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' Naturam expellas furc& tamen usque recurret." Hon. 




** HUMANUM est errare." The object of the pre- 
sent tract is to draw the attention of men of science, 
to what the author believes to be most pernicious 
errors in Chemistry, Electricity, and Magnetism 5 
namely, that water is decomposable, that hydrogen 
is an elementary body, and that there are two 
kinds or states of Electricity and Magnetism ; and 
to point out the true mode of action of these fluids. 

If the errors in question should turn out to be 
mere fragile creations of the author's brain, no 
possible evil can result from this publication. 

If, on the contrary, they should be found to have 
a real existence, of which the author has the fullest 
conviction, there can be no doubt that incalculable 
benefit must ensue by the removal of these mis- 
chievous intruders from the avenues of science, 




where they cannot but very seriously impede our 
approach to the sacred temple. 

These considerations, the author trusts, will be 
received as an apology for his venturing to obtrude 
his ideas on the public attention. 

Well House, Malvern Well 9 
28th Sept. 1846. 


NOTWITHSTANDING the eulogium passed upon Sir 
Humphry Davy by his admirable biographer, Dr. 
Paris, if we except the Safety Lamp,* we do not ap- 
pear to be so much indebted to his labours as is 
generally imagined ; nor has chemistry been left by 
him at all in a satisfactory state. He is said to have 
overthrown the theory of combustion of Lavoisier, 
and to have proved that oxygen is not the principle 
of acidity ; but what has he substituted in their 
place? Instead of light and heat being properties 
of oxygen, which that substance parts with or deve- 
lopes at the time of its union with a combustible 
body, (according to the French chemist), Davy tells 
us that light and heat are the mere effects of motion, 

* The efficacy of this lamp is due to the very unexpected dis- 
covery that flame will not pass through the interstices of a 
metallic wire gauze, (and which Dr. Paris allows a celebrated en- 
gineer claims to have found out before Sir Humphry), as the 
miners already knew that the " fire damp" would not explode in 
the absence of flame. It is then not to Sir Humphry Davy as a 
chemist, but as a mechanist, that we are indebted for this useful 
i nstrumeut. 

or, as he terms it, of " intense chemical action ;* y * 
and with respect to the cause of acidity, he leaves it 
wholly unaccounted for. He is said, again, to have 
enriched science with some evanescent metals that 
are supposed to be the bases of alkaline earths ; but 
which will most probably turn out to be only com- 
pound bodies, as Mr. Curadon asserted, in his 
memoir read at the French Institute. 

But what could the greatest genius effect without 
a knowledge of the materials upon which he worked, 
or of the tools which were to aid him ? Now of what 
can these consist but of elementary substances, and 
what do chemists know of elementary bodies ? If we 
are led to suppose that it is one of the excellencies 
of Divine wisdom to arrive at the most astonishing 
results by the simplest of means, it would naturally 
follow, that to make any considerable progress in 
chemistry we should adopt a similar course. Instead 
of this, we have now upwards of fifty elementary 
bodies ; so injudiciously have we multiplied the four 
simple elements handed down to us from antiquity. 

Our immortal countryman, Bacon, seeing the 
error of raising up systems without ascertaining the 
facts by which they were to be upheld, enforced the 
necessity of experiment for supplying these desi- 
derata. But we now fall into the other extreme, 
and are daily multiplying experiments and pro- 

* And yet, by other experiments, Davy found the most vivid 
effects of combustion known (light and heat), were those pro- 
duced by the condensation of oxygen and chlorine. 

(hieing results without having any clear or definite 
object thus making " confusion worse confounded." 

In fact, modern chemistry looks very much like a 
scramble for popularity. Instead of pondering on 
and scrutinizing some few of the million of experi- 
ments already made, which invite investigation, it 
seems to be the only question, who can run the 
fastest on the road to novelty ; and he who contrives 
to pick up some wild apple in his route, which has 
a little more colour in its cheeks than ordinary, is 
forthwith crowned with public applause, to the 
great envy and disappointment of his breathless 

With these remarks, for which I beg to apolo- 
gize, I shall proceed to the consideration of the 
errors in question. 

Preliminary to our examining the experiments 
relative to the " decomposition of water," let us 
consider, for a few moments, upon what authority, 
independently of chemistry, this fluid may be consi- 
dered as an elementary body : not that I mean for 
one moment to contend that scriptural, or any other 
authority, is to preclude a conclusion against direct 
evidence ; but merely, that if a strong doubt should 
be raised upon the subject, the Old Testament, the 
dicta of ancient philosophers, and the doctrine of 
probabilities, may be allowed their fair weight in 
deciding the question, and induce chemists to adopt 
that view of the subject until the contrary shall be 
shewn by unanswerable experiments ; as there is, I 


think, great reason to believe that the facility with 
which Cavendish's theory has heen received, has 
placed chemistry in a worse condition than during 
the reign of the alehy mists. 

We find then, in the first chapter of Genesis, that 
" God created the heaven and the earth," and after- 
wards that " the spirit of God moved upon the face 
of the waters."* Again, that " God said, Let the 
waters under the heaven he gathered together unto 
one place, and let dry land appear. And God 
called the dry land earth." 

From these passages it would seem, (and the con- 
trary is not stated in the rest of Genesis) that the 
water must have been previously created, and not at 
the time the heaven and the earth are spoken of. It 
also appears, that in the first instance the waters 
entirely covered the earth. 

Thus we find in one other passage, which I will 
beg leave to quote, as it is not a little remarkable, 
and has hitherto, I believe, escaped notice, these 
words : " And God said, Let there be a Firmament in 
the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters 
from the waters." Now it is a curious circumstance 
that the Hebrew word which is translated into 
" Firmament," signifies "Expansion"^ from which 

* A French author says that " water is the most noble of ele- 
ments, seeing that it was upon the water that God was carried 
before the creation of the world." 

f See note on the word " Firmament," 1st chap. Genesis, v. 6. 
Oxford edit. 1834. 


it must be inferred that the earth was a nucleus in 
fusion, surrounded by the aqueous fluid from which 
it partially disengaged itself by expansion, and thus 
caused dry land to appear. 

If then we apply eastern metaphor to the seven 
days' creation, we have in Genesis a clear and dis- 
tinct confirmation of the present theory of the 
origin and constitution of our planet. So far the 

We have now the great authority of Aristotle, 
who states water to be one of the four elements. 
When we bear in rnind that the Grecian and 
Roman philosophers were men of a mental calibre 
vastly superior to our own, of which we have the 
most indisputable proofs in the monuments they 
have left behind in all the branches of learning 
(viz. Poetry, Eloquence, History, Philosophy, Archi- 
tecture, Strategy, and the Arts) we cannot sup- 
pose that those elements were given without great 
consideration ; and we know that the ancients were 
not influenced in this respect by the Jewish Sacred 
Writings, to which, (if they were acquainted with 
them) they certainly paid no deference.* 

If it be said that with all their superiority they 
were not chemists, I think that observation gra- 
tuitous, and the fact extremely improbable; for when 
Sir Humphry Davy was engaged with the Admi- 
ralty, upon his electro -chemical process for protect- 
ing the sheathing of our ships (a scheme which, 
* <( Crcdat Judeeus Apclla, non ego !" HOR. 


aftor a very great expenditure, was at length aban- 
doned), it was found, from the discovery of an old 
Roman galley of the time of Trajan, that they were 
acquainted with this electro-chemical aetion, and 
had applied it to the ship in question, the bottom 
being found coated with leaden sheets, fastened 
with copper nails.* 

Now, then, let us consider this question upon the 
ground of probability. I have already observed 
that the highest conception we can have of Divine 
power, is that of producing the most splendid results 
by the simplest means ; and whenever we are able 
to comprehend any of the processes of nature, we 
find this invariably to be the case. 

Is it probable, then, that the water of our globe, 
now three times in extent to that of the earth, and 
which, at the time of the creation, must have been 
still more capacious, as much of it must have been 

* Marchetti, cited by Dr. Paris, to whose excellent work I am 
indebted for much of the matter upon which I shall have to com- 

There are two reasons why the scientific works of the ancients 
are not familiar to us. First That after the fall of the Roman 
Empire, the monks, being in all probability unacquainted with 
science, would only preserve such works as related to literature, 
and of those only such authors as had been known by their great 
celebrity. Secondly That if some few of the monks were not 
ignorant of science, still manuscripts of that description would 
be much more rare than the former, and the religious fanaticism 
of the age would militate against their preservation. 


volatilized to form an atmosphere ;* is it probable, 
I ask, that so important a body to the existence and 
comfort of the inhabitants of the earth, and on that 
account so bountifully supplied, should be a com- 
pound of gaseous substances, the quantities whereof 
to form such a body far exceed the stretch of human 
imagination, though the latter be elastic enough to 
adopt the calculation of Mr. Arago, that the velocity 
of light is seventy-seven thousand leagues in a 
second of time ? 

We cannot, therefore, suppose such a combination 
of gaseous matters, without adopting the unphiloso- 
phical notion of an overwhelming necessity. 

We have then added to the great improbability, 
both scriptural authority and the opinion of the 
ancient philosophers against this doctrine. 

We will now proceed to an examination of the 
experiments by which the composition of water is 
said to be established. 

It will be but just to premise, that the investiga- 
tion of an important process, and the repetition of 
such process by an advocate of the doctrine, is a 
very different affair from the scrutiny and repetition 
of the same experiment by an opponent, and this, 
notwithstanding there should exist not the remotest 
doubt as to the bona fides of the operator. 

I cannot enforce this remark better than by 

* Davy says, " the atmosphere always contains water in the 
elastic and invisible form, varying in quantity with the tempe- 


quoting the sentiments of Sir Humphry Davy upon 
this point in the fifth dialogue of his " Last Days 
of a Philosopher." " By often repeating," he says, 
<c a process or an observation, the errors connected 
with hasty operations or imperfect views are anni- 
hilated ; and, provided the assistant has no precon- 
ceived notions of his own, and is ignorant of the 
object of his employer in making the experiment, his 
simple and bare detail of facts will often be the 
best foundation for an opinion." 

Now, we collect from this, the extreme danger of 
being deceived by an experiment, (though the 
greatest apparent care may have been used) wherever 
the operator's mind has been imbued with the idea 
of what ought to be the result of such experiment ; 
and infinitely more so must it be where the good 
wishes of the operator have accompanied the expec- 
tation of such a result. 

I feel these remarks necessary, as the observations 
of Davy strongly apply to the processes connected 
with the decomposition of water, and which can by 
no means, therefore, be implicitly relied upon ; and 
the less so, as there exists an extreme difficulty in 
conducting the experiments, as will be presently 

The experiment consists in putting pure water 
into a glass vessel hermetically closed, and by the 
introduction of the galvanic fluid through the appli- 
cation of the voltaic pile, decomposing the water in 
question, so that upon the termination of the pro- 


cess, no water is found in the vessel, but in lieu 
thereof, hydrogen and oxygen gases, in the propor- 
tion of two parts of the former to one of the latter, 
according to Davy ; but, according to Cavendish, 
only one of hydrogen and five or six of oxygen.* 

This is said to have been effected, first by Caven- 
dish, and subsequently by Lavoisier, Wollaston, 
Davy, &c., all of whom, be it observed, gloried in 
the discovery ; and, indeed, the two last, in common 
with many other celebrated characters, considered 
Cavendish as having by this process contributed 
additional rays to the splendour which Newton had 
already shed upon this our highly-favoured country. 

To render the process in question decisive, two. 
things are indispensable, viz. that at the commence- 
ment of it, the water should be wholly free from 
oxygen ; and that, during the operation, no oxygen 
should find its way into the vessel. 

Now, I think it will clearly appear, that none of 
the experiments made upon water have been free 
from these objections, in which case they are value- 
less as evidences of any decomposition having been 

To shew the extreme difficulty, nay, the almost 
impossibility, of obtaining pure water, and when 
partially obtained, of preventing the ingress of 
oxygen, (it either entering with the galvanic fluid, 

* M. Dumas, the celebrated French chemist, says, that one 
part of hydrogen and eight parts of oxygen form one atom of 
water. See Annales de Chemie. June, 1842. 


or in some other undiscoverable manner) I will 
quote the following experiment, taken from Davy's 
Bakerian Lecture, delivered on the 26th November, 

Mr. Sylvester had asserted, that if two separate 
portions of water were electrised, out of the contact 
of substances containing alkaline and acid matter, 
acid and alkali would nevertheless be produced.* 
" Some persons," says Dr. Paris, " thought that the 
salts contained in the fluids of the troughs of the 
voltaic pile might, by some unexpected channel, find 
their way into the water under examination. Others, 
that they were generated by the union of the electric 
fluid with the water, or with one or both of its ele- 

Davy's anxious desire was, however, to test and 
overthrow Sylvester's experiment. 

For this purpose, and to avoid all possible impu- 
rity in the water, Davy used two small cups of 
agate, which were boiled for several hours in dis- 
tilled water, and a piece of very white and transpa- 
rent amianthus (a substance first proposed by Dr. 

* M. de la Rive, the ingenious Professor of Chemistry at 
Geneva, says, that in all the experiments on water by the vol- 
taic current, oxygen is disengaged at the surface of the metallic 
poles, arising from minute particles of metal oxydated, and 
which are suspended in the current, and are thus conveyed into 
the vessel containing the water ; and M. de la Rive, be it ob- 
served, is a believer in the decomposition of water. See Ar- 
chives de r Electricite, by M. de la Rive, and which contains all 
the experiments upon this subject. 


Wollaston) similarly purified, was made to connect 
the vessels together. 

Thus we see, says Davy, that every apparent 
source of fallacy was removed ; but, nevertheless, 
after the purest distilled water had been exposed in 
the agate cups to the voltaic current for forty-eight 
hours, the water in the positive cup gave indications 
of muriatic acid,* and that in the negative cup of 

Thus, then, had oxygen either existed in the 
water, and formed the acid ; or it must have resulted 
from the acid mixture in the trough, or from 
oxydated matter transmitted by the poles of the 
voltaic battery, 

The experiment was therefore repeated by Davy 
a second, third, and fourth time ; the agate cups 
having been carefully placed in glass vessels, out of 
the reach, says Davy, of any circulating air ; and 
all the materials having been repeatedly washed 
with distilled water, and no part of them in contact 
with the fluid having ever touched the fingers but 
still the same result. 

The experiments were, in consequence, again re- 

* Dr. Priestley always denied that pure water was ever pro- 
duced by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen. He observes, 
that in all his experiments an acid liquor was the consequence. 
In these experiments of Dr. Priestley there can be little doubt 
that the acidity was occasioned by the oxygen uniting with the 
water which had resulted from the deflagration of the hydrogen, 
as the action of the voltaic current would not have been long 
enough to supply any oxygenated matter aliunde. 


peated, and instead of agate cups, small cones of the 
purest gold were used, and the water contained in 
them submitted to voltaic action for 14 hours ; the 
result was, the water in the positive cup became 
acid, which increased in quantity as the experiment 
proceeded, and at length became sour to the taste. 
On the contrary, the alkaline property of the fluid 
in the opposite cone shortly obtained a certain in- 
tensity, and became stationary. The acid, as far as 
its properties could be examined, agreed, says 
Davy, with those of pure nitrous acid, having an 
excess of nitrous gas. 

With these results Davy was again dissatisfied. 
Now let it be particularly remarked, that you have 
here a chemist exerting all his energies to over- 
throw a theory which he thinks proper to oppose j 
whereas, in the experiments on the decomposition 
of water, you have all the chemists exerting them- 
selves to confirm a theory by which they suppose 
they are to acquire two additional elements to en* 
rich the stores of chemical science. 

This forcibly illustrates the pungency of Davy's 
remarks, of the necessity of the operator having 
no preconceived notions about the result, and, at all 
events, that he should be exempt from any preju- 
dice or wish upon the subject. 

Davy now submitted the water to a still more 
rigorous examination, which he did by evaporating 
it in a silver vessel, when he discovered l-70th of 
a grain of saline matter. 


The water thus purified was again subjected to a 
voltaic current in the cones of gold. 

In every one of these experiments, says Davy, acid 
matter was produced in the positive cup, and always 
with the character of nitrous acid. How this acid 
could arise, says Davy, (determined, as we see he 
was, that Mr. Sylvester should not be right) he 
could not imagine. It occurred to him at last (he 
observes) that the " nascent oxygen and hydrogen of 
the water might combine with the common air, 
which is constantly dissolved in that fluid ;" (and 
this he supposes possible, notwithstanding the 
water had been so carefully purified) but how 
did it happen, he adds, that the production of 
nitrous acid was progressive ? Davy then remarks 
that he recollected some experiments of Priestley on 
the absorption of gases by water, and of the diffi- 
culty of their exclusion, and he therefore introduced 
the two golden cones containing the purified water 
under the receiver of an air pump, when the ex- 
haustion was effected, and the voltaic pile brought 
to act upon the water thus further purified. After 
18 hours, the result was examined, when the water 
in the negative cone produced no effect upon pre- 
pared litmus, but that in the positive cone did give 
a tinge of acid, barely perceptible. Thus ended the 
process. But there is every reason to suppose, I sub- 
mit, from his previous experiments, that had he con- 
tinued the voltaic current for 48 hours instead of 18, 
the water, notwithstanding the action of the air 
pump, would have gone on progressively increasing 


in acidity. Indeed, it must be admitted that in 
candour he ought to have continued the last pro- 
cess as long as he had done the first, when he used 
the agate cups. 

We see, then, from these experiments, that the 
ability of the most able artist in chemistry is in- 
capable of excluding oxygen from entering into the 
vessels, and combining with the water.* 

There can be no doubt that water in its pure 
state contains neither acid nor alkali; and it is 
equally indisputable that these matters are con- 
veyed to the water by the voltaic current, and that 
the proportion of alkali is very trifling compared 
with that of the acid. 

It is equally plain that if these matters are 
communicated by the voltaic fluid, the longer the 
operation continues the more they, at least the acid, 
will impregnate the water. 

I now confidently appeal to every impartial che- 
mist, and ask, whether in any of the processes re- 
corded, either of Cavendish, or any other of the 
chemists who have repeated his experiments, the 
water acted upon by the voltaic current was in 
anything like the state of purity ; or whether any- 
thing like the same means were taken to produce 
such purity, as we find to have been adopted in the 

* If the water in Davy's first six experiments was free from 
oxygen, it is evident that Sylvester is right, and that oxygen is 
(as M. de la Rive also insists) carried with the electric current, 
and thus enters the vessel containing the water. If, on the other 
hand, the water always contained oxygen, then no satisfactory 
conclusion can be drawn from the experiments. 


processes I have just mentioned ? and if such has 
not been the case, I ask what satisfactory evidence 
exists of water being decomposed ? Is there any 
man who can say that he is now perfectly satisfied 
that such a result has taken place ? 

I will now produce a strong and direct argument 
from Davy himself against any such decompo- 

In considering the action of the voltaic pile, Davy 
says " He thought that if the fluid medium of the 
pile, could be a substance incapable 0f decomposition, 
there is every reason to believe the equilibrium of 
the two opposite metals would be restored, and the 
motion of electricity cease"* 

Now at a subsequent period we find Sir Hum- 
phry Davy stating " that pure water does not 
act upon the voltaic pile; "and he makes this ob- 
servation, " the galvanic pile only acts as long as 
the water between the plates holds some oxygen in 
solution." Has he not found then in water the "in- 
decomposable fluid medium'^ the effect of which, 
he says, will be to suspend the motion of electricity ? 

According to Davy, if water were decomposable, 
it would be decomposed by the action of the me- 
tallic plates instead of which the plates cannot 
eliminate any oxygen from it. 

But a still stronger, and as it appears to me, un- 
answerable argument against any such decomposi- 
tion is this. In the processes just mentioned we 
find that Davy connected the agate cups and golden 
* Dr. Parish Life of Davy, vol. i. 246. f Ib. vol. ii. 210. 


cones together with amianthus, and placed them in 
glass vessels hermetically closed ; and that the 
small quantities of water contained in these agate 
cups were submitted to the action of the powerful 
voltaic pile of the Royal Institution for forty-eight 
hours, and which experiment was repeated a second, 
third, and fourth time ; and that the water in the 
golden cones was so acted upon for eighteen hours, 
and yet that these insignificant portions of water 
stood this intense voltaic action without being de- 
composed ! 

It is evident that Davy, in the ardour of his pur- 
suit, and the exultation of an imaginary victory, 
(for no impartial man can believe it to have heen 
gained), never once reflected that he was giving 
conclusive testimony to the fallacy of the experiments 
in which water had been thought to be decomposed. 
He speaks indeed, as we have seen, about a con- 
jecture, that there miyht be some nascent hydrogen 
and oxygen, wholly forgetting that according to 
Cavendish, Lavoisier, Wollaston, and himself, the 
whole of the water in each of these operations 
ought to have been resolved into thin air. 

Then I ask whether it does not result from 
these experiments of Davy whether in fact it is 
not manifest, that when Cavendish found that hy- 
drogen and oxygen were produced by the action 
of the electric fluid upon the water, the hydro- 
gen must have owed its origin to a combination 
of the water with the electric fluid, and that the 
oxygen must at the same time have been liberated 


from the water where it had previously been held 
in solution ; or have been introduced by the voltaic 

As for the experiment by which hydrogen and 
oxygen are supposed to produce water by their 
union, effected through the agency of the voltaic 
current, it proves nothing. For if hydrogen be 
compounded of electricity and water, the result of 
the combustion of the two gases would be, that the 
hydrogen would restore the water, which would 
then absorb the oxygen, thereby rendering the 
water acid ; and which agrees with Dr. Priestley's 
statement, when he says that in all his experiments 
upon these gases the water resulting from them 
was invariably acid ; and he denies that pure water 
could be procured from their combination. 

But surely if water has been decomposed, there 
can be no doubt of the proportions of the elements 
which constitute this fluid ? Or have the experi- 
ments been effected with so little precision that the 
true quantities of gas cannot be ascertained ? One 
would suppose such a query as this, in a process of 
so much magnitude, would be altogether an insult ; 
and yet, strange as it must appear, the fact is so. 
Davy says that two of hydrogen and one of oxygen 
are the constituents of water, which does not coin- 
cide with Cavendish, who says that there is one of 
hydrogen to five or six of oxygen, while the able 

* Further oxygen would have been introduced by the voltaic 
current, according to Davy's experiments and the observation of 
M. de la Rive. 

French chemist Mr. Dumas, insists that, from 
recent experiments made by him, one part of hy- 
drogen and eight of oxygen form an atom of water. 

Is it, then, too much to say, that when a chemical 
process is left in such a state as this, very little 
account ought to be taken of it ? 

With regard to hydrogen, we find every experi- 
ment connected with it pregnant with evidence of 
its being a phlogistic matter combined with water. 
The Stahlian Theory then after all is correct, and 
Scheele, Priestley and Watt, were perfectly right in 
upholding the Phlogistic Doctrine. Nay, even Ca- 
vendish, notwithstanding his supposed decomposition 
of water, (in which neither Priestley nor Watt be- 
lieved) held that hydrogen was a compound body.* 
But here, unfortunately, Science remained stationary. 
It never occurred to either of these able chemists 
that the phlogistic matter could be no other than 
the electric fluid. If this had but once flashed 
across their minds, the fallacy of water not being an 
element must have been manifest, and chemistry 
would then have flourished in her onward course. 

The more the nature of hydrogen is investigated 
the more clearly we perceive its connection with 
electricity, or the galvanic fluid. 

Let us, for instance, consider the gas of the coal- 
mines,f called " fire damp." This matter, accord- 

* Vide postea, p. 25. 

f Dr. Priestley (who disbelieved in the composition of water), 
procured his hydrogen by distilling well burnt charcoal, when 
he obtained hydrogen and carbonic acid in nearly equal volumes. 


ing to Davy's analysis of it, is "carburetted hy- 
drogen," which, he says, by the admixture of not 
less than six times its volume of atmospheric air 
explodes ; and the result of which explosion is, as 
we know, that the vaults or passages of the mine 
run down with water. 

It will be important then to look at the quantity 
of this carburetted hydrogen found in the mines. 
In one colliery alone, belonging to the Lowther 
family, the miners had picked a hole, from which a 
uniform current of the gas continued to issue for 
the space of two years and nine months ;* and out 
of the fissures which the men had cut, there had 
issued seven hundred hogsheads of carburetted hy- 
drogen in a minute ; and this quantity of gas conti- 
nued to be emitted for years. 

Now then we have here a most extraordinary and 
magnificent decomposition of water. When we find 
that the separation of the elements of water is 
attended with the difficulty we have recently seen, 
can any man believe that the hydrogen gas in ques- 
tion is the result of any such decomposition ? 
when we are told too that a powerful voltaic current 
for forty-eight hours, only " suggests the idea of 
nascent hydrogen and oxygen ?" 

But a still more embarrassing question is this. 
If hydrogen gas be one of the elements of water, 
what has become of the other ? For if 700 hogs- 
heads of hydrogen gas issue in a minute, about 250 
* Philos. Trans, vol. 38. p. 113. 

hogsheads of oxygen ought to accompany it, accord- 
ing to Davy ;* but, according to Mr Dumas, eight 
times that amount, or two thousand tons of oxygen 
per minute, ought to be the supply ; while not one 
hogshead, I believe, is to be found in the whole mine. 

Can any rational man require the subject to be 
carried farther in order to prove that the hydrogen 
which composes the fire-damp, has never been 
generated by the decomposition of water ? 

Now then let us bring to our recollection, what the 
ablest of our scientific chemists have themselves 
thought upon the subject of hydrogen. It is ascer- 
tained that Watt, to the latest moment, agreed with 
Stahl, and regarded heat as material, and to have 
the capacity of combining with substances like other 
material elements. He even went farther, and 
gave it as his opinion that " inflammable air'* 
(hydrogen as it is now called), " contains a small 
quantity of water and much elementary heat. 9 '^ 
Priestley says, " that the water resulting from the 
explosure of hydrogen and common air, he thought 
to be water held in mechanical solution.' 1 Priestley 
adds, that when Cavendish's paper on the formation 

* Davy found four of hydrogen, and 1 1^ of charcoal formed 
the carburetted hydrogen ; the hydrogen being somewhat more 
than i of the composition. 

f Watt says, that he <f concluded from his experiments that 
heat was a combining substance, not merely modifying the form 
and condition of elements, but determining likewise their per- 
itianent specific heat" 

of water was read to the Royal Society, Cavendish 
told him "he was persuaded that water was essential 
to the production of inflammable air." 

It appears from other papers of Priestley, that 
he had at first concluded from several of his experi- 
ments, that hydrogen was separated from metals, 
such as zinc, tin, or iron, by heat alone ; but he 
adds, that in all such experiments, Cavendish 
shewed him that there was water present in some 
form decomposed, and told him that water was 
essential to the production of inflammable air.* 
Priestley, as I have already noticed, denied that 
pure water could be produced by any combination of 
oxygen and hydrogen y but invariably an acid liquor, 
and which I have shewn would be the case if the 
inflammable air is water, combined with electricity. 

To shew what little attention has been paid to 
the all-important question of the decomposition of 
water, and how easily a theory is adopted which 
flatters our vanity, I will borrow the following anec- 
dote related by Mr. Babbage in his " Reflections 
on the Decline of Science in England," and quoted 
by Dr. Paris. " All gases/' says Mr. Babbage, 
" being reducible to a liquid state by compression, 
I proposed to Sir Humphry Davy the question, 

* See Priestley's Works, vol. vi. p. 87. In a very able 
article in the Quarterly Review for Dec. 1845, written to shew 
that Cavendish was the first discoverer of the decomposition of 
water, references will be found to the above quotations if they 
should be required. See the Quarterly Review for December, 
1845, p. 105. 


whether, if two volumes of hydrogen and one of 
oxygen are mixed together in a vessel, and if by 
mechanical pressure they can be so condensed as to 
become of the same specific gravity of water, the 
gases will unite and form water ? Davy at once 
said, ' They will become water of course;' and on 
my inquiry whether the experiment would not be 
worth trying, he replied, it was hardly necessary to 
make it, as it must succeed! 9 On the same question 
being put by Mr. Babbage to Dr. Wollaston, he 
was of a contrary opinion, assigning as the cause the 
nature of the electrical relations of the two gases 
remaining unchanged. 

It may be taken for granted that Dr. Wollaston 
did not pass over an experiment of this kind, and 
we may therefore conclude that it did not succeed. 
But the reason assigned by him for its failure seems 
deficient in force; as, according to the doctor's 
notions of electricity, the oxygen being charged po- 
sitively and the hydrogen negatively, they would be 
in electric states the most favourable for com- 

But assuming that they were not so, what ground 
had Wollaston for supposing that when the two 
gases were inclosed in a vessel, and their union 
effected by the introduction of additional electricity, 
such addition would disturb the nature of their elec- 
trical relations'? and if not, why does mechanical 
pressure fail ? 

I shall now conclude this part of my Inquiry with 
an appeal to the President and Council of the Royal 


Society, and respectfully ask that influential body, 
whether, after deliberately weighing the arguments 
and evidence upon this important topic, they can 
think it consistent with the high character and 
more than European celebrity of the Society, con- 
stituted as it is for the especial promotion of science, 
and bearing on its banners the all-exciting and im- 
perishable name of NEWTON, to remain quiescent 
spectators, and allow this all-absorbing question to 
slumber over the next half century ? 

Surely it must be the paramount duty, as well as 
the interest of the Society, to institute a series of 
experiments* under its direction, in order to deter- 
mine, O,NCE and FOR EVER, whether water is or is 
not a compound body ; and if it is, what are the 
exact proportions of its elements ; and further, 
whether hydrogen is or is not a compound of electri- 
city and water. 

It is evident that until these questions shall be 
determined, the science of Chemistry can exist only 
in name, and that we never can expect to derive 
from it any splendid discovery ; for it is not to 
Chemists that we are indebted for the aid of steam 
and atmospheric air, these had been the world's 
" chartered libertines 1 ' for untold ages ; it is to the 
genius of the Mechanician that we owe our grati- 

* If it should be asked why the author, when he entertains 
these opinions, does not bring forward some experiments of his 
own, he will be driven to confess that he is not an amateur 
chemist, and never made any experimeot in chemistry, electricity, 
or magnetism, either personally or by proxy, in his life. 


tilde, who contrived to convert these unruly giants 
into sturdy labourers, and attach them to machines 
that claim our highest admiration. 

Having thus disposed of the questions respecting 
water and hydrogen, I will now proceed to the con- 
sideration of the ELECTRIC and MAGNETIC fluids, 
and their mode of action. 

I will here beg to premise, what I believe I shall 
be enabled at a future, and not far distant, period, 
to establish, should it not then have been ascer- 
tained, that the galvanic and magnetic fluids are 
modifications of the common electric fluid. That a 
combination of the latter fluid with the oxide of any 
metallic substance that has a powerful affinity for 
oxygen (such as zinc), forms the galvanic fluid ; its 
energy depending upon the kind of acid which has 
produced the oxide ; and that a combination of the 
electric fluid with an oxide of pure iron, forms the 
magnetic fluid. 

In fact, that this powerful element is not only the 
basis of hydrogen, but also of the galvanic and mag- 
netic fluids. 

Davy and Wollaston held pretty much this opi- 
nion. Davy calls the metals " motors of electri- 
city ;" and Wollaston says " metallic oxidation is 
the primary cause." 

Davy also says, " That the electric and galvanic 
fluids are the same, the apparent difference depend- 
ing on the intensity and quantity." Davy again 
says, " that the acid gives and that the alkali receives 
the electricity;" and which, in fact, is nearly the 


whole secret of the voltaic current, badly however 
expressed, as acid and alkali are only the two ex- 
tremes of the conductor. He adds " Atmospheric 
air or oxygen, or nitrous or muriatic acid in solution 
in the water,will produce the oxidation of the metals, 
(but not pure water alone), and that the galvanic 
phenomena are in proportion to the rapidity with 
which the metals (the zinc particularly) are oxi- 
dated." This he afterwards repeats in another place, 
remarking, "that the plates will act no longer than 
the water between them holds some oxygen in solu- 
tion ; and that nitrous acid gives infinitely more 
energy to the fluid than the muriatic acid."* 

It is extraordinary that the possibility of chemi- 
cally uniting electricity or elementary heat with 
these aqueous and other matters, never forcibly 
struck any of our great chemists ; and yet it will very 
likely turn out that these combinations are amongst 
the most useful of nature's processes, and produce 
the most curious results : but the ordinary and 
vulgar notion of fire and water being such opposite 
principles, that harmony can never exist between 
them, has intruded itself even into more philo- 
sophic minds, and made us repugn the idea of any 
combination of these elements being either probable 
or possible. 

With regard to the nature of the electric fluid in 
its simple state, Franklin treated it as having two 
properties, the one positive and the other negative. 

* See Dr. Paris's Life of Davy, vol. i. p. 24C. 


The French chemists believe that there are two 
distinct fluids, and we appear now to have adopted 
this conclusion.* 

From the apparent mysterious mode of action of 
this matter, Davy thought " that the phenomena of 
electricity were produced by a highly volatile fluid 
or fluids, of which the particles are repulsive with 
respect to each other, and attractive of the particles 
of matter !" 

Is it possible to imagine a definition more impro- 
bable or extraordinary than this ! It is indeed the 
" ignotum per ignotius." But this must always be 
the case when absurd theories have to be accounted 

Now all these theories are erroneous. There are 
no two fluids ; there are no such things as positive 
and negative electricity ; and the supposed attrac- 
tive and repulsive properties have no existence. 

The electric fluid, which is probably the cement- 
ing power which holds together the atoms of all 
substances,')" is constantly circulating upon our 

* For if there be but one fluid,t bought the French chemists, 
how inconceivable it is that it should possess two opposite pro- 
perties, as is in the magnet, one attractive and the other repel- 
lant, and that these two properties should be found in the 
smallest imaginable portion of the fluid, and yet be inseparable. 
Such a proposition would certainly not be likely to be very easy of 
digestion with men who had been dealing a little severely with 

f Davy says " I have shewn that chemical attractions may 
be exalted, modified, and destroyed by changes in the electric 
state of bodies." 


globe from south to north ; and it is from this sim- 
ple fact alone, as I shall presently shew, that flow all 
the phenomena of electricity and magnetism which 
have puzzled the greatest men of modern times. 

Every substance in nature is charged with more 
or less of the electric fluid, according to its constitu- 
tion ; and all excess of this fluid, existing on any 
matter whatever, passes from the matter into the 
general current ; and this passage of the fluid 
necessarily takes place with more or less facility 
according as the body it is upon, is more or less a 
conductor of electricity. 

" Common electricity," says Davy, " is excited (I 
should add, " and accumulated") upon raw-con- 
ductors, and is readily carried off by conductors 
and imperfect conductors." 

Now there are three sorts of substances, viz. con- 
ductors, (par excellence), imperfect conductors, and 

To make myself perfectly intelligible, I will beg 
to state, that if we want to obtain any part of the 
electric fluid in circulation, for any purpose, we use 
a non-conductor, which being excited in the ordi- 
nary way, is found to be charged with an accumu- 
lation of the fluid, which is then, by a conductor, 
passed on to the Leyden jar, or any other apparatus, 
such jar or apparatus having been previously placed 
upon a stand furnished with glass or non-conducting 
feet, so that the fluid can have no escape from it, 
except through the atmosphere, and which when in 
a dry state is also a bad conductor. 


Now if the electric fluid is perpetually circulating 
from south to north, it is evident that every portion 
of such fluid, and any modification of it, such as the 
magnetic fluid, which may have been so collected, 
must have a tendency to join and he carried with 
the fluid so in circulation. These simple data being 
premised, the consequences are self-evident. 

For instance, suppose a rod of metal about fifteen 
inches long, and three quarters of an inch in dia- 
meter, a 6, to be charged with the com- 
mon electric fluid, by introducing such fluid at the 
end, b. Now metal being an excellent conductor, it is 
clear that this fluid in order to pass with the general 
circulating fluid, will proceed instanter upon the 
rod from 6, to the other end, a ; and it is equally 
clear, that as the atmosphere is not nearly so rapid 
a conductor as the metal, the fluid, when it reaches 
a, must remain accumulated there, until by the 
slow conducting power of the air it is carried off to 
join the general current. 

We will now come at once to the cause of the 
polarity of the magnetic needle, a problem which 
might have remained unsolved for ages, from the 
strong disposition of the mind for what is mysterious 
the "omne ignotum pro magnifico."* 

Let us take then a small steel bar, similar to 

* It is a remarkable circumstance that the predilection for 
the marvellous is to be found in all grades of society. 

The ablest mathematicians, and the closest logicians are tinc- 
tured with it as well as the uninstructed. About two years since 
I heard the celebrated French Astronomer and perpetual Secre- 


what we see in a Dolland's pocket mariner's com- 
pass a b. Now, if we wish to magnetise 

tary of the Institute, Mr. Arago, say, in speaking of our 
sight, that we saw objects double, and those in an inverted po- 
sition, defects which we only corrected by experience, or as he 
forcibly expressed it, by education. This doctrine, he told us, 
was founded upon experiments made by Chesselden and others 
upon persons born blind, and who, when they had acquired their 
sight, had their vision thus imperfect. 

Now, instead of this strange and absurd doctrine (which I be- 
lieve is not exclusively Mr. Arago' s, and is to be found in the 
books), what does common sense say upon the subject ? This, 
. that the optic nerves of these patients from long want of use, 
could not perform instanter their functional duties, and that 
time would be required to enable them to recover their primitive 

Will any man say that this is not a clear and natural and 
therefore a satisfactory reason ? Why then resort unnecessarily 
to the marvellous ? 

We know that objects are inverted upon the retina ; but does 
it follow as an inevitable consequence that the impression upon 
the mind is also inverted ? Then why gratuitously assert as a 
fact that which is contradicted from our earliest experience ? 

This subject I more fully entered into, and illustrated in a 
paper, which appeared in the " Lancet " some months since, and 
which contained an experiment that removed all doubt upon the 

I had sent the same paper some time previously to Sir 
David Brewster's <f Philosophical Magazine" for insertion, but 
the Doctor thought proper to reject it, so indisposed are these 
great Professors and living Depositaries of l< useful knowledge," 
to be put right upon any subject on which they are mistaken, 
and have been for years misleading the public. 

* See "Lancet," 21st June, 1845, p. 719. 



this bar, so that the north pole shall be at the end, 
a, we must pass the magnet along the bar from 
b to a, and always repeat the operation in that di- 
rection. If on the contrary we desire the north 
pole to be at &, we must pass the magnet the reverse 
way, or from a to b. 

It is evident that in either way we produce a mag- 
netic current, and therefore from whichever end 
this current escapes, that end (when the bar is sus- 
pended, so as to turn freely as in the compass), 
must point to the North Pole, such being the direc- 
tion the fluid is travelling. 

That this is the case will, I think, be indis- 
putable, when we look at the effect of opposing 
current to current, as in the following experiment. 

Let the bar of steel b_ receive 

the magnetic fluid in the direction b a, that is by 
passing the magnet several times from b to a, 
Instead of now continuing the operation in the same 
direction, let the magnet be passed several times 
on the same bar from a to b. What follows ? 
There will be now no polarity at either end of the 
bar, when it is suspended as before ; and, therefore, 
for the purpose of indicating the North Pole, the bar 
will be useless. Why is this ? Because, as must 
be manifest, by thus reversing the currents we 
oppose the current a to the current b, and which 
two currents must consequently meet in some inter- 
mediate part of the bar, where an accumulation of 
fluid will be formed, and where the fluid must escape 


in the best way it can ; for as neither current can 
return upon itself, so neither current can reach 
either extremity of the bar. 

In this operation, therefore, the magnetic fluid 
will appear to be neutralized and its properties 

With regard to the phenomenon called the " Dip- 
ping of the Needle" this no doubt arises from some 
inequality on the earth's surface, by which the fluid 
takes a downward course, and in that direction car- 
ries the needle. Or there may be large cavities 
.near the surface containing metallic strata through 
which the fluid passes on its journey round the earth. 

It will be hardly necessary to illustrate this mag- 
netic theory farther, as the other phenomena will be 
explained by those resulting from electricity ; but 
I will just notice the horse-shoe magnet, lest it 
should create a difficulty in the mind of the reader. 


In this magnet, then, a f] c two currents exist, 
the steel in this form being magnetised from b to a, 
and from b to c. 

It is evident, in this case, that the currents do 
not oppose each other, and consequently the strength 
of the magnet consists in having a double quantity 
of fluid, by a current terminating at each extremity. 

The power called attraction is evidently nothing 
more than the tenacity with which the particles of 
the fluid adhere together, and in that state pass from 
conductor to conductor, thus causing an apparent 
cementing together of the two conductors. 


We will now proceed to examine the supposed 
positive and negative properties of the common 
electric fluid, and in which the adhesion of the par- 
ticles is not so great as in the magnetic fluid. 

Suppose, then, two rods of brass, about fifteen 
inches long, and three-quarters of an inch in dia- 
meter, a 1 b a 2 I, 

and that each rod is charged with the common 
electric fluid, introduced at b.* It is evident that if 
these two rods, so charged, be placed on an isolated 
stand, the fluid will have accumulated at the end a, 
of each rod. Now, then, remark what follows. If 
I place the end a, of rod 2, in contact with the end 
b of the other rod, I shall form, as it were, but one 
conductor ; and it is therefore evident that the fluid 
which existed on the rod No. 2, will have quitted 
that rod, and passed on to join the fluid of rod No. 1, 
at a ; and if I charge a thousand rods, and place 
them together under the same circumstances, so as 
to form but one conductor, all the fluid will pass on 
to the first rod, on its way to join the general cur- 

Again, if I place the ends b of the two rods toge- 
ther, no phenomena will take place, it being evident 
that in this position of the rods there can be neither 
attraction nor repulsion, nor any other apparent 
property manifested, as the fluids are now travelling* 

* In all these experiments it is evident that the glass, or non- 
conducting handle, must be attached to the middle of the rods, 
so that their ends or extremities may be perfectly free. 


in different directions, and wholly independent of 
each other. 

But suppose, instead of placing the end a of one 
rod to the end b of the other, (which produced the 
phenomenon of attraction), we oppose the ends a of 
the two rods, that is, place them nearly together, 
what must be the manifest result ? It is clear that 
the two accumulated fluids will be now placed in a 
state of antagonism, and that, like two currents of 
water, or any other two fluids in motion, opposed to 
each other, instead of attraction, a violent commo- 
tion will take place, and that all matters found or 
placed within their sphere of action must be forcibly 
carried away. Now, this antagonism taking place, 
with the magnetic, or the common electric fluid, 
produces the phenomenon called repulsion. 

Thus, then, is explained all the mystery of attrac- 
tion and repulsion, and of positive and negative pro- 
perties, about which volumes have been written. 

If, however, all the phenomena of electricity had 
been confined to these peculiarities, it is to be hoped, 
for the honour of science, and the acumen of its pro- 
fessors, that the occult nature of these operations 
would have been sooner brought to light. 

It, however, happens that substances are met 
with upon which are found only positive electricity, 
as it is called ; and upon others only negative elec- 
tricity. Thus, then, it should appear as if there 
must be two fluids, as they are now seen detached ; 
a circumstance not met with in the magnetic fluid, 


as its attractive and repellant properties have not 
hitherto (I believe) presented themselves in a sepa- 
rate state, and which may arise from the tenacity of 
its particles. 

Then, again, some substances will receive elec- 
tricity from some bodies and refuse it from others, 
and vice versa, so that it is concluded that certain 
bodies will only receive a peculiar kind of electricity. 

Now, this is all illusory, as will be readily under- 
stood and admitted upon examining a little farther 
into the nature of the different conducting bodies. 

The common electric fluid is excited and collected 
(as we have seen) upon a body that does not con- 
duct for instance glass. Why ? because the fluid 
must remain on such body in a comparatively mo- 
tionless state an uneasy state, to use a metaphor 
a desire to leave but an incapacity to do so a wish 
to arrive at the upper story of the building, but can 
find no staircase which leads to it. Suppose then 
the fluid to be now existing on such a surface. 

Suppose again a conducting body to be charged 
with the electric fluid (one of the metallic rods for 
instance), which has received such fluid at b. Now 
place the end #, of this rod (the positive end as it 
is called), where the fluid has concentrated itself, in 
contact with the fluid which is stagnant on the non- 
conducting body. It is plain that in this case there 
can be no attraction why ? Because both the fluids 
are endeavouring to escape, and in this situation 
neither of them offers to the other any facility or 


means of so doing ; on the contrary, the result of 
their approximation is to produce a scuffle between 
them to the advantage of neither. But instead of 
the positive end, a, place the negative end, 6, of this 
conductor on the non-conducting body, and you im- 
mediately discharge the latter of its electricity. 

Now to account for this result, instead of the 
above simple explanation, our scientific men have 
created two fluids, calling that upon the metallic rod 
the positive, and that upon the non-conducting 
body the negative fluid ; and they have assumed 
from the above experiments, that there exists a 
warm attachment (affinity) between the positive and 
negative families, while on the contrary these two 
mysterious fluids, as between themselves, that is when 
in their separate establishments and confined to their 
respective houses, are upon terms of utter enmity, 
and that nothing but discord reigns between them. 

It is found again that the electric fluid upon two 
non-conducting substances will not unite ; that 
when one non-conducting substance, charged with the 
electric fluid, is presented to another non-conduct- 
ing body also charged, no sympathy takes place 
between them, but quite the contrary. I have 
already given the reason of this, namely, that both 
fluids are in an imprisoned state, their motion in a 
current being suspended ; and as each fluid is seek- 
ing (if I may be at liberty to use this expression) 
to escape, it is evidently not the union of the two 
fluids which can effect the object, but a conducting 


body, which neither of them possesses ; and conse- 
quently placing the two non-conducting substances 
together only embarrasses their condition. The 
result then is that a juxta-position of two bodies 
under these circumstances produces no other pheno- 
menon than repulsion. 

Now, there occurred a circumstance which en- 
veloped this occult subject, (as it appeared to the 
great practitioners of electricity), in impenetrable 
obscurity, and called in vain for professional inge- 
nuity to account for. 

Dr. Faraday found that a metallic ball isolated 
that is, suspended in the open air by a silken 
string, would receive or be charged with the electric 
fluid (by induction, as the Doctor calls it), from the 

This, according to what I have laid down, is an 
inevitable consequence. The fluid being always in 
circulation, and metal being a powerful conducting 
surface, the ball must in this case be charged with 

But the surprise of Dr. Faraday arose from his 
finding, that notwithstanding the ball was of metal, 
and therefore the best of conductors, it was charged 
with the negative fluid ; and I will venture to add, 
that the Doctor was never more surprised in his life.* 

Now this again, according to the theory I have 
stated, is not only perfectly intelligible, but is also 

* See Dr. Faraday's paper in Sir David Brewster's Philos. 
Mag. of June, 1843, p. 4/8. 


a necessary consequence ; whereas according to the 
theory of the books, it can in no shape be accounted 
for, and must have been in direct opposition to all 
Doctor Faraday's ideas upon the subject. 

I have already stated that a body is a non-con- 
ductor, or an extremely bad conductor, when the 
fluid rests upon it in a comparatively torpid or im- 
prisoned state, the natural condition of the fluid 
being that of a current, which in this case is sus- 

It is evident, therefore, that although metal is 
an excellent conductor, it may be so shaped as to 
have all the disadvantage of a non-conductor, and 
in that case, all the difference that can exist between 
a metal and a non-conducting body will be, that 
the metal will be charged by induction (that is, by 
exposure to the atmosphere), with the greatest 
quantity of fluid. 

Now, when the metal is formed into a ball, it is 
precisely of the shape in which it must act as a 
non-conducting surface or body. 

How can the electric fluid pass off from the 
metal in this shape, better than it could from any 
non-conducting surface ? But the moment this 
same ball of metal is by the hammer elongated, 
and offers an extremity or end for the fluid to 
escape from, the metal will then be positively 
charged by induction or exposure to the atmosphere. 

However, to put this subject beyond the possi- 
bility of cavil, and to prove, incontrovertibly, that 


the ball is charged with the supposed negative fluid, 
solely from the cause I have mentioned, if, when 
the ball is so charged, a short metallic rod | * 
be placed upon, or attached to, the ball with the 
upper end a pointed, so as to facilitate the transit of 
the fluid into the atmosphere, the fluid on the ball 
will be found immediately changed from a negative 
to a positive fluid ; and it will be also found that so 
long as the pointed rod remains affixed to the ball, 
it will be impossible to charge it, by induction or 
otherwise, with negative fluid. 

It is evident, that through the medium of the rod 
attached to the ball a current will be aided ; and 
from that moment the fluid will resume its natural 
motion, and become, to all intents and purposes, 
according to the nomenclature of the day, a positive 

I will now say a few words respecting the modus 
operandi of the voltaic pile. 

All bodies appear to be in different states of elec- 
tricity, according to their respective natures, and 
this fluid, in all probability, constitutes (as I have 
before said) the cementing or connecting power by 
which the particles of matter are held together. 

When the active power of this fluid is made more 
energetic by that combination of it with some other 
body, which converts it into what is called the gal- 
vanic fluid, it has the virtue of disintegrating or 
separating certain compound substances; and which 
it possibly effects in as simple a manner as the 


crystals of sugar are dissolved in warm water, and 
from the same cause, viz. a superfluity of fluid beyond 
what is necessary for the adhesion of the particles 
of matter ; in fact, an inundation of fluid or elemen- 
tary heat. 

The construction of the voltaic pile is such as to 
compel this fluid to travel in a circle, and in so 
doing it necessarily passes from the negative, or 
least conducting pole or substance, to the positive 
pole or greater conducting surface ; and by this 
means the whole of the fluid is made to act, in its 
transit, upon any given substance required to be 
operated upon. 

When the resolution of a compound body takes 
place, the substances of which it is compounded will 
arrange themselves according to the order of their 
electric capacities, (which can be readily imagined 
from what has been already written) that is, the 
body which has as great or a greater conducting 
power than the substance forming the positive pole 
will pass to that side, and the bodies having a less 
conducting power than the substance forming the 
negative pole will attach themselves to the latter, 
and thus extend the conductor of the fluid accord- 
ing to their respective electric capacities. 

Here, then, we again find the same absence of 
all that complexity and mystery in which most of 
our subtle philosophers fondly indulge themselves, 
from the very mistaken notion, no doubt, that 
superiority of intellect is denoted by the extrava- 


gance of its conceptions, (which they are pleased to 
call Genius) and that plain common sense is much 
below their dignity. 

It is curious to observe the inconsistency which 
exists with respect to the electric fluid. When 
hydrogen and oxygen are to be converted into 
water, the agent the chemists call in to effect the 
union of these gases, is this fluid. But this is the 
solitary instance in which this elementary power is 
made to perform an hymeneal office ; in every other 
case, they represent it as the universal enemy of 
nature ; the deranger of all sympathy ; the de- 
stroyer of all conjugal felicity, however long and 
sincere the attachment may have been, and how- 
ever disinclined the parties may be to separate. 

They may, however, ultimately discover that the 
electric fluid, when better known, is as much dis- 
posed, and as capable of forming harmonious com- 
pacts as any other of its elementary companions ; 
and that it is to some one of those friendly unions 
that we stand indebted for the inestimable blessings 
of Light and Heat, which Davy, in the recklessness 
of an unchastened imagination, concluded to be 
mere accidents in nature, produced by tumult and 
violence, or, as he called it, " intense action." 

Thus, then, do all the phenomena we meet with 
in electricity and magnetism (except light and heat), 
flow from the simple circumstance, of the continuous 
circulation of these fluids from south to north upon 
the surface of our globe. 


However strange and incredible, therefore, (con- 
sidering the variety of the phenomena) this theory 
may appear, and however it may call forth the 
opposition of those philosophers, who seem to hold 
simplicity in abhorrence, I shall continue, like 
Galileo, to exclaim laconically, but emphatically, It 
is nevertheless so ! 


THE author's Theory of the Phenomena of the 
Electric and Magnetic Fluids, and their mode of 
action, suggested itself to his mind during an illness 
at Aix-les-bains in Savoie, and was thence commu- 
nicated by him to the " Royal Society," in a paper 
transmitted to their excellent Secretary, Dr. Roget, 
in August, 1834, and subsequently to Dr. Faraday, 
in January, 1838. 

The subject was referred by the Society to a 
Committee, but no report was ever made. 

In December, 1834, the same Theory was com- 
municated by the author to the " French Institute," 
in a memoir presented by M. Arago, when the 
subject was referred to Messieurs Ampere and 
Becquerel, but they never made any report. 

The author also communicated the Theory of the 
Magnetic Needle to the " Board of Admiralty," in 
a paper transmitted in February, 1838. 

Early in 1844, in consequence of seeing in the 
Philosophical Magazine of Sir David Brewster, for 
June, 1843, Dr. Faraday's experiment noticed in the 
foregoing pages, the author addressed another me- 
moir to the " Royal Society," accounting for the phe- 
nomenon, and shewing that it flowed from, and was 
confirmatory of, his Theory. 


The same communication was also sent, in March, 
1844, to Sir David Brewster's Philosophical Maga- 
zine ; but it was never published, as the author 

The Theory as to the Non- Decomposition of 
Water, and that Hydrogen was composed of Elec- 
tricity and Water, was communicated to the Royal 
Society in a memoir forwarded from the continent to 
Dr. Roget, in April, 1840, and which was referred 
by the Council to the " Committee of Chemistry," 
who have made no report thereon. 

A similar paper was sent to the Marquis of 
Northampton, in May, 1840. 

In December, 1841, the author addressed ano- 
ther memoir upon the same subject to the Royal 
Society, accompanied with the dicta of Cavendish, 
Priestley, and Watt, as to Hydrogen being a com- 
pound body, which was also referred to the " Com- 
mittee of Chemistry," but without any result. 





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