel in great alarm from an unusual appearance. It was a starlight night, when suddenly the sky became overcast in the direction of the high land, and an instantaneous and intensely vivid light, resembling the aurora, shot out of the hitherto gloomy and dark sea on the lee bow, which was so brilliant that it lighted everything distinctly even to the mast-head. The light spread over the whole sea between the two shores, and the waves, which before had been tranquil, now began to be agitated. Captain Bonnycastle describes the scene as that of a blazing sheet of awful and most brilliant light. A long and vivid line of light, superior in brightness to the parts of the sea not immediately near the vessel, showed the base of the high, frowning, and dark land abreast; the sky became lowering and more intensely obscure. Long tortuous lines of light showed immense numbers of very large fish darting about as if in consternation. The sprit-sail yard and mizen-boom were lighted by the glare, as if gaslights had been burning directly below them; and until just before daybreak, at four o'clock, the most minute objects were distinctly visible. Day broke very slowly, and the sun rose of a fiery and threatening aspect. Rain followed. Captain Bonnycastle caused a bucket of this fiery water to be drawn up; it was one mass of light when stirred by the hand, and not in sparks as usual, but in actual coruscations. A portion of the water preserved its luminosity for seven nights. On the third night, the scintillations of the sea reappeared; the sun went down very singularly, exhibiting in its descent a double sun; and, when only a few degrees high, its spherical figure changed into that of a long cylinder, which reached the

horizon. In the night the sea became nearly as luminous as before, but on the fifth night the appearance entirely ceased. Captain Bonnycastle did not think it proceeded from animalculæ, but imagined it might be some compound of phosphorus, suddenly evolved and disposed over the surface of the sea. It had probably been that peculiar form of electricity known as the glow discharge, of which the author once saw a very remarkable instance.

M. E. Becquerel assures us that almost all substances are phosphorescent after being exposed to the sun if instantly withdrawn into darkness, and that it depends upon the arrangement of the particles and not upon chemical action. The salts of uranium give the same kind of phosphorescent light as that produced by the violet rays of the solar spectrum. A solution of the bisulphate of quinine emits a yellow phosphorescent light, whereas the fluorescent light of that liquid is blue. The colours of these two kinds of light are generally complementary to one another.

Phosphorescence is probably more or less concerned in some, at least, of a series of very curious experiments made by M. Niepce de Saint-Victor, on what he calls the saturation of substances with light. It has long been known that, if a person in an intensely dark room should expose his arm to the sun through a hole in a window-shutter, it will shine on being drawn into the darkness. Now, M. de Saint-Victor found that if an engraving be exposed for a certain time to the sun, and instantly brought into darkness, it will make a photographic impression on a collodion or argentine surface, and that anything written or drawn with tartaric acid, or a solution of the salts of uranium, in large characters, is reproduced even at a small distance from a sensitive surface. It may be presumed that the light communicates its vibrations to the surfaces exposed to it with sufficient force to enable them to disturb the unstable equilibrium of such sensitive substances as collodion or the argentine salts. M. de Saint-Victor has shown that tartaric acid, which is readily impressed by sunlight, is neither fluorescent nor phosphorescent, whence he concludes that his experiments are independent of both of these modes of action. Uranium appears to have very peculiar properties: its salts are strongly luminous when exposed to the sun; they are very fluorescent; and the crystallized azitote of uranium becomes phosphorescent by percussion.


[ocr errors]

Voltaic Electricity - The Voltaic Battery - Intensity-Quantity Static Electricity, and Electricity in Motion Luminous Effects - Mr. Grove on the Electric Arc and Light-Decomposition of Water-Formation of Crystals by Voltaic Electricity-Photo-galvanic Engraving · Conduction Heat of Voltaic Electricity - Electric Fish.

VOLTAIC or Dynamic electricity is elicited by the force of chemical action. It is connected with some of the most brilliant periods of British science, from the splendid discoveries to which it led Sir Humphry Davy and Dr. Faraday.

In 1790, while Galvani, Professor of Anatomy in Bologna, was making experiments on electricity, he was surprised to see convulsive motions in the limbs of a dead frog accidentally lying near the machine during an electrical discharge. Though a similar action had been noticed long before his time, he was so much struck with this singular phenomenon, that he examined all the circumstances carefully, and at length found that convulsions take place when the nerve and muscle of a frog are connected by a metallic conductor. This excited the attention of all Europe; and it was not long before Volta, Professor at Pavia, showed that the mere contact of different bodies is sufficient to disturb electrical equilibrium, and that a current of electricity flows in one direction through a circuit of three conducting substances. From this he was led, by acute reasoning and experiment, to the construction of the Voltaic pile, which, in its early form, consisted of alternate discs of zinc and copper, separated by pieces of wet cloth, the extremities being connected by wires. This simple apparatus, perhaps the most wonderful instrument that has been invented by the ingenuity of man, by divesting electricity of its sudden and uncontrollable violence, and giving in a continued stream a greater quantity at a diminished intensity, has exhibited that force under a new and manageable form, possessing powers the most astonishing and unexpected. The expression current has no relation to a fluid, which is now considered to be as inconsistent with the phenomena of dynamic as with static electricity.

« PreviousContinue »