Besides these great principles Franklin’s letters on electricity contain a number of facts and hints which have contributed greatly toward reducing this branch of knowledge to a science.
Continuing 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. Stuber, then a resident of Philadelphia, and author of the first continuation of Franklin’s Life, continues. – JL]
“About a month before this period some ingenious Frenchman had completed the discovery in the manner originally proposed by Dr. Franklin. The letters which he sent to Mr. Collinson, it is said, were refused a place in the Transactions of the Royal Society of London. However this may be, Collinson published them in a separate volume, under the title of New Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia, in America. They were read with avidity, and soon translated into different languages. A very incorrect French translation fell into the hands of the celebrated Buffon, who, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which the work labored, was much pleased with it, and repeated the experiments with success. He prevailed on his friend, M. Dalibard, to give his countrymen a more correct translation of the works of the American electrician. This contributed much toward spreading a knowledge of Franklin’s principles in France. The King, Louis XV, hearing of these experiments, expressed a wish to be a spectator of them. A course of experiments was given at the seat of the Duc d’Ayen, at St. Germain, by M. de Lor. The applause which the King bestowed upon Franklin excited in Buffon, Dalibard, and De Lor an earnest desire of ascertaining the truth of his theory of thunder-gusts. Buffon erected his apparatus on the tower of Montbar, M. Dalibard at Marly-la-Ville, and De Lor at his house in the Estrapade at Paris, some of the highest ground in that capital. Dalibard’s machine first showed signs of electricity. On May 16, 1752, a thunder-cloud passed over it, in the absence of M. Dalibard, and a number of sparks were drawn from it by Coiffier, joiner, with whom Dalibard had left directions how to proceed, and by M. Paulet, the prior of Marly-la-Ville.
“An account of this experiment was given to the Royal Academy of Sciences, by M. Dalibard, in a memoir dated May 13, 1752. On May 18th, M. de Lor proved equally as successful with the apparatus erected at his own house. These philosophers soon excited those of other parts of Europe to repeat the experiment; among whom none signalized themselves more than Father Beccaria, of Turin, to whose observations science is much indebted. Even the cold regions of Russia were penetrated by the ardor for discovery. Professor Richmann bade fair to add much to the stock of knowledge on this subject, when an unfortunate flash from his conductor put a period to his existence.
“By these experiments Franklin’s theory was established in the most convincing manner.
“Besides these great principles Franklin’s letters on electricity contain a number of facts and hints which have contributed greatly toward reducing this branch of knowledge to a science. His friend, Mr. Kinnersley, communicated to him a discovery of the different kinds of electricity excited by rubbing glass and sulphur. This was first observed by M. du Faye, but it was for many years neglected. The philosophers were disposed to account for the phenomena rather from a difference in the quantity of electricity collected, and even Du Faye himself seems to have at last adopted this doctrine. Franklin at first entertained the same idea, but upon repeating the experiments he perceived that Mr. Kinnersley was right, and that the vitreous and resinous electricity of Du Faye were nothing more than the positive and negative states, which he had before observed, and that the glass globe charged positively, or increased, the quantity of electricity on the prime conductor, while the globe of sulphur diminished its natural quantity, or charged negatively. These experiments and observations opened a new field for investigation, upon which electricians entered with avidity; and their labors have added much to the stock of our knowledge.
“Franklin’s letters have been translated into most of the European languages, and into Latin. In proportion as they have become known, his principles have been adopted.”
In speaking of the first publication of his papers on electricity, Franklin himself says: “Obliged as we were to Mr. Collinson for the present of the tube, etc., I thought it right he should be informed of our success in using it, and wrote him several letters containing accounts of our experiments. He got them read in the Royal Society, where they were at first not thought worth so much notice as to be printed in their Transactions. One paper, which I wrote to Mr. Kinnersley, on the sameness of lightning with electricity, I sent to Mr. Mitchel, an acquaintance of mine, and one of the members also of that society, who wrote me word that it had been read, but was laughed at by the connoisseurs. The papers, however, being shown to Dr. Fothergill, he thought them of too much value to be stifled, and advised the printing of them. Mr. Collinson then gave them to Cave for publication in his Gentleman’s Magazine, but he chose to print them separately in a pamphlet, and Dr. Fothergill wrote the preface. Cave, it seemed, judged rightly for his profession, for by the additions that arrived afterward they swelled to a quarto volume, which has had five editions and cost him nothing for copy-money.”
The following is an extract from the preface to the first edition of the pamphlet published by Cave, as above mentioned:
“It may be necessary to acquaint the reader that the following observations and experiments were not drawn up with the view to their being made public, but were communicated at different times, and most of them in letters, written on various topics, as matter only of private amusement.
“But some persons to whom they were read, and who had themselves been conversant in electrical disquisitions, were of opinion they contained so many curious and interesting particulars relative to this affair, that it would be doing a kind of injustice to the public to confine them solely to the limits of a private acquaintance.
“The editor was therefore prevailed upon to commit such extracts of letters and other detached pieces as were in his hands to the press, without waiting for the ingenious author’s permission so to do; and this was done with the less hesitation, as it was apprehended the author’s engagements in other affairs would scarce afford him leisure to give the public his reflections and experiments on the subject, finished with that care and precision of which the treatise before us shows he is alike studious and capable.”
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