Though the English have not been backward in acknowledging the great merit of this philosopher, he has had the singular good-fortune to be, perhaps, even more celebrated abroad than at home.
Today we continue Benjamin Franklin Experiments With Electricity,
the name of our selection from The Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin; Including His Private as Well as His Official and Scientific Correspondence, and Numerous Letters and Documents Now for the First Time Printed, With Many Others not Included in any Former Collection, Also, the Unmutilated and Correct Version of His Autobiography by John Bigelow (edited) and by Benjamin Franklin published in 1887. The selection is presented in a series of installments for 5 minute daily reading.
Previously in Benjamin Franklin Experiments With Electricity.
Dr. Priestley, in his History of Electricity, published in the year 1767, gives a full account of Franklin’s experiments and discoveries.
“Nothing was ever written upon the subject of electricity,” he says, “which was more generally read and admired in all parts of Europe than these letters. There is hardly any European language into which they have not been translated; and, as if this were not sufficient to make them properly known, a translation of them has lately been made into Latin. It is not easy to say whether we are most pleased with the simplicity and perspicuity with which these letters are written, the modesty with which the author proposes every hypothesis of his own, or the noble frankness with which he relates his mistakes, when they were corrected by subsequent experiments.
“Though the English have not been backward in acknowledging the great merit of this philosopher, he has had the singular good-fortune to be, perhaps, even more celebrated abroad than at home; so that, to form a just idea of the great and deserved reputation of Dr. Franklin, we must read the foreign publications on the subject of electricity, in many of which the terms Franklinism,’ ‘Franklinist,’ and the ‘Franklinian System’ occur in almost every page. In consequence of this, Dr. Franklin’s principles bid fair to be handed down to posterity as equally expressive of the true principles of electricity, as the Newtonian philosophy is of the system of nature in general.”
The observations and theories of Franklin met with high favor in France, where his experiments were repeated and the results verified to the admiration of the scientific world. In the year 1753 his friend Peter Collinson wrote to him from London: “The King of France strictly commands the Abbé Mazéas to write a letter in the politest terms to the Royal Society, to return the King’s thanks and compliments, in an express manner, to Mr. Franklin, of Pennsylvania, for his useful discoveries in electricity, and the application of pointed rods to prevent the terrible effect of thunder-storms.” And the same Mr. Collinson wrote as follows to the Reverend Jared Eliot, of Connecticut, in a letter dated London, November 22, 1753: “Our friend Franklin will be honored on St. Andrew’s Day, the 30th instant, the anniversary of the Royal Society, when the Right Honorable the Earl of Macclesfield will make an oration on Mr. Franklin’s new discoveries in electricity, and, as a reward and encouragement, will bestow on him a gold medal.” This ceremony accordingly took place, and the medal was conferred.
Letters From Benjamin Franklin follows:
“PHILADELPHIA, 28 Mch., 1747.
“To Peter Collinson:
“SIR–Your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments, in which we have observed some particular phenomena that we look upon to be new. I shall therefore communicate them to you in my next, though possibly they may not be new to you, as among the numbers daily employed in those experiments on your side of the water, it is probable someone or other has hit upon the same observations. For my own part, I never was before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time as this has lately done; for what with making experiments when I can be alone, and repeating them to my friends and acquaintance, who, from the novelty of the thing, come continually in crowds to see them, I have, during some months past, had little leisure for anything else.
I am, etc., “B. FRANKLIN.”
“PHILADELPHIA, 11 July, 1747.
“To Peter Collinson:
“SIR — In my last I informed you that in pursuing our electrical inquiries we had observed some particular phenomena which we looked upon to be new, and of which I promised to give you some account, though I apprehended they might not possibly be new to you, as so many hands are daily employed in electrical experiments on your side of the water, some or other of which would probably hit on the same observations.
“The first thing is the wonderful effect of pointed bodies, both in drawing off and throwing off the electrical fire. For example:
“Place an iron shot of three or four inches diameter on the mouth of a clean, dry glass bottle. By a fine silken thread from the ceiling, right over the mouth of the bottle, suspend a small cork ball about the bigness of a marble, the thread of such a length as that the cork ball may rest against the side of the shot. Electrify the shot, and the ball will be repelled to the distance of four or five inches, more or less, according to the quantity of electricity. When in this state, if you present to the shot the point of a long, slender, sharp bodkin, at six or eight inches distance, the repellency is instantly destroyed, and the cork flies to the shot. A blunt body must be brought within an inch and draw a spark to produce the same effect. To prove that the electrical fire is drawn off by the point, if you take the blade of the bodkin out of the wooden handle and fix it in a stick of sealing-wax, and then present it at the distance aforesaid, or if you bring it very near, no such effect follows; but sliding one finger along the wax till you touch the blade, the ball flies to the shot immediately. If you present the point in the dark you will see, sometimes at a foot distance and more, a light gather upon it, like that of a firefly or glow-worm; the less sharp the point, the nearer you must bring it to observe the light; and at whatever distance you see the light you may draw off the electrical fire and destroy the repellency. If a cork ball so suspended be repelled by the tube, and a point be presented quick to it, though at a considerable distance, it is surprising to see how suddenly it flies back to the tube. Points of wood will do near as well as those of iron, provided the wood is not dry, for perfectly dry wood will no more conduct electricity than sealing-wax.
“To show that points will throw off as well as draw off the electrical fire, lay a long sharp needle upon the shot, and you cannot electrize the shot so as to make it repel the cork ball. Or fix a needle to the end of a suspended gun-barrel or iron rod so as to point beyond it like a little bayonet, and while it remains there the gun-barrel or rod cannot, by applying the tube to the other end, be electrized so as to give a spark, the fire continually running out silently at the point. In the dark you may see it make the same appearance as it does in the case before mentioned.
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