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OC 16.M45C18 1884 


The life of James Clerk Maxwell.With sel 

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the Cornell University Library. 

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Aoid SO thou loast made perfect / Not a friend 
Might step between thee and the sore distress 
Which thou with strong and patient godliness 

Unduredst %incom])laining to the end. 

Heroic saint I Bright sufferer ! Thou dost lenxl 
To science a new glory. Midst the press 
Of boosters, all thy meek-eyed confess. 

And worldlings thine icmvorldliness commeTid. 

Shine on, pure spirit I Though ive see thee not, 
Even in thy passage thou hast purged away 

The fogs of earth-horn doubt and sense-bound thought 
From hearts that followed thiiu all-piercing ray. 

And while thou soarest far from human view, 

Even thy faint image shall our strength renew. 


In adapting this volume, as we would fain hope, to the 
wants of that indefinite personage, the General Reader, 
the first aim has been to omit such matter of a tech- 
nically scientific kind as appeared to be separable 
from the main tenor of tlie biography. This course is 
further recommended or excused, by the fact that a 
complete edition of Clerk Maxwell's scientific writings 
is shortly to be published. But it is greatly to be 
wished that the scientific correspondence which Maxwell 
held from time to time with other eminent men might, 
before it is too late, be collected, sifted, and arranged. 
It must surely be full of interest for all who are com- 
petent to appreciate it. 

It has also been thought best to print the Cam- 
bridge essays of both periods separately in an Appendix, 
so that the narrative might be as far as possible con- 
tinuous. And the selection of poems is smaller than 
in the first edition, not because any of those formerly 
printed are wanting in interest, but it was felt that by 
restricting choice to those which are most characteristic 

viii PREFACE. 

and most complete in themselves, the distinctive quality 
of these productions, and the light which they cast on 
Maxwell's thoughts and feelings, would be more widely 

It remains to acknowledge the kind manner in 
which our previous efforts have been received ; and, in 
particular, to thank various correspondents who have 
enabled us to make important additions, to correct 
some errors, and to suppress some doubtful statements. 
We have reason to be especially grateful to Miss 
Barnard, who, by entrusting to us three important 
letters from Clerk Maxwell to her uncle. Professor 
Faraday, and one of Faraday's to him, has made it 
possible to give a degree of completeness to this part 
of the correspondence, which will constitute a specially 
valuable feature of the present edition. The letters 
to Dr. Huggins are also new, and will be read with 
interest, especially that on the Structure of Comets. 

In reading the proofs I have been sadly reminded 
that the present tense of this narrative is already past. 
Two of Maxwell's early friends, C. J. Monro and H. E. 
Droop, have died in the short interim. 


Bournemouth, October 9, 18 84. 


In a work which has more than one author, it is right to 
distinguish as far as possible what has been contributed 
by each. 

... It is due to Mr. Garnett to say that, while he had 
the chief share of the labour of collecting materials for the 
whole biography, the substance of Chapters (X. XL XII.) 
is largely drawn from information obtained through him. 
The matter of whole pages remains almost in his very 
words, although for the sake of uniformity and simplicity 
the first person has still been used in speaking of my own 

The narrative of Maxwell's early life has been facilitated 
— (1) by a diary kept by Maxwell's father from 1841 to 
1847, and often referred to in these pages as "the Diary ;" 
(2) by two albums containing a series of water-colour 
drawings by Maxwell's first cousin, Mrs. Hugh Blackburn 
{ii4e Jemima Wedderburn), the value of which may be 
inferred from the outlined reproductions of a few of them, 
prepared by Mrs. Blackburn herself as illustrations for this 
book. They are literally hits out of the ^ast, each containing 


an exact representation, by a most accurate observer and 
clever draughtswoman, of some incident which had just 
happened when the sketch was made. The figures, even 
as outlined, bring back the persons with singular vividness 
to the memory of those who knew them. 

For these and many other advantages the thanks of the 
authors are due to Maxwell's relatives, but above all to his 
widow, not only for the free access she has given them to 
various documents, such as those mentioned above, but for 
the generous confidence she has reposed in them throughout, 
and for many important suggestions made by her during the 
progress of the work. 

Their thanks are also due in an "especial manner to 
Professor G. G. Stokes of Cambridge . . . ; and to Pro- 
fessor P. G. Tait of the University of Edinburgh for his 
zealous and able assistance in many ways. 

The book owes much, of course, to those who entrusted 
the letters here published to the authors' care. Their 
names are duly mentioned in the course of the work. Our 
task has also been lightened by the help of those friends 
whose contributions are inserted with their names. In 
describing the life of one who was so many-sided, it is no 
small advantage to be thus enabled to register the impres- 
sion which he made on different men. Even should this 
occasion slight repetitions and discrepancies, the reader 
may thus form a fuller and, on the whole, a truer image 
than could be conveyed by a single narrator. Attention 
is here particularly directed to the statements in Chapter 
(XII.) by Dr. Paget, the Eev. Dr. Guillemard (of St. Mary's 
the Less, Cambridge), and Professor Hort. 


As a general rule, no attempt has been made to weave 
the correspondence into the narrative. The facts relating 
to each period have been grouped together, and the letters 
have been appended to these in chronological order. 

A word should be said respecting the poems. Whatever 
may be the judgment of critics as to the literary merits 
of Maxwell's occasional writings in verse, there can be no 
doubt of their value for the purpose of the present work. 
Like everything which he did, they are characteristic of 
him, and some of them have a curious biographical interest. 
Maxwell was singularly reserved in common life, but would 
sometimes in solitude express his deepest feelings in a copy 
of verses which he would afterwards silently communicate 
to a friend. Again, he shrank from controversy. But his 
active mind was constantly playing on contemporary 
fallacies, or what appeared so to him, and his turn for 
parody and burlesque enabled him to give humorous 
expression to his criticism of mistaken methods. Of the 
later pieces here reproduced, several appeared in Nature 
with the signature ^ (which happens to be the analytical 
equivalent of the thermo-dynamical formula JCM) j and 
one (the "Notes on the President's Address") was pub- 
lished in Blackwood! s Magazine for December 1874. The 
greater number are now printed for the first time. 

The juvenile verses and translations have been included 
for the same reason which has led to the prominence given 
to the early life. If we are right in our estimate of 
Maxwell, it must be interesting to watch the unfolding of 
such a mind and character from the first, and this not 
only for the psychological student, but for all those who 


share Wordsworth's fondness for " days " that are " linked 
each to each with natural piety." 

While the last sheets were being revised for the press 
the sad news arrived that Maxwell's first cousin, Mr. Colin 
Mackenzie, had died on board the Bothnia, on his way home 
from America. There was no one whose kind encourage- 
ment had more stimulated the preparation of this volume, 
or whose pleasure in it would have been a more welcome 
reward. But he, too, is gone before his time, and this 
book will be sent into the world with fewer good 
wishes. He deserves to be remembered with affection 
wherever the name of James Clerk Maxwell is honoured 
or beloved. 


August 1882. 




Introductory — Birth and Parentage . . l 

Glenlair — Childhood — 1831-1841 . . .13 

Boyhood — 1841-1844 . . . . .29 

Adolescence — 1844-1847 . . . .46 

Opening Manhood — 1847-1850 . . .64 




Undergraduate Life at Cambridge — 1850-1854 . 100 


Bachelor-Scholar and Eellow of Trinity — 1854- 

1856 . . . . . .142 


Death of his Father — Professorship at Aberdeen 

—1856, 1857 . . . . .166 

Aberdeen — Marriage — 1857-1860 . . .189 

King's College, London — Glenlair — 1860-1870 . 230 

Cambridge — 1871-1879 



Illness and Death — 1879 





Essays at Cambridge . . . .337 


Juvenile Verses . . . . .383 

Occasional Pieces . . . .385 

Serio-Comic Verse . . . . .401 



One who has enriched the inheritance left by Newton and 
has consohdated the work of Faraday, — one who impelled 
the mind of Cambridge to a fresh course of real investiga- 
tion, — has clearly earned his place in human memory. 

But there was more in James Clerk Maxwell than is 
implied in any praise that can be awarded to the discoverer, 
or in the honour justly due to the educational reformer, — 
much, indeed, which his friends feel they can but partly 
estimate, and still less adequately describe. 

We have, notwithstanding, undertaken this imperfect 
Memoir of him, which, in its present form, is simply an 
attempt to trace the growth from childhood to maturity, 
and to record the untimely death of a man of profound 
original genius, who was also one of the best men who 
have lived, and, to those who knew him, one of the most 
delightful and interesting of human beings. 

If I can bring before the reader's mind, even in shadowy 
outline, the wise and gentle but curiously blended influences 
which formed the cradle of his young imagination, the 
channels through which ideas reached him from the past, 
the objects which most challenged his observation and 
provoked his invention, his first acquaintance with what 
permanently interested him in contemporary speculation 
and discovery, and the chief moments of his own intel- 
lectual progress in earlier years, — such record should have 



a right to live. And it may be that a congenial spirit here 
and there may look with me into the depths of this unique 
personality, and feel the value of the impulses, often seem- 
ingly wayward, and strange even to himself, with which 
the young eagle "imped his wings" for flight, or taught 
his eyes to hear the unclouded light. Some, even, to whom 
modern Science is a sealed book may find an interest in 
observing the combination of extraordinary gifts with a no 
less remarkable simplicity and strength of character. 

James Clerk Maxwell was born at No. 14 India Street, 
Edinburgh, on the 13th of June 1831. His parents were 
John Clerk Maxwell, one of the Clerks of Penicuik, in 
Midlothian, and Frances, daughter of E. H. Cay, Esq., 
of N. Charlton, Northumberland. Excepting a daughter, 
Elizabeth, who had died in infancy, James was their only 

Edinburgh was at this time the natural meeting-place 
for the best spirits of the North. How much of intellect 
and individuality, of genuine though often eccentric worth, 
of high thinking and plain living, then foregathered in 
Auld Eeekie, and found ample scope and leisure there, is 
known to the lovers of Sir W. Scott and to the readers of 
Lord Cockburn — both prominent figures in the Edinburgh 
of 1824-1831. 

And the agora of " Modern Athens " was the Parlia- 
ment House. There the heir -presumptive could while 
away his time of waiting for " dead men's shoon ; " there 
the laird's brother might qualify for some berth hereafter 
to be provided for him ; and the son of those whose ances- 
tral estates had been impaired by rashness or misfortune, 
and who had perchance sought the asylum of the Abbey, 
might hope through honourable industry to restore the 
fallen house, or even to win new lustre for an ancient 

When John Clerk Maxwell, after leaving the University, 
first sought those purlieus of the law, he was already a 
laird, although a younger brother. For he had inherited 
the estate of Middlebie, which, by the conditions of the 
entail under which it had descended from the Maxwells, 

CHAP. I.] BIRTH A:N^D parentage. 3 

could not be held together with Penicuik, and was therefore 
necessarily relinquished by Sir George Clerk in favour of 
his brother John. This arrangement had been completed 
when the two brothers were boys together at the High 
School, and were living in George Square with their mother 
and their sister Isabella. Their father, James Clerk,^ who 
died before his elder brother, Sir John, was a naval captain 
in the H.E.I. C.S., but retired early, and married Miss Janet 
Irving, who thus became the mother of Sir George Clerk 
and of John Clerk Maxwell. When Sir George had come 
of age, and taken up his abode at Penicuik, John Clerk 
Maxwell continued living with his mother, Mrs. Clerk, in 
Edinburgh. About 1820, in order to be near Isabella, 
Mrs. Wedderburn, they " flitted " to a house in the New 
Town, ISTo. 14 India Street, which was built by special 
contract for them. Mrs. Clerk died there in the spring 
of 1824. 

The old estate of Middlebie had been considerably 
reduced, and there was nothing in what remained of it to 
tempt its possessor, while a single man, to leave Edinburgh, 
or to break off from his profession at the Bar. There was 
not even a dwelling-house for the laird. Mr. Clerk Max- 
well therefore lived in Edinburgh until the age of thirty- 
six, pacing the floor of the Parliament House, doing such 
moderate business as fell in his way, and dabbling between- 
whiles in scientific experiment. In vacation time he made 
various excursions in the Highlands of Scotland and in 
the north of England, and kept a minute record of his 

But when, after his mother's death, he had married a 
lady of tastes congenial to his own and of a sanguine 
active temperament, his strong natural bent towards a 
country life became irresistible. The pair soon conceived 

1 He is said to have played "vvell on the bagpipes, and a set of pipes 
was until recently preserved at Glenlair, of which the following singular 
story was told : — Captain James Clerk was wrecked in the Hooghly and 
swam ashore, using the bag of his pipes for a float ; and when he gained 
the shore he "played an unco' fit," whereby he not only cheered the 
survivors, but frightened the tigers away. 


[chap. I. 

a wish to reside upon their estate, and began to form plans 
for doing so ; and they may be said to have lived thence- 
forth as if it and they were made for one another. They 
set themselves resolutely to the work of making that in- 
heritance of stony and mossy ground to become one of the 
habitable places of the earth. John Clerk Maxwell had 

hitherto appeared somewhat indolent ; and there was a 
good deal of inertia in his composition. But the latent 
forces of his character were now to be developed. 

He was one of a race in whom strong individuality had 
occasionally verged on eccentricity. For two centuries 
the Clerks had been associated with all that was most dis- 
tinguished in the Northern kingdom, from Drummond of 
Hawthornden to Sir Walter Scott. Each generation had 
been remarkable for the talents and accomplishments of 
some of its members ; and it was natural that a family 
with such antecedents should have acquired something of 
clannishness. But any narrowing effect of such a tendency 
was counteracted by a strong intellectual curiosity, which 
kept them en rappmi with the world, while they remained 
independent of the world. And as each scion of the stock 
entered into new relations, the keen mutual interest, instead 
of merely narrowing, became an element of width. I speak ,; 
now of the generation preceding our own. No house was 
ever more aflluent in that Coterie-Spmche, for which the 


Scottish dialect of that day afforded such full materials. 
It would be pleasant, if possible, to recall that humorous 
gentle speech, as it rolled the cherished vocables like a 
sweet morsel on the tongue, or minced them with a lip 
from which nothing could seem coarse or broad, — caressing 
them as some Lady Bountiful may caress a peasant's child, 
— or as it coined sesquipedalia verha^ which passed current 
through the stamp of kindred fancy. This quaint free- 
masonry was unconsciously a token not only of family 
community^ but also of that feudal fellowship with depend- 
ents which was still possible, and which made the language 
and the manners of the most refined to be often rac}^ of the 
soil. But Time will not stand still, and neither the delicate 
" couthy " tones, nor that which they signified, can be fully 
realised to-day. Yet we can still in part appreciate the 
playful irony which prompted these humorous vagaries of 
old leisure, wherein true feeling found a modest veil, and 
a naive philosophy lightened many troubles of life by 
making light of them. 

Mr. John Clerk Maxwell's own idios5mcrasy, as has 
been said, was well suited for a country life. But to give 
a true idea of him it is necessary to be more precise. His 
main characteristic, beyond a warm, affectionate heart, the 
soundest of sound sense, and absolute sincerity, was a per- 
sistent practical interest in all useful ^processes?- When 

^ He never lost an opportunity of inspecting manufactures, or of visit- 
ing great buildings, ecclesiastical or otherwise, and he impressed the same 
habit upon his son. The "works " they "viewed " together were simply 
innumerable, but it will be sufficient to cite one crowning instance. When 
James Clerk Maxwell was in the midst of his last year's preparation for 
the Cambridge Tripos, he proposed to spend the few days of Easter vaca- 
tion which the pressure of his work allowed to him, in a visit to a friend 
at Birmingham. His father had seen Birmingham in his youth, and gave 
him the following instructions, which were mostly carried out : — " View, 
if you can, armourers, gunmaking and gunproving — swordmaking and 
proving — Papier -mdch^ and japanning — silver-plating by cementation 
and rolling — ditto, electrotype, Elkington's works — Brazier's works, by 
founding and by striking out in dies — turning — spinning teapot bodies in 
white metal, etc. — making buttons of sorts, steel pens, needles, pins, and 
any sorts of small articles which are curiously done by subdivision of 
labour and by ingenious tools — glass of sorts is among the works of the 
place, and all kinds of foundry works — engine-making — tools and instru- 


[chap. I. 

a wish to reside upon their estate, and began to form j)lans 
for doing so j and they may be said to have lived thence- 
forth as if it and they were made for one another. They 
set themselves resolutely to the work of making that in- 
heritance of stony and mossy ground to become one of the 
habitable places of the earth. John Clerk Maxwell had 


hitherto appeared somewhat indolent ; and there was a 
good deal of inertia in his composition. But the latent 
forces of his character were now to be developed. 

He was one of a race in whom strong individuality had 
occasionally verged on eccentricity. For two centuries 
the Clerks had been associated with all that was most dis- 
tinguished in the Northern kingdom, from Drummond of 
Hawthornden to Sir Walter Scott. Each generation had 
been remarkable for the talents and accomplishments of 
some of its members ; and it was natural that a family 
with such antecedents should have acquired something of 
clannishness. But any narrowing effect of such a tendency 
was counteracted by a strong intellectual curiosity, which 
kept them en rapport with the world, while they remained 
independent of the world. And as each scion of the stock 
entered into new relations, the keen mutual interest, instead 
of merely narrowing, became an element of width. I speak 
now of the generation preceding our own. No house was 
ever more affluent in that Coterie-Sprache, for which the 


Scottish dialect of that day afforded such full materials. 
It would be pleasant, if possible, to recall that humorous 
gentle speech, as it rolled the cherished vocables like a 
sweet morsel on the tongue, or minced them with a lip 
from which nothing could seem coarse or broad, — caressing 
them as some Lady Bountiful may caress a peasant's child, 
— or as it coined sesquipedalia verba, which passed current 
through the stamp of kindred fancy. This quaint free- 
masonry was unconsciously a token not only of family 
community; but also of that feudal fellowship with depend- 
ents which was still possible, and which made the language 
and the manners of the most refined to be often racy of the 
soil. But Time will not stand still, and neither the delicate 
" couthy " tones, nor that which they signified, can be fully 
realised to-day. Yet we can still in part appreciate the 
playful irony which prompted these humorous vagaries of 
old leisure, wherein true feeling found a modest veil, and 
a naive philosophy lightened many' troubles of life by 
making light of them. 

Mr. John Clerk Maxwell's own idios)mcrasy, as has 
been said, was well suited for a country life. But to give 
a true idea of him it is necessary to be more precise. His 
main characteristic, beyond a warm, affectionate heart, the 
soundest of sound sense, and absolute sincerity, was a per- 
sistent practical interest in all useful processes} When 

^ He never lost an opportunity of inspecting manufactures, or of visit- 
ing great buildings, ecclesiastical or otherwise, and he impressed the same 
hahit upon his son. The "works " they "viewed " together were simply 
innumerable, but it will be sufficient to cite one crowning instance. When 
James Clerk Maxwell was in the midst of his last year's preparation for 
the Cambridge Tripos, he proposed to spend the few days of Easter vaca- 
tion which the pressure of his work allowed to him, in a visit to a friend 
at Birmingham. His father had seen Birmingham in his youth, and gave 
him the following instructions, which were mostly carried out : — " View, 
if you can, armourers, gunmaking and gunproving — swordmaking and 
proving — Papier -mdcM and japanning — silver-plating by cementation 
and rolling — ditto, electrotype, Elkington's works — Brazier's works, by 
founding and by striking out in dies — turning — spinning teapot bodies in 
white metal, etc. — making buttons of sorts, steel pens, needles, pins, and 
any sorts of small articles which are curiously done by subdivision of 
labour and by ingenious tools — glass of sorts is among the works of the 
place, and all kinds of foundry works — engine-making — tools an(i instru- 


spending his holidays at Penicuik as a boy from the 
Edinburgh High School (as well as long afterwards), he 
took delight in watching the machinery of Mr. Cowan's 
paper-mill, then recently established in that neighbourhood. 
And Mr. R D. Cay remembers him, when still a young 
man living in India Street with his mother (about 1821- 
24), to have been engaged, together with John Cay, who 
was afterwards his brother-in-law, in a series of attempts 
to make a bellows that should have a continuous even 
blast. We can readily imagine, therefore, how closely 
he must have followed every step in the gradual applica- 
tion of steam to industry, and the various mechanical 
improvements which took place in his youth and early 


His practical thoroughness was combined with a strik- 
ing absence of conventionality and contempt for ornament. 
In matters however seemingly trivial — nothing that had 
to be done was trivial to him — he considered not what was 
usual, but what was best for his purpose. In the humor- 
ous language which he loved to use, he declared in favour 
of doing things with judiciosity. One who knew him well 
describes him as always balancing one thing with another 
— exercising his reason about every matter, great or small. 
He was fond of remarking, for example, on the folly of 
coachmen in urging a horse to speed as soon as they saw 
the top of a hill, when, by waiting half a minute until the 
summit was really attained, they might save the animah 
" A sad waste of work," he would say. Long before the 
days of " anatomical " bootmaking, he insisted on having 
ample room for his feet. His square-toed shoes were made 
by a countr}' shoemaker under his direction on a last of 

ments (optical and philosophical), both coarse and fine. If you have 
had enough of the town lots of Birmingham, you could vary the recreation 
by viewing Kenilworth, Warwick, Leamington, Stratford-on-Avon, or such 
like," James began with the glassworks. 

1 In 1831 he contributed to the Edinburgh Medical and Philosophical 
Journal (vol. x.) a paper entitled, ''Outlines of a Plan for combining 
Machinery with the Manual Printing Press." His acme of festivity was 
to go with his friend John Cay (the " partner in his revels ") to a meet- 
ing of the Edinburgh Ptoyal Society. See p. 149. 


his own and out of a piece of leather chosen by himself. 
This is only one example of the manner in which he did 
everything. It was thought out from the beginning to the 
end, and so contrived as to be most economical and service- 
able in the long run. In his Diary (1841) we find him 
cutting out his own and his son's shirts, while planning 
the outbuildings which still exist at Glenlair. And he not 
only planned these, but made the working plans for the 
masons (1842) with his own hand.^ This habitual careful 
adaptation of means to ends was the characteristic which 
(together with profound simplicity) he most obviously trans- 
mitted to his son. Its effect, heightened by perfect science, 
is still apparent in the construction and arrangement of the 
Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. 

While thus unostentatious and plain in all his ways, he 
was essentially liberal and generous. No one could look 
in his broad face beaming with kindliness and believe 
otherwise. But his benevolence was best known nearest 
home. And in caring for others, as in providing for his 
own house, his actions were ruled, not by impulse, but 
persistent thoughtfulness. By his ever-wakeful considera- 
tion, he breathed an atmosphere of warm comfort and quiet 
contentment on all (including the dumb animals) within his 
sphere. Whoever had any claim upon his affectionate 
heart, whether as an old dependant, or as a relation or 
friend, might command from him any amount of patient 
thought, and of pains given without stint and without 
complaint. His ^^judiciosity" was used as freely for them 
as for himself.^ And where need was he could be an 
effectual peacemaker. 

He was assiduous also in county business (road meetings, 

1 The following entry from the Diary (1842) will be appreciated by 
those who are interested in the country life of a past generation : — 
' ' Wrote to Nanny about check of the yarn of the dead Hogs, to make 
trowser stuff or a plaid." 

2 Mr. Colin Mackenzie says : — " He was the confidential friend of his 
widowed sister Mrs. Wedderbum's children, who were in the habit of 
referring to him in all their difficulties in perfect confidence that he would 
help them, and regarded him more as an elder brother than anything 
else." This is abundantly confirmed by various entries in the Diary. 

8 JAMES CLERK aiAX^T:LL. [chap. i. 

prison boards, and the like), and in liis own quiet way 
took his share in pohtical movements, on the ConservaUve 

There was a deep unobtrusive tenderness in him, which 
in later }-ears gave a touching, almost feminine, grace to 
his ample countenance, and his portly, even somewhat 
unwieldy, frame.^ He was a keen sportsman (unlike his 
son in this), and an excellent shot ; but it was observed 
that he was above all careful never to run the risk of 
wounding without killing his game. 

His temper was all but perfect; yet, as ''the best laid 
schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley," the minute care 
with which he formed his plans sometimes exposed him to 
incidents which showed that his usual calm self-possession 
was not invulnerable. At such times he would appear not 
angry, only somewhat discomposed or " vexed," and, after 
donning his considering-cap for a little while, would soon 
resume his benign equanimity. 

An interesting trait is revealed to us by the Diary. 
Minute as the entries are for day after day, things which, 
if mentioned, might reflect unfavourably upon others, are 
invariably omitted. They have come down through other 
channels, but in this scrupulous record they have left no 


His otherwise happy life was crossed T\'ith one deep, 
silent sorrow, — but was crowned with one long comfort in 
the life of his son. They were bound together by no 
ordinary ties, and were extremely like in disposition, in 
simphcity, unworldHness, benevolence, and kindness to every 
living thing. Those who knew Maxwell best will be least 
apt to think irrelevant this somewhat lengthy description 
of his father. 

The portrait of Mr. John Clerk Maxwell by Watson 
Gordon is a faithful representation of a face which returns 
more vividly than most others to the eye of memory, but 
no portrait can restore " the busy wrinkles round his eyes," 
or give back to them their mild radiance — 

1 Entry in Diary, Nov. 9, 1844.— Weighed 15 st 7 lbs. 


" Gray eyes lit up 
Witli summer lightnings of a soul 

So full of summer warmth, so glad, 
So healthy, sound and clear and whole, 

His memory scarce can make me sad." 

He lived amidst solid realities, but his vision was 
neither shallow nor contracted. And his sense of things 
beyond, if inarticulate, was, in later life at least, not the 
less serious and profound. Yet those who shall compare 
the Watson Gordon portrait with the study of Clerk Max- 
well's head by Mrs. Blackburn, may detect something of 
the difference between the father and the son. In the 
one there is a grave and placid acquiescence in the nearer 
environment, the very opposite of enthusiasm or mysticism ; 
in the other, the artist has succeeded in catching the un- 
earthly look which often returned to the deep-set eyes 
under the vaulted brow, when they had just before been 
sparkling with fun, — the look as of one who has heard the 
concert of the morning stars and the shouting of the Sons 
of God. 

James himself has said to me that to have had a wise 
and good parent is a great stay in life, and that no man 
knows how much in him is due to his progenitors. And 
yet the speculative ideal element which was so strong 
in him — the struggle towards the infinite through the finite 
— was not prominent in either of his parents. Mrs. Clerk 
Maxwell was, no doubt, a good and pious (not bigoted) 
Episcopalian ; but, from all that appears, her chief bent, 
like that of her husband, must have been practical and 
matter-of-fact. Her practicality, however, was different 
from his. She was of a strong and resolute nature, — as 
prompt as he was cautious and considerate, — more per- 
emptory, but less easily perturbed. Of gentle birth and 
breeding, she had no fine-ladyisms, but with blunt deter- 
mination entered heart and soul into that rustic life. It 
is told of her that when some men had been badly hurt in 
blasting at a quarry on the estate, she personally attended 
to their wounds before a surgeon could be brought, and 

10 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. i. 

generally that wherever help was needed she was full of 
courage and resource. She was very intelligent and in- 
genious, played well on the organ, and composed some 
music, but in other respects was less "accomplished" than 
most of her family, except in domestic works, and above 
all in knitting, which in those days was an elegant and 
most elaborate pursuit. 

Her father, R Hodshon Cay, Esq., of X. Charlton, is 
thus spoken of in Lockliaxt's Life of Scott (p. 86 of the 
abridged edition, 1871):— "I find him" (Scott) "further 
nominated in March 1796, together with Mr. Eobert Cay, 
— an accomplished gentleman, afterwards Judge of the 
Admiralty Court in Scotland, — to put the Faculty's cabinet 
of medals in proper arrangement." ]\Ir. Cay at one time 
held the post of Judge-Admiral and Commissary-General, 
and while thus dignified in his profession used to reside 
for part of the year on his hereditary estate of Charlton, 
which had been freed from certain burdens^ upon his 
coming of age. 

He married Ehzabeth Liddell, daughter of John Liddell, 
Esq., of Tynemouth, about the year 1789. The eldest son, 
John, has been already mentioned as an early companion 
of John Clerk jSIaxwell's, and both his name and those of 
Jane and R. D. Cay \\dll reappear in the sequel Between 
Frances (^Irs. Clerk jNIaxwell) and her sister Jane, who 
was never married, there existed a very close afi'ection. 
There is a picture of them both as young girls (a three- 
quarter length in water-colours) done by their mother, who 
was an accomplished artist. Her gift in this way, which 
was very remarkable, and highly cultivated for an amateur, 
was continued in Jane and Robert, and has been trans- 
mitted to the succeeding generation. Miss Jane Ca}' was 
one of the warmest-hearted creatures in the world ; some- 
what wayward in her likes and dislikes, perhaps somewhat 
warm-tempered also, but boundless in affectionate kindness 
to those whom she loved. Mr. E. D. Cay, W.S., married 

^ Incurred by his father in successfully resisting some manorial claims. 
These debts had brought the family to* Edinburgh. 


a sister of Dyce the artist, and, after acting for some time 
as one of the Judge's clerks, proceeded in 1844 to Hong- 
Kong, where he had an appointment. His wife joined 
him there in 1845, and died in 1852. In two of their 
sons, besides the artistic tastes which they inherited 
through both parents, there was developed remarkable 
mathematical ability. It should be also noticed that Mr. 
John Cay, the Sheriff of Linlithgow, though not specially 
educated in mathematics, was extremely skilful in arith- 
metic and fond of calculation as a voluntary pursuit. He 
was a great favourite in society, and full of general infor- 
mation. We have already seen him assisting at experi- 
ments which might have led to the invention of " blowing 
fans," but seem to have produced no such profitable result. 
And we shall find that his interest in practical Science 
was continued late in after life.^ 

In speaking of the Cay family it has been necessary to 
anticipate a little, in order to advert to some particulars 
which, although later in time, seemed proper to an intro- 
duction. Having departed so far from the order of events, 
I may before concluding this chapter make explicit mention 
of the loss which coloured the greater part of James Clerk 
Maxwell's existence, by leaving him motherless in his ninth 
year. Mrs. Clerk Maxwell died on the 6th of December 
1839. There was extant until after Professor Maxwell's 
death a memorandum or diary kept at the time by her 
husband, describing the heroic fortitude which she had 
shown under the pain of her disease, and of the operation 
by which they had attempted to save her. Anaesthetics 
were then unknown. She had nearly completed her forty- 
eighth year, having been born on the 25th of March 1792, 
and married at the age of 34 (October 4, 1826). Mr. 
Maxwell was aged fifty- two at the time of his wife's death. 
He did not marry again. 

We now return from this sad record to the birth of 

^ It should be remembered that in the early years of the century con- 
siderable interest in experimental science had been awakened in Edinburgh 
through the teaching of Professors Playfair and Hope. 

12 JAMES CLEEK MAXWELL. [chap. i. 

the son and heir, which was the more welcome to the 
parents after the loss of their first-bom child. At this 
joyful epoch Mr. and !Mrs. Clerk Maxwell, though retaining 
the house in India Street, had been already settled for some 
rears in their new home at Glenlair. 




That part of the old estate of Middlebie which remained 
to the heirs of Maxwell was situate on the right or west- 
ward bank of the Water of Orr, or Urr, in Kirkcudbright- 
shire, about seven miles from Castle-Douglas, the market- 
town, ten from Dalbeattie, with its granite quarries, and 
sixteen from Dumfries. It consisted chiefly of the farm 
of Nether Corsock, and the moorland of Little Mochrum. 
But, before building, Mr. Clerk Maxwell, by exchange and 
purchases, had added other lands to these, including the 
farm of Upper Glenlair. The site chosen for the house 
was near to the march of the original estate, where a little 
moor- burn from the westward falls into the Urr. The 
two streams contain an angle pointing south-east, opposite 
the heathery brae which hides the village of Kirkpatrick 
Durham. There, on a rising ground above the last descent 
towards the river and the burn, a mansion-house of solid 
masonry, but of modest dimensions, had been erected. 
It was built of dark-gray stone, with a pavement and a 
" louping-on-stane " of granite before the front door. On 
the southward slope, towards the burn, was a spacious 
garden-ground and a plantation beyond it, occupying the 
den or dingle on either side the burn, and coming round 
to west^ward of the house and garden, where it ended in 
a shrubbery, by which the house was approached from the 
north. On the eastward slope, towards the Water of Urr, 
was a large undivided meadow for the " kye " and the 
ponies. To the northward was a yard with a duck-pond, 
and some humble " offices " or farm-buildings, which were 

14 JA^^IES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ir. 

displaced by tlie new erection of 1843. At the foot of 
the meadow, near the mouth of the burn, was a ford with 
stepping-stones, where the bridge was afterwards to be 
built, and the regular approach to the completed house 
was to be constructed. But this was far in the future, 
for in his building projects the laird would not trench 
upon the resources that were needed for the land. At 
the foot of the garden a place was hollowed out in the 
bed of the burn, which has often proved convenient for 
bathing. The rocky banks of the Urr, higher up, were 
fringed with wood, and on the upland, on either side the 
moor, there were clumps of plantation, giving cover to the 
laird's pheasants, and breaking the force of the winds coming 
down from the hill of Mochrum (N.^V.) Glenlair was the 
name ultimately appropriated to the "great house" of 
Xether Corsock. 

Every detail of these arrangements had been planned 
by the laird himself, and may be said to have been exe- 
cuted under his immediate supervision. The house was 
so placed and contrived as to admit of enlargement ; but, 
in the first erection of it, space was economised as in the 
fitting up of a ship. And while it was building, the owners 
were contented with still narrower accommodation, spending 
one if not two whole summers in what was afterwards the 
gardener's cottage. For the journey from Edinburgh was 
no light matter, even for so experienced a traveller as John 
Clerk Maxwell. Coming by way of Beattock, it occupied 
two whole days, and some friendly entertainment, as at 
the Irvdngs' of Xewton (his mother's half-sisters),^ had to 
be secured on the way. Carriages, in the modern sense, 
were hardly known to the Yale of Urr. A sort of double- 
gig with a hood was the best apology for a travelling 
coach, and the most active mode of locomotion was in a 
kind of rough dog-cart, known in the family speech as a 
"burly." A common farmer's cart has been seen carrying 
the laird to church, or to a friend's hall-door. 

Glenlair was in the parish of Parton, of which the kirk 

^ See above, p. 3. 


is by Loch Ken. Mr. Clerk Maxwell was one of the 
elders there. (The little church of Corsock, about three 
miles up the Urr, was not yet thought of ; for it was built 
in 1838, and not completely endowed until 1862.) About 
seven miles of hilly road lead from the Urr to Loch Ken 
and the Dee, which is reached at a point near Cross-Michael, 
about half-way between New Galloway in one direction 
and Kirkcudbright and St. Mary's Isle ^ in the other. On 
the hio-h ground between the Urr and the Dee is Loch Eoan, 
a favourite point for expeditions from Glenlair. 

In a letter dated "Corsock, 25th April 1834 " (the 'Boy Jit 2 yrs. 
being then aged two years and ten months), Mr. Clerk Max- ^^ °^°' 
well writes to Jane Cay, his sister-in-law, in Edinburgh : — 

To Miss Cay, 6 Great Stuart Street, Edinburgh. 

Corsock, 25th Aiwil 1834. 
This has been a great day in Parton. Your humble servant 
and his better half, Ned,^ and Davie took their departure an 
hour and a half after screigh^ for Parton, to appropriate the 
seats of the new kirk, which was successfully atchieved in four 
hours' work to the satisfaction of all concerned, by a grand 
assemblage of the Magnates of the Parochin, who adjourned to 
a feast at the Manse. Master James is in great go, but on this 
subject I must surrender the pen to abler hands to do justice 
to the subject. 

Instead of attempting to paraphrase a mode of speech 
which must be studied in and for itself, I will now give 
the continuation, written on the same sheet of paper by 
the "abler pen." 

He is a very happy man, and has improved much since the 
weather got moderate ; he has great work with doors, locks, 
keys, etc., and " ShoAv me how it doos " is never out of his 
mouth. He also investigates the hidden course of streams and 
bell-wires, the way the water gets from the pond through the 
wall and a pend or small bridge and down a drain into Water 

1 The seat of the Earl of Selkirk. 

^ The laird's horse. 

3 i.e. Daybreak ; but in the laird's vocabulary, 9 a.m. 

16 JAMES CLERK 3IAXWELL. [chap. ii. 

Orr, then past the smiddy and down to the sea, where Maggy's 
ships sail As to the bells, they wiU not nist ; he stands sentry 
in the kitchen, and Mag runs thro' the house ringing them aU 
by turns, or he rings, and sends Bessy to see and shout to let 
him know, and he drags papa all over to show him the holes 
where the wires go through. We went to the shop and ordered 
hats and bonnets, and as he was freckling Avith the sun I got 
him a black and white straw till the other was ready, and as 
an apology to Meg said it would do to toss about ; he heard me, 
and acts accordingly. His great delight is to help Sandy Frazer 
with the water barrel. I sent the fine hat to Mrs. Crosbie ^ for 
her babe, which is well bestowed. . . . You would get letters 
and violets by a woman that was going back to her place ; the 
latter would perhaps be rotten, but they were gathered by James 
for Aunt Jane. 

Not much dragging was needed, either then or after- 
wards, to get !Mr. Clerk to explain any mechanism to 
"boy," and "show him how it doos." Henceforward 
this was the chief pleasure of his life, untU the order was 
reversed, and the son took an equal delight in explaining 
Nature's ^Mechanics to the father. 

Before seeing this letter, I had been told by his cousin, 
Mrs. Blackburn, that throughout his childhood his con- 
stant question was, " \Miat's the go o' that 1 What does 
it do V Xor was he content with a vague answer, but 
would reiterate, "But what's the jparikuJar go of it]" 
And, supported by such evidence, I may hope to wdn 
belief for a reminiscence which I might else have shrunk 
from mentioning. I distinctly remember his telling me, 
during his early manhood, that his first recollection was 
that of lying on the grass before his father s house, and 
looking at the sun, and ivondering. To which may be 
added the following anecdote, which has been communi- 
cated to me by ]\Irs. Murdoch,^ the " Meg " of the preceding 
letter. "When James was a little boy of two years and 
a half old, I had given him a new tin plate to play with. 
It was a bright sunny day ; he held it to the sun, and the 

^ Wife of the minister at Parton. 
- She was distantly connected with the LiddeUs (above, p. 10). 


reflection went round and round the room. He said, ' Do 
look, Maggy, and go for papa and mamma.' I told them 
both to come, and as they went in James sent the reflection 
across their faces. It was delightful to see his papa ; he 
was delighted. He asked him, ' What is this you are 
about, my boy^' He said, 'It is the sun, papa; I got it 
in with the tin plate.* His papa told him when he was a 
little older he would let him see the moon and stars, and 
so he did." Methinks I see the laird in those happiest days, 
standing on some moonlit night on the pavement at the 
door, pointing skywards with one hand, while the small 
astronomer is peering from a plaid upon the other arm, 
and the glad wife is standing by.^ 

In Mr. Dyce's picture of the mother and child we see 
this open-eyed loving intercourse with the visible universe 
already begun. And in the accompanying woodcut (p. 1 8), 
taken from a contemporary sketch of a ''barn ball" or "kirn" 
in Harvest-time 1837, the boy of six years old (instead of 
looking at the dancer) is totally absorbed in watching the 
bow of the " violino primOj^ unshakably determined to make 
out " the go of that " some day or other. The spirit which 
afterwards welcomed the acoustic discoveries of Helmholtz 
was already at work.^ 

^ There has been preserved amongst the Glenlair papers a chart of the 
celestial globe, cut out into constellations, which fit each other like the 
pieces of a child's puzzle. A round hole is made in the cardboard for 
every star, differing in size so as to show the magnitude of each. The 
whole is executed with laborious neatness, and it seems probable that we 
have here the means (whether purchased or made at home) whereby 
the configuration of the starry heavens was still further impressed on 
' ' Jamsie's " raind. 

2 From his earliest manhood his ear for music was remarkably fine 
and discriminating, a fact (though in strict accordance with ''heredity") 
which surprised some of those who had known him as a boy. He has 
told me that he remembered a time when it was exquisitely painful to 
him to hear music. This time must clearly have been subsequent to 
1837. The truth seems to be that his naturally keen perception of 
sounds was interfered with by a tendency to inflammation in the ear, 
which came to a crisis in his sixteenth year, but that having outgrown 
this, together with other signs of delicacy, his powers in this respect also 
were developed with striking rapidity. On the other hand, his short- 
sightedness seems hardly to have been noticed till he was fourteen or 




[chap. II. 

In still earlier childhood, when he returned from T^alk- 
ing with his nurse, she had generally a lapful of curiosities 
(sticks, pebbles, grasses, etc.) picked up upon the paths 
throuo-h the wood, which must be stored upon the kitchen 
dresser till his parents had told him all about each one. 


In particular, she remembers his interest in colours — " that 
(sand) stone is red ; this (whin) stone is blue." " But how 
d'ye know it's blue V he would insist. He would catch 
insects and watch their movements, but would never hurt 
them. His aunt, !Mis3 Cay, used to confess that it was 
humiliating to be asked so many questions one could not 
answer "by a child like that.'' 

But the child was not always observing or asking ques- 
tions. Ever and anon he was engaged in doinf/, or in 
making, which he liked better still. And here his inven- 
tiveness soon showed itself. He was not Iodec contented 
with "tossing his hat about," or fishing with a stick and a 
string (as in an early picture of "Miss Cay's); but whenever 
he saw anything that demanded constructive ingenuity in 
the performance, that forthwith took his fancy, and he must 




work at it. And in tlie doing it, it was ten to one but he 
must give it some new and unexpected turn, and enliven 
it with some quirk of fancy. At one time he is seated on 
the kitchen table, busily engaged in basket -making, in 

which all the domestics, probably at his command, are also 
employed. At another he is "making seals "^ with quaint 
devices, or improving upon his mother's knitting. For he 
must early have attained the skill, of which an elaborate 
example still exists in "Mrs. Wedderburn's Abigail," which 
will be described in the next chapter, and was worked by 
him in his twelfth year. 

Of his education in the narrower sense durinsj this 
period little is known, except that his mother had the 
principal charge of it until her last illness in 1839, and that 
she encouraged him to " look up through Nature to 
Nature's God."^ She seems to have prided herself upon 
his wonderful memory, and it is said that at eight years 
old he could repeat the whole of the 119th Psalm. His 

^ As mentioned in his letter to Miss Cay of 18t"h January 1840. 

2 When James, being eight years old, was told that his mother was 
now in heaven, he said, "Oh, I'm so glad! Now she'll have no more 
pain." Already his first thought was for another. 

20 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap, il 

knowledge of Scripture, from his earliest boyhood, was 
extraordinarily extensive and minute ; and he could give 
chapter and verse for almost any quotation from the 
Psalms. His knowledge of JMilton also dates from very 
early times. These things were not known merely by rote. 
They occupied his imagination, and sank deeper than any- 
body knew. 

Eut his most obvious interests were naturally out of 
doors. To follow Ms father " sorting '* things about the 
farm, or " viewing " recent improvements ; by and by, at 
ten years old, to ride his pony after his father's phaeton ; 
to learn from the men " how to pickfork the sheaves into 
the cart,"^ to witness a ploughing-match, to slide on the 
XJrr in time of frost (January 7, 1841), to leap ditches, to 
climb trees " of sorts," to see them felled and " have grand 
game at getting upon them when falling,"^ to take wasps' 
nests on hot days in July ; ^ to blow soap bubbles and 
marvel at their changing hues ; to scramble up the bed 
of the eddying stream that " flowed past the smiddy to 
the sea," and mark the intricate tracery of holes and 
grooves which, in rolling the shingle, it had worn and 
carved in the hard rock ; or to watch the same river in a 
"spate," rushing and whirKng over those **pots" which it 
had wrought, and piling up the foam into mimic towers, 
like the cumuli of the sky; or to gaze into the wan water 
when in a milder mood, and drink in the rich brown colour 
tinged vrith green reflections from the trees ; — such were 
some of his deHghts, as I may confidently infer from what 
he loved to show me afterwards. For in that constant 
soul the impression once made was that which ; remained 
and went on deepening — '• as streams their channels deeper 
wear." I well remember with what feeling he once re- 
peated to me the lines of Burns — 

'• The ^luse, nae poet ever fand her, 
Till bv Mmsel' he leam'd to wander, 

^ From a letter of J. C. M. to his aunt, Miss Cav, of 18th January 
1840 [JBf. Sh\ 

2 At ten years old this amnwsus infans took four in one day. 


Aclown some trottin' iDurn's meander, 
An' no think lang."^ 

There were living companions of his solitude besides 
those at home, for no live thing escaped his loving observa- 
tion. And chief among these was that " child of the mossy 
pool," the frog, — nay, humbler still, the tadpole. The 
marvel of that transformation has engrossed many a child ; 
but in none, unless in some great naturalist, has it awak- 
ened such a keen, continuous interest. And it may be 
here observed, as a trait not to be dissociated from his 
intimacy with Nature as one of her familiars, that Maxwell 
never had a ^'horror " of any creature. " Clean dirt " was 
a favourite expression, though no one was ever more 
cleanly. He would pick up a young frog, handle him 
tenderly, as loving him (not ^' as if he loved him !"), listen 
for his scarcely audible voice ("hear him squeak!" he 
would say), put him into his mouth and let him jump out 
again ! The movements of the frog in swimming were 
long a favourite study, and to jump like a frog was one of 
the pranks with which he astonished his companions when 
he " put an antic disposition on " at school ; but of these 
there will be a time to speak hereafter. It was also at a 
later time that he was told of Galvani's discoveries ; but 
the recital had the more vivid interest for him because of 
this childhood fancy. 

With eminent "judiciosity," Mr. Clerk Maxwell had 
furnished his son with a leaping-pole. This long stafiF, 
which appears in many of the early drawings, had at least 
one excellent effect. Few civilised men have had such 
perfect use of hands and arms as Maxwell always had. 
(His hand was the model of a hand, at once effective and 
refined looking.) Thus equipped, he went across country 
anywhere and everywhere, with an eye for all he saw, and 
pluck enough to meet any emergency. One who knew him 
as a child, and who is fond of animals, says that he was 

^ From the Epistle to William Simpson, the schoolmaster of Ochiltree, 
May 1785. 

22 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL [chap. ii. 

extraordinarily "game." His endurance, both physical 
and mental, was always most remarkable. 

He was sometimes taken to share in the simple daylight 
festivities of the neighbourhood (perhaps also to the New 
Year's gathering at Largnane, where the gifts were dis- 
pensed by a Fairy from her grotto), and it is still remem- 
bered, how at an archery picnic,^ when an elaborate pie 
from Glenlair was being opened by the member of another 
house, the sturdy scion of Middlebie, who had not yet 
learned the meaning of Eranos,^ and had doubtless been 
at the making and baking, bounded over the cloth just 
laid upon the turf, and laid his hand upon the dish, crying 
eagerly, " That's oor's ! " " That's oor pie ! " 

His resources on wet days were — first, reading voraci- 
ously every book in the house, except what his mother 
kept out of his reach ; and secondly, drawing, which was 
begun at a very early age. Not that he ever showed the 
highest order of artistic talent (though his young perform- 
ances are full of spirit) ; but he had great accuracy of eye, 
and any singular arrangement either of form or colour had 
always a fascination for him. Besides his mother's knitting, <■ 
already mentioned, his Aunt Jane's Berlin-wool work, and ' 
her landscape drawings, early sent him inventing curious 
patterns and harmonising colours. And there were two 
other frequent visitants at Glenlair, whom it is now time 
formally to introduce. These were Mr. Clerk Maxwell's 
sister Isabella, the widow of James Wedderburn, Esq., at 
one time Solicitor-General for Scotland, and her daughter 
Jemima, who was still a young girl, though some years 
older than her cousin. 

Mrs. Wedderburn had been an ornament of Edinburgh 
society in the days of her youth, ^ combining beauty of an 
elegant and piquant kind with great sprightliness and 

^ About 1838. This was graced by the presence of three persons ; 
then in the fulness of life, who were not destined to outlive the next . 
fifteen years — Mrs. Clerk Maxwell, Miss Dyce (Mrs. Kobert Cay), and 
Isabella Wedderburn (Mrs. Mackenzie). 

2 "Epavos, i.e. a feast to which all contribute, and which all share, -^ 
See below, chap. xii. ' 3 

^ She was known as the " Pentland Daisy." 


originality, and the staunchest loyalty to her kin. In 
spite of her early widowhood and of some long illnesses, 
she retained much of her spirit, together with her erect, 
lightsome figure, to the last, and danced a reel at James's 
wedding with the utmost sprightliness though at the age 
of seventy. Her daughter, now Mrs. Hugh Blackburn, 
was only eight years older than her cousin James ; but her 
rare genius for pictorial delineation, especially of animals, 
was already manifest. It is obvious how this companion- 
ship of genius must have influenced the child's indoor 

A scientific toy had recently come into vogue, an im- 
provement on the thaumatrope, called variously by the 
names " phenakistoscope," "stroboscope," or "magic disc." 
Instead of turning on its diameter, as in the thaumatrope, 
it was made to revolve on a transverse axis, before a mirror, 
at which the eye looked through apertures cut at equal 
distances near the rim of the disc. And the figures drawn 
upon it were so contrived, by being placed in carefully 
graduated positions, as thus to produce the impression of a 
continuous movement.^ This was a source of endless 
amusement to the two cousins, the younger generally con- 
triving, and in part executing, the elder giving life and 
spirit to the creatures represented. Through Mrs. Max- 
well's kindness, I have in my possession some of these 
early works, in which the ingenuity of the contriver is 
everywhere manifest, the hand of the artist only here and 
there. The cow jumping over the waxing and waning 
moon, the dog pursuing the rat in and out of his hole, the 
circus horse, on which the man is jumping through the 
hoop, have the firmness and truth of touch, the fulness of 
life, familiar to the many admirers of J. B. The tumbler 
under the horse's feet ; the face in which the pink and 
white, drawn separately, are made to blend ; the tadpole 

^ This was afterwards developed into the ''zoetrope" or "wheel of 
life," — how far through suggestions of Clerk Maxwell's, or otherwise, I 
am unable to say. The lenses which perfect the illusion were certainly 
added by Maxwell himself. See Problem xx. of Cambridge Tripos 
Examination, 1869, Thursday, January 7. 



[chap. II. 

that wriggles from the egg and changes gradually into a 
swimming frog ; the cog-wheels moved by the pendulum, 
and acting with the precision of clockwork (showing, in 
fact, the working of an escapement); — these display, with 
less power of execution, the quaint fancy and observation, 
and the constructive ingenuity of the young Clerk Maxwell. 
There are also intricate coloured patterns, of which the 
hues shift and open and close as in a kaleidoscope. I 

would not venture to affirm that all these belong to the 
very earliest period. ^ But I believe that the magic disc 
was in full operation before 1839, and that it has a real 
connection not only with the "wheel of life,'' but also 
with the " colour-top " of after years. 

1 As late as Feb. 27, 1847, on a Saturday half-holiday, when kept in 
by weather, he was employed with his father in making a magic disc for 
a young cousin. 


Another playmate and partaker of his whims must be 
remembered here. This was a terrier of the " Mustard " 
kind, called Toby, Tobin, Tobs, or Tobit, according to the 
moment's humour. Toby was always learning some new 
trick (performed for his wages of home-made biscuit after 
dinner), and neither he nor James were ever tired of repeat- 
ing the old ones. To mention this is not mere trifling, for 
his power over animals and perception of their ways^ was 
a permanent characteristic, and he found a scientific use for 
it at a later time in inspecting the eyes of dogs with a view 
to certain optical investigations. ^ 

He does not seem to have been particularly fond of 
riding at an early age, though in later life it was his 
favourite recreation ; but at ten years old, as has been said, 
he used to ride his pony behind his father's " phaeton." 

Lastly, amongst the constant surroundings of the boy's 
early years, the ^^ vassals'' must not be forgotten. Davie 
M^Vinnie and his family — Sandy Fraser the gardener, and 
his — the Murdochs, who were the kindred of Maggie, 
James's nurse, — were the objects of a continuous kindly 
interest and friendly companionship, which had a genial 
effect on the heart of the child. And by those of them 
whom I have been able to see, he is still remembered, not- 
withstanding many years of inevitable silence, with undoubt- 
ing affection. The very names of the places where they 
lived are suggestive of quaintness and singularity, as were 
most things in the Galloway of that day, where it was 
supposed that the devil had come after the Creation, with 
the riddlings of the universe, and had begun " couping his 
creels" at Screels, till creel and all fell at Criffel. Tor-holm, 
Tor-knows, Tor-brae, Paddock Hall, Knock-vinney, the 
Doon of Urr, High Craigs of Glenlair — such were some of 
the immediately surrounding names, sorting well with the 
homely, yet unusual scenery, and with the picturesque 

■"• *' He seemed to get inside them more than other people." — J. B. 

^ ''Coonie," a favourite terrier in later years, had a trick of howling 
nnrciercifully whenever the piano was played. He was completely cured 
of this, and Maxwell told a friend, in his grave way, that he had taken 
* ' Coonie " to the piano and explained to him how it went. That was all. 



[chap. II. 

Gallowegian dialect, which, like everything that struck the 
boy's fancy, laid a strong and lasting hold upon his mind. 

In speaking of his own childish pursuits, it is impossible 
not to recall the ready kindliness with which, in later life, 
he would devote himself to the amusement of children. 
There is no trait by which he is more generally remembered 
by those with whom he had private intercourse j and, 
indeed, in this also it appears that the boy was father to 
the man. An early drawing shows him at the age of 
twelve, with his father's help, good-naturedly guiding the 
constructive efforts of a still younger boy.^ 

As the months went on after Mrs. Maxwell's death, the 
question of education began to press. The parents had 
thought it possible that under their own close surveillance 
the boy's lessons might be continued at home until, being of 
the ripe age of thirteen or so, he might be entered as a student 
of Edinburgh University ! For this purpose a lad of sixteen, 
who had been highly recommended, was induced to post- 

^ The scene is at St. Mary's Isle, and the younger boy is Lord Charles 
Scott, then four j^ears old (September 1843). — Mr. A. Macmillan, the 
publisher, in particular, has a vivid recollection of Maxwell's ingenious 
ways of entertaining children, exhibiting his colour-top, showing them 
how to make paper boomerangs, etc. 




pone the completion of his own college course, and to reside 
at Glenlair. The experiment was continued until November 
1841, but by that time, under the altered circumstances, 
the plan had proved unworkable. Meanwhile the boy was 
getting to be more venturesome, and needed to be — not 
driven, but led. 

There is one of Mrs. Blackburn's drawings which throws 
a curious light on the situation at this juncture. Master 
James is in the duck-pond, in a wash-tub, having ousted 
the ducks, to the amusement of the young " vassals," Bobby 
and Johnny, and is paddling himself (with some implement 
from the dairy, belike) out of reach of the tutor, who has 
fetched a rake, and is vainly trying to bring him in. Mr. 
Clerk Maxwell has just arrived upon the scene with Mrs. 
Wedderburn, and is looking on complacently, though not 
without concern. Cousin Jemima has been aiding and 
abetting, and is holding the ' leajDing-pole, which has prob- 
ably served as a boat-hook in this case. 

The achievement of sailing in the tub was one in which 
James gloried scarcely less than Wordsworth's Blind High- 
land boy in his tortoise shell. It is referred to in the 

28 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ii. 

following letter, written by the boy of ten years old to his 
father, who had gone for a short visit to St. Mary's Isle : — 

Glcnlair House, 
[Friday], 29th October I84I. 

Dear Papa — We are all well. On Tuesday we ^ sailed in 

the tub, and the same yesterday, and we are improving, and I 

can make it go without spinning j^ but on Wednesday they 

were washing, and we could not sail, and we went to the 

potatoes. Yesterday they took up the Prince Regents, and they 

were a good crop. Mr. and I went to Maggy's, but she 

was away at Brooklands, and so I came back and sailed myself, 

for Nanny said Johnny was not to go in, and Bobby was away. 

Fanny was there, and was frightened for me, because she thought 

I was drowning, and the ducks were very tame, and let me go 

quite close to them. Maggy is coming to-day to see the tubbing. 

I have got no more to say, but remain your affectionate son, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

Through the influence of his wife's sister, Miss Jane 
Cay,^ added to his own observation, Mr. Clerk Maxwell 
was at length roused to carry into effect what had been 
for some time in debate, viz. to take his son to Edinburgh 
and put him to school. 

^ From the context "we" seems to include '* Bobby," one of the 
young '* vassals." 

2 To enable him to *'trim the vessel," he had put a block of wood in 
the centre. Sitting on this, and tucking his legs on either side, he could 
paddle about steadily and securely. Mrs. Blackburn tells me that years 
afterwards at Ruthven, in Forfarshire, being desirous of inspecting a 
water-hen's nest on a deep pond where there was no boat, she adopted 
the same method, and made the voyage both ways alone without the 
slightest uneasiness. 

3 Two letters from Miss Cay to James, one dated September 1, the 
other October 21, 1841, were kept by Mr. Clerk Maxwell, and have been 
preserved. Although not significant enough to be inserted here, they show 
the confidential intercourse which had sprung up between "Aunt Jane" 
and her sister's son. She writes of theological and other matters which 
would not generally be thought interesting to a boy of ten, thanks him 
for his thoughtfulness in getting ferns for her, and says, " I was glad to 
hear you were happy, with all your experiments and adventures." There 
had been a visit to Edinburgh that summer, and she writes as if antici- 
pating that it would be soon repeated. There is also a reference to an 
elaborate set of Berlin-wool work for the furniture of the drawing-room 
at Glenlair, which had been begun in Mrs. Maxwell's lifetime, and was 
afterwards completed by Miss Cay. 



DAYS AT GLENLAIR 1841 TO 1844 ^T. 10-13. 

The first school-days are not always a time of progress. 
For one whose home life has been surrounded with an 
atmosphere of genial ideas and liberal pursuits, to be 
thrown, in the intervals of "gerund-grinding," amongst a 
throng of boys of average intelligence and more than aver- 
age boisterousness, is not directly improving at the outset. 
Not that Maxwell ever retrograded — for his spirit was 
inherently active ; but where the outward environment 
was such as awakened no response in him, he was like an 
engine whose wheels do not bite — working incessantly, but 
not advancing much. If the Scottish day-school system 
had not still been dominated by a tyrannous economy, and 
by that spirit of lauser faire which in education is apt to 
result in the prevalence of the worst, much that was in 
Maxwell would earlier have found natural vent and growth. 
As it was, he was of course storing up impressions, as 
under any circumstances he would have been ; but his 
activities were apt for the time to take odd shapes, as in 
a healthy plant under a sneaping wind. Or, to employ 
another metaphor, the light in him was still aglow, but in 
passing through an alien medium its rays were often re- 
fracted and disintegrated. The crowd of " aimless fancies," 
whose influence upon his life he so touchingly deprecated 
at a later time,^ were now most importunate ; and, bright 
and full of innocence as they were, they produced an effect 

^ In the poem written after his father's death in 1856. 



[chap. III. 

of eccentricity on superficial observers which he afterwards 
felt to have been a hindrance to himself. His mother's 
influence, had she lived, would have been most valuable to 
him at this time. 

The journey from Glenlair had been broken at Newton^ 
and at Penicuik, where a halt of some days was made. It 
was the middle of November, and a season of snow and 

H^^ ^a^6 

l&'jfov^ ISUf 

EcLir^l^ u. yjrL.- 

1841. frost. Soon after dusk on the 18th of November, the 
JEt. 10. ^vhole family party, including the faithful domestic, Lizzy 
Mackeand,^ arrived at the door of No. 31 Heriot Eow, 
Mrs. Wedderburn's house in Edinburgh. This (with oc- 
casional intervals, when he was with Miss Cay) was to be 
James Clerk Maxwell's domicile for eight or nine years to 

The "White Horse" seen through a lunette above the 
doorway, the quaint figure of the butler (nicknamed 

^ Above, p. 14. 
^ Now Mrs. MacGowan, Kirkpatrick-Durham. 


" Hornie " from the way he dressed his hair^), and other 
noticeable features of this dwelling, appear and reappear 
in the boy's letters to his father, which now become more 
frequent. For, although not choosing to be much separated 
from James, Mr. Clerk Maxwell could not be long absent 
from Glenlair, and henceforward he lived a divided life be- 
tween the two, spending most of the winter evenings by his 
sister's fireside in Edinburgh, and during most of the spring 
and summer attending personally to the improvement of 
his estate. 

The Edinburgh Academy, which had been founded in 
1824, was in high favour with the denizens of the JSTew 
Town. Lord Cockburn was one of the directors. The 
Eector, Archdeacon Williams, was an Oxford first-classman, 
a College acquaintance of John Lockhart's,^ and an admir- 
able teacher. He had at one time been an assistant master 
at Winchester, and had subsequently, at Lockhart's recom- 
mendation, been tutor to Charles, Sir W. Scott's second 
son. The boys in the junior classes, however, knew little 

^ His real name was James Craigie. 

^ The inscription beneath his bust in Balliol College, Oxford, is a just 
tribute to tlie memory of one who, though he had his foibles, was a born 
educator, and no ordinary man : 

John Williams, M.A., 

Archdeacon of Cardigan — 1835-1858 ; 

Rector of the Edinburgh Academy — 1824-1847 ; 

Warden of Llandovery College— 1848-1853 ; 

Who, by the geniality of his Character 

And the vigour of his Intellect, 

Won the hearts of his Pupils, 

And gave his life to the study of the Classics in Scotland : 

A Celtic Scholar, 

An ardent lover of Wales and of the Welsh People, 

After a long absence 

He returned to his Native Land, 

And devoted his great talents 

To the instruction of his Countrymen : 

Born 1792; Died 1858. 

He resided at this College 

Between the years 1810 and 1814. 

See also Lockhart's Life, of Scoit, small edition of 1871, pp. 484, 744, 

32 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

of him except by report, for the assistant masters were 
jealous of their independence. 

Various entries in his Diary testify to the father's 
deUberate care in placing his son at the Academy. Every- 
thing which seemed material to the boy's advantage had 
no doubt been carefully considered; but there was one 
serious omission, arising from Mr. Clerk Maxwell's inveter- 
ate disregard of appearances. The boy was taken to school 
in the same garments in which we have seen him at Glen- 
lair. No dress could be more sensible in itself. A tunic 
of hodden gray tweed is warmer than a round cloth jacket 
for winter wear, and the brazen clasps were a better fasten- 
ing for the square-toed shoes than an adjustment of black 
tape, which is always coming undone. But round jackets 
were de rigueur amongst the young gentlemen ; while it 
must be admitted that they were equally intolerant of 
dandyism. A frill for a round collar was of course unen- 
durable, and the Gallovidian clasps — not to mention the 
square toes — were an unheard-of novelty. A new boy, 
coming in the second month of the second year, must in 
any case have had something to undergo ; but here was 
evident provocation to "a parcel of boys in their teens." ^ 

What happened in the interval after the first lesson (in 
the space behind the second classroom) is best indicated 
in the words of the Psalmist : — " They came about me like 

" Who made those shoes ? " was the first question ; but 
it was never easy to get a direct answer from Maxwell, 
least of all on compulsion. Brought thus to bay, he had 

^ " I do believe the veriest lieu's 

In the world is a parcel of boys' in their teens. " 

Fo'c's'le Yarns, 
The palinode should also be quoted : — 

Fiends ' I called them, did I ? Well, 
I shouldn then. It's hard to tell ; 
And it's likely God has got a plan 
To put a spirit in a man 
That's more than you can stow away 
In the heart of a child. But he'll see the day 
When he'll not have a bit too much for the work 
He's got to do." Xbid. 



recourse to his natural weapon — irony. His answer was 
soon ready, and his tormentors might make of it what 
they list. In the broadest tones of his Corsock patois he 
replied to one of them, 

^' Div ye ken, 'twas a man, 
And he lived in a house, 
In whilk was a mouse." 

He returned to Heriot Row that afternoon with his 
tunic in rags and " wanting " the skirt ; his neat frill 
rumpled and torn ; — himself excessively amused by his 
experiences, and showing not the smallest sign of irritation. 
It may well be questioned, however, whether something 
had not passed within him, of which neither those at home 
nor his schoolfellows ever knew. 

The nickname of " Dafty " which they then gave him 
clung to him while he remained at school, and he took no 
pains to get rid of it. His " quips and cranks " were taken 
for "cantrips;" his quick, short, elfin laughter (the only 
sign by which he betrayed his sensitiveness) was construed 
into an eldritch noise. Never was cygnet amongst goslings 
more misconstrued. Within the class-rooms things were 
not much more prosperous at first. Our master, Mr. A. 
N". Carmichael, was a good and experienced teacher, and 
an excellent scholar, in a dryish way. He was the author 
of the Edinburgh Academy Ch'eeJc Gtrammar and of an 
Account of the Irregular Greek Verbs, which has now 
been superseded, but was justly respected in its day. He 
was a good disciplinarian ; but those junior classes of sixty 
and upwards were too large and miscellaneous for real 
teaching. He had an eye for talent, too, where it was 
shown. But his first business was to hear our tasks, and 
to let us take places in the class in proportion to the 
accuracy and readiness with which we said them. Maxwell 
did not at once enter into the spirit of this contest, in 
which the chief requisites, next to average talent and in- 
telligence, were push and promptitude. His first initiation 
in Latin had not been pleasant to him, and the repetition 
ad nauseam of '^tZi, do, dum,^^ by his new acquaintances, 


34 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

varied with the sound of the tawse, did not make the 
subject more attractive. Like the boy Teufelsdrockh, he 
seemed to hear at school innumerable dead vocables, but 
no language. His hesitation got worse and worse, and as 
his place in the class was not amongst the " best boys," 
some of his neighbours willingly did their utmost to dis- 
concert him. On one occasion we shall find him humor- 
ously retaliating. He was not in the least inwardly per- 
turbed by all this, nor bore any one the slightest mahce. 
It was a new scene of life, which he contemplated with 
amused curiosity. But it was natural that his chief interest 
should not lie there. He seldom took part in any games, 
though he was loyally proud of the success of his school in 
them, and characteristically took some interest in the 
spinning of "pearies" (pegtops), and the collision of 
" bools " (marbles) ; but, when he could, preferred wander- 
ing alone, sometimes imprisoning the humble-bees on the 
green slope at the back and letting them go again, some- 
times doing queer gymnastics on the few trees that were 
left, — availing himself, in short, of the scanty inlets by 
which Nature visited that shingly ground.^ For his heart 
was at Glenlair, even when he made sport for the young 
Philistines of the Academy "yards." It should be added 
that his attendance was a good deal interrupted by delicate 
1842-43. His life during this period was really centred in " Old 
jEt. 10-12. 32 " jjg -^g^g presently allowed to have a room to himself, 
in which he could read and draw and write, besides pre- 
paring for school. His cousin Jemima was at this time 
learning the art of woodcutting, and he was permitted 
sometimes to dig away with her tools. The result was a 
series of rude engravings, to which allusions occur in his 
letters to his father ; and a woodcut of his, representing 
the head of an old woman, still remains, mth the date 
1843 engraved on it. In the previous year he produced 
more than one elaborate piece of knitting. One of these, 
a sort of sling for holding a work-basket, with its proper 

^ Things are altered now. For years past an ample recreation- 
ground has been provided for the boys of the Academy. 


name, "Mrs. Wedderburn's Abigail/' worked into it, has 
been preserved by Mrs. Blackburn. The library at his 
new home was more extensive than at Glenlair. He came 
to know Swift and Dryden, and after a while Hobbes, and 
Butler's Hudibras. Then if his father was in Edinburgh 
they walked together, especially on the Saturday half- 
holiday, and " viewed " Leith Fort, or the preparations for 
the Granton railway, or the stratification of Salisbury 
Crags ; always learning something new, and winning ideas 
for imagination to feed upon.^ One Saturday, February -^t- 10. 
12, 1842, he had a special treat, being taken "to see 
electro-magnetic machines." 

Mr. Clerk Maxwell was much more like an elder 
brother than a "governor" to James, and there was 
nothing the boy could not or did not tell him, — none of 1842-43 
his whimsical vagaries in which the father did not take JEt. 10-12. 
delight. And when "his papaship " was alone at Glen- 
lair, James would strive to cheer him in his solitude by 
concocting the wildest absurdities, inventing a kind of 
cypher to communicate some airy nothing, illuminating his 
letters after the fashion of his school copy-books, and adding 
sketches of school-life (e.g. the class-room in the absence of 
the teacher), et cetera. His father carefully preserved those 
letters, and several of them still exist. Full of extravagant 
nonsense and boyish fun as they are, they abound also with 
ingenuity, and the illustrations have a curious interest, as 
showing his love of drawing complicated patterns and 
arranging colours, and as marking the early and spon- 
taneous development of "the habit of constructing a 
mental representation of every problem," ^ which was in 

^ Less frequently, lie would rove about alone. Professor Fleeming 
Jenkin remembers bearing bim say tbat wben be first saw tbe twisted 
piles of candles with wbich grocers decorate tbeir windows, be was struck 
by tbe curious and complex curves resulting from tbe combinations of 
tbese simple cylinders, and was resolved to understand all about tbat 
some day. 

^ Tbe words are Professor Tait's. In tbe letter of January 18, 1840 
(above, p. 20), in bis nintb year, wben in speaking of bis amusement of 
seal-engraving be says, "I made a bird and a beast," tbe words "bird" 
and "beast" are each accompanied witb a sort of hieroglypbic represent- 
ing tbe figure be bad made upon tbe seal. 

36 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

some degree an hereditary proclivity. In order, however, 
to judge fairly of these enfantillages, the reader must take 
into account the boy's affectionate solicitude to amuse his 
father, who was accustomed to receive whimsical familiarities 
from his young relatives in "Old 31."^ 

In Edinburgh, as at Glenlair, he was allowed to par- 
ticipate in the amusements of his elders. It is just worth 
mentioning that his first play was As You Like If, with 
Mrs. Charles Kean as Eosalindj and more important to 
-^t' 12. observe that on December 18th, 1843, his father took him 
to a meeting of the Edinburgh Koyal Society. 

But at school also he gradually made his way. He 
soon discovered that Latin was worth learning, and the 
Greek Delectus interested him, when we got so far.^ And 
there were two subjects in which he at once took the fore- 
most place, when he had a fair chance of doing so ; these 
were Scripture Biography and English. In arithmetic, as 
well as in Latin, his comparative want of readiness kept 
him down. 

On the whole he attained a measure of success which 
helped to secure for him a certain respect, and, however f 
strange he sometimes seemed to his companions, he had 
three qualities which they could not fail to understand — 
agile strength of limb, imperturbable courage, and profound 
good nature. Professor James Muirhead remembers him as 
" a friendly boy, though never quite amalgamating with the 
rest." And another old class-fellow, the Eev. W. Macfarlane 
of Lenzie, records the following as his impression : — " Clerk 
Maxwell, when he entered the Academy, was somewhat f[; 
rustic and somewhat eccentric. Boys called him ^Dafty,' 
and used to try to make fun of him. On one occasion I 
remember he turned with tremendous vigour, with a kind 
of demonic force, on his tormentors. I think he was let 

^ This is clearly proved by a set of delightful rhyming epistles ad-' 
dressed to him by his niece, Isabella Wedderburn, afterwards Mrs. 
Mackenzie, then a bright young girl, between the years 1825 and 1827. 

- The Academy Greek Rudiments was purchased before leaving Edin- 
burgh for the holidays, July 28, 1842. 


alone after that, and gradually won the respect even of 
the most thoughtless of his schoolfellows."^ 

It was on some such occasion as that to which Mr. 1843-44. 
Macfarlane here refers, — somewhere in 1843 or 1844, — ^t.l2-lZ, 
that my own closer intimacy and lifelong friendship with 
James Clerk Maxwell began. I cannot recall the exact 
circumstances, only the place in the Academy yards, the 
warm rush of chivalrous emotion, and the look of affec- 
tionate recognition in Maxwell's eyes. However imper- 
turbable he was, one might see that he was not thick- 

Shortly after this we became near neighbours, my 
mother's new domicile being 27 Heriot E,ow, and we were 
continually together for about three years. 

His letters now refer with more of interest to his 
progress at school, especially to exercises in verse, and to 
outdoor recreation with companions ; above all to his 
delight in bathing and in learning to swim. In this, as in 
everything he did, he invented curious novelties, and was 
particularly fond of mimicking his old acquaintance, the 

On Sundays he generally went with his father to St. 
Andrew's Church (Mr. Crawford's) in the forenoon, and, 
by Miss Cay's desire, to St. John's Episcopal Chapel in the 
afternoon, where, also by her desire, he was for a time a 
member of Dean Eamsay's catechetical class. Thus, having 
of course learned "his questions" as a child, he became 
equally acquainted with the catechisms both of the Scotch 
and of the English Church, and with good specimens of 
the Presbyterian and Episcopalian styles of preaching. He > 
also went regularly " to the dancing " at Mr. MacArthur's, 
where he was distinguished for the neatness of his reel- 
steps, especially of those curious ones which some of us 
found most difficult, such as the ** lock-step." 

But more delightful than bathing, and more interesting 
even than writing English verse, was the achievement of 

^ ''One hautboy ■will," etc. From an entry in Ms father's Diary of 
May 19, 1847, it appears that he was even then not free from annoyance. 
And I can bear witness to the fact. 

38 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

which he writes casually to his father very shortly after 
June 1844. his thirteenth birthday. After describing the Virginian 
JEt 13. ]y[instrels, and betwixt inquiries after various pets at Glen- 
lair, he remarks, as if it were an ordinary piece of news, 
"I have made a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron, and two 
other hedrons, whose names I don't know." We had not 
yet begun geometry, and he had certainly not at this time 
learnt the definitions in Euclid ; yet he had not merely 
realised the nature of the ^yq regular solids sufficiently to 
construct them out of pasteboard with approximate accuracy, 
but had further contrived other symmetrical polyhedra 
derived from them,^ specimens of which (as improved in 
1848) maybe still seen at the Cavendish Laboratory. 

Who first called his attention to the pyramid, cube, 
etc., I do not know. He may have seen an account of 
them by chance in a book. But the fact remains that at 
this early time his fancy, like that of the old Greek geo- 
meters, was arrested by these types of complete symmetry; 
and his imagination so thoroughly mastered them, that 
he proceeded to make them with his own hand. That he 
himself attached more importance to this moment than the 
letter indicates, is proved by the care with which he has 
preserved these perishable things, so that they (or those 
which replaced them in 1848) are still in existence after 
thirty-seven years. 

Letters, 1842 to 1844. 

[April 1842.'\ 
^t, 10. My dear Papa — The day you went away Lizzy and I went 
to the Zoological Gardens, and they have got an elephant, and 
Lizzy was frightened for its ugly face. One gentleman had a 
boy that asked if the Indian cow was he. 

Asky 2 thinks he is a scholar, and was for going with me to' 
the school, and came into the dancing to-day. 

1 By producing the facets until their alternate planes intersected. In 
the specimens still extant, the facets belonging to each plane of the 
original polyhedron are distinguished by specific colouring. 

2 Pet name of a dog. See illustration on p. 30. 


On Friday there was great fun witli Hunt the Gowk ;i we 
could believe nothing, for the clocks were all " stopped," and 
everybody had a "hole in his jacket." Does Margaret ^ play 
on the trump ^ still ? and what are the great works ? Does 
Bobby sail in the tub ? — I am, your obedient servant, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

[Illuminated letters at beginning, and border after.] j^t. 11. 

My dear Mr. Maxwell — I saw your son to-day, when he 
told me that you could not make out his riddles. Now, if you 
mean the Greek jokes, I have another for you. A simpleton 
wishing to s\\dm was nearly drowned. As soon as he got out 
he swore that he would never touch water till he had learned 
to swim ; but if you mean the curious letters on the last page, 
they are at Glenlair. — Your aff. Nephew, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

I have cut a puggy* nut, and some of the oil came upon my 
fingers, and it smelt like linseed Oil, but it did not hurt. There 
was a boy that brought Sea fyke ^ to the school, and put it 
down the boys' backs, for which he was condemned to learn 12 
lines for 3 days. Talking about places, I am 14 to-day, but T 
hope to get up. Ovid prophesies very well when the thing is 
over, but lately he has prophesied a victory which never came 
to pass. I send you a Bagpiper to astonish the natives with.^ 
I have got a jumping paddock and a boortree gun."^ Wlien are 
you coming ? — Your most obedient Sarvent, 

J AS. Alex. M'Merkwell.^ 

1 Scotcli name for the license of April Fool's day. 

^ A daughter of his nurse. ^ The Jew's harp. 

^ Cashew nut. 

^ A substance often found on the sea-shore. It is of a honey-combed 
structure, and consists, in fact, of the egg-capsules of the common whelk 
{Buccinum undatum). When dried and pulverised, it has an irritating 
effect upon the skin. Hence the local name : — "Fyke" = fidget. See 
Jamieson's Dictionary. 

^ This fantastic and elaborately -coloured illustration is certainly 
sufficiently astonishing. 

'' A pop-gun of elder- wood. 

^ Anagram of James Clerk Maxwell. 

40 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

^t, 12. Envelope of 2Uh June 1843— 

Mr. John Clerk Maxwell, 

Kirkpatrick Durham, 


" Old 31" 28th March 18U. 

My dear Father — On 5'aturday last we went to the Marine 
VlUa '} it had a very strong Marine scent, but I suppose it is 
all the better /or that. I found out where shell-fish breed; 
thej/ breed in sea fyA;e ; there were muscles, codes, and oysters 
no bigger than these fastned to the fyke by filaments, 
Nell and Frolic were immersed in the serene bosom of Neptune, 
from which with still quivering limbs theY came out, but with 
very different feeliNGs ; but Nell exited the compAssioN of 
Mec^dum,^ and was carried by her. I have fLi^ted up to the 
little garret. W/iat hke is the ?iew taDPole ? and how is Ma^gy 
getting on with /mmm ;3 bow much more is to be done con- 
ceRniNg fye, says the j;ie. John's house is not finished yeT, 
I suppose. There have been Zetters from uncle RoberT, dated 
Gibber Altar, but I have not seen or /leard what Vs \n them 
rarTHEr than that he was to be at Suez on Monday last. Lizzy 
says that when you come back it wouId not bE dispLeasin^ to 
her ir you wq\M. brmg a bawl of gray worsted, w/uch Ust word* 
I suppose meaNS woolen threAd. I have cast three seaLs of 
Lead from the life, or rather from the death ; one of a cockle 
and two of muscles, one of which is, or raTher will be, on this 
letter J. If you want to know more look along fi:om the 
beginning of the letter to the mark \ for the red and blue 
letters ^ in order. 

How are all the bodies and beasts, — Praecipue, Nanny, 
^aggy, Fanny, Bobby, Toby, and Marco. — Your obt. servt., 

J AS. Alex. M'Merkwell. 

^ Silverknowe, near Granton, which was being prepared as a residence 
for Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie (Isabella Wedderburn). 

2 Mrs. Wedderburn, 3 The sound of the "trump." 

^ Here represented by italics and small capitals respectively. The 
italics spell— ^Sea fyke is a good thing for polishing with. The small 
capitals spell— I am copying an old print out of the Delfian {i.e. 
Delphin) sallust. It need not be observed that the capricious spelling 
m these letters is merely a piece of "daftness." The spelling of the 
letters of 1841 (JSt. 9-10) is faultless. 


[19th Jicne 18 U, ] '' OU 31. " JEtlZ, 

My dear Father — On Wednesday I went to the Virginian 
minstrels, in which some of the songs were sung, the first line 
accompanied with clappers, the second on a tamborine, the third 
on a banjo, like this, . . . played like a guitar very quickly, 
and the fourth on the fiddle, and the chorus by all together. 
There were guesses ^ in abundance ; and there was an imitation 
of a steam onion, and other things which you will find in the 
bill. On Saturday, ha\dng got the play for verses on Laocoon, 
I went with Cha. H. Johnstone ^ so far, and then went to the 
murrain vile till Mrs. M'Kenzie, Ninny, and Kwq ^ went to visit 
Cramond, where I played with the boies till high water ; and 
the minister's young brother and the too boies and I doukit in 
C (big sea as kwh-) calls it), and then dried ourselves after the 
manner of Auncient Greeks ; we had also the luxury of a pail 
of water to wash our feet in. 

How is a' aboot the house now our Gudeman's at home 1 
How are herbs, shrubs, and trees doing ? — cows, sheep, mares, 
dogs, and folk ? and how did Nannie like bonny Carlisle ? Mrs. 
Eobt. Cay was at the church on Sunday.^ I have made a tetra 
hedron, a dodeca hedron, and 2 more hedrons that I don't know 
the Wright names for. How do doos and Geraniums come on. 
— Your most obt. servt., Jas. Alex. M<^Merkwell. 

125 12 7 4 13 3 6 118 9 1014151617 

^ i. e. riddles or conundrums, of which the boy was fond. 

- A son of Admiral Hope Johnstone, then living at Cramond, a scion 
of the Johnstones, who in 1 5 — had. a feud with the Maxwells, but in later 
times claimed kinship with them. 

^ ^^ i.e. Coonie, " viz. Mr. Colin Mackenzie, then a child of three. 

^ This helps to fix the date of this letter. Mrs. E. Cay joined her 
husband in China early in the spring of 1845. Her sou Alexander was 
born May 7, and christened on Wednesday, June 26, 1844. Mr. C. Max- 
well had left Edinburgh for Glenlair on June 7, taking with him six 
pigeons in a basket, and some cuttings of pelargonium. His first entry 
in the Diary after this, at Glenlair, is as follows : — ^^ Saturday, June 8. — 
Got home to dinner, and find all well. After dinner plant cuttings of 
pelargonium from Killearn, and sort the doves in the new dove-cot." 
Now every letter received from James is recorded in the Diary, and the 
only such entry between the limits of June 7-26 is on June 21st. "The 
THREE pairs OF DOVES ALL SITTING. Rccd. letters from Mrs. Wed. and 
James." It was a two-days' post. The letter dated July 10 was re- 
ceived on July 12. — The "Verses on Laocoon" point to the same date. 
The translation from Virg. ^n. i. 159-169, which certainly preceded 
them, was given in on May 10, 1844. 

42 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. hi. 

10th July 18U- 
Dear Father — Excuse me on account of being so long of 
writing, because of my being totally employed about preparations 
of verses, English and Latin. I made four lines of Latin one 
week, for which I got the play from ten ; but I am not going 
to try for the prize, as when I lithp in numberth it ith but a 
lithp, for the numberth do not come even with the help of 
Gradus ; but I am making English ones on the apparition of 
Creusa to >(Eneas in the end of the second book. Besides this, 
I am j)reparing the biography, ^ and have been making a list of 
the kings of Israel and Judah. I have been going to Cramond 
and playing with the boys every Saturday ; they went to Ray- 
hills on the ninth. Booking ^ is grown fine and warm now. 

father ! can it be that souls sublime 
return to visit our terrestrial clime ? ^ 

Your obt. servt. and son to you, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

I have been wavering about 14 for a good while in the 

Holidays at Glenlair — 1842 to 1844. 

We can readily imagine the sense of enlargement and 
release with which the boy went home to Glenlair after his 
first long sojourn in Edinburgh. The shadow which had 
fallen in 1839 was softened by time, and society in the 
Happy Valley^ resumed its aspect of harmless gaiety. 
Cousin Jemima was again there with her pencil. The 
" tubbing" was, of course, resumed, this time conjointly, and 
the scene of it was advanced from the duck-pond to the 
river, showing greatly increased confidence in navigation.^ 

There were nutting excursions, walks diversified with 
JEt 12. climbing, etc. etc. And in August and September 1843 

^ Scripture History. ^ Bathing. 

^ Dryden, Virg. vi., motto for poem on " Creiisa." 

* This name was given to the Vale of Urr in the Coterie- Spr ache, 
and adopted even by the local newspapers in their notices of various 
social gatherings. 

^ Long afterwards, when asked by some one ignorant of Galloway, if 
there was boating on the Urr, he would answer by a grave reference to 
this incident. 


there were again arcliery meetings at different houses in 
the valley, of one of which (the last) there has been pre- 
served the following notice from one of the local newspapers 
of the time : — 

Archery in " The Happy Valley." 

The Toxophilite Club of the Valley of Urr held their last 
meeting for the season on Mrs. Lawrie of Ernespie's lawn, on 
Tuesday the 12 th curt. The club consists of from forty to fifty 

Their meetings this summer have been quite charming. They 
ranged over the whole valley, on this fair lawn to-day, and on 
that the next ; and after their couple of hours of archery was 
over, a picnic took place on the spot. "God save the Queen" 
was invariably sung with the most graceful loyalty ; and the 
hospitable mansion adjoining gave them music and a hall for 
the evening quadrille, which wound up the delights of the day. 

At every meeting some little prize was proposed to give zest 
to the sport ; Mr. Herries of Spottes, for instance, gave a case of 
ladies' arrows, which was shot for and gained by one of the 
lady competitors. Nor lacks the club its Laureate and its 
Painter to glorify the pastime. A scion of the House of Middle- 
bie has lent gallantry to the archers by his spirited songs ; and 
a fair lady, a friend of the same house, has painted a couple of 
pieces, and presented them, the one to Mr. La^vrence of Larg- 
nean, the president of the club, and the other to Mrs. Bell of 
Hillowton, the lady patroness. The former picture represents 
William Tell aiming at the apple on his son's head ; the latter, 
the chaste huntress Diana piercing a stag. Both are " beautiful 

Thus well accomplished in every point and accessory of their 
beautiful pastime, loyal and happy are the Bowyers of "Urr. 

One of James's spirited songs, a parody of Scott, begin- 
ning " Toxophilite, the conflict's o'er," still exists in Cousm 
Jemima's handwiiting, with a sketch for the picture of 
William Tell, in which the features of the House of Middle- 
bie are idealised. The artist also proved the best shot on 
this occasion. The poem is not worth printing, though it has 
characteristic touches of grotesque ingenuity and humorous 
observation which are very curious in a boy of twelve. . 


The summer of 1843 was also memorable for the com- JEt. 12. 
pletion of the New Offices at Glenlair. Whatever he may- 
have intended before the death of his wife, Mr. Clerk 
Maxwell made no change in the dwelling-house during his 
lifetime. But these out-buildings had been designed by 
himself ; he had drawn the working plans for the masons ; 
he had acted as clerk of the works, rejecting unfit material, 
etc., and every detail had been^ executed under his own eye. 
So absorbed was he in the supervision, that he omitted his 
usual visit to Edinburgh in July. In one of Mrs. Black- 
burn's drawings of the previous year, he is seen laying 
out the ground for the new offices, with James beside him 
intently contemplating his father's work. We may be sure 
that Mr. Maxwell had explained every step in the whole 
procedure, and equally sure that his son laid the lesson 
well to heart. 

Soon after this he was provided with a new source of 
endless amusement in the "devil -on -two -sticks," which 
thenceforth became inseparable from the home life at 
Glenlair, and the companion of his holidays at Glasgow 
and elsewhere, even in the Cambridge time. In the family 
dialect it was humorously referred to, soito-voce, as ''the 
deil." There was nothing he could not do with that 
d — 1. No performer on the slack or tight rope ever 
made such intricate evolutions and gyrations. His delight 
in it was like that which afterwards he used to take in the 
dynamical top. 

The boy now came to know his own neighbourhood 1843-44. 
more widely. There were expeditions, visits, rides. The^^- •'■^■-^^• 
Covenanter's pool in the burn above Upper Corsock, New 
Abbey, Caerlaverock, and other places of traditional interest, 
were explored. And in the summer of 1844 there was a 
sort of driving excursion into the Cairnsmuir country, which 
is described in detail in the Diary. * 

It may be mentioned here in a general way that the 
Christmas holidays were spent either at Penicuik (with 
skating, etc.) or Killearn, and afterwards sometimes at 
Glasgow with Professor and Mrs. Blackburn, or Professor 
(now Sir William) Thomson. 

46 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 


ADOLESCENCE 1844 TO 1847 iRT. 13-16. 

The commencement of ^ the fifth year at the Academy was, 
for many of us boys, a time of cheerfulness and hope. The 
long period of mere drill and task-work was supposed to 
be over. We had learned the 800 irregular Greek verbs, 
either by our own efforts, or by hearing others say them, 
and had acquired some moderate skill in Latin verse com- 
position. On entering the rector's class-room, our less 
mechanical faculties were at once called into play. We 
found our lessons less burdensome when we had not merely 
to repeat them, but were continually learning something 
also in school. And the repetition of Virgil and Horace 
was a very different thing from the repetition of the rules 
of gender and quantity. Some foretaste of this more 
genial method had been afforded us in the previous year, 
when we had been encouraged to turn some bits of Virgil 
into English verse. But the change was, notwithstanding, 
considerable, and it was accompanied with another advance, 
which for Maxwell was at least equally important, for it 
was now that we began the serious study of geometry. 

In October 1844 Mr. Clerk Maxwell and his sister, 
Mrs. Wedderburn, were both far from well, and James was 
received in Edinburgh by his aunt, Miss Cay. He writes 
to his father, October 14, 1844 : — 

I like P 1 better than ? We have lots of jokes, 

^ The "boys' nickname for the Rector, Arclideacon Williams. Max- 
well's first interview with him was as follows : — Rector : ' ' "What part of 
Galloway do you come from?" J. 0. M. : ''From the Vale of TJrr, Ye 
spell it 0, err, err, or oo, err, err." 2 j)^^^^ f^j. j^^ CarmichaeL 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 47 

and lie speaks a great deal, and we have not so miicli monotonous 
parsing. In tlie English, Milton is better than history of 
Greece. ... I was at Uncle John's,^ and he showed me his 
new electrotype, with which he made a copper impression of 
the beetle. He can plate silver with it as well as copper, and 

he gave me a thing with which it may be done. At night 

I have generally made vases. 

This letter is sealed with the scarabseus referred to as 
"the beetle." 

In the next letter we have a trace of his hesitation not 
being yet conquered : — 

P • says that a person t of education never puts in t 

hums and haws ; he goes t on with his t sentence without 
senseless interjections. 

N.B. — Every t means a dead pause.^ 

While thus privately retorting on his censor, he took a 
singular means for curing his own defect. He made a plan 
of the large window in the rector's room, and wrote the 
words of the lesson in the spaces of the framework. He 
conned his task in that setting, and, when saying it, looked 
steadily at the actual window, where, as he averred, the 
arrangement of the panes then helped to recall the order 
of the words. The only fear was that by changing his 
place in the class he might be obliged to stand sideways to 
the window. 

Our mathematical teacher, Mr. Gloag, was a man who 
combined a real gift for teaching with certain humorous 
peculiarities of tone and manner. He was sometimes im- 
patient, but had a kind heart, and we liked him all the 
better because we mimicked him.^ Old academicians still 
delight in talking of him. He never allowed us to miss a 
step in any proof, and made us do many "deductions," 

^ Mr. John Cay, Sheriff of Linlithgow. See above, p. 6. 

2 These pauses in the Rector's case were often filled, in less guarded 
moments, with "What you call," '* Yes, yes," which he had a trick of 

^ He once said to a nervous boy who had crossed his legs and was 
sitting uneasily, ' ' Ha, booy I are ye making a basket wi' your legs. " 

48 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

which we puzzled out entirely without help. It must have 
been the companionship of Maxwell that made those hours 
so delightful to me. We always walked home together, 
and the talk was incessant, chiefly on Maxwell's side. 
Some new train of ideas would generally begin just when 
we reached my mother's door. He would stand there 
holding the door handle, half in, half out, while, 

" Much like a press of people at a door 
Thronged his inventions, which should go before," 

till voices from within complained of the cold draught, and 
warned us that we must part. 

From some mathematical principle he would start off to 
a joke of Martinus Scriblerus, or to a quotation from 
Dryden, interspersing puns and other outrages on language 
of the wildest kind, " humming and hawing " in spite of 

P ; or in a quieter mood he would tell the story of 

Southey's Thalaha, or explain some new invention, which I 
often failed to understand. Our common ground in those 
days was simple geometry, and never, certainly, was emula- 
tion more at one with friendship. But whatever outward 
rivalry there might be, his companions felt no doubt as to 
his vast superiority from the first. He seemed to be in 
the heart of the subject when they were only at the 
boundary; but the boyish game of contesting point by 
point with such a mind was a most wholesome stimulus, so 
that the mere exercise of faculty was a pure joy. With 
Maxwell, as we have already seen, the first lessons of 
geometry branched out at once into inquiries which soon 
became fruitful. 
2844-46. "Meantime, the rural ditties were not mute." Besides 
a serio-comic impromptu on the grievance of a holiday task, 
and other effusions concerning incidents of our school life, 
there was a romantic ballad written about Christmas 1844 
or 5, and in July 1845 the prize for English verse was 
gained by the poem on the death of the Douglas, to which 
he refers in one of his letters to Miss Cay.^ 

^t. 13-15. 

1 His turn for versifying may be traced back to bis twelftb year, 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 49 

But a prize of more consequence was the mathematical lf^^'A 
medal, of which he writes to his aunt in a tone of undis- 
guised though generous triumph. The following letters 
were written in June and July 1845 : — 

To Miss Cay. 

June I845. 
I have drawn a picture of Diana,^ and made an octohedron 
on a new principle, and found out a great many things in 
geometry. If you make two circles equal, and make three steps 
with the compasses (of any size), and cut them out in card, and 
also three equal strips, with holes at each end, and joint them 
with thread to the upper side of one circle and the lower side 
of the other ; then if you put a pin through the centre of one 
and turn the other, the one will turn, and if you draw the same 
thing on both in the same position, — if you turn them ever so, — 
they will always be in the same position. 

July I845. 
The subjects for prizes are as follows : — English Verses — 
The gude Schyr James Dowglas ; Latin Hexameters and Pen- 
tameters — The Isles of Greece ; Latin Sapphics — The Ehine. 
I have been getting information in many books for Douglas, but 
I found it so difficult not to Marmionise, that is, to speak in 
imitation of Marmion, — that I am making it in eight syllable 
lines. I have got Barbom's Bruce, Buke 20, which is a help in 
a different language, which is aU fair ; my motto is : — 

. " Men . may . weill . -wyte . thouch . nana . them . tell . 
How . angry . for . sorrow . and . how . fell . 
Is . to . tyne . sic . a . lord . as . he . 
To . them . that . war . of . hys . mengye . "^ 

Pa and I went to your house on Saturday and watered the 
plants. I have got the lend of the whole of Home's Introduction 
to the Knowledge of the Scri2)tures, and Prideaux's Connection of 

when, in one of his quaint letters to his father, there occur some lines 
(profusely illustrated) on the death of a goldfinch : — 

" Lo ! Ossian makes Comala fall and die, 
Why should not you for Richard Goldie cry, " etc. 

And in September 1843, as above mentioned, he wrote for the Archers in 
the " Happy Valley " a page and more of spirited verse. 

^ i.e. A sketch from the antique. 

2 Barbour's Bruce, B. xx., 11. 507-10. 

50 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

the Old and New Testaments, and Townshend's Harmony, which 
are of great use.^ 

July 18Jlf5. 

JEL 14. I have got the 11th prize for Scholarship, the 1st for English, 

the prize for English verses, and the Mathematical Medal. I 
tried for Scripture Knowledge, and Hamilton in the 7th has 
got it. We tried for the Medal ^ on Thursday. I had done 
them 3 all, and got home at J past 2 ; but Campbell stayed till 4. 
I was rather tired with writing exercises frota 9 till ^ past 2.* 

Campbell and I went " once more unto the b(r)each " to-day 
at Portobello. I can swim a little now. Campbell has got 6 
prizes. He got a letter written too soon congratulating him 

upon my medal ; but there is no rivalry betwixt us, as 

Carmichael says. 

His aunt, Miss Cay, to whom these letters are addressed, 
had begun again to take more charge of him than in the 
preceding j^ears. Mrs. Wedderburn's health was very un- 
certain. Cousin Jemima was grown-up and immersed in 
her own pursuits, and the companionship of his cousin, 
George Wedderburn, a young man about Edinburgh, and 
a humorist of a different order, was not in every way the 
most suitable for the growing boy. The Diary shows that 
he was continually at his aunt's house, No. 6 Great Stuart 
Street, and she is associated with some of my earliest recol- 
lections of him. She sought to bring him out amongst her 
friends, to soften his singularities, and to make him more 
like other youths of his age. And he would help her with 
patterns, arrangement of colours, etc., as well as with her 
flowers. One of his earliest applications of geometry was 

^ Viz. for a competition in Scripture Knowledge, which was open to 
the 5th, 6th, and 7th classes. The prize was gained that year by one of 
the 7th. 

- ''Mathematical Prize" is added between the lines by Mr. Clerk 
Maxwell, who writes a P.S. to the letter. 

^ "The trial exercises," ditto, ditto. 

^ In these competitions we seem to have been allowed to stay till we 
had done all we knew. Witness the following extract from the Diary :— 
" 1847, JiUy, Mon. 19.— James at Academy trial for Prize for Scripture 
Knowledge. Worked from 9 to 5. Lewis Campbell and W. Tait worked 
till 6." 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 51 

to set right the perspective of a view of the interior of 
Koslin Chapel on which she was engaged. 

Mr. Clerk Maxwell was a frequent visitor at the Academy 
at this time. His broad, benevolent face and paternal air, 
as of a gentler Dandie Dinmont, beaming with kindness for 
the companions of his son, is vividly remembered by those 
who were our schoolfellows in 1844-45. 

The summer vacation of 1845 was spent almost wholly 
at Glenlair. James passed a day now and then at Upper 
Corsock with the Fletcher boys,^ and sometimes accom- 
panied his father when he went out shooting; but he 
must have had abundance of time for reading and for 
following his own devices. The country gentlemen were 
particularly absorbed that year in political excitement, and 
Mr. Clerk Maxwell was often called away. The only event 
worth mentioning was a "jaunt," evidently suggested by 
Miss Cay, to Newcastle, Durham, and Carlisle, which gave 
Maxwell his first direct impression of English Cathedral 

The taste thus formed was strengthened by a visit to 
Melrose in the following summer. 

Saw the House of Abbotsford and antiquities in it, and go 

to Melrose. Got there about 2, and settle to remain all night. 

Spend the day and also the evening about the Abbey. Jane 

Cay and James drawing. — Diary, 1846, Sept. 10. 


On returning to Edinburgh for the winter, Mr. Clerk 1845. 
Maxwell seems to have been roused by the expectation ^^- ^^• 
which his son's first school distinction had awakened 
amongst his kindred and acquaintance. He became more 
assiduous than ever in his attendance at meetings of the 
Edinburgh Society of Arts and Eoyal Society, and took 
James with him repeatedly to both. And so it happened 
that early in his fifteenth year the boy dipped his feet in 
the current of scientific inquiry, where he was to prove 
himself so strong a swimmer. In our walks round Arthur's 

^ Sons of Colonel Fletcher of Upper Corsock. 

52 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

Seat, etc., lie had always something new to tell. For 
example, in February 1846, he called my attention to the 
glacier-markings on the rocks, and discoursed volubly on 
this subject, which was then quite recent, and known to 
comparatively few. 

A prominent member of the Society of Arts at this 
time was Mr. D. R Hay, the decorative painter, whose 
attempt to reduce beauty in form and colour to mathe- 
matical principles^ had attracted considerable attention 
amongst scientific men. Such ideas had a natural fascina- 
tion for Clerk Maxwell, and he often discoursed on '• egg- 
and-dart," " Greek pattern," " ogive," and what not, and 
on the forms of Etruscan urns. One of the problems in 
this department of applied science was how to draw a 
^t. 14. perfect oval ; and Maxwell, who had by this time begun 
the (purely geometrical) study of Conic sections, became 
eager to find a true practical solution of this. How com- 
pletely his father entered into his pursuit may best be 
shown by the following extracts from Mr. Clerk Maxwell's 

Diary : — 


W. 25. — Called on . . Mr. D. R Hay at his house, Jordan 
Lane, and saw his diagrams and showed James's Ovals — Mr. 
Hay's are drawn with a loop on 3 pins, consequently formed of 
portions of ellipses. 

Th. 26. — Call on Prof. Forbes at the College, and see about 
Jas. Ovals and 3-foci figures and plurality of foci. New to Prof. 
Forbes, and settle to give him the theory in writing to consider.^ 

M. 2. — Wrote account of James's ovals for PrOf. Forbes. 
Evening. — Eoyal Society with James, and gave the above to 

Mr. Forbes. 

^ * 

^ "First Principles of Symmetrical Beauty," by D. E. Hay, Black- 
woods, 1846. 

- Part of tlie entry on the same day is : — ''Parliament House. — Ee- 
turn with John Cay, called at Bryson's and suggested to Alexander Bryson 
my plan for pure iron by e]ectro-precipitation from sulphate or other 
salt." It is interesting to observe this revival of his youthful ardour for 
science in the old companionship, following upon his sympathy with the 
efforts of his son. 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 53 

W. 4. — Went to the College at 12 and saw Prof. Forbes, 
about Jas. ovals. Prof. Forbes much pleased with them, investi- 
gating in books to see what has been done or known in this 
subject. To write to me when he has fully considered the 

Sa. 7. — Kecd. note from Prof. Forbes : — 

Edinburgh, 6tli March 1846. 
My dear Sir — I have looked over your son's paper carefully, and I 
think it very ingenious, — certainly very remarkable for his years ; and, 1 
believe, substantially new. On the latter point I have refeiTed it to my 
friend, Professor Kelland, for his opinion. — I remain, dear Sir, yours 
sincerely, James D. Forbes. 

"W. 11. — Reed, note from Professor Forbes : — 

3 Park Place, llih March 1846. 
My dear Sir — I am glad to find to-day, from Professor Kelland, that 
his opinion of your son's i^aper agrees with mine ; namely, that it is most 
ingenious, most creditable to him, and, we believe, a new way of consider- 
ing higher curves with reference to foci. Unfortunately these ovals 
appear to be curves of a very high and intractable order, so that possibly 
the elegant method of description may not lead to a corresponding 
simiDlicity in investigating their properties. But that is not the present 
point. If you wish it, 1 think that the simplicity and elegance of the 
method would entitle it to be brought before the Royal Society. — Believe 
me, my dear Sir, yours truly, James D. Forbes. 

J. Clerk Maxwell, Esq. 

Th. 12. — Called for Prof. Forbes at the College and con- 
versed about the ovals. 

M. 16. — Went with James to Royal Society. 

T. 17. — Jas. at Prof. Forbes's House, 3 Park Place, to Tea, 
and to discourse on the ovals. Came home at 10. A success- 
ful visit. 

T. 24. — Cut out pasteboard trainers for Curves for James. 

W. 25. — Call at Adie's,^ to see about Report on D. R. Hay's 
paper on ovals. 

Th. 26. — Reed. D. R. Hay's paper and machine for drawing 
ovals, etc. 

M. 30. — Called on Prof. Forbes at College and saw Mr. Adie 
about report on Mr. Hay's paper. Jas. ovals to be at next 
meeting of R.S. 

M. 6. — Royal Society with Jas. Professor Forbes gave acct. 
of James's ovals. Met with very great attention and approba- 
tion generally. 

^ The Optician's, 

54 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

The result of the attempt thus eagerly pursued, as com- 
municated by Professor Forbes that evening, is embodied 
in the Proceedings of the Edinburgh Royal Society, vol. iL pp. 

Monday, Qth Aiwil 1846. 

Sir Thomas M. Brisbane, Bart., President, in the Chair. 

The following communications were read : — 

1. On the Description of Oval Curves, and those having a 
plurality of Poci. By Mr. Clerk Maxwell, junior, 
with Remarks by Professor Forbes. Communicated 
by Professor Forbes. 

Mr. Clerk Maxwell ingeniously suggests the extension of the 
common theory of the foci of conic sections to curves of a higher 
degree of complication, in the following manner : — 

1. As in the ellipse and hyperbola, any point in the curve 
has the sum or difference of two lines drawn from two points or 
foci = a constant quantity, so the author infers that curves to a 
certain degree analogous may be described and determined by 
the condition that the simple distance from one focus, plus a 
multiple distance from the other, may be = a constant quantity ; | 
or more generally, m times the one distance + n times the other 
= constant. 

2. The author devised a simple mechanical means, by the 
wrapping of a thread round pins, for producing these curves. 
See Figs. 1 and 2 (Plate 11). He then thought of extending 
the principle to other curves, whose property should be, that 
the sum of the simple or multiple distances of any point of the 
curve from three or more points or foci, should be = a constant 
quantity ; and this, too, he has effected mechanically, by a very 
simple arrangement of a string of given length passing round 
three or more fixed pins, and constraining a tracing point, P. 
See Fig. 3. Further, the author regards curves of the first 
kind as constituting a particular class of curves of the second 
kind, two or more foci coinciding in one, a focus in which two 
strings meet being considered a double focus ; when three 
strings meet a treble focus, etc. 

Professor Forbes observed that the equation to curves of the 
first class are easily found, having the form — 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 55 

which is that of the curve known under the name of the First 
Oval of Descartes. Mr. Maxwell had already observed that, 
when one of the foci was at an infinite distance (or the thread 
moved parallel to itself, and was confined, in respect of length, 
"by the edge of a board), a curve resembling an ellipse was 
traced ; from which property Professor Forbes was led first to 
infer the identity of the oval with the Cartesian oval, which is 
well known to have this property. But the simplest analogy of 
all is that derived from the method of description, r and r being 
the radients to any point of the curve from the two foci. 

mr + nr' = constant, 

which, in [fact, at once expresses on the undulatory theory of 
light the optical character of the surface in question, namely, 
that light diverging from one focus F without the medium, shall 
be directly convergent at another point / within it ; and in this 

case the ratio - expresses the index of refraction of the medium. 

If we denote, by the looxoer of either focus, the number of 
strings leading to it by Mr. Maxwell's construction, and if one 
of the foci be removed to an infinite distance, — if the powers of 
the two foci be equal, the curve is a parabola ; if the power of 
the nearer focus be greater than the other, the curve is an 
ellipse ; if the power of the infinitely distant focus be the 
greater, the curve is a hyperbola. The first case evidently 
corresponds to the reflection of parallel rays to a focus, the 
velocity being unchanged after reflection ; the second, to the 
refraction of parallel rays to a focus in a dense medium (in which 
light moves slower) ; the third case, to refraction into a rarer 

The Ovals of Descartes were described in his Geometry, where 
he has also given a mechanical method of describing one of 
them, but only in a particular case, and the method is less 
simple than Mr. Maxwell's. The demonstration of the optical 
properties was given by Newton in the Frincijna, Book i. Prop. 
97, by the law of the sines, and by Huyghens in 1690, on the 
Theory of Undulations, in his Traite de la LumUre. It probably 
has not been suspected that so easy and elegant a method exists 
of describing these curves by the use of a thread and pins when- 
ever the powers of the foci are commensurable. For instance, 
the curve, Fig. 2, drawn with powers 3 and 2 respectively, give 
the proper form for a refracting surface of glass, whose index of 

Proceedings of the Ediribwrgh Royal Society, vol. ii. 

Plate XI. 

Flg.l. Two Foci. Ratios 1:2. 

Fig.2. Two Foci "Ratios. 2:3. 

Pig.3. Three Foci. Ratios of Equality. 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 57 

refraction is 1.50, in order that rays diverging from / may be 
refracted to F. 

As to tlie higher classes of curves, -with three or more focal 
points, we cannot at present invest them with equally clear and 
curious physical properties, but the method of drawing a curve 
by so simple a contrivance, which shall satisfy the condition, 

mr + nr + j;r" + etc., = constant, 
is in itself not a little interesting ; and if we regard, with Mr, 
Maxwell, the ovals above described, as the limiting case of tlie 
others by the coalescence of two or more foci, we have a further 
generalisation of the same kind as that so highly commended 
by Montucla, by which Descartes elucidated the conic sections 
as particular cases of his oval curves. 

This was the beginning of the lifelong friendship between 
Clerk Maxwell and James D. Forbes. " I loved James 
Forbes" was his own emphatic statement to me in 1869. 
Maxwell's gratitude to all from whom he had received any 
help or stimulus was imperishable. 

The curve-drawing, and the problems connected with it,^^. 14-15. 
were by no means the only original investigations of this 
year. Mr. John Scott, of Scott Brothers, Greenock, re- 
members being in the attic of 31 Heriot Eow, and seeing 
some pre^^arations of jelly with which James was experi- 
menting there. Mr. Scott left Edinburgh in the summer 
of 1846. What was the exact object of these experiments 
and others on gutta ^ercha at this time is matter of conjec- 
ture. There is little doubt that they prej^ared the way 
for the investigation concerning the compression of elastic 
solids. But it seems probable that they were immediately 
suggested by Forbes's Theonj of Glaciers^ which had recently 
called attention to the whole question of the difference 
between solid, liquid, and '^ viscous *' bodies, and the \ 
different effects of gravitation and pressure as applied to 
them.^ Another set of phenomena with which his mind 
was soon afterwards engaged, viz. those of the refraction 
and polarisation of light, were partly studied through 
similar means. 

^ See especially Forbes's paper on the "Viscous Theory of Glacier- 
Motion" in the Philosophical Tratisadions for 1846, pp. 143-210. 

58 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

The work of his cousin, who was uow a rising artist, 
still interested him. An entry in the father's Diary, 
December 5, 1845, has reference to this : — 

TValk with Jas. and Jemima to Botanical Garden to inspect 
palm-trees — for her sketching for a picture. 

Either in this or the following year I remember his raising 
the question, Whether it was not possible to determine 
mathematically the curve of the waves on a particular 
shore, so as to represent them with perfect truth in a 
1846-47. After contributing to the Proceedings of the Edinburgh 

jEt.\6-\Q.^Qj2l Society, it might perhaps have been expected that 
Clerk Maxrvvell, although scarcely 15, would at least have 
been taken from the Academy and sent to the classes of 
Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the University. 
Instead of this, he simply completed his course at school. 
His inventions may perhaps have interfered a little with 
his resrular studies — for he missed the Mathematical medal 
in 1846 — but he was one of the few of the class which he 
had joined in 1841 who continued at the Academy until 
1847. And when he left, although still younger than his 
competitors by about a twelvemonth, he was not only first 
in mathematics and English, but came very near to being 
first in Latin. He had not yet *' specialised " or " bifur- 
cated," although the bent of his genius was manifest. Nor 
have I ever heard him wish that it had been otherwise. 
On the contrary, he has repeatedly said to me in later 

; years that to make out the meaning of an author with no 

help excepting grammar and dictionary (which was our 
case) is one of the best means for training the mind. Some 
of his school exercises in Latin prose and verse are still 
extant, and, like everything which he did, are stamped 
with his peculiar character.^ The first Greek play we read 
(the Alcestis of Euripides) made an impression on him to 

^ On his copy of Monk's Alcestis, which we read in the 6th class 
(1845-46), the owner's name is followed by an original distich : — 
' ' Si probnim metuis, nolito tangere librum, 
Nam magni domini nomina scripta vides." 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 59 

whicli he reverted in a conversation many years afterwards.^ 
At the same time he had a quick eye for the absurdities of 
pedantry. One of the teachers was apt to annoy our youth- 
ful taste by a literal exactness in translating the Greek 
particles, which would have pleased some more recent 
scholars. Maxwell expressed our feelings on this subject 
in a few lines, of which I can only recall the beginning : — 

" Assuredly, at least, indeed, 
— Decidedly also ..." 

The frigid climax in " decidedly " is a good instance of his 
roguish irony. 

In September 1846 I made my first visit to Glenlair. 
It was a time of perpetual gladness, but the particulars are 
hardly worth recording. James used to sleep long and 
soundly, and seemed to be the whole day at play, eagerly 
showing me his treasures and accompanying each exhibition 
with lively talk, sprinkled with innumerable puns.^ -A^ter 
such a breakfast as became that land of milk and honey, 
there was a long interval, while Mr. Maxwell was attend- 
ing to home business and deliberating what the "expedite" 
should be. Miss Cay meanwhile was writing letters, or 
finishing some drawing of Lincluden or New Abbey (where 
they had lately been), and James would fiit to and fro 
between the little den, where his books and various 
apparatus lived, and the drawing-room,^ where his father 
sat in the arm-chair, with Tobs on knee. Ever and anon 
we boys would escape out of doors and have a run in the 
field or the garden, or a bout with the d — 1. So the 
morning would pass till an early luncheon, after which 

^ The following bit of Diary deserves to be quoted in this connec- 
tion : — ^'184^, Saturday, December 21. — Jas. dined at Miss Cay's. I 
went there to tea, taking Lewis and Robert Campbell. Then we all went 
to the play — 'Antigone,' by Miss Faucit." 

^ I can only compare him to the fraternal spirit that William Blake 
saw in vision "clapping its hands for joy" (Gilchrist's Life of Williarti 
Blake, vol. i. p. 59). In the talk of that period a butterfly was always 
a "flutterby ;" and idiotisms such as "used to could" and "be-you-have 
yourself !" were in common use. 

^ The present dining-room 

j 60 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. iv. 

Tobin must do his various tricks ; then, if the men were 
iDUsy, James would himself harness Meg, the Galloway- 
pony, for the drive of the afternoon. After dinner and 
Toby's second performance, and another turn at the deil, 
there would be something more to see — Cousin Jemima's 
drawings, recent diagrams or other inventions of his own, 
the magic discs, etc. etc., the charm of the whole consist- 
ing in the flow of talk, incessant, but by no means 

" Changing, hiding. 
Doubling upon itself, dividing," 

of which neither of us ever tired. On Sunday there was 
the drive to Corsock Church (where the absolute gravity 
of his countenance was itself a study),-^ and the walk home 
by the river, past the Kirk pool, renowned for bathing, 
with conversations of a more earnest kind, and a stroll on 
the estate in the afternoon ; or, if we stayed at home, he 
would show his favourite books and talk about them, till 
the evening closed with a chapter and a prayer, which the 
old man read to the assembled household. 

JSt. 15. During the winter of 1846-47 James's health was 
unusually delicate. He was often absent from school, and 
seems not to have gone to meetings of the Societies. 
j But of these his father was sure to give him a faithful 
report. He was certainly more than ever interested in 
science. The two subjects which most engaged his attention 
were magnetism and the polarisation of light He was 
fond of showing " Newton's rings " — the chromatic effect 
produced by pressing lenses together — and of watching the 
changing hues on soap bubbles. 

In the spring of 1847 (somewhere in April) his uncle, 
Mr. John Cay, whose scientific tastes have been mentioned 
more than once above, took James and myself (with whom 

^ At church he always sat pretematurally still, with one hand lightly 
resting on the other, not moving a muscle, however long the sermon 
might he. Days afterwards he would show, by some remark, that the 
whole service, whether good or bad, had been, as it were, photographed 
upon his mind. 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 61 

he chose to share all such delights) to see Mr. Nicol, a 
friend of Sir David Brewster, and the inventor of the 
polarising prism. ^ Even before this James had been 
absorbed in *^ polarised light," working with Iceland spar, 
and twisting his head about to see " Haidinger's Brushes " 
in the blue sky with his naked eye. But this visit added 
a new and important stimulus to his interest in these 
phenomena, and the speculations to which they give rise.^ 

Shortly afterwards (May 25th) he went with his father to 
the cutler's to choose magnets suitable for experimenting. 

And a little earlier in the same year (March 17) he 
was taken to hear a lecture^ on another subject, which 
was also connected with his subsequent labours, and must 
have impressed him not a little at the time. This was the 
discovery by Adams and Leverrier simultaneously, through 
a striking combination of hypothesis and calculation, of the 
planet Neptune, which then first "swam into" human ''ken." 

The magnetic experiments were continued that autumn 
at Glenlair, as appears from two entries in the Diary : — 

Se2:>t. 3. — Walk round by smiddy ; gave steel to be made 
into bars for magnets for James. 

Sqot. 7. — James and Eobert (Campbell) most of the time at 
the smiddy, and got the magnet bars. 

My brother perfectly remembers the magnetising of 
these bars of steel. 

Lastly, in 1847 — unless my memory deceives me — 
James had commenced the study of chemistry, and had 
taken extra lessons in German. 

There was an odd episode in our school life. ' To keep 

^ He lived in Inverleith Terrace, Edinburgli. 

- So far as I can recall the order in which his ideas on this subject 
were developed, the phenomena of complementary colours came first, then 
the composition of white light, then the mixture of colours (not of pig- 
ments), then polarisation and the dark lines in the spectrum, and about 
the same time "the art of squinting," stereoscopic drawing, etc., then 
colour-blindness, the yellow spot on the retina, etc. 

^ The lecturer was Mr. Nichol, Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow, 
the father of the distinguished Professor of English Literature in the same 



our education " abreast of the requirements of the day," 
etc., it was thought desirable that we should have lessons 
in ^''physical Science." So one of the classical masters gave 
them out of a text-book. The sixth and seventh classes 
were taught together; and the only thing I distinctly 
remember about these hours is that Maxwell and P. G. 
Tait seemed to know much more about the subject than 

our teacher did. 

Maxwell and Tait were by this time acknowledged as 
the two best mathematicians of the school, and it was 
already prophesied that Tait, who was about fifteen, would 
some day be a Senior Wrangler. The two youths had 
many interchanges of ideas, and Professor Tait remembers 
that Maxwell had by this time proved, by purely geome- 
trical methods, that the central tangential section of a 
" tore," or anchor-ring, is a pair of intersecting equal and 
similar curves, prohahly circles. 

This is referred to in the following extract from Pro- 
fessor Tait's admirable summary : — 

When I first made Clerk Maxwell's acquaintance about 
thirty-five years ago, at the Edinburgh Academy, he was a 
year before me, being in the fifth class while I was in the 

At school he was at first regarded as shy and rather dull. 
He made no friendships, and he spent his occasional holidays in 
reading old ballads, drawing curious diagrams, and making rude 
mechanical models. This absorption in such pursuits, totally 
unintelligible to his schoolfellows (who were then quite innocent 
of mathematics), of course procured him a not very complimen- 
tary nickname, which I know is still remembered by many 
Fellows of this Society. About the middle of his school career, 
however, he surprised his companions by suddenly becoming one 
of the most briUiant among them, gaining high, and sometimes 
the highest, prizes for scholarship, mathematics, and English 
verse composition. From this time forward I became very 
intimate with him, and we discussed together, with schoolboy 
enthusiasm, numerous curious problems, among which I re- 
member particularly the various plane sections of a ring or tore, 
and the form of a cylindrical mirror which should show one his 

CHAP. IV.] ADOLESCENCE— 1844 to 1847. 63 

own image "unperverted. I still possess some of the MSS. we 
exclianged in 1846 and early in 1847. Those by Maxwell are 
on '-'The Conical Pendulum," "Descartes' Ovals," " Meloid and 
Apioid," and " Trifocal Curves." All are drawn up in strict 
geometrical form, and divided into consecutive propositions. 
The three latter are connected with his first published paper, 
communicated by Forbes to this Society and printed in our 
Proceedings^ vol. ii., under the title " On the description of Oval 
Curves, and those having a plurality of Foci" (1846). At the 
time when these papers were written he had received no instruc- 
tion in mathematics beyond a few books of Euclid and the merest 
elements of Algebra.^ 

On the whole, he looked back to his schooldays with 
strong affection ; and his only revenge on those who had 
misunderstood him was that he understood them. To 
many of us, as we advance in life, the remembrance of our 
early companions, except those to whom we were specially 
drawn, becomes dim and shadowy. But Maxwell, by some 
vivid touch, has often recalled to me the image of one and 
another of our schoolfellows, whose existence I had all but 

Mr. Clerk Maxwell made inquiries early in the summer 
of 1847, with a view to placing his son at College in 
November. In deciding not to continue his classical train- 
ing, he appears to have been chiefly guided by some dis- 
paraging accounts of the condition of the Greek and Latin 
classes in comparison with those of Logic, Mathematics, 
and Natural Philosophy. The result was that in his 
seventeenth year Maxwell entered the second Mathematical 
Class, taught by Professor Kelland, the class of Natural 
Philosophy under J. D. Forbes, and the Logic Class of Sir 
William Hamilton. Classical reading, however, was not by 
any means relinquished, as the correspondence of 1847-50 
clearly shows. 

^ Proceedings of the Pi,oyal Society of Edinlurgh. Session 1879-80, 
p. 332. 






OPENING MANHOOD 1847 TO 1850 MT. 16-19. 

When he entered the University of Edinburgh, James 
Clerk Maxwell still occasioned some concern to the more 
conventional amongst his friends by the originality and 
simplicity of his ways. His replies in ordinary conversa- 
tion were indirect and enigmatical, often uttered with 
hesitation and in a monotonous key.^ While extremely | 
neat in his person, he had a rooted objection to the vanities 
of starch and gloves. He had a pious horror of destroying ■ 
anything — even a scrap of writing paper. He preferred 
travelling by the third class in railway journeys, saying he 
liked a hard seat. When at table he often seemed ^ 
abstracted from what was going on, being absorbed in 
observing the effects of refracted light in the finger-glasses, j 
or in trying some experiment with his eyes — seeing round 
a corner, making invisible stereoscopes, and the like. Miss 
Cay used to call his attention by crying, " Jamsie, you're 
in a prop."^ He never tasted wine ; and he spoke to gentle. ^ 
and simple in exactly the same tone. On the other hand, 
his teachers — Forbes above all — had formed the highest 
opinion^ of his intellectual originality and force ; and a few 
experienced observers, in watching his devotion to his father, 

^ This entirely disappeared afterwards, except when ironically as- 
sumed. It was accompanied with a certain huskiness of voice, which wa3 
observed also in later years. 

- *'Prop." here and elsewhere is an abbreviation for "mathematical 

^ Forbes's certificate at the end of the second year goes beyond the 
merely formal language of such documents: — "His proficiency gave 
evidence of an original and penetrating mind." 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 65 

began to have some inkling of his heroic singleness of 
heart. To his college companions, whom he could now 
select at will, his quaint humour was an endless delight. 
His chief associates, after I went to the University of 
Glasgow, were my brother, Eobert Campbell (still at the 
Academy), P. G. Tait, and Allan Stewart.^ Tait went to 
Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1848, after one session of the 
University of Edinburgh ; Stewart to the same College in 
1849 ; Maxwell did not go up until 1850. 

These three years— November 1847 to October 1850 — -"Et 16-19. 
were impartially divided between Edinburgh and Glenlair. 
He was working under but slight pressure, and his origin- 
ality had the freest play. His studies were multifarious, 
but the subjects on which his thoughts were most concen- 
trated during these years were — 1. Polarised light, the 
stereoscope, etc. ; 2. Galvanism ; 3. EoUing curves ; 4. 
Compression of solids. That he early felt the necessity of 
imposing a method on himself will appear from the letters. 
His paper on Eolling Curves was read before the Edinburgh 
Royal Society on February 19, 1849, by Professor Kelland 
(for it was not thought proper for a boy in a round jacket ■ 
to mount the rostrum there) ; that on the Equilibrium of 
Elastic Solids in the spring of 1850. 

With regard to his class studies, it appears that he 
attended Forbes for two sessions as a regular student, and 
occasionally as an amateur student in his third year ; 
Kelland for two sessions ; and Sir W. Hamilton for two. 
In his third session, while partially attending Forbes, he 
was a regular student in the Classes of Chemistry (Pro- 
fessor Gregory), Practical Chemistry (Mr. Kemp), and 
Moral Philosophy (Professor Wilson). 

Mr. Macfarlan of Lenzie, in the letter already quoted, 
says : — " He was in the Natural Philosophy Class, Edin- 
burgh University, the year before I was, and was spoken 
of by Forbes and his fellow-students as a discoverer in 
Natural Philosophy, and a very original worker in 

1 Allan Stewart, Esquire, of Innerliadden, Perthsliire, C. E. : -^g. 9th 
Wrangler, 1853. 



All scientific theories had an interest for him. It was 
at some time during these years that in a walk towards 
Arthur's Seat he discoursed to me of Owen's hypothesis of 
types of creation, not only with complete command of 
Owen's terminology, but with far-reaching views of the 
questions to which the theory led. On the same occasion 
he made some characteristic remarks on the importance of 
cultivating the senses, adding that he regarded dulness in 
that respect as a bad sign of any man. 

The lectures in Mental Philosophy, which were a pro- 
minent element in the Scottish University curriculum, 
interested him greatly ; and from Sir William Hamilton 
especially he received an impulse which never lost its efifect. •; 
Though only sixteen when he entered the Logic Class, he 
worked hard for it, as his letters show ; and from the Class 
of Metaphysics, which he attended in the following year, 
his mind gained many lasting impressions. ^ His boundless 
curiosity was fed by the Professor's inexhaustible learning; 
his geometrical imagination predisposed him to accept the 
doctrine of ** natural realism ;" while his mystical tendency 
was soothed by the distinction between Knowledge and 
Belief. The doctrine of a muscular sense gave promise of 
a rational analysis of the active powers. However strange 
it may appear that a' born mathematician should have been 
thus influenced by the enemy of mathematics, the fact is 
indisputable that in his frequent excursions into the region 
of speculative thought, the ideas received from Sir William 
Hamilton were his habitual vantage-ground ; the great 
difference being, that while Sir William remained for the 
most • part within the sphere of Abstract Logic, Maxwell 
ever sought to bring each "concept" to the test of fact. ■ 
Sir William in turn took a genial interest in his pupil, who 
was indeed the nephew of an old friend — Sheriff Cay having 
at one time been a constant companion and firm ally of 

1 A slight illustration of Ms devotion to Sir William's teaching, and 
also of his powers of endilrance, is afforded by the following incident :— 
One day he sprained his ankle badly on the College staircase ; but, in- 
stead of going home, he attended Sir William Hamilton's class as usual, 
and sat through the hour as if nothing had happened. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 67 

Sir William's.^ This is perhaps the most striking example 
of the effect produced by Sir WilUam Hamilton on power- 
ful young minds, — an effect which, unless the best meta- 
physicians of the subsequent age are mistaken, must have 
been out of all proportion to the independent value of his 

It was impossible that young Maxwell should listen to 
speculations about the first principles of things, — specula- 
tions, too, which, like all the Scottish philosophy, turned 
largely on the reality of the external world, — without 
eagerly working out each problem for himself Besides 
various exercises done by him for the Logic Class, and, 
like all his youthful work, preserved by him with pious 
care, there is one which seems to have attracted special 
attention, and was found by Professor Baynes, when he 
came to assist Sir William, in the Professor's private 
drawer. This paper is so significant, and so closely related 
to Maxwell's after studies, as to deserve insertion here. 

On the Properties of Matter. ^^^ ^^^ 

These properties are all relative to the three abstract entities 
connected with matter, namely, space, time, and force. 

1. Since matter must be in some part of space, and in one 
part only at a time, it possesses the property of locahty or 

2. But matter has not only position but magnitude ; this 
property is called extension. 

3. And since it is not infinite it must have bounds, and 
therefore it must possess figure. 

These three properties belong both to matter and to imaginary 
geometrical figures, and may be called the geometric properties 
of matter. The following properties do not necessarily belong 
to geometric figures. 

4. No part of space can contain at the same time more than 
one body, or no two bodies can coexist in the same space ; this 
property is called impenetrability. It was thought by some 
that the converse of this was true, and that there was no part 

1 John Lockhart had made a third as the comrade of both. 

68 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

of space not filled with matter. If there be a vacuum, said 
they, that is empty space, it must be either a substance or an 


If a substance it must be created or uncreated. 

If created it may be destroyed, while matter remains as it 
was, and thus length, breadth and thickness would be destroyed 
while the bodies remain at the same distance. 

If uncreated, we are led into impiety. 

If we say it is an accident, those who deny a vacuum 
challenge us to define it, and say that length, breadth and 
thickness belong exclusively to matter. 

This is not true, for they belong also to geometric figures, 
which are forms of thought and not of matter ; therefore the 
atomists maintain that empty space is an accident, and has not 
only a possible but a real existence, and that there is more space 
empty than fuU. This has been well stated by Lucretius. 

5. Since there is a vacuum, motion is possible ; therefore we 
have a fifth property of matter called mobility. 

And the impossibility of a body changing its state of motion 
or rest without some external force is called inertia. 

Of forces acting between two particles of matter there are 
several kinds. 

The first kind is independent of the quality of the particles, 
and depends solely on their masses and their mutual distance. 
Of this kind is the attraction of gravitation and that repulsion 
which exists between the particles of matter which prevents any 
two from coming into contact. 

The second kind depends on the quality of the particles ; of 
this kind are the attractions of magnetism, electricity, and 
chemical affinity, which are all convertible into one another and 
affect all bodies. 

The third kind acts between the particles of the same body, 
and tends to keep them at a certain distance from one another 
and in a certain configuration. 

When this force is repulsive and inversely as the distance, 
the body is called gaseous. 

When it does not follow this law there are two cases. 

There may be a force tending to preserve the figure of the 
body or not. 

When this force vanishes the body is a liquid. 

When it exists the body is solid. 

CHAP, v.] OPENIISTG MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 69 

If it is small the body is soft ; if great it is hard. 
If it recovers its figure it is elastic ; if not it is inelastic. 
The forces in this third division depend almost entirely 
on heat. 

The properties of bodies relative to heat and light are — 

Transmission, Reflection, and Destruction, 

and in the case of light these may be different for the three 

kinds of light, so that the properties of colour are — 

Quality, Purity, and Integrity ; or 

Hue, Tint, and Shade. 

We come next to consider what properties of bodies may be 
perceived by the senses. 

Now the only thing which can be directly perceived by the 
senses is Force, to which may be reduced heat, light, electricity, 
sound, and all the things which can be perceived by any sense. 

In the sense of sight we perceive at the same time two 
spheres covered with different colours and shades. The pictures 
on these two spheres have a general resemblance, but are not 
exactly the same ; and from a comparison of the two spheres we 
learn, by a kind of intuitive geometry, the position of external 
objects in three dimensions. 

Til us, the object of the sense of sight is the impression made 
on the different parts of the retina by three kinds of light. By 
this sense we obtain the greater part of our practical knowledge 
of locality, extension, and figure as properties of bodies, and we 
actually perceive colour and angular dimension. 

And if we take time into account (as we must always do, for 
no sense is instantaneous), we perceive relative angular motion. 

By the sense of hearing we perceive the intensity, rapidity, 
and quality of the vibrations of the surrounding medium. 

By taste and smell we perceive the effects which liquids and 
aeriform bodies have on the nerves. 

By touch we become acquainted with many conditions and 
qualities of bodies. 

1. The actual dimensions of solid bodies in three dimensions, 
as compared with the dimensions of our own bodies. 

2. The nature of the sui-face ; its roughness or smoothness. 

3. The state of the body with reference to heat. 

To this is to be referred the sensation of wetness and dry- 
ness, on account of the close contact which fluids have with 
the skin. 

70 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

By means of touch, combined with pressure and motion, we 

perceive — , . „.,.,. 

1. Hardness and softness, comprehending elasticity, fnabihty, 

tenacity, flexibility, rigidity, fluidity, etc. 

2. Friction, vibration, weight, motion, and the like. 

The sensations of hunger and thirst, fatigue, and many 
others, have no relation to the properties of bodies. 

Lucretius on Empty Space. 

Nee tamen undique corporea stipata tenentur 
Omnia natura, namque est in rebus Inane. 
Quod tibi cognosse in multis erit utile rebus 
Nee sinet errantem dubitare et quaerere semper 
De summa rerum ; et nostris diffidere dictis. 
Quapropter locus est intactus Inane Vacansque ; 
Quod si non esset, nulla ratione moveri 
Res possent ; namque officium quod corporis extat 
Ofl&cere atque obstare, id in omni tempore adesset 
Omnibus. Hand igitur quicquam procedere posset, 
Principium quoniam cedendi nulla daret res. 
At nunc per maria ac terras sublimaque cseli 
Multa modis multis varia ratione moveri 
Cernimus ante oculos, quae, si non esset Inane, 
Non tam soUicito motu privata carerent 
Quam genita omnino nulla ratione fuissent, 
Undique materies quoniam stipata quiesset.-'- 

^ Lucr. de Rer Nat, i. 329-345. The following Hamiltonian notions 
will be found appearing from time to time in Maxwell's correspondence 
and occasional "\\Titings : — 

1. Opposition of Natural Realism to " Cosmothetic Idealism." 

2. Unconscious Mental Modifications. 

3. Distinction between Knowledge and Belief in relation to the doc- 
trine of Perception. 

4. The Infinite or Unconditioned. 

The following passage is worth quoting here, although the experiment 
in question was probably well known to Max^vell before he went to 
college : — 

"... The experiment which Sir W. Hamilton quotes from Mr. Mill, 
and which had been noticed before either of them by Hartley. 

"It is kno%vn that the seven prismatic colours, combined in certain 
proportions, produce the white light of the solar ray. Now, if the seven 
colours are painted on spaces bearing the same proportion to one another 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 71 

In connection with his logical studies it should be men- 
tioned that Professor Boole's attempt, made about this 
time, towards giving to logical forms a mathematical 
expression,^ had naturally strong attractions for Clerk 

The metaphysical writers who had received most of his 
attention before going to Cambridge were Descartes and 
Leibnitz. He knew Hobbes well also, but chiefly on the / 
ethical side. 

When, in his address to Section A of the British Asso- 
ciation at the Liverpool meeting in 1870, Maxwell spoke 
of the barren metaphysics of past ages, he knew the full 
force of his own words. And he certainly felt that his 
psychological studies had given him a distinct advantage 
in conceiving rightly the functions of the eye. 

His grasp of Moral Philosophy at the age of nineteen, -J 
— when he had been stimulated to precise thought on the 
subject by listening to the vague harangues of Professor 
Wilson (Christopher North), — appears in some of his 
letters,. and reveals an aspect of his genius of which too 
little is known, and one which his subsequent career did 
not allow him to bring to perfection. 

In the third year of his course, as above mentioned, 
besides attending Professor Wilson's lectures, he renewed 
his study of Chemistry under Professor Gregory, to whose 
laboratory he had unlimited access, and also to some 
extent continued his attendance on Professor Forbes. 

It cannot be said that this period was unfruitful ; yet 
perhaps it is to be regretted that he did not go to Cam- 
bridge at least one year earlier. His truly sociable spirit 
would have been less isolated, he would have gained more 
command over his own genius, and his powers of expres- 
sion would have been more harmoniously developed. 

as in the solar spectrum, and the coloured surface so produced is passed 
rapidly before the eyes, as by the turning of a wheel, the whole is seen 
as white." — Mill On Hamilton (1st edition, 1865), p. 286. 

^ Mr. George Boole's first logical treatise, " The Mathematical Analysis 
of Logic, being an Essay towards a Calculus of Deductive Reasoning," 
was published in 1847 at Cambridge, by Macmillan, Barclay, and 

72 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

The routine of Cambridge would have been more valuable 
and less irksome to him, and he would have entered 
sooner and more fully upon the study of mankind, for 
which he had such large capacity, and '^ opportunities 
hitherto so Hmited. He suffered less from isolation than 
most human beings, and his spirit was deepening all the 
while j yet the freedom of working by himself during the 
summer months had manifestly some drawbacks, and the 
tone of his correspondence shows that he felt the disad- 
vantages of solitude. 

Letters, 1847 to 1850 — ^t. 16-18. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

21 Hcriot Row,^ 
Tuesday [16th Novr. 1847]. 

JSt. 16. In Kelland we find the value of expressions in numbers as 
fast as we can, the values of the letters being given ; light work. 
In Forbes we do Lever, which is all in Potter ; no notes re- 
quired, only read Pottery ware (light reading). Logic needs 
long notes. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I read Newton's 
Fluxions in a sort of way, to know what I am about in doing a 
prop. There is no time of reading a book better than when 
you need it, and when you are on the point of finding it out 
yourself if you were able. 

• • • a • » 

" Non usitata nee tenui ferar 
Pinna biformi per hquida aequora 
Piscis neque in terris morabor 

Longius " but I will take to swimming with 

a two formed oar with blades at right angles. . . . 

Yours, J. C. M., No. 2. 

To THE Same. 

31 HeHot Row, Novr. 1847. 

As you say, sir, I have no idle time. I look oVer notes and 

such like till 9.35, then I go to CoU., and I always go one way 

and cross streets at the same places ; then at 1 comes Kelland. 

He is telling us about arithmetic, and how the common rules 

^ Above, p. 37. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 TO 1850. 73 

are the best. At 11 there is Forbes, who has now finished 
introduction and properties of bodies, and is beginning Mechanics 
in earnest. Then at 12, if it is fine, I perambulate the Meadows ; 
if not, I go to the Library and do references. At 1 go to Logic. 
Sir AV. reads the first ^ of his lecture, and commits the rest to 
his man, but reserves to himself the right of making remarks. 
To-day was examination day, and there was no lecture. At 2 
I go home and receive interim aliment, and do the needful in 
the way of business. Then I extend notes, and read text-books, 
which are Kelland's Algebra and Potter's Mechanics. The latter 
is very trigonometrical, but not deep ; and the Trig, is not 
needed. I intend to read a few Greek and Latin beside. What 
books are you doing ? . . . In Logic we sit in seats lettered 
according to name, and Sir W. takes and puts his hand into a 
jam pig 1 full of metal letters (very classical) and pulls one out 
and examines the bench of the letter. The Logic lectures are 
far the most solid and take most notes. 

Before I left home I found out a prop for Tait (P. G.) ; but 
he will not do it. It is "to find the algebraical equation to a 
curve which is to be placed with its axis vertical, and a heavy 
body is to be put on any part of the curve, as on an inclined 
plane, and the horizontal component of the force, by which it is 
actuated, is to vary as the n*^^ power of the perpendicular upon 
the axis." 

To THE Same. 

Glcnlair, 26th Ai^il IS4S. 

. . . On Saturday, the natural philosophers ran up Arthur's 
Seat with the barometer. The Professor set it up at the top 
and let us pant at it till it ran down with drops. He did not 
set it straight, and made the hill grow fifty feet ; but we got it 
down again. 

We came here on Wednesday by Caledonian. I intend to 
open my classes next week after the business is over. I have 
been reading Xenophon's Memorabilia after breakfast ; also a 
French collection bouk. This from 9 to 11. Then a game of 
the Devil, of whom there is a duality and a cjuaternity of sticks, 
so that I can play either conjunctly or severally. I can jump 
over him and bring him round without leaving go the sticks. 
I can also keep him up behind me. 

^ i.e. Jar. 

74 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

Then I go in again to science, of which I have only just got 
the books by the carrier. Hitherto I have done a prop on the 
slate on polarised light. Of props I have done several. 

1. Found the equation to a square. 

2. The curve which Sir David Brewster sees when he squints 
at a wall. 

3. A property of the parabola. . . . 

4. The same of the Ellipse and Hyperbola. . . . 

I can polarise light now by reflection or refraction in 4 ways, 
and get beautiful but evanescent figures in plate glass by heating 
its edge. I have not yet unannealed any glass. . . . 

I don't understand how you mug^ straight on. I suit my 
mnggery to my temper that day. When I am deep I read 
Xenophon's defence of 2wk ; when not I read 2wk's witty 
dialogues. If I do not do this, I always find myself reading 
Greekj that is, reading the words with all their contractions, as 
a Jew reads Hebrew. I get on very rapidly ; but know nothing 
about the meaning, and do not even know but that I am really 

Please to write about your Prizes at College, and about 
coming here to mug ? You must learn the D — 1. 

Tatties is planting. — Yours, etc. 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair, 5/6 July I84S. 
jEt. 17. I was much glad of your letter, and will be thankful for a 
repetition. I understand better about your not corning. I have 
regularly set up shop now above the wash-house at the gate, in 
a garret. 2 I have an old door set on two barrels, and two 
chairs, of which one is safe, and a skylight above, which will 
slide up and down. 

On the door (or table), there is a lot of bowls, jugs, plates, 
jam pigs,3 etc., containing water, salt, soda, sulphuric acid, blue 
vitriol, plumbago ore ; also broken glass, iron, and copper wire, 
copper and zinc plate, bees' wax, sealing wax, clay, rosin, char- 
coal, a lens, a Smee's Galvanic apparatus, and a countless variety 
of little beetles, spiders, and wood lice, which fall into the differ- 

^ i.e. Work, 

2 In the " old house " (above, p. 14, 1. 23) ; now fitted up as a gun-room. 

^ i.e. Jars. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1860. 75 

ent liquids and poison themselves. I intend to get np some 
more galvanism in jam pigs ; but I must first copper the interiors 
of the pigs, so I am experimenting on the best methods of electro- 
typing. So I am making copper seals with the device of a 
beetle. First, I thought a beetle was a good conductor, so I 
embedded one in wax (not at all cruel, because I slew him in 
boiling water in which he never kicked), leaving his back out ; 
but he would not do. Then I took a cast of him in sealing 
wax, and pressed wax into the hollow, and black-leaded it with 
a brush ; but neither would that do. So at last I took my 
fingers and rubbed it, which I find the best way to use the 
black lead. Then it coppered famously. I melt out the wax 
with the lens, that being the cleanest way of getting a strong 
heat, so I do most things with it that need heat. To-day I 
astonished the natives as follows. I took a crystal of blue 
vitriol and put the lens to it, and so drove off the water, leaving 
a white powder. Then I did the same to some washing soda, 
and mixed the two white powders together ; and made a small 
native spit on them, which turned them green ^ by a mutual 
exchange, thus : — 1. Sulphate of copper and carbonate of soda. 
2. Sulphate of soda and carbonate of copper (blue or green). 

With regard to electro-magnetism you may tell Bob that I 
have not begun the machine he speaks of, being occupied with 
better plans, one of which is rather down cast, however, because 
the machine when tried went a bit and stuck ; and I did not 
find out the impediment till I had dreamt over it properly, 
which I consider the best mode of resolving difficulties of a 
joarticular kind, which may be found out by thought, or especi- 
ally by the laws of association. Thus, you are going along the 
road with a key in your pocket. You hear a clink behind you, 
but do not look round, thinking it is nothing particular ; when 
you get home the key is gone ; so you dream it all over, and 
though you have forgotten everything else, you remember the 
look of the place, but do not remember the locality (that is, as 
thus, " Near a large l^histle on the left side of the road " — no- 
where in particular, but so that it can be found). Next day 
comes a woman from the peats who has found the key in a 
corresponding place. This is not " believing in dreams," for 
the dream did not point out the place by the general locality, 
but by the lie of the ground. 

^ This is still remembered by "Lizzy," Mrs, MacGowan. 



[chap. v. 

Please to write and tell how Academy matters go, if they 
are coming to a head. I am reading Herodotus, JSuterpe, having 
taken the turn ; that is to say, that sometimes I can do props, 
read diff. and Int. Calc, Poisson, Hamilton's dissertations, etc. 
Off, then I take back to experiments, history of what yon may 
call it, make up leeway in the newspapers, read Herodotus, 
and draw the figures of the curves above. deary, 11 p.m.! 
Hoping to see you hefore October. ... I defer till to-morrow. 

July 6. To-day I have set on to the coppering of the jam 
pig which I polished yesterday. 

I have stuck in the wires better than ever, and it is going on 
at a great rate, being a rainy day, and the skylight shut and a 
smell of Hydrogen gas. I have left it for an hour to read 
Poisson, as I am pleased with him to-day. Sometimes I do not 
like him, because he pretends to give information as to calcula- 
tions of sorts, whereas he only tells how it might be done if 
you were allowed an infinite time to do it in, as well as patience. 
Of course he never stoops to give a particular example or 
even class of them. He tells lies about the way people make 
barometers, etc. 

I bathe regularly every day when dry, and try aquatic 

I first made a survey of the pool, and took soundings and 
marked rocky places well, as the water is so brown that one 
cannot see one's knees (pure peat, not mud). People are cutting 
peats now. So I have found a way of swimming round the 
pool without knocking knees. The lads ^ are afraid of melting, ' 
except one. No one here would touch water if they could 
help it, because there are two or three eels in the pool, which 
are thought near as bad as adders. 

I took down the clay gun and made a centrifugal pump of 
it ; also tried experiments on sound under water, which is very 
distinct, and I can understand how fishes can be stunned by 
knocking a stone. 

^ See above, p, 25. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 77 

We sometimes get a rope, wliicli I take liold of at one end, 
and Bob Fraser the other, standing on the rock ; and after a 
flood, when the water is up, there is sufficient current to keep 
me up like a kite without striking at all. 

The thermometer ranged yesterday from 35° to 69". 

I have made regular figures of 14, 26, 32, 38, 62, and 102 
sides of cardboard. 

Latest intelligence — Electric Telegraph. This is going so as 
to make a compass spin very much. I must go to see my pig, 
as it is an hour and half since I left it ; so, sir, am your afft. 
friend, James Clerk Maxwell. 

To THE Same. 

Glenlcdr, 22d Sept. 1848. 

. . . When I waken I do so either at 5.45 or 9.15, but I 
now prefer the early hour, as I take the most of my violent exer- 
cise at that time, and thus^am saddened doivn, so that I can do as 
much still work afterwards as is requisite, whereas if I was to 
sit still in the morning I would be yawning all day. So I get 
up and see what kind of day it is, and what field works are to 
be done ; then I catch the pony and bring up the water barrel.^ 
This barrel used to be pulled by the men, but Pa caused the 
road to be gravelled, and so it became horse work to the men, 
so I proposed the pony ; but all the men except the pullers 
opposed the plan. So I and the children not working brought 
it up, and silenced vile insinuators. Then I take the dogs out, 
and then look round the garden for fruit and seeds, and paddle 
about till breakfast- time. After that take up Cicero and see if 
I can understand him. If so, I read till I stick ; if not, I set 
to Xen. or Herodt. Then I do props, chiefly on rolling curves, 
on which subject I have got a great problem divided into Orders, 
Genera, Species, Varieties, etc. 

One curve rolls on another, and with a particular point traces 
out a third curve on the plane of the first, then the problem 
is : — Order I. Given any two of these curves, to find the third. 

Order 11. Given the equation of one and the identity of the 
other two, find their equation. 

Order III. Given all three curves the same, find them. In 
this last Order I have proved that the ecj^ui-angular spiral 

^ See above, p. 16, 1. 11. 



[chap. v. 

possesses the property, and that no other curve does. This is 
the most reproductive curve of any. I think John Bernoulli 
had it on his tombstone, with the motto Ectdem mutata resurgo. 
There are a great many curious properties of curves connected 
with rolling. Thus, for example, — 

If the curve A when rolled on a straight line produces a 
curve C, and if the curve A when rolled up on itseK produces 
the curve B, then the curve B when rolled upon the curve C 
will produce a straight line. 

Thus, let the involute of the circle be presented by A, 
the spiral of Archimedes by B, 
and the parabola by C, 
then the proposition is true. 

Thus the parabola rolled on a straight line traces a Catenary 
with its focus, an easy way to describe the Catenary. Professor 
Wallace just missed it in a paper in the Royal Society. 

After props come optics, and principally polarised light. 

Do you remember our visit to Mr. Nicol ? I have got 
plenty of unannealed glass of different shapes, for I find T\'indow 
glass will do very well made up in bundles. I cut out triangles, 
squares, etc., with a diamond, about 8 or 9 of a kind, and take 
them to the kitchen, and put them on a piece of iron in the 
fire one by one. When the bit is red-hot, I drop it into a 
plate of iron sparks to cool, and so on till all are done. I 
have got all figures up to nonagons, triangles of all kinds, and 
irregular chips. I have made a pattern for a tesselated window 
of unannealed glass in the proper colours, also a delineation of 
triangles at every principal inclination. We were at Castle- 
Douglas yesterday, and got crystals of salt Peter, which I have 
been cutting up into plates to-da}^, in hopes to see rings. 
There are very few crystals which are not hollow-hearted or 
filled up with irregular crystals. I have got a few cross cuts 
liks C y fi'ee of irregularities and long [wedge-shaped] cuts for 
polarising plates. One has to be very cautious in sawing and 
polishing them, for they are very brittle. 

I have got a lucifer match box fitted up for polarising, thus. 

l" '■' '' 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 79 

The rays suffer two reflections at the polarising angle from 
glasses A and B. Without the lid it does for an analysing 
plate. In the lid there is set a plate of mica, and so one 
observes the blue sky, and turns the box round till a particular 
colour appears, and then a line on the lid of the box points to 
the sun wherever he is. Thus one can find out the time of 
day without the sun. \_Here folloio thirteen diagrams of loatterns 
in triangles^ squares^ i^entagons^ and hexctgons.'\ These are a few 
of the figures one sees in unannealed glass. 

Pray write soon and tell when, how, and where by, you 
intend to come, that you may neither on the other hand fall 
upon ns at unawares, nor on the one hand break and not come 
at all. I suppose when you come I will have to give up all 
my tilings of my own devising, and take Poisson, for the time 
is short, and I am very nearly unprepared in actual reading, 
though a great deal more able to read it. 

I hope not to write any more letters till you come, I seal 
with an electrotype of the young of the ephemera. So, sir, I 
was, etc. 

To THE Same. 

Bannavie, 6th July \_1S49\ 

This being a wet night, and I, having exhausted my travelling JEt. 18. 
props, set to to write to you about what I can recollect of my 
past history. It is curious that though the remembrance of 
ploys remains longer than that of home doings, it is not so 
easily imagined after a short interval. 

By imagining is here meant bringing np an accurate image 
of thoughts, words, and works, and not a mere geographical 
summary of voyages and travels. 

But to the point. Perhaps you remember going Avith my 
Uncle John Cay (7th Class), to visit Mr. Nicol in Inverleith 
Terrace. There we saw polarised light in abundance. I pur- 
posed going this session but was prevented. Well, sir, I 
received from the aforesaid Mr. Cay a " Nicol's prism," which 
Nicol had made and sent him. It is made of calc-spar, so 
arranged as to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary ray. 
So I adapted it to a camera lucida, and made charts of the 
strains in unannealed glass. 

I have set up the machine for showing the rings in crystals, 
which I planned during your visit last year. It answers very 

80 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

weU. I also made some experiments on compressed jellies in 
illustration of my props on that subject. The principal one 

was tliis : — The jelly is poured while hot 
into the annular space contained between a 
paper cylinder and a cork : then, when cold, 
the cork is twisted round, and the jelly ex- 
posed to polarised light, when a transverse 
cross, X , not + , appears with rings as the 
inverse square of the radius, all which is 
fully verified. Hip ! etc. Q.E.D. 

But to make an abrupt transcision^^ as 
Forbes says, we set off to Glasgow on Monday 2d ; to Inverary 
on 3d ; to Oban by Loch Awe on 4th ; round Mull, by Staffa 
and lona, on (5 th), and here on 6th. To-morrow we intend to 
get to Inverness and rest there. On Monday perhaps ? to the 
land of Beulah, and afterwards back by Caledon. Canal to 
Crinan Canal, and so to Arran, thence to Ardrossan, and then 
home. It is possible that you may get a more full account of 
all these things (if agreeable) when I fall in with a pen that 
will spell ; my present instrument partakes of the nature of 
skates, and I can hardly steer it. 

There is a beautiful base here for measuring the height, etc., 
of Ben Nevis. It is a straight and level road through a moss 
for about a mile that leads from the inn right to the summit. 

It is proposed to carry up stones and erect a cairn 3 feet 
high, and thus render it the highest mountain in Scotland. 

During the session Prof. Forbes gave as an exercise to 
describe a cycloid from top of Ben Nevis to Fort William, and 
slide trees down it. We took an observation of the slide, but 
found nothing to slide but snow. 

I think a body deprived of friction would go to Fort William 
in a cycloid in 49-6 seconds, and in 81 on an inclined plane. 
I believe I should have written the greater part of this letter to 
Allan Stewart, but I know not where he is, so you get it, and 
may read it or no as you like. 

' We will be at home between the 15th and 22d of this month, 
so you may write then, detailing your plans and specifying whether 
you intend to come north at all between this and November, for 
we would be glad if either you or Bob would disturb our solitude. 

^ See below, p. 92, 1. 10. Forbes was extra-precise in articulation. 
Hence the spelling. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 81 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair, 19th October 1849. 

Here is the way to dissolve any given historical event in a 
mythical solution, and then precipitate the seminal ideas in 
their primitive form. It is from Theodore Parker, an Ameri- 
can, and treats of the declaration of American Independence. 
" The story of the Declaration of Independence is liable to many 
objections if Ave examine it ci la mode Strauss. The Congress 
was held at a mythical town, whose very name is sus23icious, — 
Philadelphia, brotherly love. The date is suspicious: it was 
the fourth day of the fourth month (reckoning from April, as it 
is probable that the Heraclidte and Scandinavians, possible that 
the Americans, and certain that the Ebrews, did). Now 4 was 
a sacred number among Americans : the President was chosen 
for 4 years, 4 departments of affairs, 4 political powers, etc. 
The year also is suspicious. 1776 is but an ingeni[ous] ? com- 
bination of the sacred number, thus — 



Still further, the declaration is metaphysical and presupposes an 
acquaintance with the transcendental function on the part of 
the American people. Now the Kritih of Pure Reason was not 
yet published," etc. 

To THE Same. 

OdoUr 184-9. 

Since last letter, I have made some pairs of diagrams repre- 
senting solid figures and curves drawn in space ; of these 
pictures one is seen with each eye by means of mirrors, thus . . . 

This is Wheatstone's Stereoscope, which Sir David Brewster 
has taken up of late with much violence at the Brightish Asso- 
ciation. (The violence consists in making two lenses out of one 
by breaking it.) (See Report.) Last winter he exhibited at the 
Scottish Society of Arts Calotype pictures of the statue of Ariadne 
and the beast seen from two stations, which, when viewed pro- 
perly, appeared very solid. 

Since then I have been doing practical props on compression, 




[chap. v. 

and writinc; out tlie same tliat there may be no mistake. The 

nicest cases are those of spheres 
and cylinders. I have got an 
expression for the hardness of a 
cricket hall made of case and 
stuffing. I have also the equa- 
tions for a spherical cavity in an 
infinite solid, and this prop : 
Given that the polarised colour 
of any part of a cylinder of un- 
annealed glass is equal to the 
square of the distance from the 
centre (as determined by obser- 
vation), to find — 1st, the state 
of strain at each point ; 2d, the 
temperature of each. 

• • • • • 

I have got an observation of 
the latitude just now with a 
saucer of treacle, but it is very 

Pray excnse this wickedly per- 
plexed letter as an effect of the 
paucity of our communications. 
If you would sharpen me a little 
it would be acceptable, but when 

there is nobody to speak to one 
This is the likeness of a Skew Screw r, -i ,-, -p. ^f\,^^^^i^ 

Surface. [tosesj the gilt 01 speech. . . . 

To THE Same. 

31 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, N.B., 
Monday^ Nov. 5, 1849. 

I go to Gregory to Chemistry at 10, Morale Phil, at 12, and 
Pract. Chem. at 13, finishing at 14, unless perhaps I take an 
hour at Practical Mechanics at the School of Arts. I do not go 
to Sir W. H. logic, seeing I was there before. Langhorne has 
got your Buchananic notes. Why do you think that I can 
endure nothing but Mathematics and Logic, the only things I 

CHAP, v.] OPENma MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 83 

have plenty of ? and why do you presuppose my acquaintance 
with your preceptors, professors, tutors,^ etc. 1 . . , 

I don't wonder at your failing to take interest in the 
exponential theorem, seeing I dislike it, although I know the 
use and meaning of it. But I never would have^ unless Kelland 
had explained it. . . . 

In your next letter you may give an abstract of Aristotle's 
Rhet.j for I do not attend Aytoun, and so I know not what 
Rhet. is. I know Logic only by Reid's account of it. I will 
tell you about Wilson's Moral Philosophy, provided always you 
want to know, and signify your desire. 

To THE Same. 

{Edin.} Uth March 1850. 

As I am otherwise engaged, I take this opportunity of pro- 
voking you to write a letter or two. I have begun to write 
Elastic Equilibrium, and I find that I must write you a letter 
in order at lead, indeed,^ to serve on the one hand as an excuse 
to myself for sticking up, and on the other hand as a sluice for 
all the nonsense which I would have written. I therefore pro- 
pose to divide this letter as follows : — My say naturally breaks 
up into — 1. Education ; 2. Notions ; 3. Hearsay. 

1 . Education — Public. 

10-11. — Gregory is on Alloys of Metals just now. Last 
Saturday I was examined, and asked how I would do if the 
contents of a stomach were submitted to me to detect arsenic, 
and I had to go through the whole of the preparatory processes 
of chopping up the tripes, boiling with potash, filtering, boiling 
with H C L and K C L 0^^, all which Kemp the Practical- 
says are useless and detrimental processes, invented by chemists 
who want something to do. 11-12. — Prof. Forbes is on Sound 
and Light day about, as Bob well knows, and can tell you if 
he chooses. He (R. C.) has written an essay on Probabilities, 
with very grand props in it ; everything original, but no signs 
of reading, I guess. It was all written in a week. He has 
despaired of Optics. — 1 2-1. Wilson, after having fully explained 
his own opinions, has proceeded to those of other great men : 
Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Epicureans. He shows that Plato's 
2oroof of the immortality of the soul, from its immateriality, if it 

^ At Oxford. " See above, p. 69. 

84 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

be a proof, proves its pre-existence, the immortality of beasts and 
vegetables, and why not transmigration ? (Do you remember 
how Raphael tells Adam about meats and drinks in Paradise 
Lost T) (Greek Iambics, if you please.) He quarrels with 
Aristotle's doctrine of the Golden Mean, — " a virtue is the 
mean between two vices," — not properly understanding the 
saying. He chooses to consider it as a pocket rule to find virtue, 
which it is not meant to be, but an apophthegm or maxim, or 
dark saying, signifying that as a hill falls away on both sides 
of the top, so a virtue at its maximum declines by excess or 
defect (not of virtue but) of some variable quantity at the dis- 
posal of the will. Thus, let it be a virtue to give alms with 
your OAvn money, then it is a greater virtue to pay one's debts 
to the full. Now, a man has so much money : the more alms 
he gives up to a certain point, the more virtue. As soon as it 
becomes impossible to pay debts, the virtue of solvency decreases 
faster than that of almsgiving increases, so that the giving of 
money to the poor becomes a vice, so that the variable is the 
sum given away, by excess or defect of which virtue diminishes, 
say I ; so that Wilson garbles Aristotle, — but I bamboozle my- 
self. I say that some things are virtues, others are virtuous or 
generally lead to virtue. Substitute goods for virtues, and it 
will be more general : thus. Wisdom, Happiness, Virtue, are 
goods, and cannot be in excess ; but Knowledge, Pleasure, and — 
what ? (please tell me, Is it Propriety, Obedience, or what is it ?) 
lead to the other three, and are not so much goods as tending to 
good ; whereas particular knowledges, pleasures, and obediences 
may be in excess and lead to evils. I postpone the rest of my 
observations to my Collection of the Metaphysical principles of 
Moral Philosophy founded on the three laws of Liberty, Equality, 
Fraternity, thus expressed : — 

1. That which can be done is that which has been done ; 
that is, that the possibility (with respect to the agent) of an action 
(as simple) depends on the agent having had the sensation of 
having done it.^ 

2. That which ought to be done is that which (under the 
given conditions) produces, implies, or tends to the greatest 
amount of good (an excess or defect in the variables will lessen 
the good and make evil). 

^ Maxwell often insisted on this in conversation, with especial reference 
to our command of the muscles depending on experience of the muscular 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 85 

3. Moral actions can be judged of only by the principle of 
exchange ; that is (1), our own actions must be judged by the 
laws we have made for others ; (2), others must be judged by 
putting ourselves in their place. 

^2d March. 

At Practical Mechanics I have been turning Devils of sorts. 
For private studies I have been reading Young's Lectures^ 
Willis's Princijjles of Mechanism^ Moseley's Engineering and 
Mechanics^ Dixon on Heat, and Moigno's Eqoertoire d'Ojptique, 
This last is a very complete analysis of all that has been done 
in the optical way from Fresnel to the end of 1849, and there 
is another volume a-coming which will complete the work. 
There is in it besides common oj^tics all about the other things 
which accompany light, as heat, chemical action, photographic 
rays, action on vegetables, etc. 

My notions are rather few, as I do not entertain them just 
now. I have a notion for the torsion of wires and rods, not to \ 
be made till the vacation ; of experiments on the action of com- 
pression on glass, jelly, etc., numerically done up ; of papers 
for [the Physico-Mathematical Society (which is to revive in 
earnest next session !) ; on the relations of optical and mechanical 
constants, their desirableness, etc., and suspension-bridges, and 
catenaries, and elastic curves. Alex. Campbell, Agnew, and I 
are appointed to read up the subject of periodical shooting stars, 
and to prepare a list of the phenomena to be observed on the 
9th August and 13th November. The Society's barometer is 
to be taken up Arthur's Seat at the end of the session, when ^ 
Forbes goes up, and All students are invited to attend, so that 
the existence of the Society may be recognised. 

I have notions of reading the whole of Gorims Juris and 
Pandects in no time at all ; but these are getting somewhat dim, 
as the Cambridge scheme has been howked up from its repose 
in the regions of abortions, and is as far forward as an inspec- 
tion of the Cambridge Calendar and a communication with 

Mr. Bob is choosing his college. I rejected for him all but 
Peter's, Cains, or Trinity Hall, the last being, though legal, not 
in favour, or lazy, or something. Caius is populous, and is 
society to itself. Peter's is select, and knows the University. 
Please give me some notions on these things, both for Bob and 
me. I postpone my answer to you about the Gorham business 

86 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

till another time, when also I shall have read Waterland on 
Regeneration, which is with Mrs. Morrieson, and some Pusey 
books I know. In the meantime I admire the Judgement as a 
composition of great art and ingenuity. 

"What cross influences had delayed his entrance at 
Cambridge may be guessed at, but cannot be clearly 
known. Mr. Clerk Maxwell was always slow in making 
up his mind, and the habit of inertia had grown upon him. 
There had been a lingering expectation, to which James 
alludes in the preceding letter, that he would follow his 
father's profession and become a member of the Scottish 
Bar. And although he himself felt, as he told me at the 
time, that it was " another kind of laws " he was called 
upon to study, the practical result of this conviction was 
slow in asserting itself. The fact that in going to Cam- 
bridge he decided against the profession which his friends 
had destined for him made the step a more serious one 
than it might have otherwise been. The close and con- 
stant intercourse between father and son made the parting 
more difficult. James's delicate health-^ would count 
heavily amongst the reasons contra, and certain floating 
prejudices about the " dangers of the English universities," 
Puseyism, infidelity, etc., had then considerable hold, especi- 
ally on the Presbyterian mind. James himself was patient, 
and had hitherto decided nothing for himself. Only when 
Tait and Allan Stewart were already at Cambridge, my 
brother Eobert destined for it, and myself at Oxford, his 
own voice was added to those which had long been urging 
the claims of Cambridge,^ and then they prevailed. There 

^ On this subject the following entry from Mrs. Morrieson's Diary is 
of some interest: — ''5th Deer. ISJfi. — L. and R. dined with Miss Cay. 
James Maxwell has been under her care during his father's abseDce and 
has been suffering very much from toothache and earache, in consequence 
of cutting his eye-teeth — an extraordinary thing at 15." To which may 
be added the following from his father's Diary : — '' I84.6, Sa., Dec. 12. — 
Jas. still aflfected by the tooth, . . . Took a short walk, and came back 
by Mr. Nasmith (dentist), and went in, and on consultation, got the tooth 
drawn at once — it was nicely and quickly done, and Jas. never winced." 

2 Amongst these may be specially mentioned Mr. Hugh Blackburn 
and Dean Ramsay. Professor Forbes and Charles Mackenzie were also 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 87 ^ 

had been searchings of heart on the subject as early as 
April 184:9, when the following entries occur in the 
Diary : — 

T. 17. — Called on Hugh Blackburn to talk about Cambridge. 

AV. 18. — Called on Capt. Wemyss to talk of Cambridge, and 

Prof. Forbes called on me and had a talk on James's studies, etc. 

The only other document at my command which bears 
upon the point is a journal kept by my mother, then Mrs. 
Morrieson, in which she occasionally noted matters relating 
to her sons' friends. She was herself at this time (1850) 
making inquiries about Cambridge for my brother Kobert. 
The following entries may be quoted: — 

1850. \st Aj)ril, — James Clerk Maxwell came in full of 
Forbes's recommendation of Trinity College above all others at 
Cambridge, and that Peterhouse was less expensive than Caius ; 
that the latter is too full to admit of rooms, and freshmen are 
obliged to lodge out. 

I^th October. — I had a kind letter from Mr. C. M., from 
Glenlair, after placing his son James at Peterhouse. He has 
already distinguished himself at Edinburgh by papers on the 
compression of solids, and other scientific subjects, read for him 
at the Royal Society, His manners are very peculiar ; but 
having good sense, sterling worth, and good humour, the inter- 
course with a CoUe^^e world will rub off his oddities. I doubt 
not of his becoming a distinguished man, 

January 1851. — James Clerk Maxwell often comes in. He 
is full of genius. He went to Cambridge with Robert in Octo- 
ber, R. to Caius, James to Peterhouse ; but he is " migrating " 
to Trinity, and I have no doubt he will be a distinguished 
Philosopher some day. 

In concluding the account of this period, I again beg 
leave to quote from Professor Tait's excellent paper : — 

The winter of 1847 found us together in the classes of Forbes 
and Kelland, where he highly distinguished himself. With the 
former he Avas a particular favourite, being admitted to the free 

interested in the question. Professor Blackburn, in particular, insisted 
that the mathematical discipline of Cambridge would enable him to 
exercise his genius more effectively. 


88 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

use of the class apparatus for original experiments. He lingered 
here hehind most of his former associates, having spent three 
years at the University of Edinburgh, working (without any 
assistance or supervision) with physical and chemical apparatus, 
and devouring all sorts of scientific works in the library.^ Dur- 
ing this period he wrote two valuable papers, which are pub- 
lished in our Transactions , on The Theory of Rolling Curves and 
on The Equilibrium of Elastic Solids. Thus he brought to Cam- 
bridge, in the autumn of 1850, a mass of knowledge which was 
really immense -for so young a man, but in a state of disorder 
appalling to his methodical jjrivate tutor. 2 Though that tutor 
was William Hopkins, the pupil to a great extent took his own 
way, and it may safely be said that no high wrangler of recent 
years ever entered the Senate-house more imperfectly trained 
to produce "paying" work than did Clerk Maxwell. But by 
sheer strength of intellect, though with the very minimum of 
knowledge how to use it to advantage under the conditions of 
the Examination, he obtained the position of Second Wrangler, 
and was bracketed equal with the Senior Wrapgler in the higher 
ordeal of the Smith's Prizes. His name appears in the Cam- 
bridge Calendar as Maxwell; of Trinity, but he was originally 
entered at Peterhouse, and kept his first term there, in that 
small but most ancient foundation which has of late furnished 
Scotland with the majority of the professors of mathematics and 
natural philosophy, in her four universities. 

^ "From the University Library lists for this period it appears that 
Maxwell perused at home Fourier's Theorie de la Chalcur, Monge's 
Geometrie Descriptive, Newton's Optics, Willis's Princijjles of Mechanism, 
Cauchy's Calcul Differentielj Taylor's Scientific Memoirs, and many 
other works of a high order. Unfortunately no record is kept of books 
consulted in the reading-room. " 

2 On the other hand it should be mentioned (though the statements 
are not contradictory) that Hopkins used to say he had never known 
Maxwell "make a mistake," i.e. he never misapprehended the conditions 
of any problem. Of this fact, which was communicated to me by my 
brother, "*! have since received the following confirmation from Mr. W. 
N. Lawson, of the Equity Bar : — Mr. Lawson quotes from a diary kept 
by himself at the time — ''July 15, 1853. — He (Hopkins) was talking to 
me this evening about Maxwell. He says he is unquestionably the most 
extraordinary man he has met with in the whole range of his experience ; 
he says it appears impossible for Maxwell to think incorrectly on physical • 
subjects ; that in his analysis, however, he is far more deficient ; he looks * 
■upon him as a great genius, with all its eccentricities, and prophesies that 
one day he will shine as a light in physical science, a prophecy in which 
all his fellow -students strenuously unite." . 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 89 

To the books mentioned by Professor Tait in his foot- 
note should be added Poisson's Mechanics/ which, was taken 
out from the Advocates' Library 6th March 1848, and 
carried off into the country. A copy of Fourier's Theorie 
de la Chaleur was ordered through Maclachlan, 6th April 
1849, for 25s. 

■ Letters, April to Septeimber 1850. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Glenlair, ^6th April 1850. 

As I ought to tell you of our departure from Edinburgh and 
arrival here, so I ought to tell you of many other things besides. 
Of things pertaining to myself there are these : — The tutor of 
Peterhouse has booked me, and I am booked for Peterhouse, 
but will need a little more booking before I can write Algebra 
like a book. 

I suppose I must go through "Wrigley's problems and Paley's 
Evidences in the same sort of way, and be able to translate 
when required Eurip. Iioli. in Aulid. In the meantime I have 
my usual superfluity of plans. 

1. Classics — Eurip. Icjy. ev Kv\. for Cambridge. (I hope no 
Latin or Greek verses except for honours.) Greek Testament, 
Epistles, for my own behoof, and perhaps some of Cicero De 
Officiis or something else for Latin. 

2. Mathematics — Wrigley's Problems, and Trig, for Cam- 
bridge ; properties of the Ellipsoid and other solids for practice 
with Spher. Trig. Nothing higher if I can help it. 

3. Nat. Phil. — Simple mechanical problems to produQe that 
knack of solving problems which Prof. Forbes has taught me to 
despise. Common Optics at length ; and for experimental 
philosophy, twisting and bending certain glass and metal rods, 
making jellies, unannealed glass, and crystals, and dissecting 
eyes — and playing Devils. 

4. Metaphysics — Kant's Kritih of Pure Reason in German, 
read with a determination to make it agree with Sir W. 

5. Moral Philosophy — Metaphysical principles of moral phil- 
osophy. Hobbes' Leviathan, with his moral philosophy, to be 
read as the only man who has decided opinions and avows them 

90 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [cha-p. v. 

in a distinct way. To examine the first part of the seventh 
chapter of Matthew in reference to the moral principles which 
it supposes, and compare with other passages. 

But I question if I shall be able to overtake all these things, 
although those of different kinds may well be used as alternate 

I read in Edinburgh Wilson's Poems to see what he used to 
be like, and how much he had improved since then. Did you 
finish Festus?! I had only two days to read it, so that I 
skipped part of the long speech and a good deal of the jollifica- 
tion, which I think the dullest part of the book. 

The opening makes one think that it is to be an imitation of 
the book of Job, but you soon see that you have to do with a 
dreamy mortal without a profession, but vain withal, and a hero 
among women, a jolly companion of some men, admired of 
students for talking of things which he knows not, nor can 
know, having a so-called philosophy, an intuitive science, and 
an underived religion, and mth all these not perfect, but need- 
ing more expanded views of the folly of strict virtue and out- 
ward decency, of the magnificence, nay, of the duty of sinning, 
and of the identity of virtue and vice, and of all opposites. He 
takes for his friend one whom Wilson calls a very 2^^^^'^ devil, 
who has wonderful mechanical powers, but never attempts but 
once the supposed object of his visit to earth, namely, tempta- 
tion. He takes a more rational view of affairs than Festus in 
general, but is so extremely refined from ordinary devils, that 
the only passage sufficieutly characteristic for ordinary rapid 
readers to recognise is the sermon to the crowd, as the speech 
in Hell is quite raw. He has not such an absolute and intui- 
tive sense of things as Festus, and does not change so much 
according to his company. He seems a sincere, good-natured, 
unselfish devil ; while Festus is very changeable, solemn when 
alone, jolly when with the jolly, drunk with the drunk, open 
with Lucifer, reserved in good company, amorous with all 
women, talkative and serious with all angels and saints, stem 
towards the unfortunate, and in all his affections altogether 

The book is said to have a plan, but no plot. The plan is 
an exposition of the state of a man's mind after having gone 
through German metaphysics. It was one destitute of notions, 

^ Festus, a poem by Philip James Bailey, 1849. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 91 

and has now been convinced that all these notions are one and 
the same. It is neither meat, nor drink, nor rank, nor money, 
nor any common thing he wants : "he is sure it isn't," and he 
is sore troubled for want of some great thing to do ; and when 

L r starts into proximity he is the very being he wanted to 

speak to ; " he knew who it would be," and recognises him at 
once. An opportunity is thus given for showing two ways of 
thinking about things, and therein lies the matter of the book. 

This may be seen in L r's sermon and Festus' prayer. To 

turn and get out of the confusion of this letter, pray let me hear 
your opinion of the book. It may be considered thus : — 

1. People read the book and wonder, why ? 

It is not read for the sake of the story — that is plain ; nor 
for the clearness with which certain principles are developed, 
nor for the consistency of the book, nor for the variety of the 
characters ; there must therefore be something overpoAveringl}^ 
attractive to hold you to the book. Some say he has fine 
thoughts, sufficient to set up fifty poets ; to which some may 
answer, Where are they ? Eead it in a spirit of cold criticism, 
and they vanish. There is not one that is not either erroneous, 
absurd, German, common, or Daft. Where lies the beauty ? 
In the reader's mind. The author has evidently been thinking 
when he wrote it, and that not in words, but inwardly. The 
henevolent reader is compelled to think too, and it is so great a 
relief to the reader to get out of wordiness that he can put up 
with insanity, absurdity, profanity, and even inanity, if by so 
doing he can get into rajpioort with one who is so transcendental, 
and yet so easy to follow, as the poet. When Galileo set his 
[lamp] a-s winging by breathing on it, his power lay in the rela- 
tion between the interval of his breaths and the time of vibration ; 
so in Festus the mind that begins to perceive that his train of 
thoughts is that of the poem is readily made to follow on. There 
are some passages where one breaks loose, especially the rhyming 
description of the subpoenaing of the planets, and the notion of 
the angel of the earth giving Festus a pair of bracelets, and the 
way in which F. improves his mind by travel. 

. . . Beauty is attributed to an object when the subject 
anticipates pleasure in it. A true pleasure is a consciousness of 
the right action of the faculty or function or power. Happiness 
is the integral of pleasure, as wisdom is of knowledge. . . . 
Don't take all this about Festus for truth, as I don't believe 

92 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

much of it, and I'll maybe tell you a new story if you tell 
me one. 

What of St. Peter, as compared with the Keys and with 


From Prof. Forbes. 

Edinburgh, JjtTi May 1850. 
My dear Sir — Professor Kelland, to whom your paper was 
referred by the Council R. S., reports favourably upon it, but 
complains of the great obscurity of several parts, owiug to the 
ahru2)t transitions and want of distinction between what is assumed 
and what is proved in various passages, which he has marked in 
pencil, and which I trust that you will use your utmost effort 
to make plain and intelligible. It is perfectly evident that it 
must be useless to publish a paper for the use of scientific readers 
generally, the steps of Avhich cannot, in many places, be followed 
by so expert an algebraist as Prof. Kelland ; — if, indeed, they 
be steps at all and not assumptions of theorems from other 
writers who are not quoted. You will please to pay particular 
attention to clear up these passages, and return the MS. by post 
to Professor Kelland, West Cottage, Wardie, Edinburgh, so that 
he may receive it by Saturday the 11th, as I shall then have 
left town. — Believe me, yours sincerely, 

James D. Forbes. 

To L. Campbell, Esq. 

[June? 1850] 
As there has been a long truce between us since I last got 
a letter from you, and as I do not intend to despatch this here 
till I receive Bob's answer with your address, I have no ques- 
tions to answer, and any news would turn old by keeping, so I 
intend briefly to state my country occupations (otherwise prepa- 
ration for Cambridge, if you please). I find that after breakfast 
is the best time for reading Greek and Latin, because if I read 
newspapers or any of those things, then it is dissipation and 
ruin ; and if I begin with props, experiments, or calculations, 
then I would be continually returning on them. At first I had 
got pretty well accustomed to regular study with a Dictionary, 
and did about 120 lines of Eurip. a day, namely, 40 revised, 
40 for to-day, and 40 for to-morrow, with the looking up of 

^ i.e. Is Robert Campbell going to Peterhouse or Caius? 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 93 

to-morrow's words. As I am blest with Dunbar's Lexicon, it is 
not very biglily probable that I will find any word at all ; if I 
do, it is nsed in a different sense from Dunbar's (so much the 
better), and it has to be made out from the context (either of 
the author or the Dictionary). So much for regular study, 
which I have nearly forgot, for when I had got to the end of 
the first chorus I began to think of the rods and wires that I 
had in a box. They have entirely stopped Eurip., for I found 
that if I spent the best part of the day on him, and took reason- 
able exercise, I could not much advance the making of the 
apparatus for tormenting these wires and rods. So the rods 
got the better of the Lexicon. The observations on the rods 
are good for little till they are finished ; they are of three kinds, 
and are all distinguished for accuracy and agreement among 

Thus — a rod bent by a weight at the middle takes the form 
of a curve, which is calculated to 
be one of the fourth order. Let 
A C B be the rod bent by a weight 
at C. Mirrors fastened to it at A 
and B make known the changes 
of the inclination of the tangent 
to the rod there, and a lens at C 
j)rojects an image of a copper scale of inches and parts from A 
to B, where it is observed, and so the deflection of the rod at 
C becomes known. Now the calculated value of the elasticity 
deduced from the deflection diff'ers from that deduced from the 
observations on the mirrors by about -^^ of either, and as the 
deflection at C was about ^ inch, the difference of the observed 
and calculated deflections is about -o^y- of an inch, which is 
near enough for home-made philosophical instruments to go. 

Thus you see I would run on about rods and wires, and 
weights, angles, and inches, and copper and iron, and silvered 
glass, and all sorts of practicalities. Where is now Eurip. ? — 
Ay, where ? On the top of the Lexicon, and behind bundles of 
observations and calculations. When will he come out ? for he 
was a good soul after all, and wise (beg his pardon, wiser). For 
the rest I have been at Shakespeare and Cowper. I used to 
put Thomson and Cowper together (why?), and Thomson first ; 
now they are reversed and far asunder. 

As I suppose my occupations are not very like yours, I pray 
you send me an account of what Oxford notions you have got, 

94 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

either from Oxonians, books, or observation ; and as, if I was 
to question you, you could but answer my questions, I leave 
you to question yourself and send me some of the answers. 

The only regular College science that I have thought of 
lately is Moral Philosophy. Whether it is an Oxford science I 
know not ; but it must be, if not taught, at least interesting ; 
so I purpose to fill up this letter with unuttered thoughts (or 
crude), which, as they are crammed into words, may appear 
like men new waked from sleep, who leap in confusion into 
one another's breeches, hardly fit to be seen of decent men. 
Then think not my words mad if their clothes fit them not, for 
they have not had an opportunity of trying them on before. 

There are some Moral Philosophers whose opinions are 
remarkable for their general truth and good sense, but not for 
their utility, fixity, or novelty. 

They tell you that in all your actions you ought to be 
virtuous, that benevolence is a virtue, that lawful rulers ought 
to be obeyed, that a man should give ear to his conscience. 

Others tell you of unalterable laws of right and wrong, of 
Eternal truth and the Everlasting fitnesses of things. Others 
of the duty of foiloT\dng nature, of every virtue between two 
\aces (Aristot.), and of the golden mean. That a man should 
do what is best on the whole (1) for himself; (2) for other men 
only, and not himself ; (3) for the whole universe, including 
himself, and so on. Now I think that the answers to the 
following questions should be separate parts of M. Ph. : — 

1. What is man? This is the introduction, and is called 
statical or proper Metaphysics. 

2. What are the laws of human action ? Action beinsr all 
that man does — thought, word, deed. 

3. What are the motives of human actions ? 

4. What actions do men perform in preference to what 
others, and why ? 

5. What is the principle by which men judge some actions 
right, others wrong ? 

6. What do particular men think of this principle ? What 
are their doctrines ? 

7. What is the best criticism of right and wrong, or what 
(to us) is absolute right ? 

8. What are the best motives of human actions ? 

9. How are these motives to be implanted without violating 
the laws of human action ? 

CHAP, v.] OPElSriNG MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 95 

1 0. What might, or rather what willj mankind become after 
this has been effected ? 

Moral Philosophy differs from Nat. Phil, in this, that the 
more new things we hear of in Nat.^ Phil, the better ; but in 
Mor, Phil, the old things are best, so that a common objection 
to Mor. Phil, is that everybody knows it all before. If a man 
tells you that tyranny and anarchy are bad things, and that a 
just and lawful government is a good thing, it sounds very fine, 
but only means that when men think the government bad 
from excess or defect they give it the name of tyranny and 
anarchy. The ancient virtue of Tyrannicide was a man's deter- 
mination to kill the king whenever he displeased him. Thus 
it is easy to call a dog a bad name to beat him for. But there 
are other parts of Mor. Phil, in which there are differences of 
opinion, such as the nature of selfishness, self-love, appetites, 
desires, and affections, disinterestedness (what a word for a rush 
at !), which belong to the first three questions, and so on. I 
have told you something (pp. 84-85) of three laws which I had 
been considering. In all parts of Mor. Phil, these three laws 
seem to meet one, and in each system of Morals they take a 
different form. Now, that I might not deceive myself in think- 
ing that I was safe out of the hands of the j)hilosophers who 
argue these matters, I have been looking into the books of 
Moralists the most opposed to one another, to see what it is that 
makes them differ, and wherein they agree. The three princi- 
ples concerning the nature of man are continually changing 
their shape, so that it is not easy to catch them in their best 
shape. Nevertheless : 

Lemma : Metaphysics. — A man thinks, feels, and wills, and 
therefore Metaphysicians give him the three faculties of cogni- 
tion, feeling, and conation. 

Cognition is what is called Understanding, and is most thought 
of generally. Feelings are pleasures, pains, appetites, desires, 
aversions, approval and disapproval, love, hate, and all affections. 

Conations are acts of will, whatever they be. 

Now to move a man's will it is necessary to move his affec- 
tions. (How ? Wait !) For no convictions of the understand- 
ing will do, for a man does what he likes to do, not what he 
believes to be best for himself or others. The feelings can only 
be moved by notions coming through the understanding, for 
cognition is the only inlet of thoughts. Therefore, although it 
can be proved that self-love leads to all goodness, or, in other 

96 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

words, tliat goodness is happiness, and self loves happiness, yet 
it can also he proved that men are not ahle to act rightly from 
pure seK-love ; so that though self-love is a very fine theoretical 
principle, yet no man can keep it always in view, or act reason- 
ably upon it. Now, most moralists take for granted that the 
end which men, good or bad, pursue is their own happiness, 
and that happiness, false or true, is the motive of every action, 
and that it is the only right motive. Others say that 
benevolence is the only virtue, anjd that any action not done 
expressly for the good of others is entitled to no praise. 

Most of the ancients, and Hobbes among the moderns, are of 
tlie first opinion. Hutcheson and Brown (I think) are of the 
second, and call the first selfish Philosophers ' and the selfish 
school. A few consider benevolence to the whole universe as 
the proper motive of every action, but they all (says Macintosh) 
confound men's motives with the criterion of right and wrong, 
the reason why a thing is right, and that which actually causes 
a man to do it. In every book on Moral Philosophy some 
reference is made to that precept or maxim, which is declared 
to be the spirit of the law and the prophets (see Matt. vii. 12), 
and the application of it is a good mark of the uppermost 
thoughts or mode of thinking of the author. 

Hobbes lays down as the first agreement of men to secure 
their safety, that a man should lay down so much of his natural 
liberty with respect to others, as he wishes that other men 
should to him. Hobbes having shown that men, in what the 
poets and moralists call a state of nature (that is, of equality and 
liberty, and without government), must be in a state of war, 
every man against every other, and therefore of danger to every 
man, deduces the obligation of obeying the powers that be from 
the necessity of Power to prevent universal war. Adam Smith's 
theory of Moral Sentiments (which is the most systematic next 
to Hobbes) is that men desire others to sympathise with them, 
and therefore do those things which may be sympathised with ; 
that is, as Smith's opponents say, men ought to be guided by 
the desire of esteem and sympathy. Not so. Smith does not 
leave us there, but I suppose you have read him, as he is almost 
the only Scotch Moral Philosopher. 

As it is Saturday night I will not write very much more. 
I was thinking to-day of the duties of [the] cognitive faculty. 
It is universally admitted that duties are voluntary, and that 
the will governs understanding by giving or withholding Atten- 

CHAP, v.] gPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. 97 

tion. They say that Understanding ought to work by the 
rules of right reason. These rules are, or ought to be, contained 
in Logic ; but the actual science of Logic is conversant at present 
only with things either certain, impossible, or entirehj doubtful, 
none of which (fortunately) we have to reason on. Therefore 
the true Logic for this world is the Calculus of Probabilities, 
which takes account of the magnitude of the probability (which 
is, or which ought to be in a reasonable man's mind). This 
branch of Math., which is generally thought to favour gambling, 
dicing, and wagering, and therefore highly immoral, is the only 
" Mathematics for Practical Men," as we ought to be. Now, as 
human knowledge comes by the senses in such a way that the 
existence of things external is only inferred from the harmonious 
(not similar) testimony of the different senses, Understanding, 
acting by the laws of right reason, will assign to different truths 
(or facts, or testimonies, or what shall I call them) different 
degrees of probability. Now, as the senses give new testimonies 
continually, and as no man ever detected in them any real 
inconsistency, it follows that the probability and credihility of 
their testimony is increasing day by day, and the more a man 
uses them the more he believes them. What is believing ? 
When the probability (there is no better word found) in a man's 
mind of a certain proposition being true is greater than that of 
its being false, he believes it with a proportion of faith corres- 
ponding to the probability, and this probability may be increased 
or diminished by new facts. This is faith in general. When 
a man thinks he has enough of evidence for some notion of his 
he sometimes refuses to listen to any additional evidence p'o or 
con, saying, " It is a settled question, prohatis 'probata ; it needs 
no evidence ; it is certain." This is knowledge as distinguished 
from faith. He says, "I do not believe ; I know." " If any 
man thinketh that he knoweth, he knoweth yet nothing as he 
ought to know." This knowledge is a shutting of one's ears to 
all arguments, and is the same as *' Implicit faith" in one of its 
meanings. " Childlike faith," confounded with it, is not credulity, 
for children are not credulous, but find out sooner than some 
think that many men are liars. I must now to bed, so good 
night ; only please to write when you get this, if convenient, 
and state the probability of your coming here. We perhaps 
will be in Edinburgh when the Wise men are there. Now you. 
are invited in a corner of a letter by 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

98 . JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. v. 

Glenlair, 16th September 1850. 

Professor W. Thomson has asked me ^ to make him some 
magne-crystallic preparations which I am now busy with. Now, 
in some of these bismuth is required, which is not to be found 
either in Castle-Douglas or Dumfries. I have, therefore, thought 
fit to request you, and do now request you, during your transit 
through Edinburgh, on your way here, to go either to Mr. Kemp's 
establishment in Infirmary Street, beside the College, or to some 
other dealer in metals, and there purchase and obtain two ounces 
of metallic bismuth (called Regulus of Bismuth), either powder 
or lumpish — all one. Thus you may perceive that the end of 
this letter is in two ounces of Kegulus of Bismuth, that is, the 
metal bismuth, which if you do bring it with you, will please 
me welL Not that I am turned chemist. By no means ; but 
common cook. My fingers are abominable with glue and chalk, 
gum and flour, wax and rosin, pitch and tallow, black oxide of 
iron, red ditto and vinegar. By combining these ingredients, I 
strive to please Prof. Thomson, who intends to submit them to 
Tyndall and Knoblauch, who, by means of them, are to discover 
the secrets of nature, and the origin of the magne-crystallic 

Now, if by coming here you could turn me from a cook to 
a grammarian by an irresistible influence you would do well ; 
but if you remember the way I used to translate at the Academy, 
distorting the Latin of Livy to mean what I had preconceived, 
you will understand that at first I had not only to find out 
what the author meant, but to become convinced that it could 
not be what I thought it was. 

John Wilson's lectures on Moral Philosophy do not improve 
on reconsideration ; they become indistinct and are resolved 
into the excellence of happiness, the acquiredness of conscience, 
and general good-humour, philanthropy and ct^tXayaOca. Here 
is an outline of Abstract Mor. Phil. — 

1. The principles of the growth of the mind (that is, the 
acquisition of opinions, propensities, and abilities). 

2. The principles of government (the governor suits his 
actions to the laws of the thing governed). 

^ This request had probably some connection with the meeting of the 
**wise men" in Edinburgh. Maxwell had been present, and had spoken 
in Section A. Professor Swan remembers the surprise felt by all but 
Forbes at seeing the beardless stripling rise to dispute some point in the 
colour theory with Sir David Brewster. 

CHAP, v.] OPENING MANHOOD— 1847 to 1850. . 99 

3. The principle of sympathy (sauce for goose is sauce for 

Out of these heads may one make something ? 

As it is bed-time, and I have to put the glue and oxide of 
iron into shape to-night, I must stop here, and remain in hope 
of seeing you soon (say when). 

y 100 . JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 




TO JANUARY 1854 iET. 19-22. 

Before placing his son at Cambridge Mr. Clerk Maxwell 
had, as was usual with him, consulted various persons, 
including Professor James Forbes and Professor Kelland 
of Edinburgh, Professors Thomson and Blackburn of 
Glasgow, and Charles Mackenzie, afterwards Archdeacon 
of Natal and Missionary Bishop for Central Africa, then 
a Lecturer of Caius College, Cambridge.^ Forbes strongly- 
advised Trinity, and offered an introduction to Whewell ; 
but after various reasons urged for Trinity, Caius, and 
Peterhouse, the decision was in favour of Peterhouse. 

Maxwell's first impression of college life, like that of 
some other clever freshmen, was not one of unalloyed 
satisfaction. He was transplanted from the rural solitudes 
of Galloway into the midst of a society which was of 
curious interest to him, but did not make him feel im- 
mediately at home. He found himself amongst the fresh- 
men spelling out Euclid again, and again " monotonously 
parsing" a Greek play. He had brought with him his 
scraps of gelatine, gutta-percha, and unannealed glass, his 
bits of magnetised steel, and other objects, which were 
apt to appear to the uninitiated as " matter in the wrong 
place." And this in the home of science 1 Nor were his 
experiments facilitated by the casual " dropping-in " of the 
average undergraduate. 

His boyish spirits and his social temper, together wdth 

^ He was the younger brother of Mr. MackeDzie of Portmore, "wha 
lived at Silverknowe, and had married Isabella Wedderbm-n. 


the novelty of the scene, and a deep-rooted presentiment 
of the possibilities of Cambridge, no doubt made even his 
first term a happy one. But , there was an undercurrent 
of restlessness and misgiving. And this made him lend a 
readier ear to the advice which was pressed upon him 
from various quarters, that he should migrate to Trinity. 

The ground of this advice was simply that from the 
large proportion of high wranglers at Peterhouse, and the 
smallness of the foundation, the chances of a fellowship 
there for a mathematical man were less than at Trinity 
College. And this was the reason which, together with 
his son's evident wish, most weighed with Mr. Clerk 
Maxwell. He was also struck with the fact that " Porter 
senior," who about this time became Maxwell's private 
tutor, recommended the change, although he himself 
belonged to Peterhouse. But the friend whose counsel in 
this whole matter was most jmzed both by father and son 
was Charles Mackenzie, of whom one who was his colleague 
at Cains has been heard to say that he was ' ' the best of all 
men whom he had known." 

On Maxwell's own mind, it need hardly be said, the 
prospect of a fellowship had little or no influence, except 
in so far as he desired to please his father. His own 
prime motive was undoubtedly the hope, in which he was 
not disappointed, that the larger College would afford him 
ampler opportunities for self-improvement. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

St. Peter's College, ISth Oct. 1850. 

You tell me to lay my account with being dull at first, and JSt. 19. 
to condole with Robert, whereas there is continual merrimeut > 
(stop it 1), and Robert is not settled yet. As for secrets of 
nature, they are not for Freshmen even to think of. Now for 
personal journal, with observations on the manners and customs, 
eLo. ... 

"We spent the night at Peterborough, and saw the Cathedral 
in the morning. Very grand outside. West end a fine -^^ 
subject for calotype seen right perpendicular, and the 
point P for a picture made by hand, fine weeping 
willows, etc. 

102 . JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

Proceeded to Ely with some Gloucester people we met in the 
Cathedral, and inspected Ely Cathedral like regular Archbishops. 
Went up the steeple to see land like sea. Heard all the people 
talking of the enclosure of the Wash to be called Victoria 
county, and to be worth 30s. per acre. Got to Cambridge, and 
called on Mr. Fuller,^ after getting room for my father (as the 
Bull was full) in a lodgment. Got rooms in College, sitting 
and bed, six paces from Chapel, and good light. Had Tait to 
tea. Next day breakfast with Tait and Steele (of Glasgow and 
Ireland, and a future wrangler), and so on in detail. 

M'Kenzie came up to-day. He took us to most of the 
colleges. Saw Newton and Bacon in Trin. Chapel. At Hall 
there was a proclamation to this effect nearly : — Whereas (on 
the — day of — , 1850), application was made to the Syndicate 
(or Senate or something), by William Cooke, for leave to erect 
his equestrian establishment ; and whereas, considering the im- 
moral nature of said establishment, it was unanimously resolved 
to refuse leave. And whereas, notwithstanding said refusal, 
said W. C. did publicly notify his intention of putting up said 
estab. : Be it known, etc., that it is resolved and enacted, that 
if any undergraduate or graduate in statu pupillari^ or tutor, or 
fellow, or master, etc., be caught at said establishment, he will 
be punished with expulsion, rustication, Castigation, or such 
other punishment as the case may require.'-^ 

So there is to be a quarrel between the Town and University 
about this, and also about whether they are to pay poor rate, as 
the University is supposed to be extra-parochial. 

Prelim, exam, to-morrow at 9. Peter can't afford to pluck 
at it. C. H. Robertson has passed his at Trin. He is in Ling's 
lodgings. He wants to keep quiet and to read by himself, and 
have only old acquaintances. 


Hope to write you more again ; but to conclude and get to 
bed : You are always talking of your withering up, awful 
change, etc. Now I have not a sermon on this subject by me, 
neither will I deliver an extempore one ; but though I do not 

1 Then Tutor of Peterhouse, now Professor Emeritus of Aberdeen. 

2 Contrast with this the foUo^ving entry in the Diary : — " 1842, Feb. 
19, Saticrday.— Go with James to Cooke's Circus at 2 p.m. at York 
Hotel, Arena— being James's first time of seeing such entertainments. " 


pretend to have examined you in all the branches, yet I would 
take the liberty to say that with respect to intellect, as the 
Laird of Dumbiedykes said, " It'll be growing when ye're sleep- 
ing," — that is to say, Avhat you take for corruption and decay is 
only stratification. 1 

The letters written to his father by Maxwell while an 
undergraduate at Cambridge have unfortunately disap- 
peared. But something of their tenor may be gathered 
from Mr. Maxwell's letters to his son. The following 
extracts are related to his first term at college : — 

From his Father. 

Glcnlair, 22d Odoher 1850, 
Did Prof. Thomson catch you, and view your " dirt ; " ^ and 
if so, what thought he thereof ? 

Glcnlair, 30th Odoher 1850. 
Who is the lecturer in the Greek play ? Did I see him 
while at Cambridge ? I am sorry to hear the Greek class is a 
bad one, for you would have got more good of it if [it] had 
required you to work to maintain a good position in it ; but 
you should study your part well, for it is not comparative 
excellence, but absolute, that will be of use in University 

Glenlair, 8th Now. 1850. 

You say your lecturer in Greek is good, so I hope you profit 
accordingly, altho' your class-fellows are not great scholars. . . . 
.... It would be necessary to take care there are no mouse- 
holes. A very hungry Chapel mouse might come through. 
There had been an entrance that way to the Chapel. It would 
be to the organ loft. 

Have you called on Profs. Sedgvvick at Trin., and Stokes at 
Pembroke ? If not, you should do both. Stokes will be most 
in your way if he takes you in hand at all. Sedgwick is also 
a great Don in his line, and if you were entered in Geology 
would be a most valuable acquaintance ; and, besides, not going 
to him would be uncivil, both to him and to the Alisons, after 

^ See above, p. 70, note. 

- " Jamsie's dirt," the disrespectful name for the bits of unaunealed 
glass, etc. etc., in the Coterie- S;pi^ache. 

jlOi JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

their having arranged the introduction. Provide yourself 
with cards. 

It might be worth your while to stop at York to view it. 

Glenlair, 13th Novr. 1850. 

I am glad you have communication with Stokes and Mac- 

Is all Cambridge up in arms against the Pope and Cardinal 
Wiseman 1 I cannot enter into all the fuss about it. If there 
is any law to hinder people calling themselves Cardinals or 
Archbishops, let it be acted on ; but if there is no such law, 
let the assumption of empty titles ... be laughed at. 

Men of genius are often represented by themselves and 
others as owing little or nothing to their education. This 
certainly was not true of Maxwell, whose receptivity was 
, only less than his originality. He laid a strong retentive 
v/ grasp on all that was given to him, and set his own stamp 
on it in return. Both what was good and what was defec- 
tive in his early training had left a lasting impress on him, 
and it was by no means an indifferent circumstance that, 
in the maturity of his powers, he entered Trinity College, 
Cambridge, at an advanced period of the long mastership 
of Whewell. 

I well remember my surprise, not unmixed with need- 
less pangs of boyish jealousy, on finding in the following 
summer that Maxwell had all at once made a troop of 
friends. Their names were always on his lips, and he 
loved by some vivid trait to indicate the character of each. 
His acquaintance was multifarious, and he had many pithy 
anecdotes to relate of other than his own particular 

He was at first in lodgings in King's Parade, where he 
" chummed " with an old Edinburgh schoolfellow, Charles 
Hope Robertson.^ It appears that the college lectures in 
mathematics were still felt to be rather elementary, but 
that he worked harder problems (some were of his own 
invention) with Tait and with Porter of Petei'house, who 

^ Now Rector of Smeeth, near Ashford, in Kent. 


was still his private tutor. A certain amount of classical 
reading was required of freshmen, and he still took his 
classics seriously. There is an allusion to the Ajax in one 
of his letters, and he makes critical remarks upon Demos- 
thenes. There was also a lecture on Tacitus by a '^deep, 
half- sentence lecturer." Either now or in the following 
3''ear — at some time before the little-go exaVnination of 
March 1852 — he translated the choral odes of the Ajax 
into rhymed English verse, ^ and made a rough caricature 
of Ajax slaughtering the oxen. 

His chief outdoor amusements were walking, bathing, 
and sculling. He was upset in his "funny" in May 1851 
— a trifling accident to so expert a swimmer. " But," 
writes a contemporary Cantab, *'he richly deserved it. 
For he tried to take off his jersey after ' shipping' his oars. 
The oscillations of the funny became rapidly more extensive, 
in spite of his violent efforts at equilibrium." For winter 
recreation he ordered a pair of basket-sticks to be made at 

He tried some odd experiments in the arrangement of 
his hours of work and sleep. But his father disapproved 
of such vagaries, and they were not continued long — 
although not entirely abandoned even when he had rooms 
in college. The authority just quoted says, "From 2 to 
2.30 A.M. he took exercise by running along the upper 
corridor, doion the stairs, along the lower corridor, then u^ 
the stairs, and so on, until the inhabitants of the rooms 
along his track got up and Id^y perclus behind their sporting- 
doors to have shots at him with boots, hair-brushes, etc., 
as he passed." 

Intellectual interests of all kinds surrounded him, and 
he soon began to lend new life to all. There were also 
in the Cambridge of this period religious influences of a 
remarkable kind. Apart from the Simeonite tradition 
which still lingered, there was a class of younger men, 
who, while faithful to a pious evangelical upbringing, had 
open and inquiring minds. The nanies of Henry and Frank 

^ I did not know of this until the present year, 1881. . 

106 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

Mackenzie of Trinity, the one senior to Maxwell, the other 
junior to him,^ may be mentioned in particular. To such 
men, and to many others, the preaching of Harvey Goodwin, 
now Bishop of Carlisle, but at that time chiefly known as 
a mathematical authority, was full of interest. 
1851. Two events of some importance to the scientific world 

were the introduction of Foucault's pendulum experiment 
for proving the rotation of the earth, and the Great Ex- 
hibition of 1851. 

Maxwell saw the pendulum experiment in Mr. Thacker's 
(the tutor's) rooms at Trinity in April or May, and wrote 
,an account of it to his father, which has been lost. 

The "viewing" of the Crystal Palace, although a thing 
to be done, was made less exciting than it would otherwise 
have been by the constant habit of visiting all manufactures 
according to opportunity. Maxwell disclaims all " fana- 
ticism " on the subject, and his father writes that while a 
fortnight would be required to see it properly, a great deal 
of it must be already familiar to them both. 
uEt. 20. In the October term he joined the "team" of Hopkins, 
the great private tutor, as a fifteenth pupil. 

He also became a regular attendant of Professor Stokes's 
lectures, and commenced his lifelong friendship with one 
whose original investigations were so closely akin to some 
of his own. 

Professor Stokes's kindness was greatly valued even in 
those old days, and much more afterwards. The young 
man's happiness in all ways at Trinity is manifested by 
the reappearance of the poetic vein, about the time of the 
junior sophs' examination, in the Lay of King Numa, dated 
13th December 1851. 

To this sketch of his first year at college there must be 
appended one more reminiscence of Glenlair. We met 

^ lu 1852 H. M. had left Cambridge. F. M. went as a freshman to 
Trinity in Octoher 1852. See a book named Early Death not FreTtiature, 
being a Memoir of Francis L. Mackenzie, late of Trinity College, Cam- 
bridge. With Notices of Henry Mackenzie, B.A. By the Eev. Charles 
Popham Miles, M.A., M.D., F.L.S., Glasgow. Nisbet and Co. Fourth 
Edition. 1861. 


there in the autumn of that year, and I remember that 
either then or in the previous year, he put into my hands 
Carlyle's translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Afeister, remarking 
that it was a book to be read with discretion. 

In the autumn of 1850 the neighbouring estate of Upper 
Corsock had been let to a shooting-party,^ one of whom 
remarked to me what a pity it was that young Mr. Clerk 
Maxwell was " so little suited for a country life." I clearly 
recollect his look of exulting mirth when this was repeated 
to him. His disinclination to field sports was certainly 
not due to any lack of activity, nor even^to his shortsighted- 
ness, which for other purposes was easily overcome, but 
simply to his love for animals. The moral of Wordsworth's 
Hart-Lea]) Well was not so much a principle as an instinct 
with him.'^ I remember his once speaking to me on the 
subject of vivisection. He did not condemn' its use, sup- 
posing the method could be shown to be fruitful, which at 
that time he doubted, but — " Couldn't do it, you know," 
he added, with a sensitive wistful look not easy to forget. 
This is all I ever heard him say on the subject. 

Letters, 1851. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

nth March 1S51. 
Lings, King's Parade, Cambridge. 

. . . Have you read Soph. Ajax^ or would you like to do it 1851. 
then? 3 ' -^^.19. 

I have been trying an experiment of sleeping after tall. 
Last Friday I went to bed from 5 to 9.30, and read very hard 
from 10 to 2, and slept again from 2.30 to 7. 

I intend some time to try for a week together sleeping from 
5 to 1, and reading the rest of the morning. This is practical 
scepticism with respect to early rising. 

An Oxford man is reported to have complained of the late- 
ness of morning chapel ; he could not sit up for it. I will have 

the most of my reading over by that time. ... 


^ Including the present Earl Cairns. 

- His uncle, Sir G. Clerk, is said to have had the same peculiarity. 

2 Viz. at the time of my proposed visit to Cambridge. 

108 . JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [cha?. vi. 

Demostlienes goes on. I begin to see what may be written 
in prose, and how ill it may be translated. 

It is a ypacf^t] irapavofiioVj so there is less declamation and 
more demonstration ; but the arguments, small at first, are 
added as they proceed, and never left behind, so by oft repeti- 
tion they seem stronger than they are. 

Last night I searched for difficult problems to puzzle Steele 
and Porter junior with. Here are some much more mild, which 
we freshmen get. . . . 

It is twelve o'clock, and I have to do Demosthenes to-morrow 
before breakfast. This implies Chapel, therefore bed, therefore 
I shut up. 

From his Father. 

Glenlair, 6th March 1851. 
Simpson rages at present in the Electro-biology. Dr. Alison 
is very wroth about it. He says he has known two cases of 
nervous people whose minds were quite disordered by it. I hope it 
is not in fashion at Cambridge, and at any rate that you do not 
meddle with it. If it does anything, it is more likely to be 
harm than good ; and if harm ensue, the evil might be irrepar- 
able, so let nie hear that you have dismissed it ; you have plenty 
better things in hand where you are.^ 

Glenlair, 29th April 1S51. 

Explain the pendulum experiment to me. You used often 
to speak of the retardation of the Rotation of the Earth by the 
friction of the tides. 

What is the Phosphate of Lime theory of mental progress ? 

Glenlair, 18th May 1851. 

Do you like the Trig, lectures A ?- Tacitus is not new to 
you. His style must be congenial to a deep, half-sentence 

Were you carrying your watch when you were upset in your 
funny ? and if so, how did it agree with the douking 1^ 

I shall be glad to hear about the Pendulum. Who is 
Thacker, who asked you to his rooms to see it ? 

^ In the preceding Christmas vacation I was at a private "s6ance" in 
Edinburgh, where Maxwell — whether he shammed or not who can tell ? 
— was selected by the operator (a man named Douglas, I think), who 
vainly tried to make him seem to forget his name. 

- Mr. Mathison's lecture on trigonometry. 

^ i.e. Anglice, ''How did the dip agree with it?*' 


To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Camhridge, 9th June 1851. 

I find I owe you one letter this term. I intended to write 
three days ago, but I am now refreshed by classical papers, and 
disburdened of half the subjects of examination. 

On Friday we had Euclid, on Saturday Greek, — cram on 
both subjects ; to-day Ajax and Tacitus translations. I did no 
composition, but did various readings, strongly preferring certain 
of them for obvious reasons. 

I find that 4 hours Euclid is worse than 2 3-hour papers of 
cram, though I sent up much more cram than Euclid. This of 
itself shows that disburdening cram is not like grinding out 

Mathematics. M in the Plato cram, writing a comparison 

of Cynics and Platonists, said that Platonism was a real live thing, 
but Cynicism was sleepy, and that even in its greatest ornament, 
Diogenes, the view of the universe was contracted to a front 
look-out from a \A'ash-tub, and the summium bonum reduced to 
sunning one's self with eyes shut and buttons open. This was 
to let otf his jaw on first setting down, but he let it in among 
his papers, and could not get it out again. 

Excuse my square sentences. I have spent my curves on 
Tacitus, and I must now proceed to Trig. "Write. — Yrs. 

To THE Same. 

8 King's Parade, 9th Nov. 1851. 
I began a letter last week, but stopped short for want of ^^. 20. 
matter. I will not send you the abortion. Facts are very 
scarce here. There are little stories of great men for minute 
philosophers. Sound intelligence from Newmarket for those 
that put their trust in horses, and Calendristic lore for the 
votaries of the Senate-house. Man requires more. He finds x 
and ij innutritions, Greek and Latin indigestible, and under- 
grads. nauseous. He starves while being crammed. He wants 
man's meat, not college pudding. Is truth nowhere but in 
Mathematics ? Is Beauty developed only in men's elegant 
words, or Right in "Whewell's Morality ? Must Nature as well 
as Revelation be examined through canonical spectacles by the 
dark-lantern of Tradition, and measured out by the learned to 
the unlearned, all second-hand. I might go on thus. Now do 
not rashly say that I am disgusted with Cambridge and medi- 
tating a retreat. On the contrary, I am so engrossed with 

110 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

shoppy things that I have no time to write to joxi. I am also 
' persuaded that the study of x and y is to men an essential pre- 
paration for the intelligent study of the material universe. That 
the idea of Beauty is propagated hy communication, and that 
in order thereto human language must he studied, and that 
Whewell's Morality is worth reading, if only to see that there 
may he such a thing as a system of Ethics. 

That few will grind up these suhjects without the help of 
rules, the awe of authority, and a continued abstinence from 
unripe realities, etc. 

I believe, with the Westminster Divines and their pre- 
decessors ad Infinitum that '' Man's chief end is to glorify God 
and to enjoy him for ever." 

That for this end to every man has been given a progressively 
increasing power of communication with other creatures. That 
with his powers his susceptibilities increase. 

That happiness is indissolubly connected with the full exer- 
cise of these powers in their intended direction. That Happiness 
and Misery must inevitably increase with increasing Power and 
Knowledge. That the translation from the one course to the 
other is essentially miraculous^ while the progress is natural. 
But the subject is too high. I will not, however, stop short, 
but proceed to Intellectual Pursuits. 

It is natural to suppose that the soul, if not clothed with a 
body, and so put in relation with the creatures, would rmi on 
in an unprogressive circle of barren meditation. In order to 
advance, the soul must converse with things external to itself. 

In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional 
to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the 
facility of obtaining data. In the Mathematics this is easy. 
Do you want a quantity 1 Take x ; there it is ! — got without 
trouble, and as good a quantity as one would wish to have. 
And so in other sciences, — the more abstract the subject, the 
better it is known. Space, time, and force come first in cer- 
tainty. These are the subjects in Mechanics. 

Then the active powers, Light, Heat, Electricity, etc. = 

Then the differences and relations of Matter = Chemistry, 
and so on. 

Here the order of advancement is just that of abstractedness 
and inapplicability to the actual. What poor blind things we 
Maths, think ourselves ! But see the Chemists ! Chemistry is 


a pack of cards, wliicli the labour of hundreds is slowly aiTanging ; 
and one or two tricks, — faint imitations of Nature, — have been 
played. Yet Chemistry is far before all the Natural History 
sciences ; all these before Medicine ; Medicine before Meta- 
physics, Law, and Ethics ; and these I think before Pneuma- 
tology and Theology. 

Now each of these makes up in interest what it wants in 

There is no doubt that of all earthly cr^eatures Man is the 
most important to us, yet we k^ow less of him than any other. 
His history is more interesting than natural history ; but nat. 
history, though obscure, is much more intelligible than man's 
history, which is a tale half told, and which, even when this 
world's course is run, and when, as some think, man may com- 
pare notes with other rational beings, will still be a great 
mystery, of which the beginning and the end are all that can 
be known to us while the intermediate parts are perpetually 
filled up. 

So now pray excuse me if I think that the more grovelling 
and materialistic sciences of matter are not to be despised in 
comparison with the lofty studies of Minds and Spirits. Our 
own and our neighbours' minds are known but very imperfectly, 
and no new facts will be found till we come in contact with 
some minds other than human to elicit them by counterposition. 
But of this more anon. 

From his Father. 

Glenlair^ 3d Now. 1851. 
How do you like and how do you profit by Hopkins' mode 
of driving? He should get one more pupil, and drive 16 in 
hand like Batty or Cook. 

Glenlair, 18th Novr, 1851. 

You seem to have great gaieties with College Parties with 
Scientific Dons. Do you take notes of Stokes' experiments on 
the bands of the Spectrum ? Will they be suitable for repetition 
in the garret of the old House 1} 

The clearing away a bank of weeds was a sly trick of the 
Trinity 4-oar, and I think Peterhouse and Sidney justified in 
protesting. 2 What tribunal is there to settle such matters ? 

1 See above, p. 74, 1. 28. 

2 According to the "contemporary Cantab," Peterhouse and Sidney 

112 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

I copied from your letters plan and section and elevation of 
the Baskets for single stick, and committed the same to the 

In the spring of 1852 he got rooms in college (Letter 
G, Old Court, south Attics), succeeding to his friend 
Blakiston, and passed his Little-go. In April of the same 
year he gained his scholarship, and was now launched 
without further necessary distraction on the long pull of 
preparation for the Tripos under Hopkins. But his 
energies were by no means absorbed in this continuous 
"grind." He contributed various papers to the Cambridge 
and Dublin Mathematical Journal^ did not confine himself to 
mathematics in the May examination, and in November, 
besides writing the comic Vision of a University, of Pedantry^ 
and of Philosophy, made elaborate preparation for a College 
declamation, " the Scottish Covenanters " being the subject 
characteristically chosen by him. 

In June he had paid a short visit to Oxford, and made 
a trip to Lowestoft with P. G. Tait, before settling at 
Cambridge (to read and bathe) for the vacation term. 
^L 21. Living in college and dining at the scholars' table, he 
naturally became more intimate with the other scholars, and 
he appears especially to have sought contact with classical 
men. To the names of Cracroft, Whitt, and Blakiston, 
amongst his newer friends are now added in his correspond- 
ence those of "Droop the ingenuous," Gedge,Howard Elphin- 
stone, Isaac Taylor, Maclennan,^ and Yaughan Hawkins. 

The idea of self-improvement in society had taken a firm 
hold of him, and he was conscious of the difficulty of guiding 
himself among so many cross influences. He knew that he 
was involuntarily different with different men, and there 
are curious traces in his correspondence of the struggle to 
make the highest use of social circumstances. Those who 

really Avon the race, in spite of the removal of the bank of weeds. The 
reason why Trinity got the cups was that the pistol of P. and S. 's umpire 
missed fire. 

^ David M'Vinnie, see above, p. 25. 

2 The late J. F. Maclennan, author of Primitive Marriage, etc. 


saw him about this time after an interval were struck by 
a marked change in his countenance, which, as compared 
with the Edinburgh days, had very distinctly gained in 
manliness and gravity, and showed a certain massiveness 
in its proportions which they had not previously noticed. 
His dark brown eye seemed to have deepened, some parts 
of the iris being almost black. A slight contraction of the 
chest, and a stature which, although above the average, 
was not tall enough to carry off the weight of his brow, 
made him less handsome standing than sitting. But his 
presence had by this time fully acquired the unspeakable 
charm for all who knew him, which made him insensibly 
become the centre of any circle, whether large or small, 
consisting of his friends or kindred. His hair and incipient 
beard were raven black, with a crisp strength in each par- 
ticular hair, that gave him more the look of a Nazarite 
than of a nineteenth century youth. His dress was j^lain 
and neat, only remarkable for the absence of everything 
adventitious (starch, loose collars, studs, etc.), and an 
" aesthetic " taste might have perceived in its sober hues 
the effect of his marvellous eye for harmony of colour. ^ 

The impression he made on older persons with whom 
he was less intimate may be gathered from the remarks of 
Dean Eamsay in a note to Miss Cay : — 

I had great pleasure in seeing your nephew, young Clerk 
Maxwell. He is shrewd and cautious. He seems to like Cam- 
bridge, and I doubt not will distinguish himself. He is sparing 
in his words, but what he says is to the point. 

The following contribution from the Eev. Charles Hope 
Eobertson, the Eector of Smeeth (above, p. 104), throws 
light on more than one aspect of his life at this period : — 

I was at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the same years as 

^ He was the first who spoke to me (about 1865) of the principles of 
coloured glass, which have since become fashionable ; observing that it 
should be rich in sea-green, and not, " like the banners of the Assyrian, 
gleaming with purple and gold." In his critical studies of modern j)oets 
he used to note their fondness for particular colours, — e.g., the uses of 
"white," "red," "black," "ruby," "emerald," "sapphire," in Tennyson 
and Browning. 


. 114 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

Clerk Maxwell, and for some time had lodgings in the same 
house. This, as well as knowing him before in Edinburgh, led 
to our frequently meeting. 

He was of a very kindly disposition (under a blunt ex- 
terior), of which I can give an example. I had hurt my eyes a 
good deal with experiments on light, while working up for a 
course of Professor Forbes's lectures at Edinburgh College, and 
for a good part of my undergraduate course was able to use 
them very little. He used to find me sitting in my rooms with 
closed eyes, unable to prepare for next day's lectures, and often 
gave up an hour of his recreation time, to read out to me some 
of the book-work I wanted to get over. This infinnity prevented 
my reading for more than a moderate degree in mathematical 
honours ; but I should have been still worse off if he had not 
thus been " eyes to the blind " for me. 

He had an innate reverence for sacred things, which I do 
not think was ever much disturbed by the scepticism fashionable 
among shallow scientific men. As my main object in coming to 
Cambridge was to prepare for holy orders, I had more interest 
in theological subjects than any others. He knew this, and 
would refer to me points of difficulty for our mutual considera- 
tion till we next met. The result was useful to us both. On 
one occasion an attack on the Mosaic history having perplexed 
him, he was glad of an idea that occurred to me, that the 
account of God's driving out the heathen by "sending the 
hornet " before the Israelites, was not an idea likely to occur 
in a book of human origin, where a leader would rather be apt 
to magnify than to diminish his own and his people's prowess. 
This exactly suited the sceptical state of some friend he had 
been conversing with. On another occasion he hit on a very 
beautiful mathematical illustration of St. Paul's closing view of 
his career, in 2 Tim. iv. 6-8 ; " St. Paul was looking backward, 
forward, and downwards — so the resultant was upwards.'^ 

As an original experimenter he was most ingenious in con- 
triving out of simple means apparatus for delicate experiments. 
I have to this day some crystals for showing polarised light, 
which he gave me, cut and polished by most simple rubbing, 
mounted with cardboard and sealing-wax. 

His Essay on the Rings of Saturn, — showing how mechanical 
principles required that these bodies were not solid, but formed 
by multitudes of small bodies revolving round Saturn, in bands 
of orbits, — has received abundant confirmation from recent 


observation with large telescopes. His own simple experiments 
with corks and rings suggested the idea. 

But while so ingenious himself, he had great difficulty in 
imparting his ideas to others ; consequently was not so clear a 
lecturer or writer as might have been expected. It was prob- 
ably this that prevented his being senior wrangler of his year. 

I may mention that though not joining in the ordinary games 
of young fellows, such as cricket and rowing, he was very active ; 
and I have seen him in bathing take a running header from the 
bank, turning a complete somersault before touching the water. ^ 

If shortly described, he might be said to combine a grand 
intellect with childlike simplicity of trust. He was too deep a 
thinker to be sceptical, but too well read not to feel for others' 
difficulties. All his experiments led him to greater reverence 
for the Great First Cause, heartily agreeing with Young's Night 
Thoughts^ " An undevout astronomer is mad." 

In the course of the winter he was elected a member of 
the Select Essay Club, the creme de la creme of Cambridge 
intellects, familiarly known (because limited to the number 
twelve) as "the Apostles." His contributions to this 
famous association still remain,^ and present a curious 
reflection of the contemplative activities of his mind, 
which is far indeed from being engrossed with mere 
mathematics, but is rather, in the language of Plato, 
" taking a survey of the universe of things," iraa-av wavroiv 
(fivCTLV epevvw/Jbevrj tojv ovtidv eKacTTOv oXov. Yet amidst this 

speculative ardour, and even wildness, we trace the per- 
sistence of certain root-ideas, and are often reminded of 
his intention (expressed with curious self-directed irony in 
1850), ^Ho read Kant's Kritik with a determination to 
make it agree with Sir William Hamilton." ^ 

His coming of age, June 13, 1852, had been celebrated 
with a few quiet words in his father's letter of June 12, 
graced with the unusual addition of a Scripture text — '' I 

^ Professor Tait says, " He used to go up on the pollard at the bathing- 
shed, throw himself Jlat on his face in the water, dive and cross, then 
ascend the pollard on the other side, project himself Jlat on his back in 
'the water. He said it stimulated the circulation ! " 
^ See chap. viii. ^ P. 89. 

116 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

trust you vrill be as discreet when Major as you have been 
while Minor (Pro v. x. 1 ^)." 

The six months from December 1852 to June 1853 
were a time of great and varied mental activity. When 
1853. the Tripos work became most exacting, he seemed to have 
the most spare energy. No part of the rich mental life of 
Trinity failed to touch and stimulate him — from the Moral 
Philosophy of the Master, to undergraduate discourses upon 
whist and chess. When most burdened with analytical 
book-work, he yearned the more deeply after comprehensive 
views of Nature and Life, and found refreshment in meta- 
physical discussion, and occasionally in theological contro- 
versy. Even the ^' occult " sciences, in the contemporary 
shapes of electro-biology and table-turning, had their share 
of ironical attention. 

His relations with the dons, " scientific " and otherwise, 
whatever may have been their first impression of him,^ were, 
for the most part, smooth, but a humorous passage of arms 
between him and the Senior Dean was long remembered 
in Trinity. The lines to J. A. Frere, although somewhat 
personal, are too well known to be omitted from his col- 
lected poems, and anything in them which might give 
offence at the time is more than redeemed by the large 
humanity of the concluding stanza. The following letter, 
addressed (but perhaps not sent) to the same personage, 
throws an amusing light on the circumstances under which 
the parody of " John Anderson " was written : — 

To THE Kev. John Alexander Feere. 

Trin. Coll., 2Gth F^h. 1853, 

Dear Sir — Looking back on the past week I find I have 

kept only seven chapels. I have no excuse to offer. The 

reason, however, of the deficiency is this. Unaware that a 

Saint's Day would occur in the course of the week I parted with 

^ "A mse son maketh a glad father." 

2 His native tones in reading the lessons in chapel seem at first to have 
surprised every one, from the ]\I aster downwards. And once during 
service his eyes were seen to move strangely, while his mouth retained its 
gravity. He was ** measuring the angular distance between the dons." 


my surplice on Monday in order to have it washed. • I was 
thus prevented from appearing in chapel on the evenings of 
Wednesday and Thursday, as otherwise I would have done. I 
might even after this have completed the requisite number ; but, 
unfortunately, reading till a late hour on Friday night I found 
myself unable to attend chapel on Saturday morning. 

I can but hope that more forethought on my part may pre- 
vent the recurrence of such accidents. 

I have also to acknowledge the receipt of a small paper from 
you relative to the observance of Sunday. I have read it, and 
will keep it in mind. 

Trusting that my past and future regularity may atone for 
my present negligence, I remain, yours sincerely, 

J. C. Maxwell. 

Rev. J. A. Frere. 

It Avas while staying up at Easter in the spring of JLt. 21. 
1853, and working ^*at high pressure," that his longing for 
the untrammelled and reverent investigation of Nature's 
secrets found rhythmical expression in the most serious of 
his poems, the " Student's Evening Hymn," in which re- 
ligious and philosophical aspirations are combined. Thus 
it was always with him ; when most plunged in the minute 
investigation either of phenomena or of abstract ideas, he 
was most eager to rebound towards the contemplation of 
the whole of things, and that which gives unity to the 
whole. Yet no mind could be more averse from *' viewi- 
ness," or more determined to bring every statement to the 
test of fact. 

The brief remainder of that Easter vacation was spent 
at Birmingham with his friend Johnson Gedge, a scholar 
of Trinity, "whose father was second master of King 
Edward's School. The exactions of Trinity and Hopkins 
had only left him a few days of holiday, and these were 
passed in the manner already mentioned,^ in viewing the 
manufactures of Birmingham. Mr. Clerk Maxwell's own 
delight in such things prevented him from realising how 
laboribus a programme he had suggested for the interval 

1 Above, p. 5, note 1. 

118 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

between two long spells of severe head-work. Yet in the 
midst of it Maxwell seems to have found time to contri- 
bute an elaborate piece of humorous correspondence to the 
King Edward's School Chronicle. 

When working hardest he was never a recluse, nor was 
he ever more sociable than in his third year at college. 
He seems to have had some difficulty even in avoiding 
supper parties, and one of his most brilliant metaphysical 
jeux d'espit purports to be a mode of escaping from them. 
To the names already mentioned as amongsty his intimate 
friends, those of Farrar^ and Butler^ are now added. 
Besides the metaphysical discussions, there were Shake- 
speare readings, of which he was an auditor sometimes, if 
not an actor in them. 

Whilst speaking of these side-sparks from his anvil, it 
is right to keep in view the loyal and trustful spirit in 
which he did his regularly-appointed work. His words on 
this subject in one of the letters to Miss Cay, which will 
be given presently, are well worthy of separate quotation 

here : — ^ 

Trin. Coll., 7th June 1853, 

If any one asks how I am getting on in Mathematics, say 
that I am, busy arranging everything, so as to be able to express 
all distinctly, so that examiners may be satisfied now, and pupils 
edified hereafter. It is pleasant work, and very strengthening, 
but not nearly finished. 

As became his kindliness, he was still mindful of the 
freshmen. Amongst these, Alexander Eobertson, now 
Sheriff of Forfarshire, the brother of Charles, and Frank 
Mackenzie, were Scotsmen and compatriots. Another 
junior with whom he became still more intimate was 
"Freshman Tayler,"^ so called, though now a junior 
Soph., in contradistinction to Isaac Taylor. Like Frank 
Mackenzie and others who have been mentioned. Fresh- 
man Tayler was of pious evangelical antecedents. Max- 
well's own thoughts at this time, as has been seen, were 

1 The Rev. F. W. Farrar, D.D., Canon of Westminster. 

2 The Rev. H. Butler, D.D., Head-Master of Harrow. 

3 The Rev. G. W. H. Tayler, now Vicar of Trinity Church, Carlisle. 


taking a more decidedly religious colour, and this side also 
of his rich and deep nature received a fresh impulse in 
this critical year. 

He had been persuaded to spend the short interval 
between the summer and vacation terms with the Eev. 1853. 
C. B. Tayler, rector of Otley, in Suffolk, who had been ^^' ^2- 
touched with Maxwell's kindness to his nephew. Here he 
found himself for the first time in the midst of a large and 
united English family, and in his half - speculative, half- 
emotional way, was contrasting what he saw with the 
experience of an only son, when he was suddenly taken 
ill. The long continuous strain of the past months had 
been too much for him, and indeed it appears that even 
in the early spring he had been physically below par.^ 
The illness is described by Mr. Tayler as a sort of brain 
fever, and he was disabled by it for more than a month. 
The Taylers nursed him as they would have nursed a son 
of their own, and Maxwell, in whom the smallest kind- 
nesses awakened lasting gratitude, was profoundly moved 
by this. He referred to it long afterwards as having given 
him a new perception of the Love of God. One of his 
strongest convictions thenceforward was that "Love abideth, 
though Knowledge vanish away." And this came to him 
at the very height of the intellectual struggle.^ 

^ See the letter of 2d February 1853, in wliich his father refers to Miss / 
Cay's advice that he should take wine. 

^ At the same time, it is not to be supposed that Maxwell was ever 
completely identified with any particular school of religious opinion. He 
was too much "the heir of all the ages," and, as he himself expressed it, 
'• his faith was too deep to be in bondage to any set of opinions." Scottish 
Calvinism was the theological system which had most historical interest 
for him, and most claim on his hereditary piety. He was learned in the 
writings of Owen and Jonathan Edwards. But that which his latest 
pastor has called "his deep though simple faith," was not enclosed in 
any system. Even his youthful training (which in the case of one so 
loyal is not to be disregarded) was favourable to a comprehensive view of 
Christianity. Beginning with the Bible, which he knew by heart from a 
child, Presbyterian and Episcopalian influence had been blended as we 
have already seen. Hence, when he went to Cambridge, there was nothing 
strange to him in the service of the English Church. His mind was 
always moving {elle planait, as the French would say) above and " beyond 
these voices," yet they were not indifferent to him. 

It is to be regretted that a letter on the Parties in the Church of 

120 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vr. 

The father was also much affected by this kindness 
shown to his son. Mr. Tayler had said nothing to make 
him anxious until the crisis of the illness was past. Eut 
when he knows all, there is something more than eloquence 
in his brief, inarticulate phrases of recognition : — 

With yours I have Mr. Tayler's letter. I do not write to 
him to-day. My only subject is thanks, and these are not to be 
measured in words — the strongest I can use ; so at present give 
my respects and highest regards. 

Though weakened by his illness, Maxwell was able to 
keep the vacation term, and profit by Hopkins's contiaued 
training, before going home for a few weeks of thorough 
refreshment. In the following term, with the Senate- 
House examination in immediate prospect, he was careful 
not to read inordinately hard. 

In the autumn of this year the controversy which had 
been called forth by Professor Maurice's Theological Essays 
was brought to a crisis through his deprivation of his office 
by Principal Jelf. Disputation on this theme was nowhere 
more rife than amongst the scholars of Trinity, and Max- 
well's remarks upon it will be read with interest even now. 
He was from the first strongly attracted by Maurice's com- 
bination of intense "Christian earnestness with universal 
sympathy, and although he sometimes felt that the new 
teacher was apt to travesty the Popular Theology in trying 
to delineate it, he had a deep respect for what was positive 
in his doctrine. He was still more drawn to him when he 
came to know him personally, — no longer as a writer, but 
as a friend. A mention of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen 
in Mr. Maxwell's letter of 16th December 1853, was 

England, "written to his father in 1852, has not been found. His 
general approval of Hare's sermons, and his remarks on the Maurician 
controversy, indicate the direction which his thoughts on this subject 
must have taken. His interest in sermons, good and bad, was like 
Macaulay's interest in novels, or Charles Lamb's in old plays. Years 
after this, on board a friend's yacht one Sunday, he gave a sort of 
impromptu exposition of a chapter in the Book of Joshua, shouting 
up his remarks from below, which struck those who heard it as full of 
originality and wisdom. 


probably occasioned by some question raised in connection 
with Mr. Maurice. 

The following letter, addressed to me by the Eev. G-. 
W. H. Tayler, will be read with interest in the light of the 
preceding narrative : — 

Holy Trinity Vicarage, 
Carlisle, J/th March 1S82. 

My dear Sir — You have asked me to send you some account 
of James Maxwell, as I remember him during the space of three 
years, 1852, 1853, and 1854. My first acquaintance with him 
was about February 1852. I was soon attracted by the frank- 
ness of his manner and the singular charm of his quaint and 
original remarks in conversation. 

We undergraduates felt we had a very uncommon personage 
amongst us ; but we did not then appreciate his rare powers. 
"We had of course heard of the reputation which he had at 

But this acute mathematician, so addicted even then to 
original research, was among his friends simply the most genial 
and amusing of companions, the propounder of' many a strange 
theory, the composer of not a few poetic jeux d^es'prits. 

Grave and hard-reading students shook their heads at his 
discursive talk and reading, and hinted that this kind of pursuits 
would never i^ay in the long run in the Mathematical Tripos. 

I have sometimes watched his countenance in the lecture- 
room. It was quite a study — there was the look of a bright 
intellect, an entire concentration on the subject, and sometimes 
a slight smile on the fine expressive mouth, as some point came 
out clearly before him, or some amusing fancy flitted across his 
imagination. He used to profess a dislike to reproducing specu- 
lations from books, or hearing opinions quoted taken bodily 
from books. 

Yet he read a good deal in other lines of study than natural 
philosophy. Sir Thomas Brown's Religio Medici was one of his 
favourite books. Any such author, who propounded his specu- 
lations in a quaint, original manner was sure to be a favourite 
with him. 

But I particularly remember his attraction to Sir Thomas 
Brown during the long vacation, when he was laid up with 
severe illness (a brain fever) in my dear uncle's house in June 
1853. He came to stay at Otley, near Ipswich, of which my 

122 JAJilES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

uncle was the rector. For a few days he was tolerably well, 
then suddenly fell ill, probably through overwork for his third 
year college examination. It was on his recovery from that 
illness that I seemed to know him better than ever. It was 
then that my uncle's conversation seemed to make such a deep 
impression on his mind. He had always been a regular attendant 
at the services of God's house, and a regular communicant in 
our College Chapel. Also he had thought and read much on 
religious subjects. But at this time (as it appears from his own 
account of the matter) his religious views were greatly deepened 
and strengthened. 

I must add that I spent some little time in the long vacation 
of 1854 with Maxwell at Glenlair. His father was then living, 
and it was touching to witness the perfect affection and con- 
fidence which subsisted between father and son : the joy and 
satisfaction and exulting pride which the father evidently felt 
in his son's success and well-earned fame ; and, on the other 
hand, the tender, thoughtful care and watchfulness which James 
Maxwell manifested towards his father. 

Maxwell has indeed left a very bright memory and example. 
We, his contemporaries at college, have seen in him high powers 
of mind and great capacity and original views, conjoined with 
deep humility before his God, reverent submission to His will, 
and hearty belief in the love and the atonement of that Divine 
Saviour who was his Portion and Comforter in trouble and sick- 
ness, and his exceeding great reward. — I remain, my dear sir, 
yours very truly, G. W. H. Tayler, 

Vicar of Trinity Church, Carlisle. 

Mr. Lawson of the Equity Bar, whose diary has pre- 
served the remark quoted on p. 88, has also furnished me 
with the following vivid account of his impressions of 
Maxwell as an undergraduate : — 

22 Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, 
London, W. G. , 6th January 1882, 

I was in his year at Trinity, and knew him intimately, though 
our ways separated after I left Cambridge, and I scarcely ever 
saw him, except once or twice when he was Professor at King's 
CoUege, and later on only at very long intervals, on an occa- 
sional visit to the University. 

There must be many of his quaint verses about, if one could 


lay hands on them, for Maxwell was constantly producing some- 
thing of the sort, and bringing it round to his friends, with a 
sly chuckle at the humour, which, though his own, no one 
enjoyed more than himself. 

I remember Maxwell coming to me one morning with a copy 
of verses beginning — " Gin a body meet a body Going through 
the air," in which he had twisted the well-known song into a 
description of the laws of impact of solid bodies. 

There was also a description which Maxwell wrote of some 
University ceremony, I forget what, in which somebody " went 
before," and somebody "followed after," and ''in the midst 
were the wranglers playing with the symbols." 

These last words, however meant, were in fact a description 
of his own wonderful power. I remember one day in lecture, 
our lecturer had filled the black board three times with the 
investigation of some hard problem in Geometry of Three 
Dimensions, and was not at the end of it, when Maxwell came 
up -with a question whether it would not come out geometrically, 
and showed how with a figure, and in a few lines, there was 
the solution at once.^ 

Maxwell was, I daresay you remember, very fond of a talk 
upon almost anything. He and I were pupils (at an enormous 
distance apart) of Hopkins, and I well recollect how, when I 
had been working the night before and all the morning at 
Hopkins's j)J^oblems with little or no result, Maxwell would 
come in for a gossip, and talk on while I was wishing him far 
away, till at last, about half an hour or so before our meeting 
at Hopkins's, he would say — '' Well, I must go to old Hop's 
problems ;" and by the time we met there they were all done. 

I remember Hopkins telling me, when speaking of Maxwell, 
either just before or just after his degree, " It is not j^ossible for 
that man to think incorrectly on physical subjects ;" and 
Hopkins, as you know, had had perhaps more experience of 
mathematical minds than any man of his time. 

Of Maxwell's geniality and kindness of heart you will have 
had many instances. Every one who knew him at Trinity can 
recall some kindness or some act of his which has left an in- 

^ Compare Plato, Thiet. 147, CD. A Cambridge friend T\'iio knew 
Maxwell at a later time, says of him, ''One striking characteristic was 
remarked by his contemporaries at Hopkins's lectures. Whenever the 
subject admitted of it he had recourse to diagrams, though the rest might 
solve the question more easily by a train of analysis. " 


124 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. chap. vi. 

\^j effaceable impression of Ids goodness on the memory — for 
" good " Maxwell was, in the best sense of the word. 

Mr. Lawson adds the following extract from his diary : — 

Under date January 1, 1854 (Sunday evening), after saying 
I had been at tea at a friend's rooms, and naming the men who 
were there, of whom Maxwell was one, there is this note : — 

" Maxwell, as usual, showing himself acquainted with every 

subject upon which the conversation turned. I never met a 

man like him. I do believe there is not a single subject on 

which he cannot talk, and talk well too, displaying always the 

^. ^ most curious and out-of-the-way information." 

1854. The great contests of January came at last, with the 
^^' ^^' result that Maxwell was Second Wrangler, Eouth of Peter- 
house being the Senior, and that Routh and Maxwell were 
declared equal as Smith's Prizemen. 

A reminiscence of Professor T. S. Baynes which has 
reference to this time is interesting in connection with 
other signs of something exceptional in Maxwell's physical 
state during the previous year : — 

He said that on entering the Senate-house for the first paper 
' he felt his mind almost blank ; but by and by his mental vision 
became preternaturally clear. And, on going out again, he was 
dizzy and staggering, and was some time in coming to himself. 

Letters, 1852-53. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. ' 

8 King's Parade, 10th Feb, 1852. 
Mt 20. . . I was at Isaac Taylor's to-night. His father has come to see 
him, a little, cold man, with a tremulous voice, who talks about 
the weather as if he were upon oath, but who can lift up his 
testimony against any unwarrantable statement. Taylor junr. 
and Maclennan were talking about associations of workmen, 
Christian socialism, and so forth. T. junr. approved of the 
system where each workman has a share in the firm. M. liked 
one master better than many. 

T. senr. described the inducement to hard work among 
engineers at Manchester ; the reward is not profit, but situation. 

There are advantages in subordination, besides good direction, 


for it supplies an end to each man, external to himself. Activity 
requires Objectivity. — Do you ever read books written by 
women about women ? I mean fictitious tales, illustrating 
Moral Anatomy, by disclosing all thoughts, motives, and secret 
sins, as if the authoress were a perjured confessor. There you 
find all the good thinking . about themselves, and plotting self- 
improvement from a sincere regard to their own interest, while 
the bad are most disinterestedly plotting against or for others, 
as the case may be ; but all are caged in and compelled to 
criticise one another till nothing is left, and you exclaim : — 

" Madam ! if I know your sex, 
By the fashion of your bones." 

No wonder people get hypochondriac if their souls are made to 
go through manoeuvres before a mirror. Objectivity alone is 
favourable to the free circulation of the soul. But let the 
Object be real and not an Image of the mind's own creating, for 
Idolatry is Subjectivity with respect to gods. Let a man feel 
that he is wide awake, — that he has something to do, which he 
has authority, power, and will to do, and is doing ; but let him 
not cherish a consciousness of these things as if he had them at 
his command, but receive them thankfully and use them strenu- 
ously, and exchange them freely for other objects. He has then 
a happiness which may be increased in degree, but cannot be 
altered in kind. 

To THE Same. 

S Kings Parade, 7th March 1852. 
I have now nobody that I see too much of, though I have 
got several new acquaintances, and improved several old ones. 
I find nothing gives one greater inertia than knowing a good 
many men at a time, who do not know each other intimately. 
N.B, — Inertia, not = laziness, but mass ; i.e. if one knows a man, 
he forms an idea of your character, and treats you accordingly. 
If one knows a company of men, they are strong in union, and 
overawe the individual. If one man only, we become mutual 
tyrants. If several independently, every one plays the part of 
Dr. Watt's celebrated "Busy Bee," and by mixing according to 
every possible combination hit out the best results. Now you 
see I am theorising again and preaching as of old ; but the fact 
is, I am always laying plans and preaching to myself till I seek 
for some one to whom I may disgorge without fear of an imme- 

126 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

diate reply. Now, my great plan, which was conceived of old, 
and quickens and kicks periodically, and is continually making 
itself more obtrusive, is a plan of Search and Recovery, or Revision 
and Correction, or Inquisition and Execution, etc. The Rule of 
the Plan is to let nothing be wilfully left unexamined. Nothing 
is to be holy ground consecrated to Stationary Faith, whether 
positive or negative. All fallow land is to be ploughed up, and 
a regular system of rotation followed. All creatures as agents 
or as patients are to be pressed into the service, which is never 
to be willingly suspended till nothing more remains to be done ; 
i.e. till A.D. + oc . The part of the rule which respects self- 
improvement by means of others is : — Never hide anything, be 
it weed or no, nor seem to wish it hidden. So shall all men 
passing by pluck up the weeds and brandish them in your face, 
or at least display them for your inspection (especially if you 
make no secret of your intention to do likewise). (I speak not 
here literally of the case of those who revise each other's faults 
every night, and quarrel before the month is out, but you did 
not so misunderstand me.) Again I assert the Right of Trespass 
on any plot of Holy Ground which any man has set apart (as 
the rustics did their Gude-man's Rig) to the power of Darkness. 
Such places must be exorcised and desecrated till they become 
fruitful fields. Again, if the holder of such property refuse 
admission to the exorcist, he ipso facto admits that it is conse- 
crated, and that he fears the power of Darkness. It may be 
that no such darkness really broods over the place, and that the 
man has got a habit of shutting his eyes in that field, which 
makes him think so. 

Now I am convinced that no one but a Christian can actually 
purge his land of these holy spots. Any one may profess that 
he has none, but something will sooner or later occur to every 
one to show him that part of his ground is not open to the 
public. Intrusions on this are resented, and so its existence is 
demonstrated. Now, I do not say that no Christians have 
enclosed places of this sort. Many have a great deal, and every 
one has some. No one can be sure of all being open till all has 
been examined by competent persons, which is the work, as I 
said before, of eternity. But there are extensive and important 
tracts in the territory of the Scoffer, the Pantheist, the Quietist, 
Formalist, Dogmatist, Sensualist, and the rest, which are openly 
and solemnly Tabooed, as the Polynesians say, and are not to be 
spoken of without sacrilege. 


Christianity — that is, the religion of the Bible — is the only 
scheme or form of belief which disavows any possessions on such 
a tenure. Here alone all is free. You may fly to the ends of 
the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation. You 
may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in 
your explorations. 

You may read all History and be compelled to wonder but 
not to doubt. 

Compare the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the 
God of the Prophets and the God of the Apostles, and however 
the Pantheist may contrast the God of Nature with the " Dark 
Hebrew God," you will find them much liter each other than 
either like his. 

The Old Testament and the Mosaic Law and Judaism are 
commonly supposed to be "Tabooed" by the orthodox. Sceptics 
pretend to have read them, and have found certain witty objec- 
tions and composed several transcendental arguments against 
" Hebrew 0' Clo'," which too many of the orthodox unread 
admit, and shut up the subject as haunted. But a Candle is 
coming to drive out all Ghosts and Bugbears. Let us all follow 
the Light. 


To Miss Cat. 

S King's Parade, 23cl March 1S52. 

I received yours (of the 18th I suppose) on Saturday, and 
began to muse on the difterence of our modes of life : your sick- 
ness — my health ; your kind dealings with neighbours — our 
utter independence of each other ; you visit without seeing 
people — we see without visiting each other ; you hear all about 
people's families and domestic concerns — we do not, but we know 
exactly how everybody is up in his different subjects, and what 
are his favourite pursuits for the time. 

The Little-go is now going on, so I am taking my Easter 
vacation at this time. I do nothing but the papers in the 
Senate-house, and then spend the day in walks and company, 
reading books of a pleasant but not too light kind, lest I should 
be disgusted with recreation. 

I find myself quite at grass, and am sure that in 10 days I 
will be reading again as if I had been rusticated for a year. 

I never did such a feat as get up at 5 in the morning. I get 
up at 6.30 for chapel in winter, and read in the daytime, but I 

128 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

have now begun my summer practice of sleeping in tlie mornings 
and reading at night, save when I get up on a fine day to take 
a walk in the morning, which makes me idle all day, and is 
sometimes agreeable. 

I met old Isaac Taylor in his son's rooms some time ago 
He began by speaking of the weather in a serious way, and 
went on to his Manchester concerns, — efi'ective motives to work, 
actual methods adopted, and so got into the merits of socialism, 
joint-stock workmen's associations, and so forth, appearing all 
the while to say nothing, but quietly feed on the wisdom of the 
undergrads., as they enounced their opinions. 

From his Father. 

Glenlair, 10th April 1852. 
The Ordnance Surveyors are doing Contour Lines. The line 
250 feet above sea-level passes just in front of the Bees.^ 

Glenlair, 25th April 1852, 
I . . . congratulate you on your scholarship. You write of 
entering on the duties, — what are they? and what are the 
Pri\aLeges and Profits ? 

Glenlair, 12th May 1852. 

Is M'Millan the Publisher of the Cambridge and Dublin, 
whereof William Thomson is editor ? Have you sent him your 
prop, you were doing at Christmastime ? 

The gold-fever of Australian type prevails in these parts. 

Glenlair, 19th May 1852. 
[Prop, about resistance of sides and bottom of a meal-ark.] 

. . . The meal, which may be called a fluid as much as a 
glacier. 2 

Query : Whether by putting bars beneath the bottom at 
points removed from the middle of the joist, the pressure would 
be more advantageously distributed ? 

Glenlair, 12th June 1852. 
[Eve of James C. M.'s 21st birthday.] 

I trust you will be as discreet when major as you have been 
while minor (Prov. x. 1). 

Remember me to Tait. I am sorry I did not see him in 
Edinburgh to wish him joy of his honours. 

^ In the garden at Glenlair. ^ ggg above, p. 67. 


Glenlair, 29th June 1852, 

Did you take to the Geology at all ? I suppose that the jEL 21, 
cliffs at Lowestoft are Tertiary, with plenty of fossils. 

Glenlair, 9th Now, 1852. 
Nativity of the Prince of Wales. 

Beceived yours of St. Guy and William. 

The Cambridge Commission as you report of it will not 
affect you in any way. 

What sort of thing is "College Declamation"? You say 
you have chosen The Scottish Covenanters. Do you take the 
part of Advocate or Apologist for them % or do you try the 
impartial historian % It would be difl&cult to give the Scots 
Prelates their due without offending some of the Order. During 
the Persecutions both the civil and ecclesiastical government of 
Scotland was getting ripe for the Revolution. 

Glenlair, 11th Now. 1852. 

It has been said, Had there been two other Leightons instead 

of Sharp of St. Ajidrews and of Galloway, Episcopacy 

would have been securely established. 

Glenlair, 2d Feb. 1853. 

Aunty Jane was saying — a glass of wine daily, — port for 

Glenlair, 12th Feb. 1853. 

, . . Mathematical Journal, to which you send props. What 
props. ? The one about the Pendulum ? 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Trin. Coll., 20th Fel. 1853. 

After Chapel I was at Litchfield's, where he, Parrar, Pomeroy, 
and Blakiston, discussed eternal punishment from 8 to 1 2. Men 
fall into absurdity as soon as they have settled for themselves 
the question of the origin of evil. A man whose mind is ^' made 
up " on that subject is contradictory on every other ; one day 
he says that the man that can be happy in such a world is a 
brute, and the next day that if a man is not happy here he is 
a moping fool. At last they assert the Cretan dilemma, that if 


130 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

a man says that man is ignorant and foolish, it was ignorant 
and foolish to say so. Solomon, they say, was used np when 
he wrote Ecclesiastes, and said "all is vanity" in a relative 
sense, having himself heen so. Solomon describes the search 
after Happiness for its own sake and for the sake of possession. 
It is as if a strong man should collect into his house all the 
beauty of the world, and be condemned to look out of the 
window and marvel that no good thing was to be seen. " No 
man can eat his cake and have it." I would add that what 
remains till to-morrow will stink. 

As for evil being unripe good, I say nothing with respect to 
objective evil, except that it is a part of the universe which it 
may be the business of immortal man to search out for ever, 
and still see more beyond. We cannot understand it because 
it is relative, and relative to more than we know. But sub- 
jective evil is absolute ; we are conscious of it as independent 
of external circumstances ; its physical power is bounded by our 
finitude, bodily and mental, but within these its intensity is 
without measure. A bullet may be diverted from its course by 
the medium through which it passes, or it may take a wrong 
one owing to the unskilfulness of the shooter, or the intended 
victim may change his place ; but all this depends, not on the 
will of the shooter, but on the ignorance of his mind, the weak- 
ness of his body, the resistance of inert matter, or the subse- 
quent act of another agent ; the bullet of the murderer may be 
turned aside to drive a nail, or what not, but his will is inde- 
pendent of all this, and may be judged at once without appeal. 

Yet still the lady shook her head. 

And swore by yea and nay, 
My whole was all that he had said, 

And all that he could say. 

J. C. Maxwell. 

From his Father. 

Edinburgh, 21st February 1853, 

The Halo and accompaniment of the 15 th had been very 
curious. I never saw the appearance of Mock Suns. 

Lord Cockburn went in plain dress to the fancy ball. When 
the crowd hissed him, he said he was the minister that was to 
marry them all ! ! 


To Miss Cay. 

Trin. Coll. , 11th March 1853. 
I was so mucli among the year that is now departed that it 
makes a great difference in my mode of life. I have been seek- 
ing among the other years for some one to keep me in order. 
It is easier to find instructive men than influential ones. I 
left off here last night to go to a man's rooms where I met 
several others, who had gone a-prowling like me. ... I have 
been reading Archdeacon Hare's sermons, which are good. 

Trin. Coll., FeaM of St. Charles II. 
Pomeroy's mother and sister were up here lately. They 
used to be at Cheltenham. From them I learnt a good deal 
about the systematic and uncompromising mode of thinking and 
speaking which marks the great Irish Giant of Trinity. Bishop 
Selwyn of New Zealand prought ^ here yesterday about missions. 
He founded the Lady Margaret boat club at John's, and got the 
boat to the head of the river. He was 2d Classic in 1831, and 
still he is too energetic for his curates to keep up with him in 
his own visitations about the South Pole. He made a great 
impression on the men here by his plainness of speech and 
absence of all cant, whether he spoke of the doctrines of Chris- 
tianity or the history of Pitcairn's Island. I have been reading 
various books, but few very entertaining. They are chiefly 
theories about things in general which take the fancies of men 
nowadays. The only safe way to read them is to find out the 
facts first. With this precaution they are tolerably transparent. 
I have been attending Sir James Stephen's lectures upon the 
causes of the first French Revolution. They are now done, so 
I look in upon Stokes' dealing with light. 

From his Father. 

Edinburgh, 13th March 1853. 
Ask Gedge to get you instructions to Brummagem workshops. 
View, if you can, armourers, gunmaking and gunproving — sword- 
making and proving — Pa2?ter-m(:^c/2^ and japanning — silver-plating 
by cementation and rolling — ditto, electrotype, Elkington's 
Works — Brazier's works, by founding and by striking up in 
dies — turning — spinning teapot bodies in white metal, etc. — 

^ i.e. preached. 

132 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

making buttons of sorts, .steel pens, needles, pins, and any sorts 
of small articles wliicli are curiously done by subdivision of 
labour and by ingenious tools — glass of sorts is among the works 
of the place, and all kinds of foundry work — engine-making — 
tools and instruments (optical and philosophical) both coarse 
and fine. If you have had enough of the town lots of Birming- 
ham, you could vary the recreation by viewing Kenilworth, 
Warwick, Leamington, Stratford-on-Avon, or suchlike.^ 

Glenlair, 29th Ajnil 1853. 
You write (from King Edward's School, Birmingham) about 
plans and visits, Freshman Tayler and two others innominate. 

Glenlair, 12th May 1853. 

What do you know of Henry Mackenzie*? Do you find 
Frank to be clever, good, agreeable, and wise, which you state 
to be the desiderata for a friend ? 

Here is a Prop, anent fuel. What would be the amount of 
heat evolved in the combustion of a given weight of dry wood 
compared with the same weight of coal ? 

Glenlair, The Day after the Wedding ^^ 
1st June {1853). 

1 have yours of the day of the Restoration. . . . She (Maria 
Clerk) also wrote about the new phase of animal magnetism 
called Table-turning. Do you know about that ? 

Photography is also in the ascendant. You will, no doubt, 
be at Ipswich, I believe an ancient city, and hath old kirks and 
sundries worthy of notice. Is Otley towards the sea? Douking, 
etc. ? 

. To Miss Cay. 

THn. Coll., 7th June 1853. 

I have an engagement to go and visit a man in Suffolk, but 
the spare bed is at present occupied by the " celebrated Dr. Ting 
of America." I only wait here for his departure. I spent to-day 
in a great sorting of papers and arranging of the same. Much 
is bequeathed to the bedmaker, and a number of duplicate 
examination papers are laid up to give to friends. 

I intend to-morrow to get up early and make breakfast for 

^ This letter has been quoted above, p. 5, note. 
2 Viz. of Elizabeth M'Keand (see above, p. 30). 


all the men who are going down, wakening them in good time ; 
then read Wordsworth's Prelude till sleepy ; then sally forth 
and see if all the colleges are shut np for tlie season ; and then 
go and stroll in the fields and fraternise with the yonng frogs 
and old water-rats. In the evening, something not mathematical. 
Perhaps ^vrite a biographical sketch of Dr. Ting of America, of 
whom you know as much as I do. To-morrow evening, or next 
day, our list comes out. You will hear of it from the Robertsons 
if in town, or Mackenzie if not. I have done better papers than 
those of this examination ; but if the examiners are not satisfied 
with them it is not my fault, for they are better than they have 
yet seen of mine. If any one asks how I am getting on in 
mathematics, say that I am busy arranging everytliing so as to 
be able to express all distinctly, so that examiners may be satis- 
fied now and puj^ils edified hereafter. It is pleasant work and 
very strengthening, but not nearly finished. 

From his Father. 


Glenlair, 2Iith Juiu 185i. 
I have jiist received your letter and Mr. Tayler's. You ^t' 22. 
may be sure I am thankful to hear of your recovering, although 
not previously made anxious about the illness. I cannot but 
think of the fever fit you had in Edinburgh after an Academy 
exam., when we had settled to go to Melrose — that was in 1846.^ 
Nothing can exceed the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Tayler, and 
I hoj)e you will not need long nursing. If you are well and 
not much hindered, you can let me know more fully how you 
are getting on. Neither you nor Mr. Tayler mention the day 
you were taken ill. Mr. T.'s letter is dated 2 2d. 

Glenlair, 28th June 1853, 
I am most thankful and happy to hear of your convalescence 
through Mr. Tayler's most kind and daily bulletins. I know 
not how sufl&ciently to thank Mr. and Mrs. Tayler for their very 
great kindness. I think you may be best to come home, when 
fit to travel, for further recreation. 

1 From the Diary : — ^^ 1846, July, TF., 29. — (Day of the prize-giving 
at the Edinburgh Academy.) Made all ready to start on journey to-morrow 
morning. At night James complained of the light of the candle hurting 
his eyes. Th. 30. — Bad, wet day. Jas. awoke at six; eyes weak and 
headache ; . . . seems to be a disorder from excitement of school 

134 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

Glenlair, 1st July 1853. 

Mr. Tayler says, both truly and kindly, " You must be bis 
guest till you are fit to travel." . . . 

With yours I have Mr. Tayler's letter of 28th. I do not 
write to him to-day. My only subject is thanks, and these are 
not to be measured in words — the strongest that I can use ; so 
at present give my respects and highest regards. 

To THE Rev. C. B. Tayler, 

Trin. Coll., 8th July 1853. 
Evening Post, 

My dear Friend — Your letter was handed to me by the 
postman as I was taking a walk after morning chapel. As I 
was engaged then, I thought I might wait till the evening. I 
breakfasted with MacmiUan the publisher, who has a man called 
Alexander Smith with him, who published a volume of poems 
in the beginning of the year which have been much read here, 
and, indeed, everywhere, for 3000 copies have been sold already. 
He is a designer of patterns for needlework, and he refuses to 
be made celebrated or to leave his trade. He speaks strong 
Glasgow, but without affectation, and is well-informed without 
the pretence of education, commonly so called. People would 
not expect from such a man a book in which the author seems 
to transfer all his own states of mind to the objects he sees. 
But he is young and may get wiser as he gets older. He sees 
and can tell of the beauty of things, but he connects them arti- 
ficially. He may come to prefer the real and natural connection, 
and after that he may perhaps stir us all up by bringing before 
us real human objects of interest he has only dimly seen in the 
solitude of his youth. 

I told you how I meant to go to Hopkins. He was not in. 
I had a talk with him on Sunday ; he recommended light work 
for a while, and afterwards he would give me an opportunity of 
making up what I had lost by absence. Yesterday I did a 
paper of his on the Differential Calculus without fatigue, and 
as well as usual. Ask George how Mr. Hughes has arranged 
about Examinations. I will write to him soon, and send him 
a mass of papers in an open packet, to be taken twice a week, 
or not so often. 

You dimly allude to the process of spoiling which has gone 


on during the last 2 years. I admit that people have been kind 
to me, and also that I have seen more variety than in other 
years ; but I maintain that all the evil influences that I can 
trace have been internal and not external, you know what I 
mean — that I have the capacity of being more wicked than any 
example that man could set me, and that if I escape, it is only 
by God's grace helping me to get rid of myself, partially in 
science, more completely in society, — but not perfectly except 
by committing myself to God as the instrument of His will, not 
doubtfully, but in the certain hope that that Will will be plain 
enough at the proper time. Nevertheless, you see things from 
the outside directly, and I only by reflexion, so I hope that you 
will not tell me you have little fault to find with me, without 
finding that little and communicating it. 

In the Athe7iceum of the 2d there is Faraday's account of his 
experiments on Table-turning, proving mechanically that the 
table is moved by the unconscious pressure of the fingers of the 
people wishing it to move, and proving besides that Table- 
turners may be honest. The consequence has been that letters 
are being written to Faraday boastfully demanding explanations 
of this, that, and the other thing, as if Faraday had made a 
proclamation of Omniscience. Such is the fate of men who 
make real experiments in the popular occult sciences, — a fate 
very easy to be borne in silence and confidence by those who 
do not depend on popular opinion, or learned opinion either, 
but on the observation of Facts in rational combination. Our 
anti-scientific men here triumph over Faraday. 

I hope the Rectory has flourished during the absence of you 
and Mrs. Tayler. I had got into habits with you of expecting 
things to happen, and if I wake at night I think the gruel is 

Macmillan was talking to me to-day about elementary books 
of natural science, and he had found the deficiency, but had a 
good report of " Philosophy in Sport made Science in Earnest," 
which I spoke of with you. When I am settled I will put 
down some first principles and practicable experiments on Light 
for CharKe, who is to write to me and answer questions pro- 
posed ; but this in good time. — Your affectionate friend, 

J. C. Maxwell. 

136 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap, vi; 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 


Trin. Coll., 14th July 1S53, 

You wrote just in time for your letter to reacli me as I 
reached Cambridge. After examination I went to visit the Rev. 
C. B. Tayler (uncle to a Tayler whom I think you have seen 
under the name of Freshman, etc., and author of many tracts 
and other didactic, works). We had little expedites, and walks, 
and things parochial and educational, and domesticity. I in- 
tended to return on the 18th June, but on the 17th I felt 
unwell, and took measures accordingly to be well again — i.e. 
went to bed, and made up my mind to recover. But it lasted 
more than a fortnight, during which time I was taken care of 
beyond expectation (not that I did not expect much before). 
When I was perfectly useless, and could not sit up without 
fainting, Mr. Tayler did everything for me in such a way that 
I had no fear of giving trouble. So did Mrs. Tayler ; and the 
two nephews did all they could. So they kept me in great 
happiness all the time, and detained me till I was able to w^alk 
about, and got back strength. I returned on the 4th July. 

The consequence of all this is that I correspond with Mr. 
Tayler, and have entered into bonds with the nephews, of all 
of whom more hereafter. Since I came here I have been 
attending Hop., but with his approval did not begin full swing. 
I am getting on, though, and the work is not grinding on the 
prepared brain. 

I have been reading Villette by Currer Bell alias Miss Brontd. 
I think the authoress of Jane Eyre has not ceased to think and 
acquire principles since that work left her hands. 

It is autobiographic in form. The ego is a personage of 
great self-knowledge and self-restraint, strength of principle and 
courage when roused, otherwise preferring the station of an on- 
looker. . -, 

Then there is an excellent prying, upright, Jesuitical, and 
successful French school directress; a fiery, finical, physiognomic 
professor, priestridden, but taking his own way in benevolence 
as in other things, etc. etc. 

Faraday's experiments on Table-turning, and the answers of 
provoked believers and the state of opinion generally, show what 
the state of the public mind is with respect to the principles of 
natural science. The law of gravitation and the wonderful 
efi'ects of the electric fluid are things which you can ascertain 


by asking any man or woman not deprived by penury or exclu- 
siveness of ordinary information. But they believe them just 
as tliey believe history, because it is in books and is not doubted. 
So that facts in natural science are believed on account of the 
number of witnesses, as they ought ! I believe that tables are 
turned ; yea ! and by an .unknown force called, if you please, 
the vital force, acting, as believers say, thro' the fingers. But 
how does it affect the table ? By the mechanical action of the 
sideward pressure of the fingers in the direction the table ought 
to go, as Faraday has shown. At this last statement the Turners 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq[. 

, ' Coniston, 23d August 1853. 

I came here with Campbell of Trin. Hall to meet his brother 
and another Oxford man called Christie.^ We are all in a 
house 2 just above the lake, recreating ourselves and reading a 
little. Pomeroy is off to Ireland. I have seen a good deal of 
him, and we have read " at the same time successively " Vestiges 
of Creation and Maurice's Theological Essays. Both have excited 
thought and talk. ... I was down after the Mug^ with Tayler's 
uncle in Suffolk, and was taken in there. I was there made 
acquainted with the peculiar constitution of a well-regulated 
family, consisting entirely of nephews and nieces, and educated 
entirely by the uncle and aunt. There was plenty of willing 
obedience, but little diligence : much mutual trust, and little 
self-reliance. They did not strike out for themselves in different 
lines, according to age, sex, and disposition, but each so exces- 
sively sympathised {bond fide, of course) with the rest, that one 
could not be surprised at hearing any one take part in criticising 
his own action. 

In such a case some would recommend " a little wholesome 
neglect." I would suggest something like the scheme of self- 
emancipation for slaves. Let each member of the family be 
allowed some little province of thought, work, or study, which 
is not to be too much inquired into or sympathised with or 
encouraged by the rest, and let the limits of this be enlarged till 
he has a wide, free field of independent action, which increases 

^ W. Christie, Esq., advocate. • ^ Bank-ground. 

^ Trinity College Examination. ' . 

138 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [cha?. vi. 

the resources of the family so much the more as it is peculiarly 
his own. 

I see daily more and more reason to believe that the study 
of the " dark sciences " is one which will repay investigation. 
I think that what is called the proneness to superstition in the 
present day is much more significant than some make it. The 
prevalence of a misdirected tendency proves the misdirection of 
a prevalent tendency. It is the nature and object of this tendency 
that calls for examination. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Glenlair, 15th September 1853. 

I see that Principal Jelf is going to " have up " Maurice for 
heresy published in his Theological Essays. The consequence 
will probably be that some others unconnected with Maurice 
will be set upon, and will perhaps join with him in self-defence, 
or at least be associated with him in popular opinion. 

If the row becomes general it will be the controversy of the 
day. They have no firm and dogmatic statements to grapple 
with, but they will soon make them. All the ordinary disputes 
have been revivals of the letter of old contests. Here we have 
the very spirit of all reformations ; an attempt must be made 
to find what is requisite to a Christian system, and whether the 
"variables" of such a system ought to remain constant, as they 
were at some arbitrary epoch (that of sect-founders, Fathers, 
General Councils, Reformers, etc.), and not rather to be trusted 
to the true and approved Christians of every age. 

But he that is misty let him be misty still, and the same for 
him that is shallow ; but let him that is active not mar his 
activity by "tearing his neighbours in their slime," or by 
ascending into the thick mist and walking with " Death and 
Morning on the silver horns." 

Fkom his Father. 

Glenlair, 10th Odoher 1853. 
I have set up the rain-gauge in the middle of the garden at 
the crossing of the gooseberry bushes at the Camomile. I think 
it will do. 

. As to changing your rooms — I suppose from that, you have 
settled to continue for a time at Cambridge and to look out for 
a fellowship. 


Glenlair, 28th October 1853. 
Be sure to keep a long way within your powers of working, 
and then you may do well whatever you undertake. 

GlenlaiTy IStli Novemler 1863. 
Your letter was chiefly a dissertation on the election of 
Examinators ; the names were all strange to me, except our old 
friend Charles Mackenzie. 

To Miss Cay. 

Trin. Coll., 12th Novemher 1853. 
I am in a regular state of health though not a very regular 
state of reading, for I hold that it is a pernicious practice to read 
when one is not inclined for it. So I read occasionally for a 
week and then miss a few days, always remembering to do what- 
soever College and Hopkins prescribe to be done, and avoiding 
anything more. Allan Stewart was up a week ago to be made 
a bye Fellow of Peterhouse, so you may congratulate him when 
you see him. He is to be in Edinburgh this winter. Frank 
Mackenzie is up, and seems pretty well. He tells me that he 
does not sit up late ; but as I have not the management of his 
candles I do not know what that means with him. I have not 
been up after twelve for a long time except on Saturdays when 
I am not reading. . . . You will have heard how the Council 
of King's College have sat upon Professor Maurice and intend 
to turn him out of the college. So there are pamphlets and 
replies on the meaning of the word "Eternal," and broadsides 
of the Record on the side of the attack. I see that the Eev. 
Berkeley Addison is in trouble about the Scottish Reformation 
Society, for associating with non-episcopal clergymen. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Trin. Coll., 3d Dec. 1853. 
. . . We have the usual amount of discussion here on labour 
parliaments, multiplicity of votes, Eternity and Maurice and 
Jelf, or the contest between those who think that there is a real 
depth to which thought must go, though words cannot well 
follow it, and those who maintain that that which is not obvious 
to a man of sense, cannot be really connected with a religion 
which is not confined to deep thinkers, but professes to afford 
the highest principles to the simple. That is what most men 

140 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vi. 

discuss. Maurice has settled it for himself, believing that the 
things of which he treats do actually form the necessary thoughts 
of all men whether learned or no. 

' From his Father. . . - 

Glenlair, 16th December 1853. 

I knew Thomas Erskine of Linlathen very well long ago. 
He and his mother and sisters lived in No. 30 Heriot Row. He 
came to the Bar in Edinburgh the year before me. He is related 
to George Dundas, and Stirlings, and Erskines, and many 
families we visited. For long he has lived at Linlathen, near 
Dundee, and is author of various religious books. 

Your dissertation on the parties in the Church of England 
goes far beyond my knowledge. I would need an explanatory 
lecture first, and before I can follow the High, Broad, and Low, 
through their ramifications. 

Peiiicuik, 30th December /53. 
You will need to get muffetees for the Senate-Room. Take 
your plaid or rug to wrap round your feet and legs. 

To Miss Cay. 

Trin. Coll., 13th Janitary 1854- 
All my correspondents have been writing to me, which is 
kind, and have not been writing questions, which is kinder. 
So I answer you now, while I am slacking speed to get up 
steam, leaving Lewis and Stewart, etc., till next week, when I 
will give an account of the five days. There are a good many 
Up here at present, and we get on very jolly on the whole, but 
some are not well, and some are going to be plucked or gulphed, 
as the case may be, and others are reading so hard that they are 
invisible. I go to-morrow to breakfast with shaky men^ and 
after food I am to go and hear the list read out, and whether 
they are through, and bring them word. When the honour list 
comes out the poU-men act as messengers. Bob Campbell comes 
in occasionally of an evening now, to discuss matters and vary 
sports. During examination I have had men at night working 
with gutta-percha, magnets, etc. It is much better than reading 
novels or talking after 5 J hours' hard writing. 

Hunter is up here all the vacation. Do you know anything 
of him in Edinburgh ? His father, who is dead, or his uncle, 


were known in Edinburgh, but I am not up in that subject. 
The present man is a freshman at Queen's, and is a thundering 
mathematician, is well informed on political, literary, and specu- 
lative subjects, and is withal a jolly sort of fellow with some 
human nature at the bottom, and lots of good humour all 
through. He does not talk much, and when he does it is broad 
Scotch and to the purpose. I hope to see more of him next 
term. Old Cliarlie Robertson is in better case I think than 
usual, and rejoices in the good opinion of several men whose 
opinion is most worth having. He has become better known 
and better estimated of late, especially since Sandy ^ came up. 
He did pretty well in the three days, and does not fret about 
anything. The snow here is nearly gone, and it looks like 
frost again. I have never missed a long tramp through the 
slush day by day. When one is well soaked in a snow wreath, 
cleaned and dried, and put beside a good fire, with bread and 
butter and problems, one can eat and grind like a miller. . . . 
I have been reading a book of poems called Benoni, by Arthur 
Munby of Trinity, which are above the common run of such 
things (not Lorenzo Benon% illustrated by J. B., which I have 
seen but not read). Have you seen the Black Brothers, a small 
book of Euskin's, illustrated by Doyle ; — a good child's book, 
which big people ought to read. 

From his Father. 

18 India St. , SOth January 185 4. 
I heartily congratulate you on your place in the list. I 
suppose it is higher than the speculators would have guessed, 
and quite as high as Hopkins reckoned on. I wish you success 
in the Smith's Prizes ; be sure to write me the result. I will 
see Mrs. Morrieson, and I think I will call on Dr. Gloag to 
congratulate him. He has at least three pupils gaining honours. 

^ Alexander Robertson, Esq., now Sheriff of Forfarshire, 

U2 JAl^IES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 



1854 TO 1856— ^T. 22-24. 

''IntheMainof LigM." 

1854. Jaivies Clerk Maxwell's position as Second Wrangler 
JiJt. 22. ^^^ equal Smith's Prizeman, gave deep satisfaction to his 
friends in Edinburgh. Any lurking wish that he had 
been Senior was silenced by the examples of William 
Thomson and Charles Mackenzie, as others have been since 
consoled with the examples of Maxwell and Clifford. His 
father was persuaded by Miss Cay to sit for his portrait to 
Sir John Watson Gordon, as a gift 'of lasting value to his 
son. James was not indifferent to these reflex aspects of 
his success ; but the chief interest of the moment to him 
undoubtedly was that he was now free to prosecute his 
life-career, and to use his newly- whetted instruments in 
resuming his original investigations. His leisure was not 
absolute, for he took pupils as a matter of course, and the 
Trinity Fellowship was only to be gained by examination. 
But his freedom was as great as he himself desired, and it 
is a fact worthy of attention from "researchers," that 
Maxwell, with his heart fully set on physical inquiries, 
engaged of his own accord in teaching, undertook the task 
of examining Cheltenham College, and submitted to the 
routine which belonged to his position at Cambridge. As 
a foretaste of delights in store, he had spent the evenings 
of the Senate-house days in (physico-)magnetic stances with 
his friends. But when actually emancipated he seems to 
;. have reverted principally at first to his beloved Optics. 


He makes inquiries about a microscope manufactory at 
Zurich ; reads Berkeley's Theory of Vision — taking up Mill's 
Logic by the way, and finding there by no means the last 
word on the relation of sense to knowledge ; looks up his 
stock of coloured papers furnished by D. E. Hay, and sets 
to work spinning and weaving the dififerent rays ; inquires 
him out colour-blind persons on all sides ; and invents an 
instrument for inspecting the living retina, especially of 
dogs. By and by it is the Art of Squinting which again 
has charms for him, and he combines it with the teaching 
of solid and spherical geometry, by drawing wonderful 
stereoscopic diagrams. So far, his investigations oscillate 
between colour and form. But even the fascination of the 
Colour-Top ^ cannot hold him long from searching into the 
more hidden things of Matter in Motion. Thus, in his 
letter to his father of May 15, 1855, after describing a 
successful exhibition of the Top and extemporary state- 
ment of his optical theories before the Cambridge Philo- 
sophical Society, he adds : — " I am reading Electricity and 
working at Fluid Motion." And on May 23 — '*I am 
getting on with my electrical calculations every now and 
then, and working out anything that seems to help the 
understanding thereof." Some days earlier. May 5, he had 

^ The " colour-box," though perfected only in 1862, was in full opera- 
tion in the study at Glenlair several years before this — I think as early as 
1850. And even then he had begun spinning coloured discs, proportion- 
ately arranged, so as to ascertain the true *' mixture of colours." He was 
fond of insisting, to his female cousins, aunts, etc., on the truth that blue 
and -yellow do not make green. I remember l\is explaining to me the 
difference between pigments and colours, and showing me, through the 
"colour-box," that the central band in the spectrum was dififerent from 
any of the hitherto so-called ''primary colours." His theory on this 
subject was gradually formed through an immense number of ingeniously 
arranged observations. See Note at end of this chapter, p. 163. 

His interest in Faraday's investigations must have dated from a very 
early time, certainly before 1849.- And now he sought to give to these 
speculations, at which his imaginative mind had long been working, precipe 
mathematical expression. I wish I could recall the date (1857 ?) of a 
drive down the Vale of Orr, during which he described to me for the first 
time, with extraordinary volubility, the swift, invisible motions by which 
magnetic and galvanic phenomena were to be accounted for. It was like 
listening to a fairy-tale. For the substance of it see his papers in the 
Philosojphical Magazine for 1861-62. 

144 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [on a?, vii. 

written : — " I am working away at Electricity again, and 
have been working my way into the views of heavy 
German writers. It takes a long time to reduce to order 
all the notions one gets from these men, but I hope to see 
my way through the subject, and arrive at something in- 
telligible in the way of a theory." These brief notices 
obviously refer to the studies which led up to his important 
paper on Faraday's Lines of Force, which was put into 
shape in the winter of 1855-56. 

The " vassals " were not forgotten by him even when 
most occupied at Cambridge. The choice and provision 
of suitable literature for the consumption of Sam Murdoch 
and Sandy Fraser is a frequent topic of correspondence 
between him and his father. 

. How earnestly he now set himself to make the most of 
life in a religious sense appears from a sort of aphorism on 
conduct which he wrote down originally for his own use, 
and afterwards communicated as a parting gift to his friend 
Farrar (now Canon of Westminster), . who was about to 
become a master at Marlborough School. As a record of 
the spirit in which Maxwell entered at three-and-twenty 
on his independent career, this fragment ^ is of extraordi- 
nary value. 

1854. \~' ^e that would enjoy life and act with freedom must have 
^t 23. the work of the day continually before his eyes. Not yesterday's 
work, lest he fall into despair, nor to-morrow's, lest he become 
a visionary, — not that which ends with the day, which is a 
worldly work, nor yet that only which remains to eternity, for 
by it he cannot shape his actions. 

Happy is the man who can recognise in the work of To-day 
a connected portion of the work of life, and an embodiment of 
the work of Eternity. The foundations of his confidence are 
unchangeable, for he has been made a partaker of Infinity. He 
strenuously works out his daily enterprises, because the present 
is given him for a possession. 

^ An autograph copy was found amongst his papers. Another copy, 
together with the interesting fact mentioned above, determining the date, ' 
has been supplied by Canon Farrar's. kindness. 


Thus ought Man to be an impersonation of the divine pro- 
cess of nature, and to show forth the union of the infinite with 
the finite, not slighting his temporal existence, remembering 
that in it only is individual action possible, nor yet shutting 
out from his view that which is eternal, knowing that Time is 
a mystery which man cannot endure to contemplate until 
eternal Truth enlighten it. 

Meanwhile in his recreations he was as boyishly agile 
as ever, and his feats in bathing and gymnastics, though 
cautiously reported by him, somewhat alarmed his father, 
whose own health now showed signs of breaking. 

His friendships went on multiplying. To the list already 
given must now be added in particular the names of Hort, 
Y. Lushington, Pomeroy, and Cecil Monro. And his con- 
stant observation of character was gaining in fulness and 
precision. A letter to his father of 21st April 1855, 
besides referring to a pupil (Piatt) who had gained a 
Trinity scholarship, contains a graphic delineation of 
several of his coevals who were going in for the first open 
competition for appointments in the Indian Civil Service. 
He confides to his father all his thoughts about them, in 
which speculative and personal interests are combined. 

He had soon another outlet for this kind of sympathy. 
The children of his uncle, Mr. E. Dundas Cay, who had 
lately returned from Hong-Kong, were advancing in their 
education, and two of the boys, William and Charles, 
showed considerable promise in mathematics. He had 
spent some days with his cousins in the summer vacation 
of 1854 at Keswick, where there was also a Cambridge 
reading party under Mathison, the tutor of Trinity. After 
a joyous time with them he walked home to Galloway 
from Carlisle, and it was during this walk that he thought 
out certain improvements in his dynamical top. He took 
a continuous interest in the progress of his cousins, and 
prej)ared a special set of problems for the behoof of Willy, 
the eldest, who was by this time a student in Edinburgh. 

Maxwell continued his contributions to the "Apostle" 
Essay Club, and on May 5, 1855, he read to them in his 
own rooms a paper on Morality, in which he summed up 


146 JA.MES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

the principles and tendencies of the chief existing systems 
of moral philosophy, so resuming another thread of his 
earlier thought.^ 

This essay appears to have been promised early in the 
year, to judge from an allusion to the subject of it in a 
letter to C. J. Monro of February 7, which may be quoted 
here as showing also by what home cares his intellectual 
energies were interrupted or diversified. The reader of 
what precedes will not be misled by the light way in which 
he speaks of things which touched his heart so nearly. 

I. am at present superintending a course of treatment prac- 
tised on my father, for the sake of relieving certain defluxions 
which take place in his bronchial tubes. These obstructions 
are now giving way, and the medico, who is a skilful bellows- 
mender, pronounces the passages nearly clear. 

However, it will be a week or two before he is on his pins 
again, so would you have the goodness to tell Freeman to tell 
Mrs. Jones to tell those whom it may concern, that I cannot be 
up to time at all. ... I may be up in time to keep the term, 
and so work off a streak of Mathematics, which I begin to yearn 
after. At present I confine myself to Lucky Nightingale's line 
of business, except that I have been writing descriptions of 
Platometers for measuring plane figures, and privately by letter 
confuting rash mechanics, who intrude into things they have 
not got up, and suppose that their devices will act when they 
can't. I hope that my absence will not delay the assumption 
of W. D. Maclagan.2 He has been here all the vacation, if not 
there and everywhere. The foundation of Ethics, though it 
may have tickled my core, has not germinated at my vertex. 
Whether it will yet be laid bare, either as a paradox or a truism, 
is more than I can tell. Perhaps it may be a pun. . . . 

I have now to do a little cooking and buttling, in the shape 
of toast and beef-tea and everfizzing draught. . . . Does Pomeroy 
flourish, and has he Crimean letters still ? 

It was only because his father insisted on his doing so 
that he returned to Cambridge at all at this time. 
-^t. 24. At the meeting of the British Association, held at 

^ Supra, p. 71. 

- Now Bishop of Lichfield. Maxwell had recommended him for co- 
optation by the "Apostles' " Club. 


Glasgow in September 1855, Maxwell was present when 
Brewster made an attack on Wlie well's optical theories, 
but he followed the example of the Master of Trinity, who 
was present, in saying nothing. He exhibited his Colour- 
Top, however, the same afternoon, by appointment, at 
Professor Eamsay's house, where Brewster had been ex- 
pected, but did not appear. Maxwell at the same time 
renewed his intercourse with Dr. George Wilson, the 
Edinburgh Professor of Technology, whose likeness hung 
beside that of Forbes in his rooms at Trinity. Wilson 
brought out immediately afterwards a little book on Colour : 
Blindness, in which the substance of his conversations with 
Maxwell is recorded. 

In October he gained his fellowship at Trinity. It was 1855. 
his second trial, and his name appeared as one of three ^^' 24. 
mathematicians who had been chosen from the bachelors 
of the second year. 

He was at once appointed to lecture to the Upper 
Division of the third year in Hydrostatics and Optics, and, 
to reserve time for his own studies, he now desisted from 
taking private pupils. He had indeed enough to occupy 
him without burdening himself with them. Besides the 
lecture in hydrostatics and optics, for which he found it 
desirable to read beforehand " so as not to tell lies," he 
had a large share in " exercising the questionists," i.e. pre- 
paring pass-men for the final examination, by setting papers 
in. arithmetic, algebra, etc., and looking them over with the 
writers individually. 

He had also been asked to prepare a text-book^ on 
optics, and made some plans for doing so, having previously 
resisted the solicitation of his friend Monro, who had urged 
upon him the task of " translating Newton." And it is a fact 
worthy of the attention of bachelor fellows, that young Clerk 
Maxwell thought it worth while to attend the lectures of the 
Professor of Mechanics^ and to exchange ideas with him. 

^ The MS. of a considerable part of this book is still extant. There 
appears to have been sometimes a contest in his mind between the claims 
of different subjects. "I will have nothing to do with optics," he was 
heard once to exclaim. - Professor Willis. 

148 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

For Electricity and Magnetism lie took out Foisson 
again, and presently began putting together more sys- 
tematically his own ideas on Faraday's Lines of Force. 

His interest in coevals and juniors, which even in his 
undergraduate days was often like that of an elder brother, 
assumed a deeper and more authoritative cast. He read 
more widely than ever, and nothing, from the latest novel 
to the newest metaphysical system, escaped his penetrating 
mind. He never read without criticising, and his criticisms, 
often quaintly expressed, were always worth attending to. 
" I hope that analysis of Hegel has done the writer good," 
" Comte has good ideas about method, but no notion of 
what is meant by a person," ^' Some people keep water- 
tight compartments in their minds." Such were the sparks 
that flew about. Other examples, not less strildng, will be 
found in the letters. His observation of social phenomena 
ilso took a new departure, and his remarlis on life and 
manners were endlessly entertaining. 

He was elected a member of the Eay Club, which he 
had attended as a visitor in the spring, and did not forsake 
the assembling of the " Apostles," as appears from at least 
two essays which can only be referred to this period. He 
also took an active interest in the scheme for the higher 
education of working men, which had been lately set on 
foot by Mr. Maurice. 

Between whiles he found time for a full course of classi- 
cal English reading. And as all that he read he read 
critically, and had it thereafter in perfect possession, his 
literary acquirements were by this time of no mean order. 
He was, at the same time, careful to maintain himself in 
proper physical condition, by a steady course of exercises 
at the new gymnasium, which proved a welcome refuge in 
the wet November of that year. It was an unhealthy 
season, and to all his other employments was now added 
that of helping to nurse his friend Pomeroy, who was 
struck down with bilious fever. 

His many-sided nature was in full activity. It is most 
characteristic of him that at this important crisis of his 
intellectual life, the best hour of day after day was given 


ungrudgingly to the task of literally making a friend's bed 
in his sickness. A lighter trait of the same kind may be 
found in the fact that, in the midst of the fellowship exami- 
nation, he had given his father detailed advice about the 
*' vassals'" reading: — "When Sam Murdoch has finished 
Arabia, there are the volumes of the Cabinet Library, called 
Drake, Cavendish, and Dampier, and Circumnavigation of the 
Globe, Humboldt's Travels and Polar Regions, but it would 
be better to change and try the third volume of Household 

His thoughts turned homewards the more often, because 
his father's health was now becoming a matter for grave 
anxiety. In going up to Trinity for the fellowship trials, 
he had been doubtful whether in any case it would be right 
for him to stay up for the rest of the term. And, although 
this question was decided in the affirmative, every letter 
home bears some trace of his unceasing solicitude. 

Thus, at the close of a period of manifold brightness, 
there was some foreshadowing of darker days shortly to 
come, when Death would take his father from him, and 
make the first breach in the circle of his friends. 

Letters, 1854 to 1856. 

From his Father. 

Iiulia Street, J^th Fehy. 185 If. 
I have got yours of the 1st inst., and to-night or on Monday 
I will expect to hear of the Smith's Prizes. I get congratulations 
on all hands, including Prof. Kelland and Sandy Fraser, and 
all others competent. 

18 India St., 6th Fcby. 185 Jf. 

George "Wedderburn came into my room at 2 a.m. yesterday 
morning, having seen the Saturday Times, received by the express 
train, and I got your letter before breakfast yesterday. As you 
are equal to the Senior in the champion trial, you are but a 
very little behind him. 

I am going to dine with John Cay, and with him proceed 
to the Royal Society. I may perhaps catch Prof. Gregory about 
the microscopist. 

150 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

5th March 1854. 

Mrs. Morrieson told me she had a poetical epistle from you 
on St. David's Day.^ 

Aunt Jane stirred me up to sit for my picture, as she said 
you wished for it and were entitled to ask for it, qua wrangler. 
I have had four sittings to Sir John Watson Gordon, and it is 
now far advanced ; I think it is very like. It is Kit-cat size, 
to be a companion to Dyce's picture of your mother and sell', 
which Aunt Jane says she is to leave to you. 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Trin. Coll, 25th March 1S5 4. 
I am experiencing the effects of Mill, but I take him slowly. 
I do not think him the last of his kind. I think more is wanted 
to bring the connexion of sensation with Science to light, and 
show what it is not. I have been reading Berkeley on the 
Theory of Vision, and greatly admire it, as I do all his other 
non-mathematical works ; but I was disappointed to find that 
he had at last fallen into the snare of his otvti paradoxes, and 
thought that his discoveries with regard to the senses and their 
objects would show some fallacy in those branches of high 
mathematics which he disliked. It is curious to see how specu- 
lators are led by their neglect of exact sciences to put themselves 
in opposition to them where they have not the slightest point of 
contact with their systems. In the Minute Philosopher there is 
some very bad Political Economy and much very good thinking 
on more interesting subjects. Paradox is still sought for and 
exaggerated. "We live in an age of wonder still. 

To Miss Cat. 

Trin. Coll.., Whitsun. Eve, 1854- 
I am in great luxury here, having but 2 pups., and able to 
read the rest of the day, so I have made a big hole in some 
subjects I wish to know. We have hot weather now, and I am 
just come from a meeting of subscribers to the Bathing Shed, 
which we organised into a Swimming Club so as to make it a 
more sociable affair, instead of mere "pay your money and use 
your key." 

A nightingale has taken up his quarters just outside my 

^ Mrs. Morrieson's early home was in Montgomeryshire. 


window, and works away every night. He is at it very fierce 
now. At night the owls relieve him, softly sighing after their 

I have made an instrument for seeing into the eye through 
the pupil. The difficulty is to throw the light in at that small 
hole and look in at the same time ; but that difficulty is over- 
come, and I can see a large part of the back of the eye quite 
distinctly with the image of the candle on it. People find no 
inconvenience in being examined, and I have got dogs to sit quite 
still and keep their eyes steady. Dogs* eyes are very beautiful 
behind, a copper-coloured ground, with glorious bright patches 
and networks of blue, yellow, and green, with blood-vessels 
great and small. 

Trin. Coll., 24th Now. 1 54. 

I have been very busy of late with various things, and am 
just beginning to make papers for the examination at Chelten- 
ham, which I have to conduct about the 11th of December. I 
have also to make papers to polish off my pups. with. I have been 
spinning colours a great, deal, and have got most accurate results, 
proving that ordinary people's eyes are all made alike, though 
some are better than others, and that other people see two 
colours instead of three ; but all those who do so agree amongst 
themselves. I have made a triangle of colours by which you 
may make out everything. 

You see that W lies outside the triangle B, R, Y, so that 


White can't be made with Blue, Red, and Yellow ; but if you 
mix blue and yellow you don't get green, but pink — a colour 
between W and R. Those who see two colours only distinguish 
blue and yellow, but not red and green : for instance — 

6 of blue and 94 of red make a red which looks to them 
like a gray made of 10 W and 90 Black. 

40 of blue and 60 of green make 34 of W and QQ Black. 

152 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

I should like you to find out if the Normans have got Bishop 
Percy ^s Reliques of Ancient Ballad Poetry, for if they have I 
would not send them a duplicate ; if not I think the book would 
suit one-half of that family. 

If you can find out any people in Edinburgh who do not 
see colours (I know the Dicksons don't), pray drop a hint that 
I would like to see them. I have put one here up to a dodge 
by which he distinguishes colours without fail. I have also 
constructed a pair of squinting spectacles, and am beginning 
operations on a squinting man. 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

18 India Street, Edinlurgh, 19th Feb. j55. 

My steps will be no more by the reedy and crooked till 
Easter term. My father's recovery is retarded by the frosty 
weather, though we have got up an ethereal mildness here by 
means of a good fire and a towel hung up wet at the other end 
of the room, together with an internal exhibition of nitric ether. 

I wrote to Mackenzie about putting a respectable man in my 
rooms as a stopper to Cat's Hall men, Manns and Boy Joneses, 
but I have not heard of his success. I have no time at present 
for anything except looking through novels, etc., and finding 
passages which will not offend my father to read to him. He 
strongly objects to new-fangled books, and knows the old by 
heart. But he likes the Easays in Intervals of Business, cause 
why, they have not too many words. The frost here has lasted 
long, and I am beginning to make use of it. I get an uncle 
to take my place in the afternoon, and I rush off to Lochend 
or Duddingston. I have not yet succeeded in skating on one 
foot for an indefinite time and getting up speed by rising and 
sinking at the bends of the path ; but I attribute my failure to 
want of faith, for I can get up speed for a single bend, only I 
always slip at a certain critical turning. However, I have only 
been 3 days, and I may do it yet. My plans are not fixt, but 
I think it will be some while before my father is on his pins 
again, and when he is I intend to look after him still, but do a 
private streak of work, for I will soon be in a too much bottled 
up condition of mathematics, from which even mental collapse 
would be a relief. I have no intention of doing a Newton or 
any elegant mathematics. I have a few thoughts on top-spin- 
ning and sensation generally, and a kind of dim outline of 



Cambridge palavers, tending to shadow forth the influence of 
mathematical training on opinion and speculation. 

I suppose when my father can move I will see him out of this 
eastern clime and safe located in Gallovidian westnesses, and so 
he up in Cam. before the beginning of next term. 

I should like to know how many kept baccalaurean weeks 
go to each of these terms, and when they begin and end. Over- 
haul the calendar, and when found make note of. 

Is Pomeroy up, or where ? This is the 2nd time of asking. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll. , Saturday^ 21st AjjHI 1855. 
[Date in John C. M.'s hand.] 

Lots of men are going in for the H.E.I.C.S. examination, — 
Pomeroy, B., C, D. (the best double degree for many years), E. 
(Senior Wrangler), etc., so I suppose the competition will be 
joretty active ; but it is evident that these men will be totally 
different judges, etc., tho' they may be all good in examination 

Potneroy is a genial giant, generous and strong, but hasty in 
condemnation tho' slow to wrath. B., intelligent and able to 
detect any humbug but his own ; but excitable, and impudent 
in the extreme to people he does not know. C. has strong 
feelings and affections, with a great amount of sympathy for all 
cases, but it is repressed for want of courage, and he is left T\dth 
somewhat of a sneaking virtue of his own, always trying to put 
on the manners which suit those he is w^ith. D. is a good man 
of business, using up every scrap of his time most successfully, 
and honest, I believe. E. is what I don't know, but I can con- 
ceive him reduced by circumstances to act the part of Sir Elijah 
Impey in India ; but I hope circumstances may be different, 
and then he may be a harmless mathematician or scientific 
referee, and leave a high reputation behind him. 

Trin. Coll., Vesp. SS. PMlip}^. ct- S. Jac. 1855. 
I have been working at the motion of fluids, and have got 
out some results. I am going to show the colour trick at the 
Philosophical on Monday. Kouth has been writing a book 
about Newton in conjunction with Lord Brougham. Stokes is 
back again and lecturing as usual. 

154 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

Saturday^ 5th May 1855. 

Tlie Royal Society have "been very considerate in sending me 
my paper on colours just when I wanted it for the Philosophical 
here. I am to let them see the tricks on Monday evening, and 
I have been there preparing their experiments in the gas-light. 
There is to be a meeting in my rooms to-night to discuss Adam 
Smith's " Theory of Moral Sentiments," so I must clear up my 
litter presently. I am working away at electricity again, and 
have been working my way into the views of heavy German 
writers. It takes a long time to reduce to order all the notions 
one gets from these men, but I hope to see my way through the 
subject and arrive at something intelligible in the way of a 

Tnn. Coll., 15th May 1S55. 

The colour trick came off on Monday, 7 th. I had the proof 
sheets of my paper, and was going to read ; but I changed my 
mind and talked instead, which was more to the purpose. 
There were sundry men who thought that Blue and Yellow 
make Green, so I had to undeceive them. I have got Hay's 
book of colours out of the Univ. Library, and am working 
through the specimens, matching them with the top. I have a 
new trick of stretching the string horizontally above the top, 
so as to touch the upper part of the axis. The motion of the 
axis sets the string a-vibrating in the same time with the re- 
volutions of the top, and the colours are seen in the haze pro- 
duced by the vibration. Thomson has been spinning the top, 
and he finds my diagram of colours agrees with his experiments, 
but he doubts abont browns what is their composition. I have 
got colcothar brown, and can make white with it, and blue and 
green ; also, by mixing red with a little blue and green and a 
great deal of black, I can match colcothar exactly. 

I have been perfecting my instrument for looking into the 
eye. Ware has a little beast like old Ask,^ which sits quite 
steady and seems to like being looked at, and I have got several 
men who have large pupils and do not wish to let me look in. 
I have seen the image of the candle distinctly in all the eyes I 
have tried, and the veins of the retina were visible in some ; 
but the dogs' eyes showed all the ramifications of veins, with 
glorious blue and green net-work, so that you might copy down 
everything. I have sho^Ti lots of men the image in my own 

^ Above, p. 38. 


eye by shutting off the light till the pupil dilated and then 
letting it on. 

I am reading Electricity and working at Fluid Motion, and 
have got out the condition of a fluid being able to flow the same 
way for a length of time and not wriggle about. 

Trin. Coll. , Eve of E. M. Nativity. 

Wednesday last I went with Hort and Elphinstone to the 
Ray Club, which met at Kingsley of Sidney's rooms. Kingsley 
is great in photography and microscopes, and showed photo- 
graphs of infusoria, very beautiful, also live plants and animals, 
with oxy-hydrogen microscope. 

... I am getting on with my electrical calculations now 
and then, and working out anything that seems to help the 
understanding thereof. 

From his Father. 

GUnlair, 21st May 1855. 
Have you put a burn in fit condition to flow evenly, and 
not beat on its banks from side to side ? That would be the 
useful practical application. 

From Professor J. D. Forbes. 

Clifton, Bristol, 4th May 1855. 

I left directions with Messrs. Neill & Co. to forward proofs 
of your paper, by inquiring at 18 India Street, and I under- 
stand that they were sent out on the 1st May. 

I am informed that my note to you about some of my experi- 
ments on colour has been printed in the Edinburgh Philosajohical 
Jouriml. This was by no means what I intended. . . . What 
I thought that you might do was to introduce into that part of 
your paper where you speak of what has been done or written 
on the subject, mention of the fact that as early as January 
1 8 — (I do not at the moment recollect the year I stated to you) 
I had used the method of rapid motion in blending colours ; 
that I had endeavoured to obtain an equation between certain 
mixed colours and pure gray ; and that I had pointed out 
before Helmholtz, or I believe any one else, that a mixture of 
yellow and blue, under these circumstances at least, does not 
produce green ; you yourself being a witness to what I then 

156 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

tried, though I was prevented from resuming the subject by ill 
health and some experimental occupations (conduction of heat) 
which I considered more imperative. 

I hope you will continue to prosecute your interesting 
inquiries, and with an equal measure of success. 

I address this to Cambridge, as I think you said you should 
be there this month. 

From the Same. 

Clifton^ Bristol, 16th May 1855. 

I am much obliged by your note mentioning your intention 
of referring to my experiments. 

You inquire how I altered the proportions of the constituent 
colours. My plan was, in fact, the same as yours. I had 
sectors much larger than I required of each colour, making them 
overlap, and fixing them down by a screw at the centre, pressing 
a disc of indiarubber on the discs. When I got the anomalous 
result of blue and yellow, I got Mr. Hay to make a disc of many 
alternating narrow sectors merely to see whether it might be a 
physiological effect from the imperfect blending of the colours. 

I still think the experiment ought to be tried without motion, 
by winding blue and yellow threads of silk or worsted roimd a 
card and looking at it at a good distance, or (as you proposed) by 
viewing it with a telescope out of focus. 

You will recollect that I had a whirling-machine (made on 
purpose), in which a number of discs revolved simultaneously 
with equal velocities. I used black and white on one of these ; 
colours on another. Your teetotum, combining both, I consider 
preferable for experiments. By the way, I did not get the 
teetotum you were to leave for me. 

P.S. — I hope you have got the proof of the plate as well as 
of the paper. If not, \vrite to Messrs. Johnston, engravers, 4 
St. Ajidrew Square, Edinburgh. 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Trin. Coll. , Gth June 1855, 

It is hard work grinding out "appropriate ideas," as Whewell 

calls them. However, I think they are coming out at last, and 

by dint of knocking them against all the facts and ^-digested 

theories afloat, I hope to bring them to shape, after which I 


hope to imclerstand sometliing more about inductive philosophy 
than I do at present. 

I have a project of sifting the theory of light and making 
everything stand upon definite experiments and definite assump- 
tions, so that things may not be supposed to be assumptions 
when they are either definitions or experiments. 

. I have been looking into all the dogs' eyes here to see the 
bright coating at the back of the eye, thro' an instrument I 
made to that end. The spectacle is very fine. I remember the 
appearance of Mungo's eyes at Cheltenham. He would be the 
dog to sit. Human eyes are very dark and brown as to their 
retina, but you can see the image of a candle quite well on it, 
and sometimes the blood-vessels, etc. 

From William Dyce Cay, Esq., to John C. M. 

{Glasgow, at the Meeting of the British Association.) 

18th Septeiiiber 1855. 
Sir David Brewster was upon the triple spectrum. As far 
as I can understand, he believes the spectrum to be composed 
of three colours — red, blue, and yellow ; and that the inter- 
mediate colours are composed of mixtures of these, as, for 
example, the green from a mixture of blue and yelloAv, which, 
I think, is different from what James believes. James did not 
say anything in the controversy which followed his speech, as 
he was to meet Sir D. Brewster at the Ramsays' afterwards, 
where he would have his top and other apparatus to show him. 

To HIS Father. 
{After the Meeting of the British Association at Glasgow.) 

Eolhrooke, by Dcrhij, S4th Sept. 1855. 
We had a paper from Brewster on the theory of three colours 
in the spectrum, in which he treated Whewell with philosophic 
pity, commending him to the care of Prof. Wartman of Geneva, 
who was considered the greatest authority in cases of his kind, 
cases in fact of colour-blindness. Whewell was in the room, but 
went out, and avoided the quarrel ; and Stokes made a few 
remarks, stating the case not only clearly but courteously. 
However, Brewster did not seem to see that Stokes admitted his 
experiments to be correct, and the newspapers represented Stokes 
as calling in question the accuracy of the experiments. 

158 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

I am getting my electrical mathematics into shape, and I 
see through some parts which were rather hazy before ; but I 
do not find very much time for it at present, because I am 
reading about heat and fluids, so as not to tell lies in my lectures. 
I got a note from the Society of Arts about the platometer, 
awarding thanks, and offering to defray the expenses to the 
extent of £10, on the machine being produced in working order. 
When I have arranged it in my head I intend to write to James 
Bryson about it. 

I got a long letter from Thomson about colours and electricity. 
He is beginning to believe in my theory about all colours being 
capable of reference to three standard ones, and he is very glad 
that I should poach on his electrical preserves. 

Trin. Coll, 27th Sept. 1855. 
... It is difficult to keep up one's interest in intellectual 
matters when friends of the intellectual kind are scarce. ^ How- 
ever, there are plenty friends not intellectual, who serve to bring 
out the active and practical habits of mind, which overly-intel- 
lectual people seldom do. Wherefore, if I am to be uj) this 
term, I intend to addict myself rather to the working men who 
are getting up classes, than to pups., who are in the main a 
vexation. Meanwhile there is the examination ^ to consider. 

Trin. Coll., 5th October 1855, 
You say Dr. Wilson has sent his book. I \vill write and 
thank him. I suppose it is about coloiu'-blindness. I intend 
to begin Poisson's papers on electricity and magnetism to-morrow. 
I have got them out of the library ; my reading hitherto has 
been of novels, — Shirley and The Newcomes^ and now Westward 

Trin. Coll., 10th October 1855. 
' Macmillan proposes to get up a book of optics, with my 
assistance, and I feel inclined for the job. There is great 
)jother in making a mathematical book, especially on a subject 
with which you are familiar, for in correcting it you do as you 
/ would to pups. — look if the principle and result is right, and 
' forget to look out for small errors in the course of the work. 
However, I expect the work will be salutary, as involving hard 

^ This is said a propos of a recent visit to a college friend who was 
settled as a clergyman in the country. 
- For the Trinity College Fellowship. 


work, and in the end mucli abuse from coaclies and students, 
and certainly no vain fame, except in Macmillan's puflFs. But, 
if I have rightly conceived the plan of an educational book on 
optics, it will be very different in manner, though not in 
matter, from those now used. 

From his Father. 

GUnlair, 10th October 1S55. 
The book sent by Dr. Wilson is the full edition about colour- 
blindness, with notes and appendices, containing your letter to 
him and notices of your communications to him on the subject. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Trill. Coll., 17th October 1S55. 
I expect to be grinding this term. There are lectures on 
hydrostatics and optics, papers for questionists to be set and 
read over with the men, which is procrastinations. Besides 
this I may have to lecture the working men, and what spare 
time I have I intend to use on various subjects, which will 
keep me in work for some time to come, so I do not require 
any pupils to keep my hand in this term. I was looking for 
Jowett's book in the library, but, as usual, all the new theology 
had been carried off in a lump by the M.A.'s, who get in the 
first day. I wanted EUicott, but he was out too, so I took 
Carlyle on the French Revolution. I have been reading the 
English language, comprising Chaucer, Sir Tristram, Bacon F., 
Pope, Berkeley, Goldsmith, Cowper, Burns' letters, Isaac Taylor's 
Saturday Night, Carlyle, Ruskin, Kingsley, Maurice, and com- 
bining the whole with Trench on English Past and Present, and 
with all this I derive pleasure and information, but not a single 
glimmer of a theory about Words. 

And yet I have presently to state whether words mould 
thought or thought brews words. Is not one theory as good as 
another '? Faith and a dale better too, if it was not for the sake 
of laying them together by the ears, which is a difficult task 
when you have to catch both yourself. 

I was staying at the Blackburns' when I was at Glasgow, but 
they were away, and the Ramsays fed and tended me. I found 
your photograph there, together with a few other pleasant recol- 
lections. I have been over to H. M. Butler, who is come up 

160 JAMES CLERK MAXAVELL. [chap. vii. 

again. We were talking about Maurice, etc. Maurice is a man 
I am loath to say nay to, or to accuse of wilful perversion of 
facts ; but in some matters I think he is in great error, es^Decially 
in his estimate of respectable ordinary Christians, as far as 
regards their creed. He cannot go too far in enforcing practice 
and work on people who were bound to it before, and theoreti- 
cally confess it, but he is too hard upon the theories, and totally 
misrepresents them. I would rather be taken for a Yezide than 
for one of Maurice's popular religionists. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll., 17th October 1855. 
The lectures were settled last Friday. I am to do the uj)per 
division of the third year in hydrostatics and optics, and I have 
most of the exercising of the questionists. 

From his Father. 

Glenlair, 20th October 1855. 

If you do a book for McMillan on optics, do not let him 
hurry it on. Take full time to yourself to revise and re-revise 
the MS., and let anything published be creditable. Do nothing 
in a careless manner, and so get a bad name. A first work 
especially should be very carefully got up. 

When you are set to lecture on hydrostatics and optics, have 
you any apparatus for illustration ? 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll., 25th October 1855. 

I have refused to take pupils this term, as I want to get 
some time for reading and doing private mathematics, and 
then I can bestow some time on the men who attend lectures. 

I go in. bad weather to an institution just opened for sports 
of all sorts — jumping, vaulting, etc. By a little exercise of the 
arms every day, one comes to enjoy one's breath, and to sleep 
much better than if one did nothing but walk on level roads. 

1st N'ovember 1855. 
I have been lecturing two weeks now, and the class seems 


improving, and they come up and ask questions, which is a good 


I have been making curves to show the relations of pressure 
and volume in gases, and they make the subject easier. I think 
I told you about the Ray Club. I was elected an associate last 
Wednesday. . . . We had a discussion and an essay by Pomeroy 
last Saturday about the position of the British nation in India, 
and sought through ancient and modern history for instances of 
such a relation between two nations, but found none. We seem 
to be in the position of having undertaken the management of 
India at the most critical period, when all the old institutions 
and religions must break up, and yet it is by no means plain 
how new civilisation and self-government among people so 
different from us is to be introduced. One thing is clear, that 
if we neglect them, or turn them adrift again, or simply make 
money of them, then we must look to Spain and the Americans 
for our examples of wicked management and consequent ruin. 

Fro:^! his Father. 

11th NovemUr 1855, 

The platometer will require much consideration, both by 
you and by any one that undertakes the making. You need 
hardly expect the details all rightly planned at the first ; many 
defects will occur, and new devices contrived to conquer unfore- 
seen difficulties in the execution. I would suspect £lO would 
not go far to get it into anything like good working order. If 
the instrument were made, to whom is it to belong ? And if it 
succeeds well, for whose profit is all to be contrived ? Does 
Bryson so understand it as to be able to make it ? Could he 
estimate the cost, or would he contract to get an instrument 
up ? Fixing on a suitable size is very important. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll., 12th November 1855. 

I attended Willis on Mechanism to-day, and I think I will 
attend his course, which is about the parts of machinery. I 
was lecturing about the velocity of water escaping from a hole 
this morning. There was a great noise outside, and we looked 
out at a magnificent jet from a pipe which had gone wrong in 


162 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. vii. 

tlie court. So that I was saved the trouble of making experi- 

I was talking to Willis about the platometer, and he thinks 
it Avill work. Instead of toothed wheels to keep the spheres in 
position always, I think watch-spring bands would be better. 

Trin, Coll., 25th November 1S55. 

I think I told you that Pomeroy was ill. He has had 
rather a sharp attack of bilious fever. His mother has come 
lip. He was getting round on Thursday, but he ^£i\\ too many 
people, and was rather the worse of it. However, the doctor 
says that the recovery simply requires attention, and j)atience, 
and no hurrying. 

I have been reading old books of optics, and find many 
things in them far better than what is new. The foreign 
mathematicians are discovering for themselves methods which 
were well known at Cambridge in 1720, but are now forgotten. 

I have got a contrivance made for expounding instruments. 
It is a squared rod, one yard long, on which slide pieces, which 
will carry lenses. Each piece has a wedge which fixes it tight 
on the rod, and a saw-shaft, •s\'ith holes through it, for fastening 
the pasteboard frame of the lens. By means of this I intend to 
set up all kinds of models of instruments. 

To K. B. Litchfield, Esq, 

Trill. Coll., 28th November 1S55. 
I am busy with questionists pretty regularly just now, slang- 
ing them one after another for the same things. As they have 
just set npon me for the evenin*;- I must stop now and get out 
some optical things to show them. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll. , 3d December 1S55. 

I had four questionist papers last week, as my subjects 
come thick there ; so I am full of men looking over papers. I 
have also to get ready a paper on Faraday's Lines of Force for 
next Monday. 

Pomeroy is still very ill, but to-day he feels easier, and his 
mouth is not quite so dry and sore. He gets food every two or 
three hours, and port wine every time. I go up in the morning 


and look after tlie getting up and bed-making department along 
with the nurse, after which Mrs. Pomeroy comes, and the nurse 
goes to bed. 

Maurice was here from Friday to Monday, inspecting the 
working men^s education. He was at Goodwin's on Friday 
night, where we met him and the teachers of the Cambridge 
affair. He talked of the history of the foundation of the old 
colleges, and how they were mostly intended to counteract the 
monastic system, and allow of work and study without retire- 
ment from the world. 

Trin. Coll. , 11th December. 

Last night I lectured on Lines of Force at the Philosophical. 
I put off the second part of it to next term. I have been draw- 
ing a lot of lines of force by an easy dodge. I have got to draw 
them accurately without calculation. 

Pomeroy has been improving slowly, but sometimes stopping. 
He is so big that it requires a great deal to get up his strength 
again. I saw Dr. Paget at the Philosophical to-day, and he 
seemed to think him in a fair way to recover. 


1. The colour top was a contrivance for mixing in different 
proportions the light reflected from any number of coloured 
papers. The image of a bright object on the retina is known 
to last for a sensible time after the object has been removed 
from the field of view. Also, as Professor W. Swan has shown, 
if an object is exposed to view for more than a tenth of a second 
it appears with its proper degree of brightness, but if the 
exposure is less than a tenth of a second the apparent brightness 
of the object is proportional to the time of exposure. This so- 
called memory of the eye formed the fundamental principle of 
the colour top, M^hich consisted of a plate of metal made to spin 
rapidly in its own j^lane, which served to carry the disks of 
coloured paper whose colours were to be mixed. Each disk of 
paper had a central hole for the spindle of the top to pass 
through, and had a slit from the centre to the circumference, 
so that two, three, or more disks could be made to overlap one 
another, and thus to present to the observer a corresponding 

164 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap, vii' 

number of sectors together filling up the whole circle. By 
shifting them each disk could be made to present a greater or 
less surface in proportion to the rest. A graduated circle 
showed the percentage of the whole area of the circle which 
each coloured sector occupied. If the eye were directed towards 
any point of such a compound disk, while the disk was spinning 
with the top, it is clear that the time during which any par- 
ticular colour would be passing the line of sight would be 
proportional to the breadth of the corresponding sector on the 
disk, and thus the coloured lights from the several papers would 
be blended on the retina in the proportion of the breadths of 
the corresponding sectors. By employing two sets of disks of 
different sizes, the smaller placed above the larger, colour 
matches could be obtained ; for the compound colour due to 
the smaller disks formed the central portion of the top, while 
that due to the larger formed a ring surrounding it, and the 
match consisted in making the two colours identical, though the 
coloured papers producing them were different. 

If white and black only be used for the smaller disks the 
inner circle is always a neutral gray. We may then determine 
in what proportion other colours must be blended to produce, 
where possible, a match with the gray, and when this is obtained 
we know that the mixed coloured lights are equivalent to pure 
white light, though of less intensity than that from the white 
paper in proportion as the white sector is less than the whole 
circle. Xow, if given colours be employed to match the gray, 
it appears that they must be blended in slightly different pro- 
portions for different eyes, though in the case of persons with 
normal vision the discrepancies are very slight. In the case of 
colour-blind persons, however, the matches are very extra- 
ordinary. As a rule, any amount of red light may be intro- 
duced without altering the colour apparent to a colour -bliud 

The chief results obtained by means of the top were a con- 
firmation of the theory that normal eyes possess three, and only 
three, distinct colour sensations, corresponding to red, green, and 
blue (or violet), and that all colour-vision depends on the rela- 
tive extents to which these three sensations are affected. The 
colour depends on the ratios of the extents to which the three 
sensations are affected, the intensity of the light on their sum. 
In most colour-blind persons the red sensation is absent, and 
hence with them the introduction of red light does not affect 


the apparent colour or intensity of a mixture. Some very 
interesting results with respect to the constitution of various 
bro\vTis and other compound colours were also obtained, and it 
was shown that mixtures of blue and yellow lights may produce 
white or pink, but never produce green. 

2. The "Dynamical Top," which was invented by Maxwell 
to illustrate dynamical propositions, technically so-called, was, 
in its final form, constructed of brass by Mr. Ramage of Aber- 
deen. It was this top which Maxwell brought with him to 
Cambridge when he came up for his M.A. degree in the summer 
of 1857, and exhibited to a tea-party in his room in the evening. 
His friends left it spinning, and next morning Maxwell, noticing 
one of them coming across the court, leapt out of bed, started 
the top, and retired between the sheets. It is needless to say 
that the spinning power of the top commanded as great respect 
as its power of illustrating Poinsot's Theorie Noicvelle de la 
Rotation des Corps. 

During his residence in Cambridge he endeavoured to investi- 
gate the process by which a cat is enabled invariably to alight 
on her feet. The mode of conducting the experiments and the 
impression they left on the mind of the College will appear 
from the following extract from a letter written to Mrs. Maxwell, 
from Trinity, on January 3d, 1870, when Professor Maxwell 
was examining for the Mathematical Tripos : — 

There is a tradition in Trinity that when I was here I discovered 
a method of throwing a cat so as not to Hght on its feet, and that I 
used to throw cats out of windows. I had to explain that the proper 
object of research was to find how quick the cat would turn round, and 
that the proper method was to let the cat drop on a table or bed from 
about two inches, and that even then the cat lights on her feet. 

166 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 



1856, 1857— ^T. 24-25. 

' ' And yet thy heart 
The lowliest duties on herself did lay." 

Soon after his return to Cambridge in February 1856 
(after seeing his father comfortably established in Edin- 
burgh), Maxwell heard from his old friend Professor Forbes 
that the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, 
Aberdeen, was vacant, and he shortly afterwards became a 
candidate. He had never contemplated a life of entire 
leisure, but it may seem strange that Cambridge, where 
besides his lectureship he had various philanthropic 
interests, should not have afforded him a sufficient field 
for regular work. He foresaw that the Scotch appoint- 
ment would please his father, and that the arrangement of 
session and vacation time would enable him to spend the 
whole summer uninterruptedly at Glenlair. Some expres- 
sions in his letters also seem to indicate that he rather 
shrank from the prospect of becoming a Cambridge " Don." 
He had observed the narrowing tendencies of college life, 
and preferred the rubs of the world. 

His letters to his father and others at this time suffi- 
ciently explain the course of his candidature, in which the 
point most deserving notice is the generous way in which 
he speaks of his rivals. While treating the whole matter 
with his usual grave irony, he seems to have conducted his 
part of it with considerable sagacity, and when he returned 
to Edinburgh about the middle of March everything was 
well in train. He had the pleasure of knowing that his 


fattier's interest in the question was at least equal to his 
own, and that the old man had been roused by it to some 
return of his former vigour. But the end was near. 
After a few days spent in Edinburgh, the father and son 
went home to Glenlair, as they had planned — a matter of 
no small anxiety and difficulty. The short vacation had 
all but passed away, when, on Thursday the 2d of April, 
just before his son was to have returned to Cambridge, 
Mr. John Clerk Maxwell suddenly expired. 

The outward change was not very great. Maxwell 
went up to Cambridge as usual. Glenlair was still his 
home. His interest in his own subjects was undiminished. 
His candidature for Aberdeen continued. But the personal 
loss to him was incalculable and irreparable. Their long 
daily companionship had been followed by a correspond- 
ence which was all but daily, by vacations spent together, 
and an uninterrupted interchange, whether present or 
absent, of thoughts and social interests, both light and 
grave. During the last six months, it is true, the old man 
had been failing, and, to outward observers, was consider- 
ably changed. But the change had only called out his 
son's affection into more active exercise, and had never 
checked the flow of communication by word or letter. 
What depth of feeling lay beneath Maxwell's quiet 
demeanour at this time may be inferred from the poem 
written at Cambridge during that summer term, and put 
into my hands when we met afterwards at Glenlair. Some 
lines of it may be appropriately inserted here : — 


Yes, I know the forms that meet me are but phantoms of the brain, 
For they walk in mortal bodies, and. they have not ceased from f)ain. 
Oh those signs of human weakness, left behind for ever now, 
Dearer far to me than, glories round a fancied seraph's brow. 
Oh the old familiar voices ;• oh the patient waiting eyes ; 
Let me live with them in dreamland while the world in slumber lies. 
For by bonds of sacred honour will they guard my soul in sleep 
From the spells of aimless fancies that around my senses creep. 
They will link the past and present into one continuous life ; 
While I feel their hope, their patience, nerve me for the daily strife. 
For it is not alPa fancy that our lives and theirs are one, 
And we know that all we see is but an endless work begun. 
Part is left in nature's keeping, part has entered into rest ; 
Part remains to grow and ripen hidden in some living breast." 

168 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

Such was James Clerk Maxwell during the " years of April 

Letters, 1856. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin., IJfth Feb. 1856. 

Yesterday the Ray Club met at Hort's. I took my great 
top there and spun it with coloured discs attached to it. I 
have been planning a form of top which will have more variety 
of motion, but I am working out the theory, so that I will wait 
till I know the necessary dimensions before I settle the plan. 

I told Willie (Cay) how I had hung up a bullet by a com- 
bination of threads. 

I have drawn from theory the curves which it ought to 
describe, and when I set the bullet a-going over the proper 
curve, it traces it out over and over again as if it were doing 
a pre-ordained dance and kept a steady eye on the line on the 
paper. I have enlarged my stock of models for solid geometry, 
made of coloured thread, stretched between two pasteboard ends. 

From Professor J. D. Forbes. 

Edinburgh, 13th Feb. 1856. 

You may not perhaps have heard that Mr. Gray, Professor 
of Natural Philosophy, Marischal College, Aberdeen, is dead. 
He was a pleasing and energetic person, in the prime of life, 
and health, a few months ago, when I saw him last. 

I have no idea whether the situation would be any object to 
you ; but I thought I would mention it, as I think it would be 
a pity were it not filled by a Scotchman, and you are the person 
who occurs to me as best fitted for it. 

Do not imagine from my writing that I have the smallest 
influence in the matter, or interest in it beyond the welfare of 
the Scottish Universities. 

It is in the gift of the Crown. The Lord Advocate and 
Home Secretary are the parties to apply to. I am not acquainted 
with either. 

In the Commissioners' Report of 1830 the emoluments are 
stated at about £350. But they are not always to be depended 


Another point. I think you ought certainly to be a Fellow 
of the Eoyal Society of Edinburgh. I shall be glad to propose 
you if you wish it. 

To HIS Father. 

Tri7i. Coll., 15th Feb. 1856. 

Professor Forbes has written to me to say that the Professor- 
ship of Nat. Phil, at Marischal College, Aberdeen, is vacant by 
the death of Mr. Gray, and he inquires if I would apply for the 
situation, so I want to know what your notion or plan may be. 
For my ot\ti part, I think the sooner I get into regular work the 
better, and that the best way of getting into such work is to 
profess one's readiness by applying for it. 

The appointment lies with the Crowm — that is, the Lord 
Advocate and Home Secretary. I suppose the correct thing to 
do is to send certificates of merit, signed by swells, to one or 
other of these officers. 

I am going to ask about the method of the thing here, and 
Thacker has promised to get me the College Testimonials. If 
you see any one in Edinburgh that understands the sort of 
thing, could you pick up the outline of the process ? 

In all ordinary affairs political distinctions are supposed to 
weigh a great deal in Scotland. The English notion is that in 
pure and even in mixed mathematics politics are of little use, 
however much a knowledge of these sciences may promote the 
stucly of politics. As to Theology, I am not aware that the 
mathematicians, as a body, are guilty of any heresies, however 
some of them may have erred. B^it these are too mysterious 
subjects to furnish matter for calculation, so I may tell you that 
the reflecting stereoscope was finished yesterday, and looks well, 
and that I got a Devil made at the same time, which I play at 
the Gymnasium for relaxation and breathing time. 

Forbes also suggests my joining the Royal Society. 

Trin. Coll., 20th Feb. jSG. 

As far as writing (Testimonials) goes, there is a good deal, 
and if you believe the Testimonials you would think the Govern- 
ment had in their hands the triumph or downfall of education 
generally, according as they elected one or not. 

However, wisdom is of many kinds, and I do not know which 

170 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. chap. viii. 

dwells with wise cotmsellors most, whether scientific, i^ractical, 
political, or ecclesiastical. I hear there are candidates of all 
kinds relying on the predominance of one or other of these 
kinds of wisdom in the constitution of the Government. 

I had a letter from Dr. Swan of Edinburgh, who is a candi- 
date, asking me for my good opinion, which I gave him, so far 
as I had one. His printed papers are good, and I hear he is 
so himself. Maclennan is also a candidate. He has the quali- 
fication of making himself understood. 

The results of this term are chiefly solid Geometry Lectures, 
stereoscopic pictures, and optical theorems. My lectures are to 
be on Rigid Dynamics and Astronomy next term, so I do not 
expect to be out of work by reason of Aberdeen, and I have 
plenty to get through in those subjects. 

I have been making more stereoscopic curves for my lectures. 
I intend to select some and dra^v them very neat the size of 
the ordinary stereoscopic pictures, and write a description of 
them, and publish them as mathematical illustrations. I am 
going to do one now to illustrate the theory of contour lines in 
maps, and to show how the rivers must run, and where the lines 
of watershed must be. 

Fro:m his Father. 

22d Feby. 1856. 
... I believe there is some salary, but fees and pupils, I 
think, cannot be very plenty. But if the postie be gotten, and 
prove not good, it can be given up ; at any rate it occupies but 
half the year. 

To HIS Father. 

Trin. Coll., 12th March. 

I was at the Working College to-day, working at decimal 
fractions. We are getting up a preparatory school for biggish 
boys to get up their preliminaries. We are also agitating in 
favour of early closing of shops. We have got the whole of the 
ironmongers, and all the shoemakers but one. The booksellers 
have done it some time. The Pitt Press keeps late hours, and 
is to be petitioned to shut up. 

I have just written out an abstract of the second part of my 
paper on Faraday's Lines of Force. I hope soon to write pro- 
perly the paper of which it is an abstract. It is four weeks 


since I read it. I have done nothing in that way this term, 
but am just beginning to feel the electrical state come on again, 
and I hope to work it up well next term. 

To Miss Cay. 

Glenlair, Thursday Afternoon {3d April 1856). 

Dear Aunt — My father died to-day at twelve o'clock. He 
was sleepless and confused at night, but got up to breakfast. 
He saw Sandy a few minutes, and spoke rationally, then came 
into the drawing-room, and sat down on a chair for a few minutes 
to rest, and gave a short cry and never spoke again. We gave 
him ether for a little, but he could not swallow it. There was 
no warning, and aj)parently no pain. He expected it long, and 
described it so himself. 

Do you think Uncle Robert could come and help a little 1 
Tell Dr. Bell and other people. As it is, it is better than if 
it had been when I was away. He would not let me stay. I 
was to go to Cambridge on Friday. — Your aff. nephew, 

J. C. Maxwell. 

To Mrs. Blackburn of Killearn. 

Glenlair, Thursday. 

Dear Mrs. Blackburn — My father died suddenly to-day 
at 1 2 o'clock. He had been giving directions about the garden, 
and he said he would sit down and rest a little as usual. After 
a few minutes I asked him to lie down on the sofa, and he did 
not seem inclined to do so, and then I got him some ether, which 
had helped him before. 

Before he could take any he had a slight struggle, and all 
was oyer. He hardly breathed afterwards. 

He used often to talk to me about this, which has come at 
last, and he seemed fully to have made up his mind to it and 
to be prepared for it. His nights have sometimes been troubled, 
and last night I was with him the whole time trying to get him 
into a comfortable sleep, which did not come till light. 

Otherwise we thought him better than when in Edin^ He 
was very glad to get back here again. 

I write to you that you may tell Mrs. Wedderburn. She 
ought to know, and I trust you will let her know, that not only 

172 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

was there no pain or distress about my father's death, but he 
had often been speaking of how glad he was that he had got 
everything put in order, and that he was home again. 

I have written to ask my Uncle Kobert Cay to come and 
help me in various things, as I am rather alone here. Of course 
I have written to Sir George, and will do so to other relatives 
as soon as I can. — Your affte. cousin, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 

From R. Dundas Cay, Esq., to Miss Cay, on Mr. John 

Clerk Maxwell's Death. 

Glenlair^ 8th April 1856. 

I think you will be glad to hear how we are getting on. It 
is very nice to see how natural James is. There is no affecta- 
tion of more feeling than he really has, but he talks away upon 
his own subjects when not busy with the necessary preparations 
for to-morrow. Fortunately these occupy him a good deal, and 
as I think the business is of use to him, I only assist him and 
keep him talking. For instance, he made out all the list and 
directed the letters himself ; I sat by and sealed them. Then 
my health requires a walk every day, so we go out and talk 
away very much as usual all the time, discussing the thinning 
of plantations, etc. 

It is beautiful to see the feeling of all the people towards 
him, all thinking for him, and trying to assist him in every 
way, and he trying to carrj'' on everything as before : — or when 
he wants to make a change, his anxiety, lest people should think 
he disapproves of the former cijstoms. For instance, he wished 
to have the servants in for prayers every evening, instead of 
our reading by ourselves and reading to them separately ; he 
was quite afraid they should think his doing so would look as 
if he thought it was wrong, it not having been done before. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Trin. Coll., ^U April 1856. 
I have had many things to attend to lately, which have kept 
me from writing to you. I am glad you wrote to me. I got a 
very kind letter from your mother and Bob, for which you must 
thank them meanwhile. My uncles, Robert and Albert, stayed 
with me till the 1 5th. That day I got a letter from Cambridge 


about college matters, and so I had to set to work at home more 
vigorously. George Wedderburn came in the afternoon, and we 
had two hard days' work of various kinds. 

On Friday he and I left Glenlair, and I got here on Saturday, 
and since yesterday have been lecturing. 

All things are as if I had been up after a common vacation, 
and I see them all the same as they used to be. I have got 
back among chapels and halls and scholarships, and all the 
regular routine, with now and then some expression of condol- 
ence, which is all that strangers can or ought to afford. Neither 
they nor I enter on a subject which must be misunderstood ; 
but it seems to me that while all the old subjects are as interesting 
to me as ever, I talk about them without understanding the men 
I talk to. 

I have two or three stiff bits of work to get through this 
term here, and I hope to overtake them. When the term is 
over I must go home and pay diligent attention to everything 
there, so that I may learn what to do. 

The first thing I must do is carry on my father's work of 
personally superintending everything at home, and for doing 
this I have his regular accounts of what used to be done, and 
the memories of all the people, who tell me everything they 
know. As for my own pursuits, it was my father's wish, and it 
is mine, that I should go on with them. We used to settle that 
what I ought to be engaged in was some occupation of teaching, 
admitting of long vacations for being at home ; and when my 
father heard of the Aberdeen proposition he very much approved. 
I have not heard anything very lately, but I believe my name 
is not yet put out of question in the L^} Advocate's book. If I 
get back to Glenlair I shall have the mark of my father's work 
on everything I see. Much of them is still his, and I must be 
in some degree his steward to take care of them. I trust that 
the knowledge of his plans may be a guide to me, and never a 

I am glad to hear of your [Oxford] W[orking Men's] Coll[ege]. 
The preparatory school here has at once got from seventy to 
ninety scholars, all in earnest, and they have had to migrate to 
a larger schoolhouse. 

We might consider of you and Bob and W. Cay coming for 
a quiet week or two to Glenlair in summer, if all goes well. 
Bob is with Willie and Charlie now touring. 

I am getting a new top turned to show my class the motion 

174 JAMES CLERK MAXAVELL. [chap. virr. 

of bodies of various forms about a fixed point. I expect to get 
very neat results from it, and agreeing with theory of course. 

From Professor J. D. Forbes. 

Bridge of Allan, 30th April 1856. 

My dear Sir — I have just seen in the newspaper that you 
have been appointed to the Chair in Marischal College, on which 
I beg sincerely to congratulate you. 

I regret much that it should at the same time be my lot to 
express my sympathy on the occasion of the recent death of your 
father. Such a loss occurs but once in a lifetime. In your case 
I am sure that it has the greatest alleviation which it admits of 
— I mean the consciousness that you have been an affectionate 
and dutiful son, and that your excellent conduct relieved your 
father's mind from every shade of anxiety regarding you. — 
Believe me always, yours very sincerely, 

James D. Forbes. 

To K B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Trinity, Jjlli June 1856. 

On Thurs. evening I take the North-western route to the 
North. I am busy looking over immense rubbish of papers, 
etc., for some things not to be burnt lie among much combustible 
matter, and some is soft and good for packing. 

It is not pleasant to go down to live solitary, but it would 
not be pleasant to stay up either, when all one had to do lay 
elsewhere. The transition state from a man into a Don must 
come at last, and it must be painful, like gradual outrooting of 
nerves. When it is done there is no more ]3ain, but occasional 
reminders from some suckers, tap-roots, or other remnants of 
the old nerves, just to show what was there and what might 
have been. 

1856. After his father's death. Maxwell set himself anew to 

uEt. 25. the tasks before him, with a mingled sense of loss and 
responsibility. One of his first duties was to apply himself 
to the management of his estate. He remained at Glenlair 
during most of the summer, only maldng a short excursion 
to Belfast on account of his cousin, William Cay, who, in 


accordance with his advice, was about to study Engineering 
under James Thomson, the brother of the Glasgow Pro- 
fessor. In the autumn, besides entertaining Charles HojDe 
Cay, then a boy of fifteen, in his school holidays, he had 
various Cambridge friends to stay with him, as in former 
years. ^ 

In November he began his work at Aberdeen. A / 
Scotch Professor has one advantage over a College lecturer 
at Cambridge. If his students are less advanced, he has 
the entire direction of their work in his own department. 
It is left to him, apart from any prescribed system, to 
determine the order in which the parts of his subject shall 
be, developed. His selection of topics is not dominated by 
the Final Examination. This peculiarity of his position 
was fully appreciated by Clerk Maxwell, whose experience of 
the course in Edinburgh under Forbes gave him a " stand- 
point " from which to arrange his great fund of scientific 
acquirement in presenting it to his students. 

Had Maxwell the qualities of a teacher 1 That he was 
not on the whole successful in oral communication is an 
impression too widespread to be contradicted without 
positive proof Yet his letters bear sufficient evidence 
that in many respects he had a true vocation as an edu- 
cator. The combination of keen sympathy with native 
authority and dignity, the intense interest in his subject, 
his endless power of taking trouble, his philanthropic 
enthusiasm, his critical study of mankind, his wide range 
of language and ideas, must have enabled him to make his 
mark as a public teacher, either at Aberdeen or Cambridge, 
if he had remained long enough at either place to wear off 
some superficial impediments, to adapt his methods to his 
environment, and to effect a thorough understanding with 

^ With one of these, who happened to he "Carlyle-mad," he drove 
one day ou pilgrimage to Craigenputtock. The enthusiast, in his rapture, 
harangued an old peasant, who was hoeing *'nee]DS," on the glorious 
doings of the former tenant of the farm-house. The man listened, stooping 
over his work till the rhapsody was over, then looked up for a moment 
saying, "It is aye gude that mends," and resumed his labour. Maxwell 
was fond of relating this. 

176 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

his pupils. As it was, his lectureship at Trinity lasted 
only for a year, and in the Scotch university he had only 
taught for three short sessions when Marischal College was 
on the point of being suppressed, and his reputation as a 
teacher was, under these circumstances, brought into com- 
parison with that of others whose strength lay in exposition. 
To those who know what is implied in academical contests 
and controversies, the mention of these facts will be a suffi- 
cient caution against taking the lowest estimate of Max- 
well's teaching powers ; and in after years " at Cambridge, 
where his class consisted of picked students," we have good 
authority for saying " his lectures were listened to with an 
attention and pleasure similar to that with which his books 
are now read." But at this earlier time there were cer- 
tainly drawbacks, of which he himself was imperfectly 
conscious. Between his students' ignorance and his vast 
knowledge it was difficult to find a common measure. 
The advice which he once gave a friend whose duty it was 
to preach to a country congregation, " Why don't you give 
it them thinner V must often have been applicable to him- 
self. Another hindrance lay in the very richness of his 
imagination, and the swiftness of his wit. The ideas with 
which his mind was teeming were perpetually intersecting, 
and their interferences, like those of the waves of light, 
made " dark bands " in the place of colour, to the un- 
assisted eye. Illustrations of ignotum per ignotius, or of 
the abstruse by some unobserved property of the familiar, 
Avere multiplied with dazzling rapidity. Then the spirit 
of indirectness and paradox, though he was aware of its 
dangers, would often take possession of him against his 
will, and either from shyness, or momentary excitement, 
or the despair of making himself understood, would land 
him in " chaotic statements," breaking off with some quirk 
of ironical humour. Add to this his occasional hesitation, 
his shortsightedness, and the long years of solitary inter- 
course with his father, who understood his meaning from 
the slightest hint, and rather encouraged the family trick 
of " calling things out of their names," and the list of 
hindrances is sufficiently formidable. But he was striving 


to overcome those of which he knew, and even if he had 
never done so completely, the weight of his character as 
well as the profundity of his genius, and his unvarying 
kindliness, must have won their way. 

As marking his educational enthusiasm, it should not be 
forgotten here that he continued at Aberdeen the practice 
which he had commenced at Cambridge, of lecturing to 
working men. This was entirely voluntary, and for aught 
I know may have been regarded as a piece of eccentricity. 

A trivial incident may be recorded as throwing light on 
his relations to professors and students severally. The 
professors had unlimited access to the library, and were in 
the habit of sometimes taking out a volume for the use of 
a friend. The students were only allowed two volumes at 
a time. Maxwell took out books for his students, and when 
checked for this by his colleagues explained that the students 
were his friends. 

Amongst the human phenomena surrounding him, one 
which genuinely interested him was the religious " revival " 
which took place about that time in Scotland. His inter- 
course with evangelical friends in England had prepared him 
to sympathise with such "experiences," and his Calvinistic 
reading had familiarised him with the language used. 
And he was less jealous of Antinomianism than of a cut 
and dried morality. But he was in no wise distracted 
from his professional duties by this or anything else, and 
although he referred to it in conversation, it has left no 
trace in any of his remaining letters which I have seen. 

Letters, 1856-1857. 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Glenlair, 4^11 July 1S56. 

I have got some prisms and opticals from Edinbro', and I 
am fitting up a compendious colour-machine capable of trans- 
portation. I have also my top for doing dynamics and several 
colour-diagrams, so that if I come to Cheltenham I shall not be 



178 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

empty handed. At tlie same time I should like to liear from 
you soon. 

I have been giving a portion of time to Saturn's Rings, which 
I find a stiff subject but curious, especially the case of the motion 
of a fluid ring. The very forces which would tend to divide 
the ring into great drops or satellites are made by the motion 
to keep the fluid in a uniform ring. 

I find I get fonder of metaphysics and less of calculation 
continually, and my metaphysics are fast settling into the rigid 
high style, that is about ten times as far ahove Whewell as Mill 
is helow him, or Comte or Macaulay below Mill, using above and 
below conventionally, like top and down in Bradshaw. 

Experiment furnishes us with the values of our arbitrary 
constants, but only suggests the form of the functions. After- 
wards, when the form is not only recognised but understood 
scientifically, we find that it rests on ]3recisely the same founda- 
tion as Euclid does, that is, it is simply the contradiction of an 
absurdity, out of which may we all get our legs at last ! 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair, 18th July 1856. 
I can promise you milk and houey and mutton, with wind 
and water to match, a reasonable stock of natives of great diver- 
sity, and very unlike any natives I know elsewhere. I also 
expect a cousin i here, who carries a clear and active mind in 
a body ditto ditto, and I hope to make them stick closer together 
by the material above stated. 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair^ 9th September 1856. 
My only hope for Pomeroy is that he may keep his health ; 
if that remains I think it quite presumptuous to interfere with 
him by hopes or otherwise, for I would rather be interfered 
with by him (from which I am safe) than bother a man who 
steers so well himself. You must remember that besides the 
clerical shell of respectability which is to be put on, there is 
sometimes a lay shell of avrjpiOfxov yeAao-/xa, which has in some 
measure to be put off, or perhaps more truly drawn in, for no 

^ Cliarles Hope Cay. 


one that has once known can ever forget that instead of two 
views there are three, good, bad, and grotesque ; and tho' all 
things are full of jokes, that does not hinder them from being 
quite full, or even more so, of more solemn matters. It also 
strikes me that if we were to compare notes, the thing we would 
most differ about would be the notion we have of the " stand- 
point " (see religious prints, passim) of the men whom we know 
in common. 

My own notion is that you see him where he ought to be 
according to principle, and I see him where he acts as if he 
was, that is, in the position which would naturally produce his 
actual life. But I find on comparing notes with other people 
that a man always shows himself up differently according to the 
man who is with him. In fact I do it myself, so I must now 
show up the fishing side for the benefit of Charlie (Cay). 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, 14th October 1856, 
. . . During September I had Lushington, Maclennan, and 
two cousins " Cay" here. Now I am writing a solemn address 
or manifesto to the Natural Philosophers of the North,^ which 
I am afraid I must reinforce with coffee and anchovies, and a 
roaring hot fire and spread coat-tails to make it all natural. By 
the way, I have proved that if there be nine coeflBcients of 
magnetic induction, perpetual motion will set in, and a small 
crystalline sphere will inevitably destroy the universe by in- 
creasing all velocities till the friction brings all nature into a 
state of incandescence, or as H — — would say, Terrestrial all in 
Chaos shall exhibit efflorescence. 

To Miss Cay. 

1:29 Union Street, Aberdeen y 
27th February 1857. 

You are right about my being two letters in debt to you. I 

proceed to "post you up" to the most recent epoch. The 

weather is mild and sunny, but the winter has been severe. 

The planets Jupiter and Venus have been neighbours ; Saturn, 

Mars, and Mercury also visible. 

^ His Inaugural Lecture at Aberdeen. 

180 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

To descend to particulars. I find everything going on very 
smoothly. I never passed an equal time with less trouble. I 
have plenty of work but no vexation as yet. In fact, I am 
beginning to fear that I must get into some scrape just to put 
an end to my complacency. 

I will begin with the College. We are having public meet- 
ings and caucuses (that is, the students are) for the election of 
Lord Rector. Lord Stanley won't come. Lord Elgin is doubt- 
ful. They seem to prefer Elgin to Layard. We are to have a 
commission consisting of Col. IMure, Cosmo Innes, and Stirling 
of Keir. 

To-morrow I hold my second general examination on the 
subject we have done. I hope that my men of science won't 
have their heads turned with politics. I have all the squibs 
regularly presented to me. They are not very good. 

I have had 13 special examinations, and the two last have 
been the best answered of any. I send you my paper for to- 
morrow to give it to Bob Campbell with my profoundest esteem. 

We have been at the theory of Heat and the Steam Engine 
this month, and on Monday we begin Optics. I have a volun- 
teer class who have been thro' astronomy, and we are now at 
high Optics. Tuesday week I give a lecture to operatives, etc., 
on the Eye. I have just been getting cods' and bullocks' eyes, 
to refresh my memory and practise dissection. The size of the 
cod and the ox eye is nearly the same. As this was our last 
day of fluids, I finished off wdth a splendid fountain in the sun- 
light. We were not very wet. 

Out of College I have made the most of my time in seeing 
the natives. I used to walk every day with Professor Martin, 
but he was not well for some time, and we broke that habit. I 
get on better wdth people of more decision and less refinement, 
because they keep me in better order. 

I have been keeping up friendly relations with the King's 
College men, and they seem to be very friendly too. I have 
not received any rebukes yet from our men for so doing, but I 
find that the families of some of our professors have no dealings, 
and never had, with those of the King's people. Theoretically 
we profess charity. 

I had a glorious solitary walk to-day in Kincardineshire by 
the coast — black cliffs and white breakers, I took my second 
dip this season. I have found a splendid place, sheltered and 
safe, with gymnastics on a x^ole afterwards. 


To THE Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

129 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 6th Fehruary 1857. 

I got your letter ^ this morning at breakfast. I was some- 
what seedy from being up late, but the perusal seemed to clear 
up everything, and I got on better with explaining the properties 
of elastic fluids than I had any reason to hope. So when I 
have doubts about the best mode of explaining anything, I must 
consult your letter, only it will not do for ever. I must have 
a new one now and then. 

But I have not been so glad for long. Knowing you of old, 
I can see how things are by the way you write, and it is not 
always that similar announcements have given me similar 

So I am glad that you do not know what " it " was. Avoid 
the neuter pronoun. " It " is unworthy of beasts that perish. 
"He" and "She" are for ever and ever. What the form of 
the i^ronoun may be after this I cannot tell, but I think more 
is meant in the distinction than is fully expressed in this life. 

The Sadducees on the one side, and the ascetics on the 
other, point out Jthe errors. Solomon, Prov. viii., et imssim, 
and Eph. vi., indicate matter of contemplation not unallied to 
action, which in good ground bears good fruit. 

But as Urania remarked to Melpomene, I am but displaying 
the fact of my belonging to a lower stage in the scale of things, ^ 
so I must for the present go do\vn beside my native rill. 

AVith respect to this " northern hermitage," my cell is pretty 
commodious. In quitting the coenobitic cloister of Trinity for 
the howling wilderness of Union Street, I have not been made 
an anchoret. It is quite consistent with the eremitic life to 
modify one's fast in friends' houses 4 days per week or so. 

One thing I am thankful for, though perhaps you will not 
believe it. — Up to the present time I have not even been 
tempted to mystify any one. 

I have made out who were most likely to excite my passion 
that way, and I have avoided some, and broken the ice with 

others. I am glad B is not here ; he would have ruined 

me. I once met him. I was as much astonished as he was 

^ Announcing our marriage engagement. See p. 190. 

182 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

at the chaotic statements I began to make. But as far as I can 
learn I have not been misunderstood in anything, and no one 
has heard a single oracle from my lips. Of course I do not 
mean that my class do not mistake my meaning sometimes. 
That is found out and remedied day by day. I speak of pro- 
fessors, ministers, doctors, advocates, matrons, maidens, and 
phenomenal existences (Chimerae bombylantes in vacuo). We 
are through mechanics. I had an ex°- on bookwork on 24th 
Jan. I got answers to all the questions and riders, though no 
one floored them all right. I have now to be brewing experi- 
ments on Heat, as well as determining the form of doctrine to 
be presented to the finite capacities of my men. 

From C. J. Monro, Esq. 

15th February 1857. 

Have you seen the Pomeroy packet ? It has much more in 
it than any travels I ever read. Lots of phenomena, human 
and otherwise, on the way out : especially the waves in a 
storm. . . . 

. . . They who deal in instruments of strings say that if you 
strike a certain note you hear certain others above. Is that 
because of the further terms in a Fourier's integral, or because 
a sympathetic vibration is excited in certain other of the strings 
of the same instrument ? I observe Weber says that it does 
not occur in wind instruments. 

From Professor J. D. Forbes. 

Edinlurgh, 31st March 1857. 

My dear Maxwell — I have often wished to ask you to tell 
me how your first session had turned out ; consequently I was 
exceedingly glad to get your letter this evening, and to find 
that you have not been disappointed in the results of the step 
to which you kindly say that my assistance was of some use. 
In what you say about the monotony of reiteration, I can confi- 
dently assure you that your conclusions are quite correct ; certain 
precautions being taken which an active mind like yours is sure 
to fall upon. 

We shall be delighted to see you at the R. S. on the 20th, 
and to have your paper, which, if convenient, please to put into 
my hands, as a matter of form, when ready. 

CHAP. VIII.] GLENLAIR, 1857. 183 

I have been at several meetings of the Society, but am feeling 
a little just now the effects of the season and the winter's work, 
so I shall not be there on the 6th. On the whole, however, I 
have got through the winter well. 

I shall like much to see your Top, of which I read the 
account in the Athenceum. 

Have you observed in that same flippant paper for last 
Saturday an attack upon Faraday (as it seems to me) of a most 
presumptuous and ignorant kind ? Though by no means as yet 
a convert to the views which Faraday maintains, yet I have so 
far a general appreciation of them as to believe that this con- 
ceited mathematician (some fifteenth Cambridge wrangler, I 
guess) is ignorant altogether of what Faraday wishes to prove. — 
Always yours sincerely, James D. Forbes. 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, Springholm, 
Dumfries, 20th May 1857, 

I went to Old Aberdeen for Fourier, . , . but I have forgotten 
what was to be discovered out of him. 

The session went off smoothly enough. I had Sun all the 
beginning of optics, and worked off all the experimental part up 
to Fraunhofer's lines, which were glorious to see with a water 
prism I have set up in the form of a cubical box, 5 inch side. 
The only things not generally done that I attempted last session 
were the undulatory medium made of bullets for advanced class, 
and Plateau's experiments on a sphere of oil in a mixture of 
spirits and water of exactly its own density, 

I succeeded very well Avith heat. The experiments on latent 
heat came out very accurate. That was my part, and the class 
could explain and work out the results better than I expected. 
Next year I intend to mix experimental physics with mechanics, 
devoting Tuesday and Thursday (what would Stokes say?) to 
the science of experimenting accurately. 

I got a glorified top made at Aberdeen. I think you saw 
the wooden type at Cambridge. I have made it the occasion of 
a short screed on rotation coming out in the Koy. Soc, Edin- 
burgh, presently. 

Last week I brewed chlorophyll (as the chemists word it), 
a green liquor, which turns the invisible light red. My pot of 
all the winter spinach that remained was portentous, so I 

184 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap..viii. 

exhibited the optical effects, which were allowed to be worth 
the potful. 

My last grind was the reduction of equations of colour which 
I made last year. The result was eminently satisfactory. 

To E. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Glenlair, 29th Maij 1857. 

It is with a profound feeling of pity that I write to a denizen 
of Hare Court after participating in the blessings of this splendid 
day. We had just enough of cloud to prevent scorching, and 
the grass seemed to like to grow just as much as the beasts 
to eat it. 

I have not had a mathematical idea for about a fortnight, 
when I wrote them all away to Prof. Thomson, and I have not 
got an answer yet with fresh ones. But I believe there is a 
department of mind' conducted independent of consciousness, 
where things are fermented and decocted, so that when they are 
run off they come clear. 

By the way, I found it useful at Aberdeen to tell the students 
what parts of the subject they were not to remember, but to 
get up and forget at once as being rudimentary notions neces- 
sary to development, but requiring to be sloughed off before 

I have no one with me but the domestics and dog. The 
valley seems deserted of its gentry ; but we have one gentleman 
from Dumfriesshire, who is living in a hired house, and build- 
ing with great magnificence an Episcopal Chapel in Castle- 
Douglas at his own expense. His own house is 20 miles off, 
a capital place, and this is perhaps the least Episcopal part of 
Scotland by reason of the memory of the dragoons. One old 
family of the Stewartry is of that persuasion, and most of the 
persecutors' families are now Presbyterian and Whig, so that 
the congregation is but feeble. 

It is very different at Aberdeen, where the Presbyterians 
persecuted far more than the Prelatists, so there I actually 
found a true Jacobite (female, I could not undertake to produce 
a male specimen), and there are three distinct Episcopal religions 
in Aberdeen, all pretty lively. 

Can you tell me what the illustrated Tennyson is like ? I 
shan't see it till I go to Edinbro'. I don't mean are the prints 
the best possible, or impervious to green spectacles ; but are 

CHAP. VIII.] GLENLAIR, 1857. 185' 

tliey nice diagrams as such things go ? I should like to know 
before long about it, and whether the characters are of the 
Adamic type, and in reasonable condition, or pre-Rafaelitic in 
all but colour, and symbolising everything except the ** Arche- 
typal Skeleton" and the "Nature of Limbs." 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Gleiilair, 5th June 1857. 

I have not seen article seven, but I agree with your dissent 
from it entirely. On the vested interest principle, I think the 
men who intended to keep their fellowships by celibacy and 
ordination, and got them on that footing, should not be allowed 
to desert the virgin choir or neglect the priestly office, but on 
those principles should be allowed to live out their days, pro- 
vided the whole amount of souls cured annually does not amount 
to £20 in the King's Book. But my doctrine is that the various 
grades of College officers should be set on such a basis that, 
although chance lecturers might be sometimes chosen from 
among fresh fellows who are going away soon, the reliable 
assistant tutors, and those that have a plain calling that way,, 
should after a few years be elected permanent officers of the 
College, and be tutors and deans in their time, and seniors also, 
with leave to marry, or rather, never prohibited or asked any 
questions on that head, and with leave to retire after so many 
years' service as seniors. As for the men of the world, we 
should have a limited term of existence, and that independent 
of marriage or " parsonage." 

I saw a paragraph about the Female' Artists Exhibition, and 
that Mrs. Hugh Blackburn had her Phaethon there. . . . She 
has done a very small picture of a haystack making, some- 
what pre-Raphaelite in pose, but graceful withal, and such that 
the Moidart natives know every lass on the stack, whether, seen 
behind or before. Jt was at the Edinburgh Academy of 

I have done a screed of introduction to optics, and am at a 
sort of general summary of mechanical principles — doctrines 
relating to absolute and relative motion, analysis of the doctrine 
of Force into the smallest number of independent truths, theory 
of angular momentum and couples of work done, and vis viva, of 
actual and potential energy, with continual jaw on the doctrine 
of measurement by units all through. 

186 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

To Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

Glenlair, 7th AugiLSt 1851. 
jEL 26. I got your letter yesterday. I have oftener corresponded 

with people I expected to see than with those I had just left, 
so you must excuse my being rather more glad of it than if I 
had expected it. So you were better than I took you for ; put 
that in the Logic-mill and grind it by " Conversion of Props." 
Since you left I have been stirring up old correspondents. 

Poor is "himself again," with not many to care about 

him. He could not keep the youths in order, and tried 

to get his authority backed by the big authorities. Then I 
suppose ensued a struggle between bodily weakness and hesita- 
tion, and mental sternness, stubbornness, and conscientiousness. 
The result probably was something severe in substance and mild 
in manner, or otherwise open to scorn from the youths. — I don't 
know, but he has resigned his place. The youths then pro- 
ceeded to express their penitence, and the authorities their 
regret. But he is now taking private pupils for that seat of 
. . , learning, with not more friends and friendliness than of 
old. Not exactly. I am glad to hear of his knowing some 
mathematical men, actuaries, etc., and corresponding with them, 
and he is much more friendly by the post than by speech and 

Yesterday we did our Castle-Douglas, and round by Greenlaw 
(Gordon, Esq.) Old Greenlaw impounded us at once, and em- 
barked us in his boat down to Threave Castle, where some 
falsified antiquity ; and some apart, behind thick woven thorns, 
bathed in the black water of Dee. 

Then back to dinner with another party of chance visitors,, 
songs both of the drawing-room and the quire and the cotton 
fields, and, to conclude, the unpremeditated hop. 

The thing was not destitute of its humours. Old Greenlaw, 
heir of entail, with charters in his bedroom belonging to 
" Young Lochinvar " his forbear, and various Douglases, with 
rights of pit and gallows, and other curious privileges, sending 
all his people and visitors neck and heels in the very best 
direction for themselves. Son and daughter — mild, indefatig- 
able, generally useful, doing (at home) exactly as they are bid. 
One gay litt€r(ar)y widow, charming never so wisely, with her 
hair about her ears and her elbows on her knees, on a low stool, 

CHAP. VIII.] GLENLAIR, 1857. 187 

talking Handel, or Kuskin, or Macaulay, or general pathos of 
unprotected female, passing off into criticism, witticism, pleas- 
antry, unmitigated slang, sporting, and betting. 

One little Episcopal chaplain, a Celt, whom I see often, but 
do not quite fathom — that is, I don't know how far he respects 
and how far he is amused with his most patronising friends. 
One, mathematical teacher somewhere, — friend to chaplain. 
Voice. Mild, good fellow, like a grown up chorister, quite 
modest about everything except his voice — "What will they 
say in England," "The Standard Bearer," "Oh Susannah'' 
(Chaplain leads chorus), " Courtiii' down in Tenessee " (Chap- 
Iain obligato), " Yet once more " (Handel), " But who may abide " 
(do.), and so on. 

One good old widow lady, with manners. One son to d°, — 
sanguine temperament, open countenance, very much run to 
nose, brain inactive, probably fertile in military virtue. Two 
daughters to d% — healthy, physical force girls, brains more 
develoj)ed owing to their not having escaped in the form of 

Now, conceive the Voice set down beside one of the physical 
forces, and trying to interest her in the capacities of different 
rooms for singing in, she being more benevolent and horsefleshy 
than technically musical, — the Chaplain entertaining the other 
with an account of his solitary life in his rooms, — old Greenlaw 
hospitably entreating the mannerly widow, and trying to get 
the Nose to talk. 

The young widow fixed on Colin, and informed him that if 
Solomon were to reappear with all his wisdom, as well as his 
glory, he would yet have to learn the polka ; and that the 
mode of feasting adopted by the Incas of Peru reminded her 
strongly of a custom prevalent among the Merovingian race of 
kings of France. 

Living in the Pampas she regarded as an enviable lot, and 
she was at a loss to know the best mode of studying Euclid for 
the advantage of being able to teach a young brother of six 
(years old). 

So we did not get home till near 11, and I had to be up at 
Glenlair at 5 this morning, the result of which is that at 12 
to-night I am a little sleepy. Johnnie ^ can swim across the big 
pool at the Chapel, all by himself. His taste of water through 

^ His cousin John Cay, younger brother of William and Charles. 

188 JAl^IES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. viii. 

the nose did him great good. ... I have had some races after 
stones down the water in Loch Koan. I have kept the stone in 
sight a good way, but it has always beaten me. I'll try some 
broken crockery to begin with. 

I have succeeded in establishing the existence of an error in 
my Saturnian mazes, but I have not detected it yet. I have 
finished the first part of the Religion Naturelle.^ I am not a 
follower of those who believe they know what perfection must 
imply, and then make a deity to that pattern ; but it is very well 
put, and carries one through, though if the book belongs to tliis 
age at all it is eminently unlike most books of this century in 
England. But I only know one other book of Prench argu- 
ment on the positive (not positiviste) side, and that also worked 
by " demonstration," My notion is, that reason, taste, and con- 
science are the judges of all knowledge, pleasure, and action, and 
that they are the exponents not of a code but of the unwritten 
law, which they reveal, as they judge by it in j^resence of the 
facts. The facts must be witnessed to by the senses, and cross- 
examined by the intellect, and not unless everything is properly 
put on record and proved as fact, will any question of law be 
resolved at headquarters. 

We are only going through our Lehrjahr in the knowledge 
of Perfection, and we may have a Wanderjahr to complete even 
after getting the 'first diploma, which is a certificate of having 
eyes to see the work, a conscience to feel after Right, and faith 
to believe in the Word, and to reach a station thereby where 
both those eyes and that conscience may be satisfied, or at least 
appeased. I do not think it is doing Reason, etc., any injustice 
to say that rough dead facts are the necessary basis on which to 
work in order to elicit the living truth, not from the facts, but 
either from the utterer of facts or the giver of Reason, which 
two are one, or Reason would never decipher facts. 

For know, whatever was created needs 
To he sustained and fed. Of elements 
The grosser feeds the purer, etc, 

various degi-ees 

Of suhstance, and in things that live, of life 

Meanwhile enjoy 
Your fill what happiness this happy state 
Can comprehend, incapable of more. 

^ By M. Jules Simon, 



ABERDEEN MARRIAGE 1857 TO 1860, ^T. 26-29. 

The Glenlair letters of 1857 (see last chapter) sufficiently 
indicate Maxwell's mental condition in the interval between 
his first and second sessions at Aberdeen. His expansive 
sociable spirit is putting forth fresh feelers, and he has 
made a new beginning in his observation of man in society. 
But he has not yet recovered from the loss of the preced- 
ing year, and those who read between the lines cannot fail 
to trace here and there a touch of sadness peering from 
beneath the habitual, buoyancy of his style. 

In September of this year another loss renewed the 
feeling of desolation which had haunted him since his 
father's death. His friend Pomeroy, whom he had nursed 
in illness, and of whose career in India he had augured so 
highly, was carried off by a second attack of fever, caused 
by a hurried journey during the first outbreak of the 
Mutiny. Maxwell's letters to Mr. Litchfield show how 
keenly he felt this blow, and what deep thoughts on 
human life and destiny were once more stirred up in him. 

His original work on electricity was now for a while 
interrupted by another laborious task, which absorbed his 
best energies for more than a year. The examiners for 
the Adams' Prize, given by St. John's College in honour of 
the discovery of Neptune,^ had set as a subject, "The 
Motion of Saturn's Eings." To frame and test an hypo- 
thesis which should account for the observed phenomena 
was a problem of no ordinary complexity, and one to which 
the speculative imagination and mathematical ingenuity of 

See above, p. 61. 

190 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

Clerk Maxwell were particularly adapted. It appears to 
have completely fascinated him for the time. The essay 
by which he gained the prize, and which he published after 
elaborately revising it, is well known to students, and the 
allusions to the subject in his letters at this time will be 
read with interest. 

Such was the strain of feeling, and such the chief intel- 
lectual interest, with which he returned to Aberdeen, 
where he seems to have been once more destined, though 
in his native country, to understand more than he was 
understood ; and in his letters, together with the deepening 
earnestness and the unfailing humour, there is now and 
then mingled for the first time a grain of bitterness, or 
what may be taken for such. But it is rather the cry of a 
spirit hungering for completion. And the phase of dis- 
harmony quickly passes off, and is followed by a song of 

Of his new acquaintances at Aberdeen he had become 
most intimate with the family of Principal Dewar of 
Marischal College, and he was a frequent visitor at their 
house. His deep and varied knowledge, not only of his 
own and kindred subjects, but of history, literature, and 
theology, his excellence of heart, and the religious earnest- 
ness which underlay his humorous "shell," were there 
appreciated and admired. He had been asked to join 
them in their annual visit to Ardhallow, the home of the 
Principal's son-in-law, Mr. M'Cunn, in the neighbourhood 
of Dunoon, and had accepted the invitation. The time of 
his stay there in September 1857 is marked by letters 
which, unlike some others of this period, reflect his brightest 


In February 1858 he announced his betrothal to 
Katherine Mary Dewar, and they were married early in 
the following June. In May he had maSe a journey to 
the south of England to visit me in my parish of Milford, 
in Hampshire, and to act as "best man" on the occasion 
of our marriage, which took place at Brighton. My wife 


and I found our Avay to Aberdeen in time to be present at 
the wedding there, and were shortly afterwards entertained 
at Glenlair. 

The correspondence of these months and the poems 
then written contain the record of feelings which in the 
years that followed were transfused in action and embodied 
in a married life which can only be spoken of as one of 
unexampled devotion.^ 

He remained for two more sessions at Aberdeen. But 
in 1860 came the fusion of the colleges, and the Professor- 
ship of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College was one 
of those suppressed. In the same winter his old friend 
Professor James D. Forbes, after struggling for eight years 
against ill-health, resigned his Chair, and Maxwell became 
a candidate for the vacant post. It is enough to have 
alluded once for alP to the contest, which ended in the 
appointment of Professor Tait. It only remains to say 
that Maxwell's relations with that eminent man, who had 
been his companion both in Edinburgh and at Cambridge, 
always continued to be of the most friendly kind ; and 
their correspondence, often of the quaintest description, 
would of itself fill a volume of very entertaining reading 
for those j^ossessed of a clue to the labyrinth of science, 
learning, wit, and frolicsome allusion, which it contains. 
The two men looked over proof-sheets of each other's 
writings, and when they most differed. Maxwell's criticism 
condensed in humorous verse was always understood and 

1 See the Poems of 1858. 

2 As this cauctidature was the last occasion on whicli Maxwell was 
compelled to collect testimonials, it may be well to add here to what 
has been said above about his teaching powers, that his success at Aber- 
deen was verj'' strongly attested by his colleagues, and in particular by 
Thomas Clark, the Professor of Chemistry. And four years earlier, in 
February 1854, Professor G. G. Stokes had given this important testi- 
mony : — ** . . . O^e thing more is wanted in a teacher, namely, a 
power of conveying clearly his knowledge to others. That Mr. Maxwell 
possesses that power I feel satisfied, having once been present when he 
was giving an account of some of his geometrical researches to the Cam- 
bridge Philosophical Society, on which occasion I was struck with the 
singularly lucid manner of his exposition." (See p. 154.) 

L92 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL, [chap, ix* 

w^elcomed by the Edinburgh Professor. In the summer of 
1860 the ex-professor of Aberdeen was appointed to the 
vacant Professorship of Natural Philosophy in King's 
College, London. 

To Lewis Campbell, Esq. 

Glenlair, 28th August 1857. 
... I have been battering away at Saturn, returning to the 
charge every now and then. I have effected several breaches 
in the solid ring, and now I am splash into the fluid one, amid 
I clash of symbols truly astounding. AVhen I reappear it 
i^dll be in the dusky ring, which is something like the state of 
;he air supposing the siege of Sebastopol conducted from a forest 
)f guns 100 miles one way, and 30,000 miles the other, and 
;he shot never to stop, but go spinning away round a circle, 
:adius 170,000 miles. ... 


Ardhallot'J, Dunoon, 4^^, Sept. 1857. 

The road along Loch ^ck is the most glorious for shape and 
jolour of hills and rocks that I have seen anywhere, specially 
)n a fine calm day, with clouds as well as sun, and with large 
matches of \^dthered bracken mixed with green on the less steep 
Darts of the hills. Then the crushing and doubling up of the 
itrata, and the slicing and cracking of the already doubled up 
trata, quite without respect to previous torment, gives a notion 
)f active force, as well as passive, even to ungeological minds. 
^Q inspected Duncan Marshall, the Hermit of these parts, and 
vound up the day with a pull in the boat till dark. . . . 

!Mrs. 'Wed[derbum] professes herself ready to '^follow follow 
50uth " when asked, so when Johnny and I have done our 
^loidart and Loch Aylort, we shall hoist sail or get up steam 
)r something, and then very likely he may reappear to his 
)arent and aunt, and I shall continue my road with my aunt 
wait upon the faithful Tobs, and realise Saturn's Rings, and 
)robably feed a few natives of the valley with the produce of 
ts soil. I was w^riting great screeds of letters to Professor 
Thomson about those Rings, and lo ! he was a -laying of the 
elegraph which was to go to America, and bringing his obtru- 
ive science to bear upon the engineers, so that they broke the 

CHAP. IX.] ARDHALLOAV, 1857, 193 

cable with not following (it appears) his advice. However, I 
know nothing. List to the new words to a common song, which 
I conceived on the railway to Glasgow. As I have only a 
bizzing, loose, interruption-to-talking-&-deathblow-to-general-con- 
versation meDiory of the orthodox version, I don't know if the 
metre -is correct ; but it is some such rambling metre anyhow, 
and contains some insignificant though apparently treasonable 
remarks in a perfect thicket of vain repetitions. To avoid these 

let (u) = " Under the sea," 
so that 2(u), by parity of reasoning, represents two repetitions of 
that sentiment. This being granted, we shall have as follows : — 

The Song of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. 


Mark how the telegraph motions to me, 

Signals are coming along, 
With a wag, wag, wag ; 
The telegraph needle is vibrating free, 
And every vibration is telling to me 
How they drag, drag, drag, 
The telegraph cable along. 


No little signals are coming to me, 

Something has surely gone wrong, 
And it's broke, broke, broke ; 
What is the cause of it does not transpire, 
But something has broken the telegraph wire 
With a stroke, stroke, stroke, 

Or else they've been pulling too strong. 


Fishes are whispering. What can it be, 

So many hundred miles long ? 
For it's strange, strange, strange, 
How they could spin out such durable stuflf. 
Lying all wiry, elastic, and tough, 
Without change, change, change, 
In the 5alt water so strong. 


94 JAJMLKS ULKKK. MA A \V iliLiL. lchap. ix. 


There let us leave it for fishes to see ; 

They'll see lots of cables ere long, 
For we'll twine, tmne, t^vine, 
And spin a new cable, and try it again, 
And settle our bargains of cotton and grain. 
With a line, line, line, — 

A line that will never go wrong. 

Receive, etc. 

To E. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

Glenlair, 23d Se2)t. 1857. 

I liave just returned from the remote Highlands, and have 
oaet all the Indian news on my way, and found your letter at 
liome. I suppose it is best to say what I think to you, rather 
than what I feel, for that is confusion. You may well ask 
'^ Why '?" I myseK see a horrible despair waiting for us if we 
knew or even paid enough attention to things happening con- 
tinually. Is it merely a reaction from our animal life that 
makes lis comfortable again ? or excitement of some other kind ? 
or defective sympathy ? No ; I think real sympathy is the 
very thing we want, and we suffer more from want of union 
than from any other cause. I cannot make the thing clearer 
either to you or to myself; but as I was coming home and 
expecting bad news, I thought of dead and absent friends, and 
how they endeavoured when alive to make themselves known 
to us, and how the impression they had left in us remained 
untouched and sacred during their absence. Then I thought of 
those who had left the clearest impression on me, — how some 
were dead, and their character never known or proved to" the 
world, and their deeds never done as they would have been 
if they had lived. But this secret knowledge is strengthening 
as well as sad, if our brother's life is an inheritance to us when 
he falls, and we rise (like Triamond) to fight his battle as well 
as our own. 

Do not understand all this as a theory. I wish to say that 
it is in personal union with my friends that I hope to escape 
the despair which belongs to the contemplation of the outward 
aspect of things with human eyes. Either be a machine and 


see nothing but " phenomena," or else try to be a man, feeling 
your life interwoven, as it is, with many others, and strengthened 
by them whether in life or in death. You will say that this is 
what a man writes after a course of healthy exercise and boister- 
ous health, when he suddenly feels a pull on his soul, but his 
body goes on as before. But though my knowledge of our friend 
does nat reach so far back as yours, there is a great part of all 
my thoughts which bears the mark of his honest handling, for 
to me he was most liberal in communication, so that all manner 
of thought became our common property. When he was ill at 
Cambridge, my father, who was then rather better, was very 
much concerned about him, so that afterwards, when he was 
worse himself, he would speak of him from recollections of what 
I had told him before. So I used to think of them together, — 
the one guiding me along by wise plans in the ways of freedom, 
and the other supplying the energy of speculative honesty and 
the freshness of a younger mind. And is all gone ? Certainly 
not, look at it as you will. I am not trying to persuade myself 
into hope. I find I cannot do otherwise. I have been miser- 
able about these very things when there seemed no particular 
reason at the time, and then, when the time was worst, felt 
well ; but that must be one's own personal affair. If we can 
hear the General's voice we will rise in our tears and go to our 
places, having conquered ourselves. Long ago I felt like a 
peasant in a country overrun with soldiers, and saw nothing 
but carnage and danger. Since then I have learned at least 
that some soldiers in the field die nobly, and that all are sum- 
moned there for a cause. 

I am very sorry for India, and for you and poor Mrs. 
Pomeroy. She had a stake in him that none of us could have. 

To Miss Cay. 

Glmlair, 28th Septemher 1857, 
My dear friend Pomeroy died at Ghazeepore about 1st August, 
from overwork and forced marches. He was a civilian, and 
appointed assistant magistrate at Azinghur. He and the rest 
of the civilians proceeded thither with about 400 men. When 
they got there they fought about 2000 insurgents in two feet of 
water, and beat them off three times. Pomeroy volunteered to 
take in a wounded man (Lieut. Lewis, 65 N. I.) to Ghazeepore, 
when no one else would venture to go. He stayed there a few 


lays, but was unwell. Then he went back to his post at Azin- 
ijhur for about a week. On the news of the Dinapore mutiny 
;hey were all ordered in, and made a forced march on Ghazee- 
Dore, forty miles. 

He died soon after getting in. 

Of all the men I have known he was the most likely to have 
lone something for India. I never knew a man more able to 
see his way through diflSculties, more respected by men of all 
ilasses, or more determined that duty should be done whatever 
night happen. We have one comfort for ourselves, that few 
nen have made themselves more open to their friends, so that 
nany men may receive something of his spirit, though he is cut 
jff before strangers could take example by his deeds. 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

GlenlaiVf 15th October 1S57. 

I was glad S. sent me the letter. Remember that besides 
ill the danger and distance from friends, there was the fever, of 
ivhich he had already long experience, and which in such times 
tie knew to be as inconvenient to his friends as himself. But 
Lt is no use saying this and that. Some men redeem their 
characters by their deeds, and we praise them. Those that 
merely show their character by their deeds should be remem- 
bered, not praised ; and a complete true man will live longest 
in the memory, and I cannot but think will be less changed in 
t?eality, than one who has doubtfully struggled with duplicity 
in his constitution, and has walked with hesitation, though 
along a good path. I know that both do deny and renounce 
themselves in favour of duty and truth, as they come to see 
them ; and as they come to see how goodness, having the know- 
ledge of evil, has passed through sorrow to the highest state of 
ill, they accept it as a token that they have found their true 
head and leader, and so, with their eyes on him, they complete 
the process called the knowledge of Good and Evil, which they 
commenced so early and so ignorantly. 

Now, what the " completion of the process " is I cannot 
conceive, but I can feel the difference of Good and Evil in 
some degree, and I can conceive the i^erception of that differ- 
ence to grow by contemplating the Good till the confusion of 
the two becomes an impossibility. Then comes the mystery. 
I have memory and a history, or I am nothing at all, That 


memory and history contain evil, wliich I renounce, and must 
still maintain that I was evil. But it contains the image of 
absolute good, and the fight for it, and the consciousness that 
all this is right. 

So there the matter lies, a problem certain of solution. . . . 

I am grinding hard at Saturn, and have picked many holes 
in him, and am fitting him up new and true. I am sure of 
most of him now, and have got over some stumbling-blocks 
which kept me niggling at calculations two years. 

I am to have some artisans as weekly students this winter. 

To THE SAilE. 

Zaurwton Lodge, 
Edinhurgh, 25th October 1857. 

... As to collecting memorials, that is a thing to do faith- 
fully if at all. No man can write himself down wholly at 
once, so no one thing will give a complete autograph of the 
man. As for anecdotes, they are to be tolerated as the roughest 
way of giving to the public sketches of public men ; but they 
will satisfy no private friend, not even him from whose memory 
they are drawn. 

But if any essays (I know some that were not read aloud 
to any particular people, but were written by himself for 
himself) or anything else of his are to be had, they might be 
given to Mrs. Pomeroy with what explanation we could give, 
and so (not hastily but) when times occur, she might continue to 
learn more of him and his honestly fought and thoroughly 
conquered and well secured path through a land of shadows, 
where friends and foes seemed to exchange appearances, so that 
honesty and sincerity had parted with order and reverence, and 
indecision had passed for conscientiousness, and inquiry after 
truth had been taken for infidelity. A sad world to seek for 
truth in. under any man's guiding. The exact point at which 
this progress has been interrupted may be disputed by men, but 
they have no jurisdiction, and are ignorant even of their o-\vn 
true faith till something bring it into action. 

I could not conceive of any one undertaking to wnte a 
memoir, I am fully satisfied of the impossibility of that, with 
respect to any young man. The journal of voyage, which was 
meant to be read, is far the best memorial, and it is a very good 
one indeed for his mother and friends, for it is so wonderfully 

198 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

)peii-liearted and unaffected. I appreciate these qualities on 
iccount of the force which it requires for me to say or do any- 
;hing according to nature, especially in ordinary circumstances. 
This spring I read a great deal of MS. at home, which gave 
ne much light about my father and his dealings with various 
people. There were journals of travels and adventures from 
;welve years of age to thirty, and many other things. Well, I 
lave found that reading profitable in making me remember 
lim better, and honour him more, and understand better how he 
)rdered his life and who were his friends. That is the use and 
ntent of keeping anything belonging to our friends. I do not 
ntend to advertise these things for public sale, for I doubt 
vhether the public would be better, and I would be worse. 

The following letter from Pomeroy to his mother, of 
vhich a copy was found in Maxwell's handwriting, throws 
■urther light on the character of the man whose loss was 
•elt so deeply : — 

Azingurh, July 28, 1857, 

My dear Mother — I sit down to write to you in rather a solemn 
nood, partly owing to my having received yesterday a note from Mrs. 
W. H. T. , which I enclose, and partly because that, in this part of India, 
md particularly in these outlying stations, with no European soldiers, the 
Ives of Englishmen more clearly lie in God's hand than on most occasions 
n our sojourn on earth. 

I have told you in former letters that I volunteered to go with any 
jivilians who reoccupied a station in the Benares district. I did this 
completely of my own responsibility, and whether I was right or wrong 
jod alone knows. I was then in excellent health, and I could not bear 
:o think that I should be absolutely doing nothing in a safe station, when 
xn additional European, who could ride or use firearms, even if he could 
io nothing else, was not utterly useless to the brave men who were going 
Dut in order to make, persuade, or enable the natives to cultivate their 
Selds, during the three important months of the year, and so avoid a 

Mr. Tucker responded immediately to my volunteering, and appointed 

nae "Assistant Magistrate" of Azingurh, with nearly a month. 

You know the delay in going, and that I was ill during that time. We 
left (Benares) on the 16th, and arrived here on the 18th. The march, 
which I performed partly on horseback and partly in my buggy, did not 
:lo me any harm, but the fatigue, excitement, and varied feelings caused 
by an affray with a body of natives, led by Oude Zemindars, in which we^ 
were finally victorious, after five hours of half fighting (not that I fought- 
much, but I was on horseback most of the time), rather weakened me. 
Then there was a wounded man to be taken into Ghazipoor, and of those 
whose duty it was to accompany him nobody who could be spared could 


"be induced to go, so I volunteered, whereby I pleased him, poor fellow, 
and his fellow-officers very much, and I believe I was of use to him. I 
hoped to have got three days rest at Ghazipoor, but the excitement of 
seeing new faces, and giving all my news over and over again, and trying 
to soothe angry officers whose corps had been abused, and explaining 
mistakes, etc. etc., made the rest very ambiguous ; and the journey back 
knocked me up. I was very feverish last night, but Home (the magistrate) 
took tremendous care of me, put my bed next his, and got me limes and 
honey, and everything he could get for cough or fever. To-day I am a 
great deal better, but still on rice-milk and chicken-broth, and as I have 
no duties but a share in the mess management, I get lots of lying down, 
but no absolute rest, as the nine of us, civil and military, live in one six- 
roomed bungalow. Don't imagine that nine (only) is the number walking 
about inside : everybody's bearer except mine and another's, I believe, 
walk about like tame dogs, bringing their masters' slightest wants, for few 
think of getting anything for themselves, even from across the room. 

We have a very grave piece of intelligence from the neighbourhood of 
Legowlie, the headquarters of the 12th Irregular Cavalry. A native 
brought a report to a gentleman living 8 miles from Legowlie, that on the 
24th of July the men of the 12th who were there left the station, and 
that the commanding officer (Major Holmes) and his wife, and the Doctor 
(Gardner), had been killed. This news has at length reached us, whom 
it concerns nearly, as one hundred of the same regiment are here. On the 
other side, it is to be said that all the principal native officers were absent 
from Legowlie, two being here now, and one elsewhere, so that the mutiny 
may not spread, and we have no treasure here to tempt them, and the 
Hindu Sepoys are not likely to join them, though their hatred of Mussel- 
mans has two or three times given way to their desire for plunder or love 
of Christian blood. Our position is precarious, but I can look it straight 
in the face, and in four days or less the crisis will, I hope, have passed. 

Heme is a Poole man, with an uncle there of the name of Biddel. 
His ^vife is in the hills, and he hears from her now pretty often, but there 
is a month's interval between the departure and arrival of her letters. He 
is a decidedly religious man of a very genuine stamp. He read us last 
Sunday that grand sermon the Bishop of Calcutta preached towards the 
end of June. You should get it if it is to be had in England. 

We are daily expecting to hear of the safety of Lucknow. Poor Mrs. 
Cooper ! She and her children must have been living in cellars for the 
last month, to be out of the way of cannon balls : and to live in a cellar 
in India must be dreadfully trying. If any children survive it will be a 
mercy, — a mercy indeed if they escape the awful, horrible fate of the 
ladies of Cawnpore. Mrs. Cave, whom I mentioned in my Journal, was, 
I fear, at the latter place. As a Madras fusilier said to me (in a broad 
Irish accent), ''I don't care what they do to the likes of me — but the 
women — and Ladies too !" 

Poor T writes me letters intended to be cheery, but really a-vvfully 

dismal. She bears up bravely, and thinks no one sees her sorrow. 

We have a picture in the house that belonged to some one who fled 
from this on the 3d June. It is called "Woman's Mission." You must 
have seen it in the print-shop windows, — two Scutari volunteer nurses 
attending a wounded man. A pathetic picture suits our feelings. All 
but two, I believe, have either wife or lover to think of j but soiTy should 

200 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

I or any be that any woman should be with us. Poor Batty married a 
very short time agO, and had to part from his Bride almost immediately, 
and send her to Calcutta. He, too, has lost a Brother. 

I hope the English papers will have better and truer accounts than the 
Indian generally have ; but you cannot follow events without some good 
map like Allen's £2 : 2s. one. So dou't try ; it will only puzzle you, and 
the Times will give you the pith of the matter. The fire is now really 
being extinguished, though it will be long before stray points cease to 
flare up and burn those within their range. 

There are two hundred of the King of Nepaul's Goorkas on the march 
to form part of our garrison, and on those we think we can really depend. 
They are very brave, and more than a match for Sepoys, and are more 
diflferent in race and manners from the Hindus than we are, and very 
different in religion. 

Urgent requisitions have been sent to Ghazipoor and Benares for 
Europeans, which may now at leugth be answered. 

With regard to Mrs. T , whom I was nearly forgetting in my 

egotism, I hope — if she has by the time this reaches you visited Chelten- 
ham — that you have seen her. What a comfort it must be to her, poor 
thing, to think that she made him face those thoughts he had shunned 
and shirked so long. She left by last mail, so she will have been a fort- 
night in England or Ireland when this reaches you. I hope to write you 
a letter by Bombay and Marseilles of a later date, and to Editha by 
Calcutta and Marseilles ; so that this letter, which I confess is an alarmist 
one, will not arrive till you know the Event. I have written what I have 
that you may see I know my danger, and have, I hope, right feelings 
under it. — I remain, ray very dear mother, your most affectionate sou, 

Robert Henry Pomeroy. 

The main thread of the correspondence is now resumed 
with a letter addressed to Maxwell by Faraday on receiving 
a copy of the paper on " Lines of Force : " — 

Albemarle Street, W.y 25th March 1857. 

My dear Sir — I received yoiir paper, and thank you very 
much for it. I do not say I venture to thank you for what you 
have said about " Lines of Force," because I know you have done 
it for the interests of philosophical truth ; but you must suppose 
it is work grateful to me, and gives me much encouragement to 
think on. I was at first almost frightened when I saw such 
mathematical force made to bear upon the subject, and then 
wondered to see that the subject stood it so well. I send by 
this post another paper to you ; I wonder what you will say to 
it. I hope however, that bold as the thoughts may be, you may 
perhaps find reason to bear with them. I hope this summer to 
make some experiments on the time of magnetic action, or rather 


on tlie time required for the assumption of the electrotonic state, 
round a wire carrying a current, that may help the subject on. 
The time must probably be short as the time of light ; but the 
greatness of the result, if affirmative, makes me not despair. 
Perhaps I had better have said nothing about it, for I am often 
long in realising my intentions, and a failing memory is against 
me. — Ever yours most truly, M. Faraday. 

Feom the Same. 

Albemarle Street, 7th Novcmher 1S57. 

1 have just read and thank you heartily for your papers. I 
intended to send you copies of two of mine. I think I have 
sent them, but do not find them ticked off. So I now send 
copies, not because they are assumed as deserving your attention, 
but as a mark of my respect, and desire to thank you in the best 
way that I can. 

From Prof. G. G. Stokes. 

ScJiool of Miiies, 
Jermyn Street, 7th November 157. 

I have just received your papers on a dynamical top, etc., 
and the account of experiments on the perception of colour. 
The latter, which I missed seeing at the time when it was 
published, I have just read with great interest. The results 
afford most remarkable and important evidence in favour of the 
theory of three primary colour-perceptions, a theory which you, 
and you alone, so far as I know, have established on an exact 
numerical basis. 

From Prof. Tyndall. 

Royal Institutimiy 7th November 1857. 

I am very much obliged to you for your kind thoughtfulness 
in sending me your papers on the Dynamical Top and on the 
Perception of Colour, as also for your memoir on Lines of Force, 
received some time ago. I never doubted the possibility of 
giving Faraday's notions a mathematical form, and you would 

202 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

probably be one of the last to deny the possibility of a totally 
different imagery by which the phenomena might be represented.^ 

To Professor Faraday. 

139 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 9th November 1857. 

Dear Sir — I have to acknowledge receipt of your papers on 
the Kelations of Gold to Light, and on the Conservation oi 
Force. Last spring you were so kind as to send me a copy of 
the latter paper, and to ask what I thought of it. 

That question silenced me at that time, but I have since 
heard and read various opinions on the subject, which render 
it both easy and right for me to say Avhat I think. And first 
I pass over some who have never understood the known doctrine 
of conservation of force, and who suppose it to have something 
to do with the equality of action and reaction. 

Now, first, I am sorry that we do not keep our words for 
distinct things more distinct, and speak of the " Conservation 
of Work or of Energy " as applied to the relations between the 
amount of " vis viva " and of " tension " in the world ; and of 
the " Duality of Force " as referring to the equality of action 
and reaction. 

Energy is the power a thing has of doing work arising either 
from its own motion or from the " tension " subsisting between 
it and other things. 

Force is the tendency of a body to pass from one place to 
another, and depends upon the amount of change of " tension " 
which that passage would produce. 

Now, as far as I know, you are the first person in whom the 
idea of bodies acting at a distance by throwing the surrounding 
medium into a state of constraint has arisen, as a principle to 
be actually believed in. We have had streams of hooks and 
eyes flying around magnets, and even pictures of them so beset ; 

^ For confirmation of this, see Maxwell's (fragmentary) preface to the 
smaller treatise on electricity, published posthumously in 1881 ; especi- 
ally these words : ''In the larger treatise I sometimes made use of methods 
which I do not think the best in themselves, but without which the student 
cannot follow the investigations of the founders of the Mathematical Theory 
of Electricity. I have since become aware of the superiority of methods 
akin to those of Faraday, and have therefore adopted them from the first," 




but nothing is clearer than your descriptions of all sources of 
force keeping up a state of energy in all that surrounds them, 
which state by its increase or diminution measures the work 
done by any change in the system. You seem to see the lines 
of force curving round obstacles and driving plump at conductors, 
and swerving towards certain directions in crystals, and carry- 
ing with them everywhere the same amount of attractive power, 
spread wider or denser as the lines Aviden or contract. 

You have also seen that the great mystery is, not how like 
bodies repel and unlike attract, but how like bodies attract 
(by gravi[ta]tion). But if you can get over that difficulty, either 
by making gravity the residual of the two electricities or by 
simply admitting it, then your lines of force can " weave a web 
across the sky," and lead the stars in their courses without any 
necessarily immediate connection with the objects of their 

The lines of Force from the Sun spread out from him, and 
when they come near a planet curve out from it, so that every 
planet diverts a number depending on its mass from their course, 
and substitutes a system of its own so as to become something 
like a comet, if lines of force were visible. 

Tlie lines of the planet are separated from those of the Sun 
by the dotted line. Now conceive every one of these lines 
(which never interfere but proceed from sun and planet to 
infinity) to have a pushing force instead of a fulling one, and 
then sun and planet will be pushed together with a force which 
comes out as it ought, proportional to the product of the masses 
and the inverse square of the distance. 

The difference between this case and that of the dipolar forces 
is, that instead of each body catching the lines of force from the 
rest, all the lines keep as clear of other bodies as they can, and 
go off to the infinite sphere against which I have supposed them 
to push. 

204 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

Here tlien we have conservation of energy (actual and 
potential), as every student of dynamics learns, and besides this 
we have conservation of " lines of force " as to their number and 
total strength, for every body always sends out a number pro- 
portioned to its own mass, and the pushing effect of each is 
the same. 

All that is altered when bodies approach is the direction in 
which these lines push. When the bodies are distant the dis- 
tribution of lines near each is little disturbed. When they 
approach, the lines march round from between them, and come 
to push behind each, so that their resultant action is to bring the 
bodies together with a resultant force increasing as they approach. 

Now the mode of looking at Nature, which belongs to those 
who can see the lines of force, deals very little with " resultant 
forces," but with a network of lines of action of which these 
are the final results, so that I, for my part, can not realise your 
dissatisfaction with the law of gravitation, provided you conceive 
it according to your o\\ai j)rinciples. It may seem very different 
when stated by the believers in " forces at a distance," but there 
can be only differences in form and conception, not in quantity 
or mechanical effect, between them and those who trace force by 
its lines. 

But when we face the great questions about gravitation — 
Does it require time ? Is it polar to the " outside of the imi- 
verse " or to anything ? Has it any reference to electricity ? or 
does it stand on the very foundation of matter, mass or inertia ? 
— then we feel the need of tests, whether they be comets or 
nebulae, or laboratory experiments, or bold questions as to the 
truth of received opinions. 

I have now merely tried to show you why I do not tliink 
gravitation a dangerous subject to apply your methods to, and 
that it may be possible to throw light on it also by the embodi- 
nient of the same ideas, which are expressed mathematically in 
the functions of Laplace and of Sir W. R. Hamilton in Planetary 

But there are questions relating to the connection between 
magneto-electricity and certain mechanical effects which seems 
to me opening up quite a new road to the establishment of 
principles in electricity, and a possible conformation of the 
physical nature of magnetic lines of force. Professor W. Thomson 
seems to have some new lights on this subject. — Yours sincerely, 

James Clerk Maxwell. 


To Pkof. Maxwell from Prof. Faraday.^ 

Albemarle Street, 
London, 13th November 1S57. 

If on a former occasion I seemed to ask you what you thought 
of my paper, it was very wrong ; for I do not think any one 
should be called upon for the expression of their thoughts before 
they are prepared, and wish to give them. I have often enough 
to decline giving an opinion because my mind is not ready to 
come to a conclusion, or does not wish to be committed to a view 
that may by further consideration be changed. But having 
received your last letter, I am exceedingly grateful to you for 
it, and rejoice that my forgetfulness of having sent the former 
paper on conservation has brought about such a result. Your 
letter is to me the first intercommunication on the subject with 
one of your mode and habit of thinking. It aWII do me much 
good, and I shall read and meditate it again and again. 

I daresay I haA^e myself greatly to blame for the vague use 
of expressive words. I perceive that I do not use the word 
'^ force " as you define it, " the tendency of a body to pass from 
one place to another." What I mean by the word is the source 
or sources of all possible actions of the particles or materials of 
the universe ; these being often called the powers of nature when 
spoken of in respect of the different manners in which their 
effects are shown. In a paper which I have received at the 
moment from the Phil. Mag., by Dr. Woods, they were called 
the "forces, such as electricity, heat, etc." In this way I have 
used the word " force " in the description of gra\dty which I 
have given as that expressing the received idea of its nature 
and source ; and such of my remarks as express an opinion or 
are critical apply only to that sense of it. You may remember 
I speak to labourers like myself, experimentalists on force 
generally, who receive that description of gravity as a physical 
truth, and believe that it expresses all, and no more than all, 
that concerns the nature and locality of the power. To these 
it limits the formation of their ideas, and the dii'ection of their 
exertions, and to these I have endeavoured to speak ; showing 
how such a thought, if accepted, pledged them to a very limited 
and probably erroneous view of the cause of the force, and to 

^ This letter has already been pubHshed in the Life of Faraday. 

206 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 


ask them to consider whether they should not look (for a time 
at least) to a source in part external to the particles. I send 
you two or three old printed lines marhedj relating to this point. 
To those who cHsovm the definition or description as imperfect, 
I have nothing to urge, as there is then probably no real differ- 
ence between us. 

I hang on to your words because they are to me weighty, 
and where you say, " I for my part can not realise your dis- 
satisfaction with the law of gravitation, provided you conceive 
it according to your own principles," they give me great com- 
fort. I have nothing to say against the law of action of gravity. 
It is against the law which measures its total strength as an 
inherent force that I venture to oppose my opinion ; and I 
must have expressed myself badly (though I do not find the 
weak point) or I should not have conveyed any other impression. 
All I wanted to do was to move men (not No. L but No. II.) 
from the unreserved acceptance of a principle of physical action 
which might be opposed to natural truth. The idea that we 
ma}^ possibly have to connect reimlsion with the lines of gravita- 
tion force (which is going far beyond anything my mind would 
venture on at present, excej)t in private cogitation), shows how 
far we may have to depart from the view I oppose. 

There is one thing I would be glad to ask you. When a 
mathematician engaged in investigating physical actions and 
results has arrived at his conclusions, may they not be expressed 
in common language as fully, clearly, and definitely as in mathe- 
matical formulae ? If so, would it not be a great boon to such 
as I to express them so ? — translating them out of their hiero- 
glj^hics, that we also might work upon them by experiment. 
I think it must be so, because I have always found that you 
could convey to me a perfectly clear idea of your conclusions, 
which, though they may give me no full understanding of the 
steps of your process, give me the results neither above nor 
below the truth, and so clear in character that I can think and 
work from them. If this be possible, would it not be a good 
thing if mathematicians, working on these subjects, were to give 
us the results in this popular, useful, working state, as well as 
in that which is their own and proper to them ? 


To H. K. Droop, Esc[. 

129 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 14th November 1857. 

I am very busy with Saturn on the top of my regular work. 
He is all remodelled and recast, but I have more to do to him 
yet, for I wish to redeem the character of mathematicians, and 
make it intelligible. I have a large advanced class for Newton, 
physical astronomy, the electric sciences, and high optics. What 
is your department by the way ? 

I have also a mechanics' class in the evening, once a week, 
on mechanical principles, such as doctrine of lever work done 
by machines, etc. So I have 15 hours a week, which is a deal 
of talking straight forward. 

I am getting several tops (like the one I had at Cambridge) 
made here for various parties who teach rigid dynamics. 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

129 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 26th November 1S57. 

The enclosed letters came from Mrs. Pomeroy to me. I 
think they are, one of them at least, yours. I doubt of the 
smaller one, but you will know. They seem dropping in still 
on poor Mrs. Pomeroy. Even ordinary returned letters are 
strange things to read again, as if you had been talking on when 
everybody had gone away. 

I got your letter of the 6th. I have been grinding so hard 
ever since I came here that I left many letters unanswered. 
When I have time I shall write to you, and meanwhile only 
thank you for your letter. 

I am at full college work again. A small class with a bad 
name for stupidity, so there was the more field for exciting them 
to more activity. So I have got into regular ways, and have 
every man viva voce'd once a week, and the whole class examined 
in writing on Tuesdays, and roundly and sharply abused on 
Wednesday morning ; and lots of exercises which I find it 
advantageous to brew myself overnight. 

Public Opinion here says that what our colleges want is 
inferior professors, and more of them for the money. Such 
men, says P. 0., would devote their . attention more to what 


would pay, and would pay more deference to the authority c 
the local press than superior or better paid men. Therefore 
although every individual but one who came before the Com 
mission was privately convinced that the best thing in itsel 
would be to fuse our two institutions into one, with one stal 
of teachers, yet they all agreed that the public opinion of th 
whole was the opposite of the private opinion of each, and tha 
more harm than good would result from adopting the cours 
which seemed good to the members, but not to the body, of th 
public. So the battle rages hot between Union (of Universitie 
only) and Fusion (of classes and professors). Almost all th 
professors in Arts are fusionists, and all the country south o 
the Dee, together with England and the rest of Europe and th 
world, but Aberdeen (on the platform), is Unionist, and nothinj 
else is listened to at public meetings, though perhaps a majorit; 
of those present might be fusionists. Such is Public Opinion 
but we are all quiet again now, and I am working at variou 
high matters, for I have a very good class for Physical Astronomy 
Electricity, and Undulations, etc., and I want to do them justice 
I have had a lot of correspondence about Saturn's Rings 
Electric Telegraph, Tops, and Colours. I am making a Col 
lision of Bodies' machine, and a model of Airy's Transit Circl 
(with lenses), and I am having students' teas when I can. Als 
a class of operatives on Monday evening, who do better exercise 
than the University men, about false balances, Quantity of Wori 

To Miss Cay. 

1^9 Union Street, Aberdeen, 
28th Nov. 1857. 

I had a letter from Willy to-day about jet pumps to be mad 
for real drains, but not sayiug anything about the Professorshi; 
of Engineering. 

I have been pretty steady at work since I came. The cla£ 
is small and not bright, but I am going to give them plenty t 
do from the first, and I find it a good plan. I have a larg 
attendance of my old pupils, who go on with the higher subjects 
This is not part of the College course, so they come merely fror 
choice, and I have begun with the least amusing part of what 
intend to give them. Many had been reading in summer, fc 
they did very good papers for me on the old subjects at th 
beginning of the month. Most of my spare time I have bee 


doing Saturn's Eings, wIiicL. is getting on now, but lately I 
have had a great many long letters to write, — some to Glenlair, 
some to private friends, and some all about science. ... I have 
had letters from Thomson and Challis about Saturn — from Hay- 
ward of Durham University about the brass top, of which he 
wants one. He says that the Earth has been really found to 
change its axis regularly in the way I suj)posed. Faraday has 
also been writing about his own subjects. I have had also to 
write Forbes a long report on colours, so that for every note I 
have got I have had to write a couple of sheets in reply, and 
reporting progress takes a deal of writing and spelling. . . . 

I have had two students' teas, at which I am becoming 
expert. I have also indulged in long walks, and have seen more 
of the country. The evenings are beautiful at this season. 
There have been some very fine waves on the cliffs south of the 

To THE E.EV. L. Campbell. 

ipn taking Priest^ s Orders.) 

129 Union Street, AherdeeUt 
22d Dec. 1857. 

I take for granted that sometime on Sunday last you entered 
the second of the ecclesiastical transformations. May your life 
and doctrine set forth God's glory, and be the means of setting 
forward the salvation of all men ! Some of my friends think 
that the separation to a " holy function " puts a man into an 
artificial position with respect to the conduct of his thoughts, 
words, and acts, and that he is immersed in a professional 
atmosphere, — a worlds in. fact, differing from the world of 
business or of fashion only in the general colouring of its scenery. 
It has always seemed to me that men who have fallen into this 
*' religious world" have completely failed in getting into the 
Church, seeing that the Church professes to be an escape from 
the world, and the only escape. And what holds of the Church 
ought to hold of the clergy preeminently. So far my theory of 
the Church not being a clerical world. Now I believe it not 
only as a theory, but as a fact, that a man will find the thing 
so if he will try it himself. 

The restraints and professional stiffness of sentiment are not 
made for lawful members, but for those whom the truth has 
not yet made entirely free. I have to tell my men that all 


210 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

they see, and tlieir own bodies, are subject to laws whicL. tbey 
cannot alter, and tliat if tliey wish to do anything they must 
work according to those laws, or fail, and therefore we study 
the laws. You have to say that what men are and the nature 
of their actions depends on the state of their wills, and that by 
God's grace, through union with Christ, the contradictions and 
false action of those wills may be settled and solved, so that one 
way lies perfect freedom, and the other way bondage under the 
devil, the world, and the flesh, and therefore you entreat th^m 
to give heed to the things which they have heard. 

Now, no man accuses me of being stiff because I try to make 
what I say precise. Everybody knows that I believe it, whether 
I am stating a well-established law or only a haK-verified con- 
jecture. And I think that you have fully more right to be 
respected, inasmuch as the nature of your message implies the 
duty of preaching it, and the convictions that may be arrived at 
are as cogent, being more clear, if less distinct, than scientific 


I have been reading Butler's Analogy again, specially with 
reference to obscurities in style and language, and also to dis- 
tinguish the merits of the man, and what habits of thought they 
depended on. Also Herschel's Essays, of which read that on 
Kosmos, and Fronde's History. One night I read 160 pages 
of Buckle's History of Civilisation — a bumptious book, strong 
positivism, emancipation fi'om exploded notions, and that style 
of thing, but a great deal of actually original matter, the true 
result of fertile study, and not mere brain-spinning. The style 
is not refined, but it is clear, and avoids fine writing. Fronde 
is very good that way, though you can see the sort of pleasure 
that a University man takes in actually realising w^hat he has 
talked over at Hall about showing what England was in the 
middle ages, and transfusing himself, style and all, thereinto, 
that his friends may see. A solitary student never does that 
sort of thing, nor can he appreciate the graces of imitation. I 
wish Froude would state whether he translates, and from what 
language, in each document. 

I am stni at Saturn's Rings. At present two rings of 
satellites are disturbing one another. I have devised a machine 
to exhibit the motions of the satellites in a disturbed ring ; and 
Eamage is making it, for the edification of sensible image 
worshippers. He has made ioyix new dynamical tops, for 
various seats of learning. 


I have set up a model of Airy's Transit Circle, and described 
it to my advanced class to-day. That institution is working 
well, with a steady attendance of fourteen, who have come of 
their own accord to do subjects not required by the College, 
and tlie dryest first. 

To the present time we have been on Newton's Principia 
(that is, Sects, i. ii. iii., as they are, and a general view of the 
Lunar Theory, and of the improvements and discoveries founded 
on such inquiries). Now we go on to Magnetism, which I have 
not before attempted to explain. 

The other class is at two subjects at once. Theoretical and 
mathematical mechanics is the regular subject, but two days a 
week we have been doing principles of mechanism, and I think 
the thing will work well. We now go on to Friction, Elasticity, 
and Breakage, considered as subjects for exj)eriment, and as we 
go on we shall take up other experimental subjects germane to 
the regular course. I am happy in the knowledge of a good 
tinsmith, in addition to a smith, an optician, and a carpenter. 
The tinsmith made the Transit Circle. 

College Fusion is holding up its head again under the foster- 
ing care of Dr. David Brown (father to Alexander of Queen's).^ 
Know all men I am a Fusionist, and thereby an enemy of all 
the respectable citizens who are Unionists (that is, unite the 
three learned faculties, and leave double chairs in Arts). But 
there is no use writing out their theory to you. They want 
inferior men for j)rofessors — men who will find it their interest 
to teach what will pay to small classes, and who will be more 
under the influence of parents and the local press than more 
learned or better paid men would be in a larger college. 

I send you a description of the Murtle Lecture delivered in 
our Public School : — 

To those who admire the genius of the bard who sang of The Dee, 
the Don, Balgownie Brigg's black wall, the following lines will be 
welcome from their resemblance to the opening of one of his poems : — 

Know ye the Hall where the birch and the myrtle 
Are emblems of things half profane, half divine, 

Where the hiss of the serpent, the coo of the turtle, 
Are counted cheap fun at a sixpenny fine ? 

^ See a little book entitled Crushed Hopes Crowned in Death, 
London, 1862. 

212 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

Know ye tlie Hall of the pulpit and form, 

With its air ever mouldy, its stove never warm ; 

Where the chill blasts of Eurus, oppressed with the stench, 

Wax faint at the window, and strong at the bench ; 

Where Tertian and Semi are hot in dispute, 

And the voice of the Magistrand never is mute ; 

Where the scrape of the foot and the audible sigh 

In nature though varied, in discord may vie, 

Till the accents of Wisdom are stifled and die ; 

Where the Bajuns are dense as the cookies they chew, 

And all save the Regents have something to do ; — 

'Tis our Hall of Assembly, our high moral School, 

Must its walls never rest from the bray of the fool ? 

Oh vain as the prospect of summer in May 

Are the lessons they learn and the lines that they pay. 

All the public discipline, fines, etc., are arranged and levied at the 
Public School. The Bajuns, Semis, Tertians, and Magistrands are the 
four years of men. The Regents are the four Professors — Greek, Nat. 
Hist., Nat. Phil., and Mor. Phil. 

Gaiety is just beginning here again. Society is pretty steady 
in this latitude, — plenty of diversity, but little of great merit 
or demerit, — ^honest on the whole, and not vulgar. . . . No 
jokes of any kind are understood here. I have not made one 
for two months, and if I feel one coming I shall bite my tongue. 
I shall write as soon as I hear again from you. 

To THE Same. 

139 Union Street, BOth Jan. 1858. 

I should have written to thank you for the little book,^ but 
I think: you will prefer my thanks now that I have read it. 

What is the English book that says dasz Wahrheit Offenbarung 
mache, nicht Offenbarung Wahrheit ? 

The marrow of the book lies in the man^s being a Fremdling, 
conscious of the shell that surrounds him and divides him from 
others, and able neither to live in it nor to break it. But the 
shell is only the outer surface of a minute drop of fluid, impene- 
trable because minute, and arising from molecular forces in 
himself. But he meets with another drop, confined to one spot 
it is true, but a great deal larger than himself. He coalesces, 
and both are now larger and more fluid than before. Note that 

^ Deuiche Liebe. 


tliough lie was movable and active, she fixed and ill, she knew 
the Hofrath ; he knew no one, unless perhaps his mother. 
People differ in their need of knowing others, and in their 
power of conquering that knowledge. I have been reading 
Lavater and his life. He needed to know people ; he was a 
man of a refined and tender spirit, but it was vigorous, although 
not very massive or powerful, and he came to know people, 
made friends, a few enemies, stuck to his work, and lived happy. 
Other men have lived well and done good without even wishing 
to burst the shell of separate existence, feeling it like the natural 
garment of a personal being. 

Now I find that the transfusive tendency is not identical 
with personal attraction (using the last two words in anything 
but their newspaper sense). There are some people whom I feel 
disposed to love, honour, and obey, though in many things I 
may dislike them, and may have no wish to have a complete 
fusion of thought and feeling with them. There are others who 
are easily sympathised with, and open out willingly, but do not 
thereby acquire the power and authority which the first have 
without seeking it. Both is best, but of the two the first is 
more permanent than the second. 

To return to the book, the different sex of the parties is 
treated as an accident, but by the effect on the man it certainly 
is not, neither is the effect of it insensible on the lady. She 
ti^eats his statements with more reverence than is their due, as 
coming from a man, and, I think, fails entirely in framing a 
scheme for coalescing, without entering on that state of which 
marriage is the symbol, even though by accident there may be 
checks which may enable or compel the parties to stop short. 
It is not society that does it ; it is a law in us. Now I must 
stoj), or I shall be teaching my grandmother to suck eggs. 

Let me try my hand on that worthy relative in her profes- 
sional as well as private capacity, with respect to the Lilleshall 
sermon. I am sure you will be able, with pains, to put any- 
thing you have sure hold of before your hearers ; but there are 
certain subjects which, after being handled by some of our 
Avriters, get coated over with language so tenacious that it is 
difficult to recognise them in plain clothes, so that you become 
like the " lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice." 

Now it is good to learn wisdom wherever it is to be found, 
but in teachiiig it, it must be made light, wholesome, and 
digestible, by being stripped of all vagueness and wordiness, and 

214 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap, ix. 

refitted with illustrations and conceptions carefully adapted to 
the hearers. Not but what the other method is pleasant to 
listen to, and not without profit (if taken with salt) ; but there 
are good books, out of which jou may preach very bad sermons, 
with which your people may be as delighted as Mary Anne was 
with Faraday's lecture, of which she gave an account to Punch. 

I find my principal work here is teaching my men to avoid 
vague expressions, as '* a certain force," meaning uncertain ; may 
instead of must; will he instead of is; proportional instead of 
equal. , . . 

As to yourself, I do not know whether college or parish work 
is best for you to be set to. I am not sorry about the rich 
people. They require you as much as the poor. But you must 
find out your own spirit, and what you were made for, and not 
steer by men either towards one man or from another. 

Now I sent you a libellous description of our public school 
here last letter. Last week I was walking with the tune of the 
" Lorelei " running in my head, and it set itself into a " kind of 
allegory." The words are very crude, but that is the way they 
came together. I profess myself responsible for most things I 
say, but less for this than for most : — 

Alone on a hillside of heather, 

I lay with dark thoughts in my mind ; 
In the midst of the beautiful Aveather 

I was deaf, I was dumb, I was blind. 
I knew not the glories around me, 

I thought of the world as it seems, 
Till a spirit of melody found me, 

And taught me in visions and dreams. 

For the sound of a chorus of voices 

Came gathering up from below, 
And I heard how all Nature rejoices, 

And moves with a musical flow. 
strange ! we are lost in delusion, 

Our ways and doings are wrong, 
We are drowning in wilful confusion 

The notes of that wonderful song. 

But listen, what harmony holy 

Is mingling its notes with our own ! 
The discord is vanishing slowly, 

And melts in that dominant tone. 


And they tliat have heard it can never 

Return to confusion again ; 
Their voices are music for ever, 

And join in the mystical strain. 

No mortal can utter tlie "beauty 

That dwells in the song that they sing ; 
They move in the pathway of duty, 

They follow the steps of their King. 
I would barter the world and its glory, 

The vision of joy to prolong, 
Or to hear and remember the story 

That lies in the heart of their song. 

To THE Same. 

129 Union Street, 31st Januai^ 1858. 

Thank you for your letter, so kind and so speedy. Now 
there are two of us, and I have that knowledge which is better 
than all advice. Not that I undervalue the advice at all, only 
the sense of unity between us is the main thing, whether we 
keep up correspondence or not. And I know that my friends 
are i;pso facto your's, and your's mine, so that we are a large and 
influential body. . . . 

But don't suppose that I intend to make you my confessor. 
It would not be just to you, for I do not like being confessed to 
myself; and I think every one should bear his own burden, though 
willing to lighten that of others. Besides, confession brings into 
set words and distinct outlines doubtful suspicions and half-formed 
thoughts, which would fade at once if they were not stirred up. 

To do the thing adequately, without extenuation, voluntary 

exaggeration, or colouring of any kind, is far beyond human 

power. The consciousness of the presence of God is the only 

guarantee for true self-knowledge. Everything else is mere 

fiction, fancy portraiture, — done to please one's friends or self, 

or to exhibit one's moral discrimination at the expense of 


• • • • • • 

And now be assured that I feel like Spenser's " Diamond," 
who had " Priamond's " spirit in him as well as his own. There 
is another human aid that is with me. The memory of my 
father is a great help to being practical and active. The more 
I think of him the better I get on, and I am the less tempted to 
absurdity and eccentricity in thought. 

216 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

As for outward act, no one here seems to think me odd or 
daft. Some did at Cambridge, but here I have escaped. My 
rule is to avoid the company of young men whom I do not 
respect, unless I have the control of them. 

King's College has its Senior Wrangler this year. I an- 
nounced it to my class yesterday morning. Lightfoot has com- 
missioned some more from me to be sent to Trinity. 

To K. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

129 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 7th Fehntary 1868, 

When I last wrote I was on my way here. Since then I 
have been at work, Statics and Djniamics ; two days a week 
being devoted to Principles of Mechanism, and afterwards to 
Friction, Elasticity and Strength of Materials, and also Clocks 
and Watches, when we come to the pendulum. We have just 
begun hydrostatics. I have found a better text-book for hydro- 
statics than I had thought for, — the rtin of them are so bad, 
both Cambridge and other ones, — Galbraith and Haughton's 
Manual of Hydrostatics (Longmans, 2s.) There are also manuals 
of Mechanics and Optics of the same set. There is no humbug 
in them, and many practical matters are introduced instead of 
mere intricacies. The only defect is a somewhat ostentatious 
resignation of the demonstrations of certain truths, and a lean- 
ing upon feigned experiments instead of them. But this is 
exactly the place where the students trust most to the professor, 
so that I care less about it. I shall adopt the Optics, which 
have no such defect, and possibly the Mechanics, next year. 

My students of last year, to the number of about fourteen, 
form a voluntary class, and continue their studies. We went 
through Newton i. ii. iii., and took a rough view of the Lunar 
Theory, and of the present state of Astronomy. Then we have 
taken up Magnetism and Electricity, static and current, and now 
we are at Electro-magnetism and Ampere's Laws. I intend to 
make Faraday's book the backbone of all the rest, as he himself 
is the nucleus of everything electric since 1830. 

So much for class work. Saturn's Rings are going on still, 
but this month I am clearing out some spare time to work them 
in. I have got up a model to show the motions of a ring of 
satellites, a very neat piece of work, by Ramage, the maker of 
the " top." 


For other things — I have not much time in winter for im- 
proving my mind. I have read Fronde's History, Aurora Leigh, 
and Hopkins's JEssay on Geology, also Herschel's collected Essays, 
which I like mnch, also Lavater's life and Physiognomy, which 
has introduced me to him j^leasantly though verbosely. I like 
the man very much, quite apart from his conclusions and dogmas. 
They are only results, and far inferior to methods. But many 
of them are true if properly understood and applied, and I sup- 
pose the rest are worth respect as the statements of a truth- 
telling man. 

Well, work is good, and reading is good, but friends are 
better. I have but a finite number of friends, and they are 
dropping off, one here, one there. A few live and flourish. 
Let it be long, and let us work while it is day, for the night is 
€oming, and work by day leads to rest by night. 

To Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

1S9 Union Street, 
Aberdeen, 17th February 1858. 

... I have not been reading much of late. I have been 
hard at mathematics. In fact I set myself a great arithmetical 
job of calculating the tangential action of two rings of satellites, 
and I am near through with it now. I have got a very neat 
model of my theoretical ring, a credit to Aberdeen workmen. 
Here is a diagram, but the thing is complex and difficult to 
draw : — 

Two wheels turning on parallel parts of a cranked axle ; 
thirty-six little cranks of same length between corresponding 
points of the circumferences ; each carries a little ivory satellite.^ 

To Miss Cat. 

129 Union Street, 

18th February 1858. 

Dear Aunt — This comes to tell you that I am going to 
have a wife. 

I am not going to write out a catalogue of qualities, as I *am 
not fit ; but I can tell you that we are quite necessary to one 

1 The sketch which follows corresponds to the model which is preserved 
in the Cavendish Laboratory. 

218 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

anotlier, and understand eacli otlier better than most couples I 
have seen. 

Don't be afraid ; she is not mathematical ; but there are other 
things besides that, and she certainly won't stop the mathe- 
matics. The only one that can speak as an eye-witness is 
Johnnie, and he only saw her when we were both trying to act 
the indifferent. We have been trying it since, but it would not 
do, and it was not good for either. 

So now you know who it is, even Katherine Mary Dewar 
(hitherto). I have heard Uncle Eobert speak (second-hand) of 
her father, the Principal. Her mother is a first-rate lady, very 
quiet and discreet, but has stuff in her to go through anything 
in the way of endurance. ... So there is the state of the case. 
I settled the matter with her, and the rest of them are aU 

I hope some day to make you better acquainted. I can 
hardly admit that Johnnie saw her at all, — not as he will 
when she appears in a true light. . . . For the present you 
must just take what I say on trust. You know that I am not 
given to big words. So have faith and you shall know. 

... I don't write separately to Uncle Kobert, seeing he is 
with you, and I am very busy, and just now I should just write 
the same thing over again, and I have not a copying press. So 
good-bye. — Your affectionate nephew. 

To R. B. Litchfield, Esq. 

129 Union Street^ 
Aberdeen f 6th March 1858, 

My " lines " are so pleasant to me that I think that every- 
body ought to come to me to catch the infection of happiness. 
This college work is what I and my father looked forward to 
for long, and I find we were both qxiite right — that it was the 
thing for me to do. And with respect to the particular college, 
I think we have more discipline and more liberty, and therefore 
more power of useful work, than anywhere else, ft is a great 
thing to be the acknowledged " regent " of one's class for a year, 
so as to have them to one's self except in mathematics and what 
additional classes they take. Then the next year I get those 
that choose to come, which makes a select class for the higher 
branches. They have all great power of work. 

In Aberdeen I have met with great kindness from all sects 


of people, and you now know of my greatest acliievement in 
the way of discovery, namely, the method of converting friend- 
ship and esteem into something far better. We are following 
up that discovery, and making more of it every day ; getting 
deeper and deeper into the mysteries of personality, so as to 
know that we ourselves are united, and not merely attracted by 
qualities or virtues, either bodily or mental. — (Don't suppose we 
talk metaphysics.) . . . 

You will easily see that my " confession of faith " must be 
liable to the objection that Satan made against Job's piety. 
One thing I would have you know, that I feel as free from 
compulsion to any form of compromised faith as I did before I 
had any one to take care of, for I think we both believe too 
much to be easily brought into bondage to any set of opinions. 

With respect to the " material sciences," they appear to me 
to be the appointed road to all scientific truth, whether meta- 
physical, mental, or social. The knowledge which exists on 
these subjects derives a great part of its value from ideas suggested 
by analogies from the material sciences, and the remaining part, 
though valuable and important to mankind, is not scientific but 
aphoristic. The chief philosophical value of physics is that it 
gives the mind something distinct to lay hold of, which if you 
don't, Nature at once tells you you are wrong. Now, every 
stage of this conquest of truth leaves a more or less presentable 
trace on the memory, so that materials are furnished here more 
than anywhere else for the investigation of the great question, 
"How does Knowledge come ?" 

I have observed that the practical cultivators of science {e.g., 
Sir J. Herschel, Faraday, Ampere, Oersted, Newton, Young), 
although differing excessively in turn of mind, have all a dis- 
tinctness and a freedom from the tyranny of words in dealing 
with questions of Order, Law, etc., which pure speculators and 
literary men never attain. 

Now, I am going to put down something on my own 
authority, which you must not take for more than it is worth. 
There are certain men who write books, who assume that what- 
ever things are elderly, certain, and capable of being accurately 
predicted by men of experience, belong to one category ; and 
whatever things are the result of conscious action, whatever are 
capricious, contingent, and cannot be foreseen, belong to another 

All the time I have lived and thought, I have seen more and 

220 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

more reason to disagree with this opinion, and to hold that all 
want of order, cax^rice, and unacconntahleness results from 
interference with liberty, which would, if unimpeded, result in 
order, certainty, and trustworthiness (certainty of success of pre- 
dicting). Remember I do not say that caprice and disorder are. 
not the result of free will (so called), only I say that there is a 
liberty which is not disorder, and that this is by no means less 
free than the other, but more. 

In the next place, there are various states of mind, and schools 
of philosophy corresponding to various stages in the evolution 
of the idea of liberty. 

In one phase, human actions are . the resultant (by par"^- of 
forces) of the various attractions of surrounding things, modified 
in some degree by internal states, regarding which all that is to 
be said is that they are subjectively capricious, objectively the 
" Result of Law," — that is, the wilfulness of our wills feels 
to us like liberty, being in reality necessity. 

In another phase, the wilfulness is seen to be anything but 
free will, since it is merely a submission to the strongest attrac- 
tion, after the fashion of material things. So some say that a 
man's will is the root of all evil in him, and that he should 
mortify it out till nothing of himself remains, and the man and 
his selfishness disappear together. So said Gotama Buddha (see 
Max Mliller), and many Christians have said and thought nearly 
the same thing. 

Nevertheless there is another phase still, in which there 
appears a possibility of the exact contrary to the first state, 
namely, an abandonment of wilfulness without extinction of 
will, but rather by means of a great development of will, whereby, 
instead of being consciously free and really in subjection to 
unknown laws, it becomes consciously acting by law, and really 
free from the interference of unrecognised laws. 

There is a screed of metaphysics. I don't suppose that is 
what you wanted. I have no nostrum that is exactly what you 
want. Every man must brew his own, or at least fill his own 
glass for himself, but I greatly desire to hear some more from 
you, just to get into rapport. 

As to the Roman Catholic question, it is another piece of 
the doctrine of Liberty. People get tired of being able to do as 
they like, and having to choose their own steps, and so they 
put themselves under holy men, who, no doubt, are really wiser 
than themselves. But it is not only wrong, but impossible, to 


transfer either will or responsibility to another ; and after the 
formulae have been gone through, the patient has just as much 
responsibility as before, and feels it too. But it is a sad thing 
for any one to lose sight of their work, and to have to seek 
some conventional, arbitrary treadmill-occupation prescribed by 
sanitary jailors. . . . 

With respect to the class, I send you the paper they did last 
week. Five floored it approximately, two first-rate. I got half- 
a-dozen correct answers to questions on the ejffects of mixtures 
of ice and steam in various proportions, and on the effect of 
heating and cooling on the thrust of iron beams (numerical). 
From the higher class I have essay on Vision (construction of 
eye, spectacles, stereoscopes, etc.) So the w^ork done is equivalent 
to the work spent. 

To Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

Aberdeen, 15th March 1S58. 

"When we had done with the eclipse to-day, the next calcula- 
tion was about the conjunction. The rough approximations 
bring it out early in June. . . . 

The first part of May I will be busy at home. The second 
part I may go to Cambridge, to London, to Brighton, as may 
be devised. After which we concentrate our two selves at 
Aberdeen by the principle of concerted tactics. This done, we 
steal a march, and throw our forces into the happy valley, which 
we shall occupy without fear, and we only wait your signals to 
be ready to welcome reinforcements from Brighton. . . . Good 
night. — Your affectionate friend, J, C. Maxwell. 

N.B. — We are going to do optical experiments together in 
summer. I am getting two prisms, and our eyes are so good as 
to see the sjpot on the sun to-day without a telescope. 

To Prof. J. C. Maxwell from Prof. Forbes. 

Edinburgh, 16th March 1858. 

I was much obliged to you for your letter, and the announce- 
ment of your marriage, which I have not the smallest doubt will 
add to your happiness, while at the same time I do not fear its 
abstracting you from science. 

Your notice of Saturn will be very acceptable. But it 

222 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

sliould not rnn to too great a length, as the 19th will probably 
be our last meeting, and is always a crowded billet. Give me 
an idea of the least time requisite to give an idea of your subject ; 
and more particularly try to send me a piece of the MS., so 
that I may legally hold it as a MS. delivered, and take preced- 
ence of some trivial communications of which I stand rather in 

I duly received the Top. I suppose it is all right, but my 
energies have been absorbed in Electrical experiments merely 
for lecture, and which have been very heavy upon me. I ought 
to have paid for the Top ere now, but I will soon. 

"We saw the Eclipse very badly, and it seems that in England 
it was no better. I had arranged to give a telegraphic account 
to E. Soc. last night, from no less than 3 points on the central 
line. . . . 

To Eev. Lewis Campbell. 

Glenlair, SpringJiolm, 
Dumfries, 28th April 1858. 

... I wish you great joy, now and always ! I hope to 
certify myself ere long what sort of " friend's wife " I am to 
have. I have faith already, but sight is better, and you will 
have some pleasure in getting my verdict, though you don't 
need anything of the kind. 

I have been very happy in observing the very admirable 
frame of mind in which all my friends seem disposed to regard 
my affairs, and yet I would rather that their opinions and senti- 
ments had a more distinct basis of observation. But I suppose they 
observe me, and see I am " all right and no mistake." . . . 

I tell you this . . . because you are our friend for better 
for worse. 

I shall bring you a small pen-wiper that Katherine made for 
you the last day I was in Aberdeen. If you are careful in 
using it as it ought to be used, you will get rid of all the 
" odium theologicum " and other bitter principles sometimes 
occurring in parsons' ink, and your heart will indite good 
matter with the pen of a ready writer. . . . 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, 29th April 1858, 
... I displayed my model of Saturn's Ring at the Edin- 


burgh. Royal Society on the 19tli. The anatomists seemed to 
take most interest in the construction of it. We are going to 
do some experiments on colour this summer, if my prisms turn 
out well. I have got a beautiful set of slits made by Eamage, 
to let in the different pencils of light at the proper places, and 
of the proper breadths. 

To Miss K. M. Dewak. 

M May 1S58, 
Now you must remember that all I say about texts and 
matters of that sort is only a sort of help to being together when 
we read, for I am not skilful to know what is the right meaning 
of anything so as to tell other people, only I have a right to try 
to make it out myself, and what I say to myself I may say to 

To THE Same. 

6th May 1858. 

Isaiah li. and Gal. v. — I suppose the leaven in v. 9 is the 
little bit of Judaism that they were going to adopt, on the plea 
that it is " safer " to do and believe too much than too little, and 
yet these little things altered the character of the whole of their 
religion by making it a thing of labour and wages, instead of an 
inward growth of faith working by love, which purifies the heart 
now, and encourages us to wait for the hope of righteousness. 
But still the desire of the spirit is contrary to the desire of the 
flesh, the one tending towards God, and the other towards the 
elements of the world, so that we are kept stretched as it were, 
and this is our training in this life. Oar flesh is God's making, 
who made us part of His world ; but then He has given us the 
power of coming nearer to Himself, and so we ought to use the 
world and our bodies as means towards the knowledge of Him, 
and stretch always as far as our state will permit towards Him. 
If we do not, but wilfully seek back again to the elements as 
the Israelites to Egypt, then we are not like infants or even 
brutes, but far worse, as recoiling from God and His blessedness. 
Here are manifest the works of the flesh, which are not only not 
those of righteousness, but opposed to them ; but the fruit of 
the spirit comes when, like good trees, we stretch our best aff'ec- 
tions upwards till we see the sun, and breathe the air and drink 
the rain, and receive all free gifts, instead of sending our branches 
after our roots, down among things that once had life but now 

224 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

are decaying, and seeking there for nourishment that can only 
be had from above. 

See the order of ripening of the fruit. Now, love brings joy 
to ourselves, and this, peace with others, and this, long-suffering 
of their attacks, for why should we be angry ? Gentleness is a 
higher degree of this, being active. Goodness is used in a less 
general sense than we use it. It seems something like ''good 
nature," only better and more manly, and refers to the good 
disposition of a man among men. Faith is put in here as the result 
of good living ; which is true, for it is nourished thereby. Then 
see what comes of adding faith to a good disposition, — meekness, 
which we cannot afford to have without faith ; and lastly, 
temperance or moderation, which is also founded on faith, and 
is a virtue that can never be perfect till all the rest are so. 

To THE Same, 

Milford, Lymington {Hants), 
9th May 1858. 

To-day we were called at seven ; were down soon thereafter, 
and had everything leisurely and comfortably till ten, when we 
went to school. I had a class of youths just beginning to read, 
and some of them knew not what swine were, still less what a 
herd was. At eleven to church — Lewis read prayers and lessons 
very well and distinctly, and Chester preached on James i. 15. 
Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death. He showed up 
sin as the universal poison, and showed how it might be seen 
working death in several instances, and also in all, good and bad, 
in this life, and then turned to the next, and finally indicated 
the remedy, though not so clearly as Paul in Rom. viii. 2, which 
he should have read. 

In the afternoon Chester read prayers and Lewis preached 
on " Ye must be born again," showing how respectable a man 
it was addressed to, and how much he, and all the Jews, and all 
the world, and ourselves, needed to be born from above (for that 
is the most correct version of the word translated again). Then 
he described the changes on a man new-bom, and his state and 
privileges. I think he has got a good hold of the people, and will 
do them good and great good. 

To THE Same. 

10th May 1858, 

Eph. iii. 19. — Paul can express no more, but read the last 


two verses and you will see this is not the crown, but only what 
can be asked or thought. What a field for ambition there is, — 
for climbing up, or rather, being drawn up, into Christ's love, 
and receiving into our little selves all the fulness of God. Let 
us bless God even now for what He has made us capable of, and 
try not to shut out His spirit from working freely. 

To THE Same. 

13th May 1S58. 

I have been reading again with you Eph. vi. Here is more 
about family relations. There are things which have meanings 
so deep that if we follow on to know them we shall be led into 
great mysteries of divinity. If we despise these relations of 
marriage, of parents and children, of master and servant, every- 
thing will go wrong, and there will be confusion as bad as in 
Lear's case. But if we reverence them, we shall even see beyond 
their first aspect a spiritual meaning, for God speaks to us more 
plainly in these bonds of our life than in anything that we can 
understand. So we find a great deal of Divine Truth is spoken 
of in the Bible with reference to these three relations and others. 

To THE Same. 

16th May 1858. 

Phil. iii. — There is great wisdom in v. 13. Never look back 
with complacency on anything done, or attained, or possessed. 
See the description of those who mind earthly things, and let 
us depart from their ways. Conversation in v. 20 means going 
backwards and forwards, and refers to the walking of the pre- 
ceding verses. What a description of the power of Christ in the 
last verse, over '' all things," and our vile bodies among the rest, 
and what a day it will be when He has done all His work and 
is satisfied. 

I think the more we enter together into Christ's work He 
will have the more room to work His work in us. For He 
always desires us to be one that He may be one with us. Our 
worship is social, and Christ will be wherever two or three are 
gathered together in His name. 

I have been vexed that I could not speak better to . I 

had a long walk with him, talking of what people have believed, 
and what was necessary to be believed. I hope we may come 
to understand each other, but more that he may come to the 


226 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

clear ligTit. I wish. I could speak to liim wise words. He is 
so anxious to hear, and I to speak, and then the words are all 
wind after all. 

To Prof. J. C. Maxwell from Vernon Lushington, Esq. 

Ockham, 31st May 1858. 

Next Wednesday is your second of June, after which we shall 
no longer be able to think of you as one of ourselves— the youth- 
ful wanderers and seekers of the earth. So how can I better 
employ the end of this Sunday evening than by bidding you 
Farewell and God speed ? . . . 

When Wednesday comes I hope I shall think of you. I like 
thinking of you, — what you were, what you are, and what you 
may be. All happiness be with you and yours ! 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, 24(71 July 1858. 
. . . We are no great students at present, preferring various 
passive enjoyments, resulting from the elemental influences of 
sun, wind, and streams. This week I have begun to make a 
small hole into Saturn, who has slept on his voluminous ring 
for months. 

To Mrs. Maxwell. 

16th September 1859, 
Mrs. Sabine learnt mathematics of her husband after she was 
married, so she was not married for it. Murchison knew no 
geology when he was married, but his wife did a little ; and 
there was a fall of a cliff in the morning early, and her maid 
told her of it, so she was for up;^ so Murchison got up too, and 
there were the great bones of an Icthyosaurus in the broken 
cliff, and he was interested and took to geology. Before that he 
was an idle young officer. 

To Professor Earaday. 

Marisclial College, Aberdeen, 
30th Nommher 1859. 

Dear Sir — I am a candidate for the Chair of Natural 

1 << 

was for up," i.e. wished to get up. 


Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, which will soon be 
vacant by the appointment of Professor J. D. Forbes to St. 
Andrews. If you should be able, from your knowledge of the 
attention which I have paid to science, to recommend me to the 
notice of the Curators, it would be greatly in my favour, and I 
should be much indebted to you for such a certificate. 

I was sorry that I had so little time in September that I 
could not write out an explanation of the figures of lines of force 
which I sent you ; but Professor W. Thomson, to whom I lent 
them, seems to have indicated all that was necessary, and most 
of them can be recognised from their resemblance to the curves 
made with Iron filings. 

The only thing to be observed is, that these curves are due 
to the action either of long mres perpendicular to the paper, or 
of elongated magnetic poles, such as the edge of a long ribbon 
of steel magnetised transversely. By considering infinitely long 
currents or magnetic poles perpendicular to the paper we obtain 
systems of curves far more easily traced than in any other case, 
while their general appearance is similar to those produced in 
the ordinary experiments. 

All the diagrams have two sets of lines at right angles to 
•each other, and the width between the two sets of lines is the 
same, so that the reticulation is nearly square. If one system 
belongs to poles, the other belongs to currents, so that if the 
meaning of one be known, that of the other may be deduced 
from it. — I remain yours truly, James Clerk Maxwell. 


These appendages to the planet had been seen by Galileo 
through his telescope in 1610, but their continually varjdng 
form met with no explanation until Huyghens in 1659 dis- 
covered that what had previously been regarded as a pair of 
satellites was a continuous ring. The great division between 
the outer and inner rings was first seen on the northern surface 
by William Bell in 1665, and on the southern surface by 
Cassini in 1675. In 1789 Herschel determined the time of 
rotation of the outer ring. More recent observations showed 
that besides the great division between the rings there is an 

228 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. ix. 

appearance of a further subdivision, as though each ring con- 
sisted«of a great number of narrow concentric rings with spaces 
between them. In 1850 a dark ring within the inner bright 
ring was discovered. This ring is transparent, so that the 
planet can be seen through it. By a comparison of his own 
measurements with those of Huyghens and Herschel, Struve 
concluded that the configuration of the rings is changing, their 
breadth continually increasing so that their inner edges are 
approaching the planet ; but the evidence of this change is by no 
means conclusive. The problem set by the Smith's Prize Ex- 
aminers was to account for these appearances on mechanical 

If the rings were solid it is certain that the forces to which 
they would be exposed by the attraction of the planet would 
not only crush but liquify them.^ If the rings were indefinitely 
narrow, the attraction of the planet might be compensated by 
allowing them to rotate with the proper velocity ; but in the 
case of a broad ring the velocity suited to the inner portions 
would be too great for the outer parts, while that adapted to the 
middle portion of the ring would suit neither the inside nor the 
outside. Hence it seemed to follow that if the rings were solid 
they must consist of a great number of very narrow rings, each 
rotating at its proper rate. This was shown by Laplace, who 
also showed that for such a system to be permanent the rings 
must be far from uniform. In 1851 Professor Pierce showed 
that the number of the rings must be much greater than Laplace 

This was the condition of the question when it was taken up 
by Maxwell, and the gist of it is thus expressed by him in 
the course of his Essay : — " When we have actually seen that 
great arch swung over the equator of the planet without any 
visible connection, we cannot bring our minds to rest. We 
cannot simply admit that such is the case, and describe it as 
one of the observed facts in nature, not admitting or requiring 
explanation. We must either explain its motion on the prin- 

^ This depends on what is known to engineers as the "strength of 
material." For example : There is a superior limit to the span of an iron 
bridge, and when this limit is reached the bridge can only bear its own 
weight. Increasing the amount of iron would be of no use, as the weight 
would be increased in the same proportion as the strength, and hence this 
limit can never be exceeded. 


ciples of mechanism, or admit that, in the Saturnian realms, 
there can be motion regulated by laws which we are unable to 

Maxwell first tried the hypothesis of Laplace and showed 
that to insure the permanence of the rings, the material would 
have to be so artificially adjusted as to be inconsistent " with 
the natural arrangements observed elsewhere." He found that 
in the case of liquid rings there would be waves set up in the 
system, which would increase in intensity until the rings broke 
up into drops. And his conclusion was that the rings must 
consist of independent fragments or satellites, as described in 
his letter of August 28, 1857 (p. 192). Sir George Airy said 
of this paper : " It is one of the most remarkable applications of 
Mathematics to Physics that I have ever seen." 


230 - JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 


king's college, LONDON, 1860 TO 1865 GLENLAIR, 

1860 TO 1870— ^T. 29-39. 

From this point onward the interest of Maxwell's life (save 
things "wherewith the stranger intermeddles not") is 
chiefly concentrated in his scientific career. As a full' 
account of his labours in science is beyond the scope of 
this volume, what remains of the present narrative will be 
comparatively brief. 
1860-1865. The work at King's College was more exacting than 
jEl 29-34. that in Aberdeen. There were nine months of lecturing 
in the year, and evening lectures to artisans, etc., were 
recognised as a part of the Professor's regular duties. 
Maxwell retained the post until the spring of 1865, when 
he was succeeded by Professor W. G. Adams, but con- 
tinued lecturing to the working men during the following 

In June 1860 Maxwell attended the British Association's 
meeting at Oxford, where he exhibited his box for mixing 
the colours of the spectrum. He also presented to Section 
A a most important paper on Bernoulli's Theory of Gases ; 
a theory which supposes that a gas consists of a number of 
independent particles moving about among one another 
without mutual interference, except when they come into 
collision. Maxwell showed that the apparent viscosity of 
gases, their low conductivity for heat, and Graham's laws 
of diffusion, could be satisfactorily explained by this theory, 
and gave reasons for believing that in air at ordinary 
temperature each particle experiences on an average more 
than 8,000,000,000 collisions j)er second. It is probable 


that the contemplation of the " flight of brick-bats " (his 
own vivid phrase for the constitution of Saturn's rings) led 
him on to his far-reaching investigations in this field of 
molecular physics. 

On the 17th of May 1861 he delivered his first lecture 
before the Eoyal Institution. The subject was " On the 
Theory of the three Primary Colours." 

All this while Maxwell was quietly and securely laying 
the foundations, deep and wide, of his great work on Elec- 
tricity and Magnetism, but he had not the leisure that 
was requisite for bringing it to completion. 

The period of his King's College Professorship was far, 
however, from being scientifically unfruitful. The colour- 
box was perfected, and many series of observations were 
made with it. Mrs. Maxwell's observations were found 
to have a special value. Through a striking discrepancy 
between her readings and C. H. Cay's, Maxwell discovered 
that the blindness of the Foramen Centrale to blue light, 
which was strongly marked in his own dark eyes, was 
either altogether absent from hers, or present in a very 
low degree. The comparison of J. C. M.'s (J.'s) eyes, and 
Mrs. M.'s (K.'s) forms part of this investigation. 

The experimental measurements by which the present 
standard of electrical resistance (the Ohm) was first deter- 
mined, were made at King's College by a sub-committee 
of the B.A., consisting of Maxwell, Balfour Stewart, and 
Fleeming Jenkin, in 1862-63, in accordance with a method 
proposed by Sir Wm. Thomson. A further experimental 
measurement was made next year by Maxwell, Fleeming 
Jenkin, and Charles Hockin (Fellow of St. John's). The 
importance of the work may be estimated by the fact that 
the system of units then determined by the B.A. Com- 
mittee was, in the main, adopted by the Electrical Congress 
which met last j^ear (1881) in Paris, and an International 
Commission has been appointed by the European Govern- 
ments to make a redetermination of the standard of resist- 
ance first measured by the B.A Committee. Maxwell's 
papers on this subject, with those of his fellow- workers, 
were republished in 1873 in a volume edited by Professor 

232 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

Jenkin.^ Many are the references to successful or fruitless 
"spins " in the home letters of this period. The following 
quotation will suffice : — 

SSth January I864. 

We are going to have a spin with Balfour Stewart to-morrow. 
I hope we shall have no accidents, for it puts off time so when 
anything works wrong, and we cannot at first find out the 
reason, or when a string breaks, and the whole spin has to 
begin again. . . . However, we hope to bring out our standards 
by September, and Becker ^ makes them up excellently. 

A mass of correspondence, containing numerous sugges- 
tions made by Maxwell from day to day in 1863-4, has 
been preserved by Professor Jenkin. Two of the least 
technical passages will be found amongst the letters in this 
chapter (pp. 252, 255). 

Another very important experimental investigation which 
was conducted by Clerk Maxwell about this period was the 
determination of the ratio of the electromagnetic and elec- 
trostatic units of electricity, for the purpose of comparing 
this quantity with the velocity of light. With regard 
to this investigation, it is only necessary to say here that 
the experiment amounts to a comparison between the 
attractions of two electric currents flowing in coils of wire, 
and the attraction or repulsion between two metal plates 
which have each received a charge of electricity. Clerk 
Maxwell had pointed out that, in accordance with his 
theory, the ratio of the units should be equal to the velocity 
of light, and the value obtained by him was intermediate 
between the extreme values obtained for that velocity by 
previous observers. The experiment was the outcome of 
his theory of the constitution of the space in the neigh- 
bourhood of magnetic and electric currents, by which he 
accounted for all the then known phenomena of magnetism 

^ Reports of the Committee on Electrical Standards, appointed by the 
British Association for the advancement of Science. Spon, London and 
New York, 1873. 2 Qf Messrs. Elliott Brothers. 


and electricity, and which he published in a semi-popular 
form in the Fhilosophical Magazine in 1861 and 1862. 

During most of the King's College time Maxwell resided 
at 8 Palace Gardens Terrace, Kensington, where he carried 
on many of his experiments in a large garret which ran 
the whole length of the house. When experimenting at 
the window with the colour-box (which was painted black, 
and nearly eight feet long), he excited the wonder of his 
neighbours, who thought him mad to spend so many hours 
in staring into a coffin. This was also the scene of his 
well-known experiments on the viscosity of gases at differ- 
ent pressures and temperatures. For some days a large 
fire was kept up in the room, though it was in the midst 
of very hot weather. Kettles were kept on the fire, and 
large quantities of steam allowed to flow into the room. 
Mrs. Maxwell acted as stoker, which was very exhausting 
work when maintained for several consecutive hours. 
After this the room was kept cool, for subsequent experi- 
ments, by the employment of a considerable amount 
of ice. 

During Maxwell's residence in London his brother-in- 
law, the Rev. Donald Dewar, came and stayed in his house 
in order to undergo a painful operation at the hands of 
Sir William Ferguson. Maxwell gave up the ground floor 
of his house to Mr. Dewar and his nurse. He himself, 
meanwhile, used to take his meals in a very small back 
room, where frequently he breakfasted (on porridge) on 
his knees, because there was no room for another chair at 
the table. Maxwell acted constantly in the capacity of 
nurse to Mr. Dewar, who would always look out anxiously 
for his return from college, and whose face would light up 
with a smile of pleasure and relief when he saw him coming. 
No one else could arrange and smooth his couch for him 
so perfectly. 

One pleasant incident of Maxwell's stay in London was 

the improvement of his acquaintance with Faraday, with 

whom he seems to have dined on the occasion of his 

lecture before the E-oyal Institution in 1861. 

■ On one occasion he was wedged in a crowd attempting 

234 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

to escape from the lecture theatre of the Eoyal Institution, 
when he was perceived by Faraday, who, alluding to 
Maxwell's work among the molecules, accosted him 
in this wise — "Ho, Maxwell, cannot you get out? If 
any man can find his way through a crowd it should he 
you. " 

He also renewed his personal intercourse with Litchfield, 
Droop, and other Cambridge friends. 

His habit at this time was to do his scientific work 
chiefly in the mornings, unless when entertaining friends, 
when he would give up his days to them and take hours 
for work out of the night. In the afternoons he would 
ride with Mrs. Maxwell. She had been recommended 
horse exercise in 1860, when the pony "Charlie," called 
after Charles Hope Cay, was bought at the Eood fair. He 
was a high-bred, spirited, light bay Galloway, with arched 
neck and flowing tail. Maxwell himself broke him in, 
riding side-saddle, with a piece of carpet to take the place 
of a habit. This pony was a great favourite until the end 
in 1879. 

About this time (between 1860 and 1865) the endow- 
ment of Corsock Church was completed, and the Manse 
built. Maxwell gave largely to both objects, which were 
promoted mainly by his zeal and energy. 

At the beginning and at the close of the King's College 
period Maxwell suffered from two severe illnesses, both of 
a dangerously infectious nature, and in both of them he 
was nursed by Mrs. Maxwell. In September 1860 he had 
an attack of smallpox at Glenlair, which he was supposed 
to have caught at the fair, where " Charlie " was bought. 
During this illness his v/ife was left quite alone with him 
— the servants only coming to the door of the sick-room. 
He has been heard to say that by her assiduous nursing 
on this occasion she saved his life. 

The second illness was in September 1865, also at 
Glenlair. Maxwell had been riding a strange horse, and 
got a scratch on the head from a bough of a tree ; this was 
followed by an attack of erysipelas, which brought him very 
low. Mrs. Maxwell was again his nurse, and to listen, as 


he insisted on doing, to her quiet reading of their usual 
portion of Scripture every evening, was the utmost mental 
effort which he could bear. 

The years which followed the resignation of his post at 1866-1870. 
King's College were spent, for the most part, at Glenlair, ^'^^ 35-39. 
the house being at this time enlarged in general accordance 
with his father's plan. And Maxwell took advantage of 
this retirement to embody some of the results of his in- 
vesti2:ations in substantive books. The e'reat work on 
Electricity and Magnetism, although not published till 
1873, was now taking definite shape, and the treatise on 
Heat, which appeared in 1870, had been undertaken as a 
by-work during the saine period. 

His scientific and other correspondence also absorbed a 
good deal of energy. >Some measure of it is afforded by 
the fact that a " pillar "-box was let into the rough stone 
wall on the roadside, across the Urr, for the sole use of 
Glenlair House. Maxwell would himself caiTy the letters 
to and from this rustic post-office in all weathers, at the 
same time giving the dogs a run. 

Both now and afterwards, his favourite exercise — as 
that in which his wife could most readily share — was 
riding, in which he showed great skill. Mr. Fergusson 
remembers him in 1874, on his new black horse, 
" Dizzy," which had been the despair of previous owners, 
"riding the ring," for the amusement of the children at 
Kilquhanity, throwing up his whip and catching it, leaping 
over bars, etc. 

A considerable portion of the evening would often be 
devoted to Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, or a play of Shake- 
speare, which he would read aloud to Mrs. Maxwell. 

On Sundays, after returning from the kirk, he would 
bury himself in the works of the old divines. For in 
theology, as in literature, while reckoning frankly with all 
phases, his sympathies went largely with the past. Not 
that he would have checked the real progress of thought 
on the subject of religion, but he did not share the sanguine 
hopes of some who have sought to hasten these " slow- 

236 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

paced" changes ; nor did he believe in progress by ignoring 
differences, or by merging the sharp outlines of traditional 
systems in the haze of a " common Christianity." He was 
one of those in whom physical studies seem to have the 
effect of leading the mind to dwell on the permanent 
aspects of thought as well as of things, thus reinforcing 
the instincts of conservatism. No mind ever delighted 
more in speculation, and yet none was ever more jealous 
of the practical application or the popular dissemination of 
what appeared to him as crude and half-baked theories 
about the highest subjects. He preferred resting on the 
great thoughts of other ages, though no man knew better 
wherein they (and scientific theories likewise) fell short of 
certainty ; and while he was anything rather than a formal- 
ist or a dogmatist, and still clung to the belief that love 
remains while knowledge vanishes . away, he was the 
enemy of indefiniteness and indifferentism, as well as 
of a style of preaching which, as he used to say, 
"dings ye wi' mere morality." His theological attitude, 
which it would be rash to develop further here, is 
indicated to some extent in his letter to Bishop Ellicott, 
and in his reply to the Secretary of the Victoria Insti- 
, tute, both of which will be found in Chapter XL (pp. 
301, 312). 

But he was far, indeed, from judging men by their 
opinions. " I have no nose for heresy," he used to say. 
His sympathy pierced beneath the outer shell of circum- 
stance and association, and he hardly ever failed to discover 
what was best and strongest in those with whom he had 
to do. 

His kindly relations with his neighbours and with their 
children may be passed without further notice after what 
has been said above. But it may be mentioned that he 
used occasionally to visit any sick person in the village, 
and read and prayed with them in cases where such minis- 
trations were welcomed. 

One who visited at Glenlair between 1865 and 1869 
was particularly struck with the manner in which the daily 
prayers were conducted by the master of the household. 


The prayer, which seemed extenipore, was most impresi 
and full of meaniriGr.-^ 

It is right also to record briefly his continued in 
course with his cousins of the Cay family. Mr. Will 
Dyce Cay, who had now entered on his profession s 
civil engineer, was employed by him to build the bri 
over the Urr, and has a vivid recollection of their in 
course, both then (1861-62) and in former years. In ■ 
ticular, he remembers how, on one occasion. Maxwell sj 
the whole time during a walk of several miles over the 
from Glenlair to Parton, " giving one example after anot 
to explain by illustration the principle of virtual velociti 
..." The feeling I had," says Mr. Cay, *' was, that be 
I got to the bottom of one example he had rushed ofl 

And the reader will find in the correspondence tw< 
Maxwell's letters to my friend Charles Hope Cay, and 
an earlier letter (above, p. 178) a bright description of 1 
He died in 1869, at the early age of twenty-eight, 
most devoted of teachers, one of the purest-hearted 
most amiable of men. If he could have listened to 


^ The following fragments have been found amongst his paper 
Almighty God, who hast created man in Thine own image, and i 
him a living soul that he might seek after Thee and have dominion 
Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we 
subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen our reason for Thy sen 
and so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe on Him \\ 
Thou hast sent to give us the knowledge of salvation and the reraissi( 
our sins. All which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Chrisi 

' ' Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, 
hast set Thy glory above the heavens, and out of the mouths of t 
and sucklings hast perfected praise. When we consider Thy heai 
the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast orda 
teach us to know that Thou art mindful of us, and visitest us, makii 
rulers over the works of Thy hands, showing us the wisdom of Thy 1 
and crowning us with honour and glory in our earthly life ; and loo 
higher than the heavens, may we see Jesus, made a little lower than 
angels for the suifering of death, crowned with glory and honour, 
He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man. I 
fulfil Thy promise, and put all things in subjection under His feet, 
sin be rooted out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. ] 
Thou the Lord, my soul, praise the Lord," 

^ 238 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

cousin's gentle warnings against excessive zeal, perhaps his 
services to Clifton College, if less vividly remembered, 
might have been continued longer. But who knows ? 
" They whom the gods love die young." 

Maxwell's retirement was not by any means unbroken. 
There was a visit to London in the spring of every year. 
And in the spring and early summer of 1867 he made a 
JEt. 35. tour in Italy with Mrs. Maxwell. They had the misfortune 
to be stopped for quarantine at Marseilles, and his remark- 
able power of physical endurance and of ministration were 
felt by all who shared in the mishap. True to the associa- 
' tions of his early days (see above, pp. 16, 77), he became 
the general water-carrier, and in other ways contributed 
greatly to the alleviation of discomforts that were by no 
means light. 

We met accidentally at Florence, and I remember his 
mentioning two things as having particularly struck him 
amongst the innumerable objects of interest at Rome. He 
had looked at the dome of St. Peter's with an eye of sym- 
pathetic genius,^ and his ear for melody had been satisfied 
V by "the Pope's band." He acquired Italian with great 
rapidity, and amused himself with noticing the different 
phonetic values of the letters in Italian and English. ^ One 
of his chief objects in learning the language was to be able 
to converse with Professor Matteucci, whose bust now 
stands in the Campo Santo at Pisa. During the same tour 
he took special pains to improve his acquaintance with 
French and German. The only language he had any diflEi- 
culty in mastering was Dutch. 

In the years 1866, 1867, 1869, and 1870, he was 
either Moderator or Examiner in the Mathematical Tripos 
at Cambridge, where his influence was more and more felt. 
His work on these occasions was, indeed, a principal factor 
in the movement, to be hereafter described, which led ulti- 

1 The tone in which he spoke of this brought home to me, more than 
anything I have seen in books, the joy of Michael Angelo in etherealising 
the work of Brunelleschi. 

2 On learning from our teacher, Sign. Briganti, the pronunciatipn of 
suolo, he said, "That is the English for rondinella.'" 


mately to important changes in the Examination system ; 
to the creation of the Cavendish Laboratory ; and to the 
foundation of the Chair of Experimental Physics. 

His paper on the Viscosity of Gases, printed in the 
Phil. Trans, for 1866, had been delivered by him as the 
Bakerian Lecture for that year. ^ 

He also attended several meetings of the British Asso- 
ciation, and, in 1870, at the Liverpool meeting, was Presi- ^t. 39. 
dent of Section A (Mathematics and Physics). His Presi- 
dential Address was on the relation of Mathematics and 
Physics to each other — a theme suggested by Professor 
Sylvester, who had been president of the same section in 
the previous year. The opening passage, in which he 
alludes to other recent scientific addresses, is characteristic, 
and may be quoted here : — 

I have endeavoured to follow Mr. Spottiswoode, as with far- ' 
reaching vision he distinguishes the systems of science into 
which phenomena, our knowledge of which is still in the nebu- 
lous stage, are growing. I have been carried, by the penetrating 
insight and forcible expression of Dr. Tyndall, into that sanctuary 
of minuteness and of power, where molecules obey the laws of 
their existence, clash together in fierce collision, or grapple in yet 
more fierce embrace, building up in secret the forms of visible 
things. I have been guided by Professor Sylvester towards 
those serene heights 

" Where never creeps a cloud or moves a wdnd, 
Nor ever falls the least white star of snow, 
Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans, 
Nor sound of human sorrow mounts, to mar 
Their sacred everlasting calm." 

But who will lead me into that still more hidden and dimmer 
region where Thought weds Fact, — where the mental operation 
of the mathematician and the physical action of the molecules 
are seen in their true relation ? Does not the way to it pass 
through the very den of the metaphysician, strewed with the 
remains of former explorers and abhorred by every man of 
science ? . . . 

Two important papers read by Maxwell at the same 
meeting were that " On Hills and Dales," to which reference 

240 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

will be found in the correspondence (Chap. XL p. 292), and 
that " On Colour Vision at different Points of the Retina." 

The Cambridge examinations were the only cause which 
separated him for more than a day or two from Mrs. 
Maxwell. When most pressed with the load of papers to 
be read, he would write to her daily — sometimes twice a 
day — in letters full of ^^ enfantillages,'^ as in his boyish 
endeavours to amuse his father, telling her of everything, 
however minute, which, if she had seen it, would have 
detained her eye, small social phenomena, grotesque or 
graceful (including the dress of lady friends), together with 
the lighter aspects of the examinations ;' College customs, 
such as the "grace-cup ;" his dealings with his co-examiners, 
and marks of honour to himself which he knew would 
please her, though they were indifferent to him. And 
sometimes he falls into the deeper vein, which was never 
long absent from his communion with her, commenting on 
the portion of Scripture which he knew that she was reading, 
and passing on to general meditations on life and duty. 

In November 1868 his old teacher, James D. Forbes, 
had resigned the principalship of the United College in the 
University of St. Andrews, and an effort was made by 
several of the professors^ to induce Maxwell to stand for 
the vacant post, which was in the gift of the Crown, and 
had been held by Brewster and Forbes successively. He 
was touched by the kindness, and travelled a whole day 
from Galloway to confer with us, but, on mature consider- 
ation, relinquished the idea. 

Letters, 1860 to 1870. 
To Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

Marischal College^ 
Aberdeen, 6th January 1860. 

... I have been publishing my views about Elastic Spheres 

in the Phil. Mag. for Jany., and am going to go on with it as I 

^ It is right that I should add that the suggestion did not proceed 
from me. — L. C. 


get the prop"*' written out. I have also sent my experiments 
on Colours to the Royal Society of London, so I have two sets 
of irons in the fire, besides class work. I hope you get on with 
Plato, and that your pupils are all Thecetetuses, and that wisdom 
soaks like oil into their inwards. There is a man here who is 
striving after a general theory of things, but he has great diffi- 
culty in so churning his thoughts as to coagulate and solidify 
the vague and nebulous notions which wander in his head. He 
has been applying to me very steadily whenever he can pounce 
on me, and I have prescribed for him as I best could, and I 
hope his abstract of his general theory of things will be palatable 
to the readers of the British Ass. Reports for 1859. 

To HIS Wife. 

Edinburgh, 13th April 1S60. 
Now let us read (2 Cor.) chapter xii., about the organisation 
of the Church, and the different gifts of different Christians, and 
the reason of these differences that Christ's body may be more 
complete in all its parts. If we felt more distinctly our union 
to Christ, we would know our position as members of His body, 
and work more willingly and intelligently along with all the 
rest in promoting the health and growth of the body, by the use 
of every power which the spirit has distributed to us. 

14th April 1860. 
Let us read about charity, — that love which is so perfect that 
it remains when that which is in part shall be done away. May 
God purify our love, and make it fit for eternity, by grafting 
upon it the love of Himself, that so both the human root and the 
engrafted branches and the divine fruit may be holy to Him ! 

To Professor Faraday. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace^ W. , 
^Ist May 1861. 

Dear Sir — If a sphere were set in rotation about any 

diameter, it would continue to revolve about that diameter for 

ever. If the body is of unequal dimensions it will continue to 

revolve about the same axis, provided that axis be a principal 

axis of the body (of which there are always three). 


242 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

If tlie original axis of rotation is not a principal axis, tlien 
the axis of rotation will change its position both in the body 
and in space. 

In the body the extremity of the axis of rotation will describe 
an ellipse (or circle) about the greatest or least axis. In space 
it describes a complicated curve. The ellipse is described in 


revolutions of the body, where — -, — — are the moments of 

(jfi h'^ c^ 

inertia about the principal axis. 

If the body be very nearly 
spherical like the earth, this mo- 
tion is very slow. If P be the 
end of the principal axis of the 
earth, and N that of the actual 
axis of rotation, the rotation be- 
ing from W to E, then N will 
travel round P from W to E, so 
as to complete its circuit in about 
325*6 mean solar days. 

This phenomenon depends only 
on the configuration of the earth, and its rotation round an 
axis which, is nearly but not exactly a principal axis, and 
would be the same if all other bodies were absent from the 
sky. The position of the pole among the stars is not at 
all affected ; but the latitude of every place on the earth 
is alternately increased and diminished, the maximum latitude 
occurring when N is in the same meridian with the pl^e. 
Thus our maximum should occur sooner than that of Paris or 

The a/mount of the variation can only be determined by 
observation. I have not the means at present of making refer- 
ence to the statement that Peters, astronomer at Konigsberg 
or Berlin, has determined the amount at less than ^ of a 
second, and the period about 312 days. He has also stated the 
epoch of maximum at his observatory, which I do not remember. 
An explanation of this motion, illustrated by experiments, 
was published by me in the Edinburgh Transactions, vol. xxi., 
pt. iv., " On a Dynamical Top.'' 


The motion, without reference to the earth, is described in 
Poinsot's treatise on Rotation. 

The Astronomer Royal says he may possibly be able to test it 
by a long series of observations. As far as I am concerned, you 
are at liberty to speak to any one on the subject. 

I have my dynamical top in London, and can show you the 
motion at any time. — I remain, yours truly, 

J, C. Maxwell. 

To THE Same. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace, 
Kensington, W., 19th Oct. 1861. 

Dear Sir — I have been lately studying the theory of static 
electric induction, and have endeavoured to form a mechanical 
conception of the part played by the particles of air, glass, or 
other dielectric in the electric field, the final result of which is 
the attraction and repulsion of "charged" bodies. 

The conception I have hit on has led, when worked out 
mathematically, to some very interesting results, capable of test- 
ing my theory, and exhibiting numerical relations between 
optical, electric, and electromagnetic phenomena, which I hope 
soon to^ verify more completely. 

What I now wish to ascertain is, whether the measures of the 
capacity for electric induction of dielectric bodies \vith reference 
to air have been modified materially since your estimates of 
them in " Series XI." either by yourself or others. 

I wish to get the numerical value of the " electric capacity " 
of various substances, especially transparent ones, if formed into 
a thin sheet of given thickness, and coated on both sides with 
tinfoil. Sir W. Snow Harris has made experiments of this kind ; 
but I do not know whether I can interpret them numerically. 

Another question I wish to ask is, whether any experiments, 
similar to those in Series XIV., on crystalline bodies, have yet 
led to positive results. I expect that a sphere of Iceland spar, 
suspended between two oppositely electrified surfaces, would 
point with its optic axis transverse to the electric force, and I 
expect soon to calculate the value of the force with which it 
should point. Again, I have not yet found any determination 
of the rotation of the plane of polarisation by magnetism, in 

^ Faraday lias inserted in pencil, Magnecrystallic action. (Ser. vi. ?) 
This Imrdly legible. — L. C. 

244 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

which the absolute intensity of magnetism at the place of the ^ 
transparent body was given. I hope to find such a statement 
by searching in libraries, but perhaps you may be able to put 
me on the right track. My theory of electrical forces is, that 
they are called into play in insulating media by slight electric 
displacements, which put certain small portions of the medium 
into a state of distortion, which, being resisted by the elasticity 
of the medium, produces an electromotive force. A spherical 
cell would, by such a displacement, be distorted thus — 
where the curved lines represent 
diameters originally straight, but 
now curved. ,^ 

I suppose the elasticity of the / 
sphere to react on the electrical ^ 
matter surrounding it, and press 
it downwards. From the determ- 
ination by Kohlrausch and Weber 
of the numerical relation between 
the statical and magnetic effects of 
electricity, I have determined the 
elasticity of the medium in air, and 
assuming that it is the same with the luminiferous ether, 
I have determined the velocity of propagation of transverse 

The result is 193,088 miles per second (deduced from elec- 
trical and magnetic experiments). Fizean has determined the 
velocity of light = 193,118 miles per second, by direct experi- 

This coincidence is not merely numerical I worked out the 
formulae in the country before seeing Weber's number, which 
is in millimetres, and I think we have now strong reason to 
believe, whether my theory is a fact or not, that the luminifer- 
ous and the electromagnetic medium are one. 

Supposing the luminous and the electromagnetic phenomena 
to be similarly modified by the presence of gross matter, my 
theory says that the inductive capacity (static) is equal to the 
square of the index of refraction, divided by the coefficient of 
magnetic induction (air = 1). 

I have also examined the theory of the passage of light through 
a medium filled with magnetic vortices, and find that the rotation 

^ Faraday lias here added in pencil, Verdet. 


of the plane of polarisation is in the same direction with that of 
the vortices, that it varies inversely as the square of the wave 
length (as is shown by experiment), and that its amount is pro- 
portional to the diameter of the vortices. 

The absolute diameter of the magnetic vortices, their velocity 
and their density, are so involved that, though as yet they are 
all unknown, the discovery of a new relation among them would 
determine them all. 

Such a relation might be obtained by the observation of a 
revolving electromagnet if our instruments were accurate enough. 
I have had an instrument made for this purpose, but I have not 
yet overcome the effects of terrestrial magnetism in marking 
the phenomena. 

When I began to study electricity mathematically I avoided^ 
all the old traditions about forces acting at a distance, and after 
reading your papers as a first step to right thinking, I read the 
others, interpreting as I went on, but never allowing myself to 
explain anything by these forces. It is because I put off read- 
ing about electricity till I could do it without prejudice that I 
think I have been able to get hold of some of your ideas, such 
as the electrotonic state, action of contiguous parts, etc., and my 
chief object in writing to you is to ascertain if I have got the 
same ideas which led you to see your way into things, or whether 
I have no right to call my notions by your names. — I remain, 
yours truly, J. C. Maxwell. 

From C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Hadley, Barnet, N. 

23d October 1861. 

Thank you much for the papers. That about vortices I had 

skimmed already in the magazine. I shall now be able to do 

more than skim it. The coincidence between the observed 

velocity of light and your calculated velocity of a transverse 

vibration in your medium seems a brilliant result. But I must 

say I think a few such results are wanted before you can get 

people to think that every time an electric current is produced 

a little file of particles is squeezed along between rows of wheels. 

But the instances of bodily transfer of matter in the phenomena 

of galvanism look like it already, and I admit that the possibility 

of convincing the public is not the question. 

246 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

To H. E. Droop, Esq. (of the Equity Bar). 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, N.B., 2Sth December 1861. 

I enclose a short statement of the scheme of endowing the 
chapel which was built near us in 1838 for this district, which 
is very far from any parish church. If we can raise £1000, 
there is a fund already raised which will contribute X2000, so 
as to give a salary of .£120 to the minister permanently, and as 
the people are too poor to support the minister themselves we 
hope to make the chapel independent of chance contributions in 
this way. Great part of the funds for building the church were 
subscribed in London by all kinds of people who were friends 
of an English gentleman who then had property here ; but we 
have no longer any such means of drawing on the metropolis. 

If you can put us in the way of diminishing the deficit we 
shall be grateful, and I will see that the money goes to the 
fund, and that the names are duly entered, however small the 

... I have nothing to do in King's College till Jany. 20, 
so we came here to rusticate. We have clear hard frost without 
snow, and all the people are having curling matches on the ice, 
so that all day you hear the curling-stones on the lochs in every 
direction for miles, for the large expanse of ice vibrating in a 
regular manner makes a noise which, though not particularly 
loud on the spot, is very little diminished by distance. I am 
trying to form an exact mathematical expression for all that is 
known about electro-magnetism without the aid of hypothesis, 
and also what variations of Ampere's formula are possible with- 
out contradicting his expressions. All that we know is about 
the action of closed currents — that is, currents through closed 
curves. Now, if you make a hypothesis (1) about the mutual 
action of the elements of two currents, and find it agree with 
experiment on closed circuits, it is not proved, for — 

If you make another hypothesis (2) which would give no 
action between an element and a closed circuit, you may make a 
combination of (1) and (2) which will give the same result as 
(1). So I am investigating the most general hypothesis about 
the mutual action of elements, which fulfils the condition that 
the action between an element and a closed circuit is null. This 
is the case if the action between two elements can be reduced to 
forces between the extremities of those elements depending only 


on the distance and + or - according as they act between 
similar or opposite ends of the elements. If the force is an 

= 4* 0') ss' (cos (0 + 2 cos ^ cos 0') 

where w is the angle between s and s', r the distance of s and s' 
and 6 and 0^ the angles s and s, the elements, make with r, 
then the condition of no action will be fulfilled. 

To THE Same. 

8 Palace Gardois Terrace, W. , 
2Jfth January 1862. 

. . . When I wrote to you about closed currents it was 
partly to arrange my own thoughts by imagining myself speak- 
ing to you. Ampere's formula containing n and h is the most 
general expression for an attractive or repulsive force in the 
line joining the elements ; and I now find that if you take the 
most general expression consistent with symmetry for an action 
transverse to that line, the resulting expression for the action 
of a closed current on an element gives a force not perpendicular 
to that element. Now, experiment 3d (Ampere) shows that the 
force on a movable element is perp. to the directions of the 
current, so that I see Ampere is right. 

But the best way of stating the ejffects is with reference to 
" lines of magnetic force." Calculate the magnetic force in any 
plane, arising from every element of the circuit, and from every 
other magnetising agent, then the force on an element is in the 
line perp. to the plane of the element and of the lines of force. 

But I shall look up Cellerier and Plann, and the long article 
in Karsten's Cyclopcedia. I want to see if there is any evidence 
from the mathematical expressions as to whether element acts 
on element, or whether a current first produces a certain effect 
in the surrounding field, which afterwards acts on any other 

Perhaps there may be no mathematical reasons in favour of 
one hypothesis rather than the other. 

As a fact, the effect on a current at a given place depends 
solely on the direction and magnitude of the magnetic force at 
that point, whether the magnetic force arises from currents or 
from magnets. So that the theory of the effect taking place 
through the intervention of a medium is consistent with fact, 

248 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

and (to me) appears the simplest in expression ; but I must prove 
either that the direct action theory is completely identical in its 
results, or that in some conceivable case they may be different. 
My theory of the rotation of the plane of polarised light by 
magnetism is coming out in the PhiL Mag. 1 shall send you 
a copy. 

To THE Same. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace., 
Kensington, London, TV., 28th Janvxiry 1862. 

Some time ago, when investigating Bernoulli's theory of 
gases, I was surprised to find that the internal friction of a gas 
(if it depends on the collision of particles) should be independent 
of the density. 

Stokes has been examining Graham's experiments on the 
rate of flow of gases through fine tubes, and he finds that the 
friction, if independent of density, accounts for Graham's results, 
but, if taken proportional to density, differs from those results 
very much. This seems rather a curious result, and an addi- 
tional phenomenon, explained by the "collision of particles" 
theory of gases. Still one phenomenon goes against that theory 
— the relation between specific heat at constant pressure and at 
constant volume, which is in air = 1'408, while it ought to be 

My brother-in-law, who is still with us, is getting better, and 
had his first walk on crutches to-day across the room. 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace, 
London W., 18th February 1862. 

{Reed. 3d March. ) 

I got your letter in Scotland, whither we had gone for the 

Christmas holidays. I have been, brewing Platonic suds, but 

failed, owing I suppose to a too low temperature. I had not 

read Plateau's recipe then. Some of the bubbles on the surface 

lasted a fortnight in the air, but they were scummy and scaly 

and inelastic. I shall take more care next time. Elliot of the 

Strand (30) is going to produce colour-tops, with papers from 

De La Rue, and directions for use by me ; and so I shall be put 

in competition with the brass Blondin and the Top on the top 

of the Top. . . . With regard to Britomart's nurse — I have not 


Spenser here, but I think Spenser was not a magician himself, 
and got all his black art out of romances and not out of the 
professional treatises, — the notions to be brought out were : — 
1st, The unweaving any web in which B. had been caught ; 
2d, Doing so in witch-like fashion ; 3d, Not like a wicked witch, 
but like a well-intentioned nurse, unused to the art, and there- 
fore blunderingly. She believes in the number three and in 
contrariety, and therefore says everything thrice and does every- 
thing thrice, saying inversions of sentences, and doing reversions 
of her revolutions, which are described in similar language. The 
revolutions begin by + 3 (Stt) against the visible motion of the 
sun, then by a revolution — 6 tt, she returns all contrary and 
imweaves the first. Then she goes round* -|- 67r, to make the 
final result contrary to the natural revolution, and to make a 
complete triad. Withershins is, I believe, equivalent to wider 
die Sonne in High Dutch, which I am not aware is a modern 
or ancient idiom in that language, but it may be one in a cog- 
nate language. If the " phamplets " have not turned up in 
Madeira yet, let me know, that I may " replace " them. 

I suppose in your equations, when the numbers do not 
amount to unity, Black has been present. 

■841 Brunsw.-G+'159 W = "200 VH--423 U+-377 Black. 

That is, green a little palish and dark mauve, your last 
equation by the young eyes. It is something like a colour- 
blind eq'^-, but all those I know say 100 Brunswick G = 100 
Vermillion, so that this person sees the green darker than the 
Vermillion ; or, in other words, sees much more of the second 
side of the equation than a colour-blind person would. But in 
twilight U comes out strong, while G does not ; so that I think 
the apparent equality arises from suppression of all colours but 
blue (in U and W) in the twilight, so that you may write — 

•841 Black + -159 W = '577 Black 4- '423 U. 

There is no use going to the S'"^* place of decimals, unless 
you spend a good while on each observation, and have first-rate 
eyes. But if you can get observations to be consistent to the 
3^^^ place of decimals, glory therein, and let me know what the 
human eye can do. 

Donkin gave me tea in Oxford, July 1, 1860. 

I find that my belief in the reality of State affairs is no 
greater in London than in Aberdeen, though I can see the clock 

250 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

at Westminster on a clear day. If I went and saw the parks of 
artillery at "Woolwicli, and the Consols going up and down in 
the city, and the Tuscarora and Mr. Mason, I would know what 
like they were, but otherwise a printed statement is more easily 
appropriated than experience is accLuired hy being near where 
things are being transacted. 

I am getting a large box made for mixture of colours. A 
beam of sunlight is to be divided into colours by a prism, certain 
colours selected by a screen with slits. These gathered by a 
lens, and restored to the form of a beam by another prism, and 
then viewed by the eye directly. I expect great difficulties in 
getting everything right adjusted, but when that is done I shaU 
be able to vary the Intensity of the colours to a great extent, 
and to have them far purer than by any arrangement in which 
white light is allowed to fall on the final prism. 

I am also planning an instrument for measuring electrical 
effects through different media, and comparing those media with 
air. A and B are two equal metal discs, capable of motion 
towards each other by fine screws ; D is a metal disc suspended 
between them by a spring, C ; E is a piece of glass, sulphur, 
vulcanite, gutta-percha, etc. A and B are then connected with 
a source of + electricity, and D with — electricity. If everything 
was symmetrical, D would be attracted both ways, and would 
be in unstable equilibrium, but this is rendered stable by the 
elasticity of the spring C. To find the effect of the plate E, 
you work A farther or nearer till there is no motion of D con- 
sequent on electrification. Then the plate of air between A and 
D is electrically equivalent to the two plates of air and one of 
glass (say) between D and B, whence we deduce the coeff*- for E. 

To Rev. Lewis Campbell. 

8 Palace Gardeiis Terrace, 
Kenmigton, W., 21st April 1862. 

It is now a long time siace I wrote half a letter to you, but 

I have never since had time to write or to find the scrap. I 

suppose, as it was more than a good intention but less than a 

perfect act, it may be regarded as destined to paper purgatory. 

This is the season of work to you, when folks visit shrines in 

April and May, but I get holiday this week. I have been 

putting together a large optical box, 1 feet long, containing two 

prisms of bisulphuret of carbon, the largest yet made in London, 


five lenses and two mirrors, and a set of movable slits. Every- 
thing requires to be adjusted over and over again if one thing 
is not quite right placed, so I have plenty of trial work to do 
before it is perfect, but the colours are most splendid. 

I think you asked me once about Helmholtz and his phil- 
osophy. He is not a philosopher in the exclusive sense, as 
Kant, Hegel, Mansel are philosophers, but one who prosecutes 
physics and physiology, and acquires therein not only skill in 
discovering any desideratum, but wisdom to know what are the 
desiderata, e.g., he was one of the first, and is one of the most 
active, preachers of the doctrine that since all kinds of energy 
are convertible, the first aim of science at this time should be 
to ascertain in what way particular forms of energy can be con- 
verted into each other, and what are the equivalent quantities 
of the two forms of energy. 

The notion is as old as Descartes (if not Solomon), and one 
statement of it was familiar to Leibnitz. It was wholly un- 
known to Comte, but all sorts of people have worked at it of 
late, — Joule and Thomson for heat and electricals, Andrews for 
chemical combinations, Dr. E. Smith for human food and labour. 
We can now assert that the power of our bodies is generated in 
the muscles, and is not conveyed to them by the nerves, but 
produced during the transformation of substances in the muscle, 
which are supplied fresh by the blood. 

We can also form a rough estimate of the efficiency of a man 
as a mere machine, and find that neither a perfect heat engine 
nor an electric engine could produce so much work and waste 
so little in heat. We therefore save our pains in investigating 
any theories of animal power based on heat and electricity. We 
see also that the soul is not the direct moving force of the body. 
If it were, it would only last till it had done a certain amount 
of work, like the spring of a watch, which works till it is run 
down. The soul is not the mere mover. Food is the mover, 
and perishes in the using, which the soul does not. There is 
action and reaction between body and soul, but it is not of a 
kind in which energy passes from the one to the other, — as when 
a man pulls a trigger it is the gunpowder that projects the bullet, 
or when a pointsman shunts a train it is the rails that bear the 
thrust. But the constitution of our nature is not explained by 
finding out what it is not. It is well that it will go, and that 
we remain in possession, though we do not understand it. 

Hr. Clausius of Zurich, one of the heat philosophers, has 

252 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

been working at the theory of gases being little bodies flying 
about, and has found some cases in which he and I don't tally, 
so I am working it out again. Several experimental results 
have turned up lately, rather confirmatory than otherwise of 
that theory. 

I hope you enjoy the absence of pupils. I find that the 
division of them into smaller classes is a great help to me and 
to them ; but the total oblivion of them for definite intervals is 
a necessary condition of doing them justice at the proper time. 

To Fleeming Jen kin, Esq.^ 

27th Aug. 1863. 

... To compare electromagnetic with electrostatic units : — 

\st, "Weber's method. — Find the capacity of a condenser in 
electrostatic measure (meters). 

Determine its potential when charged, and measure the 
charge or discharge through a galvanometer. 

2(^, Thomson's. — Find the electromotive force of a battery 
by electromagnetic methods, and then weigh the attraction of 
two surfaces connected with the two poles. 

3rf, (Not tried, but talked of by Jenkin). — Find the resist- 
ance of a very bad conductor in both systems — 

(1) By comparison with (4th June), 

(2) By the log. decrement of charge per second. 

All the methods require a properly graduated series of steps. 
The 1st and 2d determine Y, a velocity = 310,740,000 meters 
per second. 

The 3d method determines V^. 

The first method requires a condenser of large capacity, and 
the measurement of this capacity and that of the discharge by 
a galvanometer. 

I think this method looks the best ; but I would use a much 
larger condenser than Weber, and determine its capacity by 
more steps. 

The chief difficulty of Thomson's method is the measurement 
of a very small force and a very small distance. I think these 
difficulties may be overcome by making the force act on a com- 
paratively stiff spring and magnifying optically the deflection. 

On the third method we require a very large condenser 

^ Now Professor of Engineering in Edinburgh. 


indeed, also a series of resistances in steps between 4t]i June and 
that of the insulating substance of the condenser, and a galvano- 
meter (or electrometer) to measure discharge (or tension). . . . 

To C. H. Cat, Esq. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace^ 
18th November 1863. 

We hope to hear how you are. A little literature helps to 
chase away mathematics from the mind. I have read Para- 
celsus in parts, but concluded that there was a great deal of 
poetry in it ; but Mr. Browning has written much better poems 
with half the quantity of poetry at his disposal. Have you seen 
PcssimuSy a Prose Poem in Paradox, from Oxford, and Sketch from 
Cambridge by a Don who imagines that mathematical men are 
safer not to talk shop than classical. I know several men who 
see all nature in symbols, and express themselves conformably, 
whether in Quintics or Quantics, Invariants or Congruents. I 
send you the electric scheme. 

To HIS Wife. 

^Sd June 1864. 

May the Lord preserve you from all evil, and cause all the 
evil that assaults you to work out His own purposes, that the 
life of Jesus may be made manifest in you, and may you see 
the eternal weight of glory behind the momentary lightness of 
affliction, and so get your eyes off things seen and temporal and 
be refreshed with the things eternal ! Kow love is an eternal 
thing, and love between father and son or husband and wife is 
not temporal if it be the right sort, for if the love of Christ and 
the Church be a reason for loving one another, and if the one 
be taken as an image of the other, then, if the mind of Christ 
be in us, it will produce this love as part of its complete nature, 
and it cannot be that the love which is first made holy, as being 
a reflection of part of the glory of Christ, can be any way 
lessened or taken away by a more complete transformation into 
the image of the Lord. 

I have been back at 1 Cor. xiii. I think the description of 
charity or divine love is another loadstone for our life — to show 
us that this is one thing which is not in parts, but perfect in 
its own nature, and so it shall never be done away. It is 

264 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

nothing negative, but a well-defined, living, almost acting picture 
of goodness ; that kind of it which is human, but also divine. 
Kead along with it 1 John iv., from verse 7 to end ; or, if you 
like, the whole epistle of John and Mark xii. 28. 

To THE Same. 

23d Jvm 1864. 

Think what God has determined to do to all those who sub- 
mit themselves to His righteousness and are willing to receive 
His gift. They are to be conformed to the image of His Son, 
and when that is fulfilled, and God sees that they are conformed 
to the image of Christ, there can be no more condemnation, for 
this is the praise which God Himself gives, whose judgment is 
just. So we ought always to hope in Christ, for as sure as we 
receive Him now, so sure will we be made conformable to His 
image. Let us begin by taking no thought about worldly cares, 
and setting our minds on the righteousness of God and His 
kingdom, and then we shall have far clearer views about the 
worldly cares themselves, and we shall be continually enabled 
to fight them under Him who has overcome the world. 

To THE Same. 

26ih JvMQ 1864. 

Note in (2 Cor.) ver. 10 that the judgment is according to 
what we have done, so that if we are to be counted righteous we 
must really get righteousness and do it. Note also that we are 
to receive the things done in the body, not rewards or punish- 
ments merely, but the things themselves are to be brought back 
to us, and we must meet them in the spirit of Christ, who bore 
our sins and abolished them, or else we must be overwhelmed 

... I have come from Mr. Baptist NoeL The church was 
full to standing, and the whole service was aa plain as large 
print. The exposition was the Parable of Talents, and the 
sermon was on John iiL 16. The sermon was the text writ 
large, nothing ingenious or amusing, and hardly any attempt at 
instruction, but plain and very serious exhortation from a 
man who evidently believes neither more nor less than what 
he says. 


To THE Same. 

28th June I864. 
I can always have you with me in my mind — why should 
we not have our Lord always before us in our minds, for we 
have His life and character and mind far more clearly described 
than we can know any one here ? If we had seen Him in the 
flesh we should not have known Him any better, perhaps not 
so well. Pray to Him for a constant sight of Him, for He is 
man that we may be able to look to Him, and God, so that He 
can create us anew in His own image. 

To C. HoCKiN, Esq. 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, Septeviber 7t'h, 1864- 
... I have been doing several electrical problems. I have 
got a theory of ^'electric absorption," i.e. residual charge, etc., 
and I very much want determinations of the specific induction, 
electric resistance, and absorption of good dielectrics, such as 
glass, shell-lac, gutta-percha, ebonite, sulphur, etc. 

I have also cleared the electromagnetic theory of light from 
all unwarrantable assumption, so that we may safely determine 
the velocity of light by measuring the attraction between bodies 
kept at a given difference of potential, the value of which is 
known in electromagnetic measure. 

I hope there will be resistance coils at the British Association. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. ^ 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace, 
LondoUy JF., 22d November 186 If.. 

It was very kind of you to think of me at this time, and 

write to me. I shall always remember your mother's kindness 

to me, beginning more than twenty-three years ago, and how 

she made me the same as you two when I came to see you. To 

you her memory is what you can share with none, so I can say 

no more except that you will continue to find that to have had 

a mother so devoted to her duty gives you a consciousness of 

your own obligations which will be strengthened whenever you 

think of her. 

^ Mrs. MoiTieson died on the 17th of November 1864. 

66 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

To C. H. Cay, Esq. 

Glenlair, 5th January 1865. 

We are sorry to hear you cannot come and see us, but you 
seem better by your letter, and I hope you will be able for your 
travels, and be better able for your work afterwards, and not 
take it too severely, and avoid merimnosity and taking over too 
much thought, which greatly diminishes the efficiency of young 
teachers. We have been here since 2 2d ult., and are in the 
process of dining the valley in appropriate batches. We have 
had very rough weather this week, which, combined with the 
dining, has prevented our usual airings. The ordinary outing 
is to the Brig of Urr, Katherine on Charlie and I on Darling. 
Charlie has got a fine band on his forehead, with his name in 
blue and white beads. 

The Manse of Corsock is now finished ; it is near the river, 
not far from the deep pool where we used to bathe. 

I set Prof. W, Thomson a prop, which I had been working 
with for a long time. He sent me 18 pages of letter of sug- 
gestions about it, none of which would work ; but on Jan. 3, in 
the railway from Largs, he got the way to it, which is all right ; 
so we are jolly, having stormed the citadel, when we only hoped 
to sap it by approximations. 

The prop, was to draw a set of lines like this 

so that the ultimate reticulations shall all be squares. 

The solution is exact, but rather stiff. Now I have a disc A 





hung by a wire D, between two discs B, C, the interval being 
occupied by air, hydrogen, carbonic acid, etc., the friction of 
which gradually brings A to rest. In order to calculate the 
thickdom or viscosity of the gas, I require to solve the problem 
above mentioned, which is now done, and I have the apparatus 
now ready to begin. We are also intent on electrical measure- 
ments, and are getting up apparatus, and have made sets of 
wires of alloy of platinum and silver, which are to be sent all 
abroad as standards of resistance. I have also a paper afloat, 
with an electromagnetic theory of light, which, till I am con- 
vinced to the contrary, I hold to be great guns. 

Spice 1 is becoming first-rate : she is the principal patient 
under the ophthalmoscope, and turns her eyes at command, so 
as to show the tapetum, the optic nerve, or any required part. 
Dr. Bowman, the great oculist, came to see the sight, and when 
we were out of town he came again and brought Donders of 
Utrecht with him to visit Spice. 

To H. R. Droop, Esq. 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 19th July 1865. 

There are so many different forms in which Societies may 
be cast, that I should like very much to hear something of what 
those who have been thinking about it propose as the plan of it. 

There is the association for publishing each other's pro- 
ductions ; for delivering lectures for the good of the public and 
the support of the Society ; for keeping a reading room or club, 
frequented by men of a particular turn ; for dining together 
once a month, etc. 

I suppose W *s object is to increase the happiness of men 

in London who cultivate physical sciences, by their meeting 
together to read papers and discuss them, the publication of 
these papers being only one, and not the chief end of the Society, 
which fulfils its main purpose in the act of meeting and enjoying 

The Royal Society of Edinburgh used to be a very sociable 
body, but it had several advantages. Most of the fellows lived 
within a mile of the Society's rooms. They did not need to 
disturb their dinner arrangements in order to attend. 

Many of them were good speakers as well as sensible men, 

^ The Scotch terrier of the period. 

258 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

whose mode of considering a subject was worth hearing, even if 
not correct. 

The subjects were not limited to mathematics and physics, 
but included geology, physiology, and occasionally antiquities, 
and even literary subjects. Biography of deceased fellows is 
still a subject of papers. Now those who cultivate the mathe- 
matical and physical sciences are sometimes unable to discuss a 
paper, because they would require to keep it some days by them 
to form an opinion on it, and physical men can get up a much 
better discussion about armour plates or the theory of glaciers 
than about the conduction of heat or capillary attraction. 

The only man I know who can make everything the subject 
of discussion is Dr. Tyndall. Secure his attendance and that of 
somebody to differ from him, and you are all right for a meeting. 

If we can take the field with a plan in our head, I dare say 
we could find a good many men who would co-operate. 

We ride every day, sometimes both morning and evening, 
and so we consume the roads. I have made 68 problems, all 
stiff ones, not counting riders. 

I am now getting the general equations for the motion of a 
gas considered as an assemblage of molecules flying about with 
great velocity. I find they must repel as inverse fifth power of 

To C. H. Cay, Esq. 

Glenlair, 14th October 1865. 

... I hope you keep your conscience in good order, and do 
not bestow more labour on erroneous papers than is useful to 
the youth who wrote it. Always set him to look for the 
mistake, if he prefers that to starting fresh, for to find your own 
mistake may sometimes be profitable, but to seek for another 
man's mistake is weariness to the flesh. 

There are three ways of learning props. — the heart, the head, 
and the fingers ; of these the fingers is the thing for examina- 
tions, but it requires constant practice. Nevertheless the fingers 
have a fully better retention of methods than the heart has. 
The head method requires about a mustard seed of thought, 
which, of course, is expensive, but then it takes away all anxiety. 
The heart method is full of anxiety, but dispenses with the 
thought ; and the finger method requires great labour and 
constant practice, but dispenses with thought and anxiety 


We have had very fine weather since you went away, but I 
was laid up for more than three weeks with erysipelas all over 
my head, and got very shaky on my pins. But I have been 
out for a fortnight, and riding regularly as of old, which is good 
for Katherine after the nursing, and I eat about double what 
any man in Galloway does, and know nothing of it in half an 
hour ; but my legs are absorbing the beef as fast as it is 

To THE Rev. C. B. Tayler. 

8 Palace Gardens Terrace^ TV., 
2cl February 1866. 

I was very glad to get your kind letter, and to be assured 
that you still remembered me. I thought of you when I was 
in Cambridge, and made up my mind to write to you and hear 
of you and Mrs. Tayler, and your nephew George. A nephew 
of yours was for a short time in my class in King's Coll., and I 
asked him about you, but he had not seen you lately. Is 
George still in Hull ? 

You ask for my history since I wrote to you before my 
marriage. We remained in Aberdeen till I860, when the union 
or fusion of the Colleges took place, and I went to King's Coll., 
London, where I taught till last Easter, when I was succeeded 
by W. G. Adams, brother of the astronomer. I Lave now my 
time fully occupied with experiments and speculations of a 
physical kind, which I could not undertake as long as I had 
public duties. These are the chronological data. It is 13 years 
nearly since I was with you, and you carried me about when I 
could not move myself, but I remember everything about you 
and Otley much better than most things before and after that 
time. I got advantage from your nursing when my father was 
ill, and many other things have since brought you and Mrs. 
Tayler to mind. If you and Mrs. Tayler are to be in London 
during the spring we shall be exceedingly glad to see you here, 
or if you ever go to Scotland in summer or autumn we hope 
you will try and stay with us some time. My wife knows you 
quite well, — that is, as well as I do, — all but what can only be 
got by seeing and hearing directly, and it would do us both 
great good to see you, and open up our minds a little. 

Many people's minds seem to be shut up with solemn charms, 
so that though they seem Christians, and know what they mean 

260 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. x. 

to speak about they can say nothing. At Cambridge I heard 
several sermons from excellent texts, but all either on other 
subjects or else right against the text. There is a Mr. Offord 
in this street, a Baptist ^ who knows his Bible, and preaches 
as near it as he can, and does what he can to let the statements 
in the Bible be understood by his hearers. We generally go to 
him when in London, though we believe ourselves baptized 

Pray let me hear from you occasionally. We shall be here 
till the end of March, and after that address Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 
N.B., which is my permanent address, and is sure at all times 
to find me. 

Mrs. Maxwell joins me in kind regards to you and Mrs. 
Tayler, and I remain your aift. friend, 

J. Clerk Maxwell. 

To Dr. HuGGiNS, F.RS.- 

Ardhallow, Dunoon^ Oct, 13J68. 

My dear Sir — I sympathise with you in your great sorrow. 
Though my own mother was only eight years with me, and my 
father became my companion in all things, I felt her loss for 
many years, and can in some degree appreciate your happiness 
in having so long and so complete fellowship with your mother. 
I have little fear, however, that the nearness .to the other world 
which you must feel will in any way unfit you for the work on 
which you have been engaged, for the higher powers of the 
intellect are strengthened by the exercise of the nobler emotions. 

• • • • * 

Your identification of the spectrum of comet 1 1 with that of 
carbon is very wonderful. The dynamical state of comets' tails 
is most perplexing, but the chemistry and activity of their heads 
leads to new questions. With respect to the transparency of a 
heavenly body, I think it indicates scattered condition rather 
than gaseity. A cloud of large blocks of stone is much more 
transparent than air of the same average density. Such blocks 
in a nebula would never be themselves seen, but perhaps if they 

^ Whilst in London, Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell occasionally attended 
Nonconformist services, partly led, perhaps, by recollections of the simple 
Presbyterian worship, to which Mrs. Maxwell had been accustomed. 


were often to encounter each other, the results of the collision 
would be incandescent gases, and might be the only visible part 
of the nebula. 

. . . Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of 
gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever 
can make his opinion probable will have made an enormous 
stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of 
gravitation, and the equality of its eiffects on matter of all kinds 
are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception ; but they 
are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single 
observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative 
inertia or mass ; but we see no way of accounting for the propor- 
tionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of 
demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the 
direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if 
we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or 
mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force 
in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the 
sun if it always depends upon his position and distance. I there- 
fore admit that the proposition that the sun repels comets' tails is 
capable of proof ; but whether he does so by his ordinary attrac- 
tive power being changed into repulsion by a change of state of the 
matter of the tail is another question. Now, it seems ascertained 
by simple observations with telescopes that the coma is formed 
by successive explosions out of the nucleus, mostly on the side 
of the sun, and that the formation of the tail depends on the 
coma, though the substance is invisible in the state of passing 
from the coma to the tail. Then, by your observations, the 
nucleus and coma have light of their own, probably due to carbon 
in some gaseous form ; but the tail's light being polarised in the 
plane of the sun is due to him. Hence the head is fire and the 
tail smoke. The head obeys gravitation, which is exerted on it 
with precisely the same intensity as on all other known matter, 
solid or gaseous. The tail appears to be acted on in a contrary 
way. If the comet consisted of a mixture of gravitating and 
levitating matter, and is analysed by the sun, then before the 
emission of the tail the acceleration due to gravitation should be 
less than on a planet at the same distance ; the more com- 
plete the discharge of tail the greater the intensity of gravitation 
on the remaining head. 

N.B. — To understand the dynamics of the tail, the motion in 
space of particular portions of it must be studied. 

To Professor Lewis CAiiPBELL. 

Gle}ilair, Dalbeattie, Sd November 1 
I have given considerable thought to the subject ( 
candidature, and have come to the decision not to stand, 
warm interest which you and other professors have taken 
matter has gratified me very much, and the idea of foil 
Principal Forbes had also a great effect on my feelings a 
as the prospect of residing among friends ; but I still fee 
my proper path does not lie in that direction. — Your aflft. \ 

J. Clerk Maxwi 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 6th July 1 
My question to the Mathematical Society bore fruit in v 
forms. ... It would give my mind too great a wrench juj 
to go into elliptic integrals, but I will do so when I cc 
revise about circular conductors. ... I can cut the s 
short with an easy conscience, for I have no scruple about 
ing clear of tables of double entry, especially when, in all 
useful cases, convergent series may be used with less tr 
and without any knowledge of elliptic integrals. On this s 
see a short paper on Fluid Displacement in next part ( 
Math. Soc. Trans., where I give a picture of the stream 
and the distortion of a transverse line as water flows ] 

Mr. W. Benson, architect, 147 Albany Street, Eegent 
N.W., told me that you had been writing to Nature, ani 
yours was the only rational statement in a multitudinous 
spondence on colours. Mr. Benson considers that Aristot 
I have correct views about primary colours. He has wri 
book, with coloured pictures, on the science of colour, a: 
shows how to mix colours by means of a prism. He wa 
publish an elementary book with easy experiments, bu 
small encouragement, being supposed an heretic. No 
architect in the Architect's Society believes him. This 
teresting to me, as showing the chromatic condition of arcb 
I made a great colour-box in 1862, and worked it in Li 
in '62 and '64. I have about 200 equations each year, 
are reduced but not published. I have set it up here this 
and have just got it in working order. I expect to get 


more material, and work up the whole together. In particular, 
I want to find any change or evidence of constancy in the eyes 
of myself and wife during eight years. I can exhibit the yellow 
spot to all who have it, — and all have it except Col. Strange, 
F.R.S., my late father-in-law, and my wife, — whether they be 
Negroes, Jews, Parsees, Armenians, Russians, Italians, Germans, 
Frenchmen, Poles, etc. Professor Pole, for instance, has it as 
strong as me, though he is colour-blind ; Mathison, also colour- 
blind, being fair, had it less strongly marked. 

One J. J. Miiller, in Pogg. Ann. for March and April 1870, 
examines compound colours, and finds the violet without any 
tendency to red, or the red to blue. He also selects a typical 
green out of the spectrum. 



CAJVIBRIDGE 1871 TO 1879. 

KE Chair of Experimental Physics in the University of 
ambridge was founded by a Grace of the Senate on the 
)h of February 1871. 

In October 1870 the Duke of Devonshire, who was 
hancellor of the University, had signified his desire to 
lild and furnish a Physical Laboratory for Cambridge. 
I acting as a member of the Royal Commission on 
iientific Education he had perceived how useful such an 
stitution might be made. It was in connection with the 
:ceptance of this munificent offer that the new professor- 
lip was established by the Senate. 

The question, who should be the first professor ? was 
r some time attended with anxiety. It was understood 
lat Sir William Thomson had declined to stand, and it 
as thought uncertain whether Clerk Maxwell could be 
jrsuaded to leave the retirement of his country-seat, 
fter some hesitation, arising chiefly from genuine diffi- 
jnce, he was induced to become a candidate, on the under- 
anding that he might retire at the end of a year if he 
ished to do so. His candidature was announced on the 
(rth of February.^ There was no opposition, and he was 
)pointed on the 8th of March. 

The following letters indicate the part taken by different 
arsons in bringing about this result : — 

^ On February 23, Professor Stokes (who had been urgent in pressing 
IX well to stand) wrote to him : — "I am glad you have decided to come 


Prom the Hon. J. W. Strutt (Lord Rayleigh). 

Camhridge, Ufth February 1871. 
When I came here last Friday I found every one talking 
ahoiit the new professorship, and hoping that you would come. 
Thomson, it seems, has definitely declined. . . . There is no 
one here in the least fit for the post. What is wanted by most 
who know anything about it is not so much a lecturer as a 
mathematician who has actual experience in experimenting, and 
who might direct the energies of the younger Fellows and 
bachelors into a proper channel. There must be many who 
would be willing to work under a competent man, and who, 
while learning themselves, would materially assist him. ... I 
hope you may be induced to come ; if not, I don't know who it 
is to be. Do not trouble to answer me about this, as I believe 
others have written to you about it. 

From the Eev. E. W. Blore, M.A. (now Vice-Master of 


Uth February 1871. 
' Many residents of influence are desirous that you should 
occupy the post, hoping that in your hands this University 
would hold a leading place in this department. It has, I 
believe, been ascertained that Sir W. Thomson would not 
accept the professorship. I mention this lest you should wish 
to avoid the possibility of coming into the field against him. 

Maxwell's usual modesty is apparent in the draft of his 
reply- to this letter : — 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 15th February 1871. 

My dear Blore — Though I feel much interest in the pro- 
posed Chair of Experimental Physics, I had no intention of 
applying for it when I got your letter, and I have none now, 
unless I come to see that I can do some good by it, 

... I am sorry Sir W. Thomson has declined to stand. 
He has had practical experience in teaching experimental work, 
and his experimental corps have turned out very good work. 
I have no experience of this kind, and I have seen very little of 
the somewhat similar arrangements of a class of real practical 
chemistry. The class of Physical Investigations, which might 

m JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

36 nndertaken witli the lielp of men of Cambridge education, 
md which would be creditable to the University, demand, in 
general, a considerable amount of dull labour which may or 
nay not be attractive to the pupils. 

In the Grace of Senate of 9th February, it had been 
jiiacted that it should be "the principal duty of the pro- 
■essor to teach and illustrate the laws of Heat, Electricity, 
ind Magnetism ; to apply himself to the advancement of 
ihe knowledge of such subjects ; and to promote their 
itudy in the University." 

For some time after his appointment. Maxwell's principal 
vork w^as that of designing and superintending the erection 
)f the Cavendish Laboratory. 

He inspected the Physical Laboratories of Sir William 
Thomson at Glasgow and of Professor Clifton at Oxford, 
n order to embod}^ in the new structure the best features 
)f both of these institutions. But many of the most im- 
)ortant arrangements were of his own invention. An 
Lccount of the Laboratory itself will be found in Nature 
vol. X. p. 139) ; it is sufficient here to say that it would 
)e difficult to imagine a building better adapted to its 
)urpose, or one in the construction of which more provision 
hould be made for possible requirements. In no case was 
lonvenience sacrificed to architectural effect, but in both 
'espects the building is a decided success. The architect 
vas Mr. W. M. Fawcett of Cambridge, who appears to 
lave fully appreciated and thoroughly carried out all Pro- 
essor Maxwell's suggestions. The contract was given to 
^r. Loveday of Kibworth, his tender being recommended 
)y the report of the Syndicate appointed to superintend 
he building, dated 1st March 1872. 

The 'work of arranging and furnishing the Cavendish 
jaboratory occupied a considerable time. It w^as not com- 
peted until the spring of 1874, when the practical work 
►f experimenting commenced, and on the 16th of June in 
hat year, the Chancellor formally presented his gift to the 
Jniversity. Sir Charles Lyell and the French astronomer 


Leverrier were among those who visited the Laboratory 
and received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the Uni- 
versity on that occasion. 

The following draft of a letter from Maxwell to the 
Yice-Chancellor in the previous year affords an interesting 
illustration of the thorough and business-like manner in 
which he had addressed himself to these preliminary 

To THE Yice-Chancellor, Cambridge. 
{Draft of a Letter.) 

Glenlair, 5th July 1S73. 

I enclose a provisional list of fixtures and apparatus required 
for the Laboratory. 

At present I am not able to estimate the j^rices of many of 
the articles. 

Some of them are in the market, and have simply to be 
ordered ; others require to be constructed specially for the 

I have begun with a list arranged according to the places 
and rooms in the Laboratory, but, of course, all small things 
must be kept in cases, either in the apparatus room or in the 
special rooms. 

The special duty of the professor of experimental physics is 
to teach the sciences of heat and electricity, and also to encourage 
physical research. The Laboratory must therefore contain appa- 
ratus for the illustration of heat and electricity, and also for what- 
ever physical research seems most important or most promising. 

The special researches connected with heat which I think 
most deserving of our efforts at the present time are those relating 
to the elasticity of bodies, and in general those which throw 
light on their molecular constitution ; and the most important 
electrical research is the determination of the magnitude of 
certain electric quantities, and their relations to each other. 

These are the principles on which I have been planning the 
arrangement of the Laboratory. But if in the course of years 
the course of scientific research should be deflected, the plans of 
work must vary too, and the rooms must be allotted differently. 

I agree with you that the income of the Museums must be 
largely increased in order to meet the demands of this and other 

268 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

new buildings, and I am glad that tlie University is able to 
increase it. 

It is impossible to procure many of the instruments, as they 
are not kept in stock, and have to be made to order. Some of 
the most important will require a considerable amount of super- 
vision during their construction, for their whole value depends 
on their fulfilling conditions which can as yet be determined 
only by trial, so that it may be some time before everything is 
in working order. 

Even in 1874, however, there were still manifold 
desiderata, and the Duke expressed his wish to furnish the 
Laboratory completely with the necessary apparatus. To 
carry out this wish was again a work of time, for the Pro- 
fessor would never order an important instrument until he 
was satisfied that its design and construction were the best 
that could be obtained. In his annual report to the 
University in 1877 Professor Maxwell announced that the 
Chancellor had now " completed his gift to the University 
by furnishing the Cavendish Laboratory with apparatus 
suited to the present state of science ; " but at the same 
time he wrote to the Yice-Chancellor stating that he should 
reserve to himself the privilege of presenting to the Labor- 
atory such apparatus as the advancement of science might 
render it desirable for the University to possess. And 
during the short remainder of his tenure of the professor- 
ship he expended many hundreds of pounds in this manner. 
Already, in the spring of 1874, he had presented to the 
Laboratory all the apparatus in his own possession. The 
apparatus provided by the British Association for their 
Committee on Electrical Standards (see p. 231) was also 
deposited in the Laboratory, in accordance with a resolution 
passed at the Edinburgh Meeting of 1871 — the apparatus 
remaining the property of the Association, and subject to 
the control of the Committee. 

While the Laboratory was thus gradually made avail- 
able, the other work of the professorship went on uninter- 
ruptedly from the first. Maxwell gave annual courses of 


lectures on the subjects prescribed in his commission,^ com- 
mencing with October 1871, when he delivered his inaugural 
lecture. This and the lecture '* On Colour Vision," given 
at the Eoyal Institution shortly after his appointment in 
the preceding spring, are perhaps the happiest of his literary 
efforts. Philosophic grasp, scientific clearness, and poetic 
imagination could hardly be more successfully combined. 

The Cambridge lecture (October 1871) sets forth in 
luminous outline the meaning and tendency of the moment 
in the evolution of the University of Cambridge, which was 
marked by the institution of the course of Experimental 
Physics, and the erection of the Devonshire Laboratory. 

The following passage is especially characteristic : — 

Science appears to us with a very different aspect after we 
have found out that it is not in lecture-rooms only, and by 
means of the electric light projected on a screen, that we may 
witness physical phenomena, but that we may find illustrations 
of the highest doctrines of science in games and gymnastics, in 
travelHng by land and by water, in storms of the air and of the 
sea, and wherever there is matter in motion. 

This habit of recognising principles amid the endless variety 
of their action can never degrade our sense of the sublimity of 
nature, or mar our enjoyment of its beauty. On the contrary, 
it tends to rescue our scientific ideas from that vague condition 
in which we too often leave them, buried among the other pro- 
ducts of a lazy credulity, and to raise them into their proper 
position among the doctrines in which our faith is so assured 
that we are ready at all times to act on them. Experiments of 

^ Througtont the tenure of his Cambridge Chair Maxwell annually 
delivered a course of lectures on Heat and the Constitution of Bodies 
during the October Term ; on Electricity in the Lent Term ; and on 
Electro- Magnetism in the Easter Term. The character of these lectures 
very much resembled that of the early chapters in the Eleifnentary Treatise \ 
on Mectricityj which he wrote before taking the Cavendish papers in 
hand, and which was published in a fragmentary form by the Delegates 
of the Clarendon Press in October 1881. During the first four or five 
years that Maxwell lectured in Cambridge, candidates for the Ordinary or 
Poll Degree were compelled to attend professors' lectures, and not unfre- 
quently they would appear at the Cavendish Laboratory. Maxwell's 
lectures were the delight of those who could follow him in his brilliant 
expositions and rapid changes of thought. 

270 JAMES CLERK MAX\YELL. [chap. xi. 

illustration may be of very different kinds Some may be 
adaptations of the commonest operations of ordinary life ; others 
mav be carefuUy arranged exhibitions of some phenomenon which 
occurs only under peculiar conditions. They all, however agree 
in this that their aim is to present some phenomenon to the 
senses of the student in such a way that he may associate with 
it some appropriate scientific idea. When he has grasped this 
idea, the experiment which illustrates it has served its pur- 

^°'ln an experiment of research, on the other hand, this is not 
the principal aim. . . . Experiments of this class— those in 
which measurement of some kind is involved— are the proper 
work of a physical laboratory. In every experiment ^n;^ have 
first to make our senses familiar with the phenomenon ; but we 
must not stop here,— we must find out which of its features are 
capable of measurement, and what measurements are required 
in order to make a complete specification of the phenomenon. 
We must, then, make these measurements, and deduce from them 
the result which we require to find. ^ 

This characteristic of modern experiments— that they consist 
principally of measurements— is so prominent that the opinion 
seems to have got abroad that, in a few years, all the great 
physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and 
that the only occupation which will then be left to men of 
science will be to carry these measurements to another place ot 

decimals. , 

If this is really the state of things to which we are approach- 
ino- our Laboratory may perhaps become celebrated as a pla^e 
of ""conscientious labour and consummate skill ; but it will be 
out of place in the University, and ought rather to be classed 
with the other great workshops of our country, where equal 
ability is directed to more useful ends. 

But we have no right to think thus of the unsearchable 

riches of creation, or of the untried fertility of those fresh minds 

into which these riches will continually be poured. • • • The 

liistory of science shows that even during that phase of her 

r progress in which she devotes herself to improving the accuracy 

/ of the numerical measurement of quantities with which she has 

/ loner been familiar, she is preparing the materials for the siib- 

iucration of new regions, which would have remained unknown 

I if she had been contented with the rough methods of her early 

V pioneers. 


The movement which was now to receive so great an 
impulse may be roughly dated from Sir William Thomson's 
first appearance as a Public Examiner in Cambridge ; and 
Maxwell's own influence, as Examiner and Moderator, had 
been mainly instrumental in promoting it. The nature of 
the change has been described as follows by one whose 
University experience reaches back into the previous 
time : — 

The style of mathematics which was popular in Cambridge 
for some time before was, to say the least, one-sided, and one- 
sided in a somewhat unproductive direction. There were many 
complaints that Cambridge was behind the rest of the scientific 
world, and that, whereas the students of so many other Univer- 
sities were introduced to the splendid discoveries of such subjects 
as Electricity and Heat, the Wranglers of Cambridge spent their 
time upon mathematical trifles and problems, so-called, barren 
alike of practical results and scientific interest. Maxwell's 
questions (as Moderator in 1866) infused fresh life into the 
Cambridge Tripos, and, therefore, into the University studies, by 
the number of original ideas and new lines of thought opened up 
by them, thus preparing for the change of system in 1873, when 
so many interesting subjects were added to the Examination. 

Sir William Thomson gives the following important 
testimony to the same effect : — 

The University, Glasgow, 
21st January 1882. 

The influence of Maxwell at Cambridge had undoubtedly a 
great effect in directing mathematical studies into more fruitful 
channels than those in which they had been running for many 
years. His published scientific papers and books, his action as 
an examiner at Cambridge, and his professorial lectures, all con- 
tributed to this effect ; but above all, his work in planning and 
carrying out the arrangements of the Cavendish Laboratory. 
There is, indeed, nothing short of a revival of Physical Science 
at Cambridge within the last fifteen years, and this is largely 
due to Maxwell's influence. 

Evidence might easily be multiplied, but it is enough 

272 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

to quote the weighty words of Lord Eayleigh at a recent 
public meeting at Cambridge in support of the proposed 
Devonshire Memorial : — 

It was no little thing to have had Professor Maxwell so 
closely connected with Cambridge, for by his genius effects were 
produced which could hardly have been produced in any other 
way. Before coming there to occupy the position he then held, 
he (Lord Kayleigh) had not give a any particular attention to 
electricity, but he found Cambridge to be so saturated with the 
subject that he quickly came to the conclusion that it would be 
best to make it his particular study. All this was owing to the 
influence of Maxwell. ^ 

While speaking of his work in lecturing, it may be well 
briefly to advert to the famous " Discourse on Molecules," 
delivered before the British Association at Bradford in 
September 1873, which has been more often quoted than, 
perhaps, any other of his writings. This address was 
extremely rich in scientific matter, but its chief interest 
lay in the concluding paragraphs, which may be said to 
indicate more clearly than any other of Maxwell's writings 
the position of his mind towards certain doctrines main- 
tained by scientific men : — 

In the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light 
alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing 
can ever have passed from one to another ; and yet this light, 
which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant 
worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules 
of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule 

^ Professor Westcott's utterance ou the same occasion, though less 
immediately relevant, ought not to be omitted : — " It was impossible to 
think of him whom they had so lately lost, to whom first the charge of 
bhe Cavendish Laboratoiy had been committed, Prof. Clerk Maxwell, and 
to recollect his genius and spirit, his subtle and profound thought, his 
render and humble reverence, without being sure that that close connection 
between Physics and Theology which was consecrated by the past was still 
\ living reality among them. That was an omen for the future. He felt, 
is probably all present felt, that he owed a deep debt of gratitude to him, 
both for his researches, and for the pregnant words in which he gathered 
ip their lessons." 


if hydrogen, for example, whetlier in Sirius or in Arcturus, )/?» 
xecutes its vibrations in precisely the same time. / 

Each molecule therefore throughout the universe bears im- 
)ressed upon it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as 
loes the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal 
;ubit of the temple of Karnac. 

No theory of eA^olution can be formed to account for the 
imilarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies con- 
inuous change, and the molecule is incapable of growth or 
lecay, of generation or destruction. 

None of the processes of Nature, since the time when Nature 
)egan, have produced the slightest difference in the properties 
>f any molecule. We are therefore unable to ascribe either the 
xistence of the molecules or the identity of their properties to 
.ny of the causes which we call natural. 

On the other hand, the exact equality of each molecule to all 
ithers of the same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well 
aid, the essential character of a manufactured article, and pre- 
ludes, the idea of its being eternal and self-existent. 

Thus we have been led, along a strictly scientific path, very 
lear to the point at which Science must stop, — not that Science 
s debarred from studying the internal mechanism of a molecule 
v^hich she cannot take to pieces, any more than from investigat- 
ng an organism which she cannot put together. But in tracing 
)ack the history of matter. Science is arrested when she assures 
lerself, on the one hand, that the molecule has been made, and, 
in the other, that it has not been made by any of the processes 
ve call natural. 

Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter 
tself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limits of our 
hinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter 
annot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created. 

It is only when we contemplate, not matter in itself, but the 
3rm in which it actually exists, that our mind finds something 
n which it can lay hold. 

That matter, as such, should have certain fundamental pro- 
perties, — that it should exist in space and be capable of motion, 
—that its motion should be persistent, and so on, — are truths 
rhich may, for anything we know, be of the kind whicli meta- 
hysicians call necessary. We may use our knowledge of such j 

ruths for purposes of deduction, but we have no data for specu- ^ 

iting as to their origin. 


274 JAMES CLEKK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

But that there sTiould be exactly so much matter and no 
more in every molecule of hydrogen is a fact of a very different 
order. We have here a particular distribution of matter — a 
collocation — to use the expression of Dr. Chalmers, of things 
which we have no difficulty in imagining to have been arranged 

The form and dimensions of the orbits of the planets, for 
instance, are not determined by any law of nature, but depend 
upon a particular collocation of matter. The same is the case 
with respect to the size of the earth, from which the' standard 
of what is called the metrical system has been derived. But 
these astronomical and terrestrial magnitudes are far inferior in 
scientific importance to that most fundamental of all standards 
which forms the base of the molecular system. Natural causes, 
as we know, are at work, which tend to modify, if they do not 
at length destroy, all the arrangements and dimensions of the 

/ earth and the whole solar system. But though in the course of 
ages catastrophes have occurred and may yet occur in the heavens, 
though ancient systems may be dissolved and new systems evolved 
out of their ruins, the molecules out of which these systems are 
built — the foundation-stones of the material imiverse — remain 
unbroken and unworn. They continue this day as they were 
created — perfect in number and measure and weight ; and from 

\ the ineffaceable characters impressed on them we may learn that 
' those aspirations after accuracy in measurement, and justice in 
action, which we reckon among our noblest attributes as men, 
are ours because they are essential constituents of the image of 
Him who in the beginning created, not only the heaven and the 
earth, but the materials of which heaven and earth consist. 

In 1875 he read before the Chemical Society a paper 
" On the Dynamical Evidence of the Molecular Constitution 
of Bodies." 

The lecture on Thermodynamics at the Loan Exhibition 
of Scientific Apparatus in London in 1876 (to which he 
had contributed his real-image Stereoscope, etc.), was illus- 
trated by his own model of the Thermodynamic Surface.^ 

^ In the oflacial handbook to the collection, the articles entitled 
" General considerations respecting Scientific Apparatus," and " Molecular 
Physics," were written by Professor Maxwell. When her Majesty the 


The last of his public lectures was the Eede Lecture 
"On the Telephone," delivered at Cambridge in 1878, and 
illustrated with the aid of Mr. Gower's Telephonic Harp. 

After pointing out the extreme simjDlicity as well as the 
absolute novelty of the invention, he made it the text of a 
discourse which is remarkable both for suggestiveness and 

I shall . . . consider the telephone as a material symbol of 
the widely separated departments of human knowledge, the 
cultivation of which has led, by as many converging paths, to 
the invention of this instrument by Professor Graham Bell. 

... In a University we are especially bound to recognise 
not only the unity of Science itself, but the communion of the 
workers of Science. We are too apt to suppose that we are con- 
gregated here merely to be within reach of certain appliances of 
study, such as museums and laboratories, libraries and lectures, 
so that each of us may study what he prefers. I suppose that when 
the bees crowd round the flowers it is for the sake of the honey 
that they do so, never thinking that it is the dust which they 
are carrying from flower to flower which is to render possible a 
more splendid array of flowers and a busier crowd of bees in the 
years to come. 

We cannot therefore do better than improve the shining 
hour in helping forward the cross-fertilisation of the Sciences. 

One great beauty of Professor Bell's invention is that the 
instruments at the two ends of the line are precisely alike. . . . 
The perfect symmetry of the whole apparatus — the wire in the 
middle, the two telephones at the ends of the wire, and the two 
gossips at the ends of the telephones — may be very fascinating 
to a mere mathematician, but it would not satisfy the evolu- 
tionist of the Spenserian type, who would consider anything 
with both ends alike, such as the Amphisbsena, or Mr. Bright's 
terrier, or Mr. Bell's telephone, to be an organism of a very low 
type, which must have its functions difterentiated before any satis- 
factory integration can take place. 

Accordingly, many attemj^ts have been made, by difi'eren- 

Queen visited the collection Professor Maxwell, at the invitation of the 
Lords of the Committee of Council on Education, attended as the rei^re- 
sentative of Molecular Physics. 

276 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

tiating the function of the transmitter from that of the receiver, 
to overcome the principal limitation of the power of the tele- 
phone. As long as the human voice is the sole motive power 
of the apparatus, it is manifest that what is heard at one end 
must be fainter than what is spoken at the other. But if the 
vibration set up at one end is used no longer as the source of 
energy, but merely as a means of modulating the strength of a 
current supplied by a voltaic battery, then there will be no 
necessary limitation of the intensity of the resulting sound, so 
that what is whispered to the transmitter may be proclaimed 
ore rotundo by the receiver. 

He then briefly referred to Edison's loud-speaking tele- 
phone, and went on to exhibit and explain the microphone 
of Professor Hughes. 

I have said the telephone is an instance of the benefit to be 
derived from the cross -fertilisation of the sciences. . . . Pro- 
fessor Graham Bell ... is the son of a very remarkable man, 
Alexander Melville Bell, author of a book called Visible Speech^ 
and of other works relating to pronunciation. In fact his 
whole life has been employed in teaching people to speak. 
He brought the art to such perfection that, though a Scotchman, 
he taught himself in six months to speak English, and I regret 
extremely that when I had the opportunity in Edinburgh I did 
not take lessons from him.^ Mr. Melville Bell has made a 
complete analysis and classification of all the sounds capable of 
being uttered by the human voice, from the Zulu clicks to 
coughing and sneezing ; and he has embodied his results in a 
system of symbols, the elements of whicTi are not taken from 
any existing alphabet, but are founded on the different con- 
figurations of the organs of speech. 

. . . Helmholtz, by a series of daring strides, has effected a 
passage for himself over that untrodden wild between acoustics 
and music — that Serbonian bog where whole armies of scientific 
musicians and musical men of science have sunk without filling 
it up. 

^ Maxwell had profited not a little by his own studies in this direction. 
But the Gallowegian tones are hard to modify, and even in his verse such 
rhymes as "hasn't" = "pleasant" recall to those who knew him his 
peculiar mode of speech. 


We may not be able even yet to plant our feet in liis tracks 
and follow him right across — that would require the seven 
league boots of the German Colossus ; but to help us in Cam- 
bridge we have the Board of Musical Studies vindicating for 
music its ancient place in a liberal education. On the physical 
side we have Lord Rayleigh laying our foundation deep and 
strong in his Theory of Sound. On the aesthetic side we have 
the University Musical Society doing the practical work, and, 
in the space between, those conferences of Mr. Sedley Taylor, 
where the wail of the Siren draws musician and mathematician 
together down into the depths of their sensational being, and 
where the gorgeous hues of the Phoneidoscope are seen to seethe 
and twine and coil like the 

Dragon boughts and elvish emblemings 
on the gates of that city, where 

An ye heard a music, like enow 

They are building still, seeing the city is built 

To music, therefore never built at all 

And therefore built for ever. 

The special educational value of this combined study of music 
and acoustics is that more than almost any other study it involves 
a continual appeal to what we must observe for ourselves. 

The facts are things which must be felt ; they cannot be 
learned from any description of them. 

All this has been said more than 200 years ago by one of 
our own prophets, William Harvey of Gonville and Caius 
College : — " For whosoever they be that read authors, and do 
not, by the aid of their own senses, abstract true representations 
of the things themselves (comprehended in the author's expres- 
sions) they do not represent true ideas, but deceitful idols and 
phantasmas ; by which means they frame to themselves certaine 
shadows and chimaeras, and all their theory and contemplation 
(which they call science) represents nothing but waking men's 
dreams and sick men's phrensies." 

After the opening of the Cavendish Laboratory in 1874, 
the most continuous, as well as the most important, work 
of the Chair was the superintendence of various courses of 
experiments, undertaken by young aspirants for scientific 
distinction. With characteristic loyalty and humility, 

278 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

Maxwell seems often to have taken more pride in their 
researches than in his own. To enumerate the men who 
were thus favoured would be to name many who are now 
amongst the most efficient teachers of science in the United 
Kingdom. But there can be nothing invidious in making 
particular mention of those who are named by Maxwell 
himself in his correspondence, although the omission of 
other names may be accidental. Besides Mr. W. Garnett, 
who was his demonstrator in the Laboratory from first to 
last, he refers with especial satisfaction to the work of Mr. 
George Chrystal, noAv Professor of Mathematics in Edin- 
burgh, and to that of Mr. W. D. Niven. 

Mr. Chrystal was encouraged by him to undertake a 
series of experiments for verifying Ohm's Law respecting 
the relation between the current and the electro-motive 
force in a wire, on which some doubt had been thrown by 
Weber's theories, and, in an opposite direction, by a series 
of experiments reported to the British Association by Dr. 
Schuster in 1874. 

In consequence of these doubts a committee was 
appointed by the British Association consisting of Pro- 
fessor Maxwell, Professor Everitt, and Dr. Schuster, and 
the report of this committee was presented to the Associ- 
ation at their annual meeting in Glasgow in 1876. The 
report consists mainly of an account of two experimental 
investigations planned by Professor Maxwell and carried 
out in the Cavendish Laboratory by Mr. Chrystal. To 
this report Mr. Chrystal added a brief account of his ex- 
periments on the unilateral and bilateral deflection of a 
galvanometer, afi'ording a possible explanation of Dr. 
Schuster's result. The investigation proved that when 
a unit current passes through a conductor of a square 
centimetre section, its resistance does not difier from its 
value for indefinitely small currents by 0*000,000,00 1 per 

1873-79. The scene of these congenial labours was surrounded 

with manifold associations, which his love for Cambridge 
intensified. He had pleasant intercourse with many 


persons there, and after a while resumed the habit of 
occasional essay writing. Under the name of Eranus (or 
pic-nic) a club of older men was formed, differing little 
apparently from the "Apostles," except in the greater 
seriousness of the discussions. Dr. Lightfoot (now Bishop 
of Durham) and Professors Hort and Westcott were mem- 
bers of this little circle of congenial spirits. Maxwell's 
contributions, containing his matured thoughts on various 
speculative questions, will be found in Appendix B, It 
may be remarked generally that the most marked feature 
of his later life was an ever-increasing soberness of spirit, 
and a deepening inward repose, which took nothing from 
the brightness of his companionship, but rather kept fresh 
the inexhaustible springs of cheerfulness and humorous 
mirth in him. The beginnings of such " life in earnest " 
may be traced far back, but are most obviously perceptible 
in his third year at Cambridge (1853),^ in the summer of 
1856, after his father's death, and in the crisis of his life 
at Aberdeen (1857-58). 

This graver tone by no means checked the playful 
impulses that burst forth from time to time in sparkling 
jeux cVesjmts. It rather fledged his arrows, while it loaded 
them, giving them a steadier aim, so that his lightest 
effusions carried an unsuspected weight of meaning. His 
wit was never more brilliant, more incisive, or (it may be 
added) more perfectly good-humoured, than in the verses 

^ How readily his thoughts took a serious turn, even in the earlier 
Tindergraduate days, may be seen in a letter (not given above) of 26th 
March 1852 :— j^t 20. 

"A. was sent for by telegraph to his sister: he fouod her past re- 
covery, and she is since dead. The family is large, and till now was 
entire, so that the grief is great and new. 

''The attributes of man, as one of a family, seem to be more highly 
developed in large families. The pronoun ' we ' acquires a peculiar 
significance. The family man has an idea of a living home, to which he 
can in imagination retreat, and which gives him a steadiness and force 
not his own. He is one member of a naturally constituted society ; he 
has protected his juniors and been protected by his seniors ; and now he 
has the consciousness that he is but one of the arrows in the quiver of the 
Mighty, and that it is the interest of others as well as his own that he 
should succeed." 


280 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

on Professor Cayley's portrait, and the '' Notes of the 
President's Address." He found time also to indulge his 
old taste for reading and writing in cypher, and thus, on 
y one occasion, considerably disconcerted a contributor to 
the second column of the Times, 

His outward appearance in these later years has been 
well described by one who saw him first in 1866 : — 

A man of middle height, with frame strongly knit, and a 
certain spring and elasticity in his gait ; dressed for comfortable 
ease rather than elegance ; a face expressive at once of sagacity 
and good humour, but overlaid with a deep shade of thoughtful- 
ness ; features boldly but pleasingly marked ; ^yes dark and 
glowing ; hair and beard perfectly black, and forming a strong 
contrast to the pallor of his complexion. . . . He might have 
been taken, by a careless observer, for a country gentleman, or 
rather, to be more accurate, for a north country laird. A keener 
eye would have seen, however, that the man must be a student 
of some sort, and one of more than ordinary intelligence. 

In later years his hair had turned to iron gray, but until a 
few years before his death he retained his elasticity of step. 

The picture of Maxwell, as he appeared in 1866, became 
afterwards perfectly familiar to residents in Cambridge. They 
will remember his thoughtful' face as he walked in the street, 
revolving some of the many problems that engaged him, Toby 
lagging behind, till his master would suddenly turn, as if start- 
ing from a reverie, and begin calling the dog. 

The same authority continues — 

. . . He had a strong sense of humour, and a keen relish 
for witty or jocose repartee, but rarely betrayed enjoyment by 
outright laughter. The outward sign and conspicuous mani- 
festation of his enjoyment was a peculiar twinkle and brightness 
vi of the eyes. There was, indeed, nothing explosive in his mental 

composition, and as his mirth was never boisterous, so neither 
was he fretful or irascible. Of a serenely placid temper, genial 
and temperate in his enjoyments, and infinitely patient when 
others would have been vexed or annoyed, he at all times opposed 
a solid calm of nature to the vicissitudes of life. 

In performing his private experiments at the laboratory, 


Maxwell was very neat-handed and expeditious. When work- 
ing thus, or when thinking out a problem, he had a habit of 
whistling, not loudly, but in a half-subdued manner, no particu- 
lar tune discernible, but a sort of running accompaniment to his 
inward thoughts. ... He could carry the full strength of his 
mental faculties rapidly from one subject to another, and could 
pursue his studies under distractions which most students would 
find intolerable, such as a loud conversation in the room where 
he was at work. On these occasions he used, in a manner, to 
take his dog into his confidence, and would say softly, " Tobi, 
Tobi," at intervals, and after thinking and working for a time, 
would at last say (for example), ^' It must be so : Plato {i.e. 
Plateau), thou reasonest well." He would then join in the 

. . . His acquaintance with the literature of his own 
country, and especially with English poetry, was remarkable 
alike for its extent, its exactness, and the wide range of his 
sympathies. His critical taste, founded as it was on his native 
sagacity, and a keen appreciation of literary beauty, was so true 
and discriminating that his judgment was, in such matters, quite 
as valuable as on mathematical writings. ... As he read 
with great rapidity, and had a retentive memory, his mind was 
stored with many a choice fragment which had caught his fancy. 
He was fond of reading aloud at home from his favourite authors, 
particularly from Shakspeare, and of repeating such passages as 
gave him the greatest pleasure.^ 

Maxwell was rarely seen walking without a dog accom- 
panying him, and, when visiting the Laboratory for a short 
time, Toby or Coonie, or both, would always attend him. 
Toby (ll. or ill.) came to Cambridge with Professor Max- 
well in 1871, and was thoroughly conversant with the 
details of the Laboratory and some of its apparatus. He 
always betrayed signs of uneasiness when he heard electric 
sparks, but when summoned to his post he would sit down 

^ There was found amongst his papers a scrap on which he had written, 
in pencil, the whole of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," in all pro- 
bability from memory, and as a distraction from anxiety or from severer 
study. His note-books, one of which he always carried with him, are full 
Df the most miscellaneous jottings, plans of works, solutions of problems, 
extracts in prose and verse, etc. 

282 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

between his master's feet and allow the electrophorus to 
be excited upon his back, growling all the time in a 
peculiar manner, as though to relieve his mind, but not 
evidencing any signs of real discomfort. On one occasion 
Toby sat quietly on an insulating support, and allowed 
himself to be rubbed with a cat's skin, when it was found 
that the dog became positively electrified, contrary to the 
general belief that a cat's skin is positive to everything ; 
whereupon Professor Maxwell remarked that " a live dog is 
better than a dead lion." It remains for a future physicist 
to determine the electric relations of a live cat and dog. 

One great charm of Maxwell's society was his readiness 
to converse on almost any topic with those whom he was 
accustomed to meet, although he always showed a certain 
degree of shyness when introduced to strangers. He would 

never tire of talking, with boyish glee, about the d 1 on 

two sticks and similar topics, and no one ever conversed 
with him for five minutes without having some perfectly 
new ideas set before him ; sometimes so startling as to 
utterly confound the listener, but always such as to well 
repay a thoughtful examination. Men have often asked, 
after listening to a conversation on some scientific question, 
whether Maxwell were in earnest or joking.^ The charm 
of his conversation rendered it very difficult to carry on 
any independent work when he was present, but his sug- 
gestions for future work far more than compensated for 
the time thus spent. 

On one occasion, after removing a large amount of cal- 
careous deposit which had accumulated in a curiously oolitic 
form in a boiler, Maxwell sent it to the Professor of Geology 
with a request that he would identify the formation. This 
he did at once, vindicating his science from the aspersion 
which his brother professor would playfully have cast on it. 

Maxwell still found occasional recreation in riding at 
Cambridge as well as more frequently at Glenlair, where 
he resided as much as he could consistently with his pro- 

^ For an instance of humorous mystification, see the letter to Mr. 
Garnett of 4th January 1877. 


fessorial duties.^ He always arranged to leave Cambridge 
at the end of the Easter term, in time to officiate at the 
midsummer communion in the kirk at Parton, where he 
was an elder. His liberality in his own neighbourhood 
was very great. Besides the endowment of the church, 
and building of the manse at Corsock, he had planned 
a large contribution to the cause of primary education. 
When the School Board was instituted in the district, 
Maxwell was very anxious to keep up the school estab- 
lished in the reign of George HI. at Merkland, in the 
immediate neighbourhood of the village of Kirkpatrick- 
Durham, in addition to the Board school at Corsock, five 
miles away. When this offer was refused, he set apart a 
site and had plans made for a school to be erected and 
supported at his own expense upon his estate, but failing 
health prevented the accomplishment of his purpose. 

The last few years of Maxwell's life were saddened by 
the serious and protracted illness of Mrs. Maxwell. Not- 
withstanding the inexhaustible freshness of his spirit, his 
work could not but be somewhat modified by a cause so 
grave. He was an excellent sick-nurse, and we have already 
seen how he attended upon Pomeroy when attacked with 
fever in college, how he devoted himself to his father 
during his illness, and how he cared for his brother-in-law 
when in London. On one occasion during Mrs. Maxwell's 
illness he did not sleep in a bed for three weeks, but con- 
ducted his lectures and other Avork at the Laboratory as 
usual. While attending on his wife he would continuer 
working at his manuscripts, or would arrange a series of 
experiments to be carried out by one of the workers at 
the Cavendish Laboratory ; but the time which he could 
personally devote to his own experiments was very limited. 
The same cause prevented his attendance at meetings in 
London and at the British Association, for which, however, 
he retained his affection. His wonderful devotion to his 

^ He kept up tlie old habit of regulating tlie clocks at Glenlair by the 
sun, which, when on the meridian, threw the shadow of a stick upon a 
notch cut in the stone outside the door. 



284 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

wife, and the almost mystical manner in which he regarded 
the marriage tie, are sufficiently apparent from his letters. 

The meeting of the British Association, held at Belfast 
in 1874 when Professor Tyndall was President, was the 
last which Maxwell attended. Before Section A he read 
a note " On the Application of Kirchhoff's Eules for Electric 
Circuits to the Solution of a Geometrical Problem ; " but 
his attendance at this meeting will be remembered chiefly 
on account of his paraphrase of the President's address, 
which was published in Blackwood's Magazine, and will be 
found reprinted amongst the poems at the end of this 
volume. His verses on the Red Lions, a social club con- 
sisting of members of the Association, were also written 
at this meeting. 

In university politics Maxwell was regarded as a Con- 
servative, and, as such, in November 1876, he was elected 
a member of the Council of the Senate of the University. 
His views respecting various questions of university reform; 
are sufficiently indicated by his letters, especially those 
addressed to Mr. Monro (see p. 185). He was also a 
member of the Mathematical Studies and Examinations 
Syndicate, which was appointed on 17th May 1877, and 
which sat every week during term for a whole year for the 
purpose of reorganising the Mathematical Tripos. 

In 1873 and 1874 Professor Maxwell was one of the 
examiners for the Natural Sciences Tripos, and in 1873 he 
was the first " Additional Examiner " in the Mathematical 
Tripos under the new regulations which then came into 
force. This was the fifth time that he had examined for 
the Mathematical Tripos in the course of seven years. He 
was president of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 
during the session 1876-77.^ 

^ An account of the last years of Maxwell's life would not be complete 
without a reference to his acquaintance with Professor H. A. Rowland, 
formerly of Troy, and now of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. 
Professor Rowland visited Maxwell more than once, and on these occasions 
much time was spent in comparing notes on electrical questions. Some 
instruments which Professor Rowland designed were not only identical 
with Maxwell's in the relative dimensions of the several parts, but their 


Besides many contributions to Nature and other similar 
publications during his residence in Cambridge, Maxwell 
wrote several articles for the Ninth Edition of the Encydo- 
pcedia JBritannica. The last scientific paper he ever wrote 
was the very brief article on Harmonic Analysis, the proof 
of which was sent for correction when its author was too 
weak to read it. 

Although the publication of the Treatise on Heat and of 
the Electricity and Magnetism falls within this period, they 
were mainly written during the time of his retirement at 
Glenlair. The " small book on a great subject," entitled 
Matter and Motion, was merely the concise expression of his 
most habitual thoughts. But his chief literary work during 
the last seven years of his life was the editing of the 
Electrical Researches of the Hon. Henry Cavendish, F.R.S. 

Henry Cavendish was son of Lord Charles Cavendish 
and great uncle to the present Duke of Devonshire. He 
published only two papers relating to electricity — "An 
Attempt to Explain some of the Phenomena of Electricity 
by means of an Elastic Fluid" {Phil. Trans. 1771), and 
"An Account of some Attempts to Imitate the Effects of 
the Torpedo by Electricity" {Phil. Trans. 1776). He had 
prepared, however, some twenty packets of manuscript on 
Mathematical and Experimental Electricity. These, after 
his death, were placed by the then Earl of Burlington, now 
Duke of Devonshire, in the hands of the late Sir William 
Snow Harris, who appears to have made an abstract of 
them, with a commentary of great value on their contents. 

absolute dimensions also "vvere very nearly the same. After Maxwell's 
death Professor Rowland pointed out some sources of error in tbe experi- 
mental determination of the Ohm as carried out at King's College, and in 
the recent redetermination made by Lord Rayleigh in tbe Cavendish 
Laboratory these sources of error have been removed. Maxwell's opinion 
of Professor Rowland was very high, and he frequently alludes to him in 
his correspondence, and more than once " Rowland of Troy, tliat doughty 
knight," appears in his verses, where, as the American investigator in a 
certain branch of magnetic science studied here by Professor Oliver Lodge 
and Mr. Oliver Heaviside, he is in one pkice referred to as *' One Rowland 
for two Olivers." I well remember the interest with which Maxwell 
looked forward to Mr. Rowland's first visit, and the meeting of "Greek 
and Trojan " on that occasion at Glenlair. 


Of this abstract and commentary Professor Maxwell was 
unable to gain possession, but the Cavendish Manuscripts 
were placed in his hands by the Duke of Devonshire in 
1874. The manner in which the contents of these manu- 
scripts were investigated by Professor Maxwell, and the 
series of experiments he conducted in order to test 
Cavendish's results, have a permanent interest for students. 
The final proof-sheets were returned to press during the 
summer of 1879, and the book was published in 
October of the same year. The letters on this sub- 
ject, which will be found below, are types of very many 
that were written by Maxwell respecting the Cavendish 

The title of the book, as published in October 1879, 
(one thick volume, 8vo) is, An Account of the Electrical 
Researches of the Honourable Henry Cavendish, F.R.S., between 
1771 and 1781. Few or none could have performed 
that task as Maxwell has performed it. And yet some 
may wish that these precious years had been given rather 
to the unimpeded prosecution of his own oiiginal re- 

At my last meeting with him, — it was in his house at 
Cambridge, in the year 1877, — in the midst of some 
discursive talk, he took the MS. of this book out of a 
cabinet, and began showing it to me, and discoursing about 
it in the old eager, playful, affectionate way, just as with 
the magic discs in boyhood, or the register of the colour- 
box observations at a later time, in the little study at 
Glenlair. " And what," I said, " of your own investigations 
in various ways V **I have to give up so many things," 
he answered, with a sad look, which till then I had never 
seen in his eyes. Even before this, as it now appears, he 
had felt the first symptoms of the inexorable malady, which 
in the spring of 1879 assumed a dangerous aspect, and 
killed him in the autumn of that year. 

^ An unfinished fragment of a new work on Electricity, in -which he 
treads more closely than ever in tlie steps of Faraday, has been edited 
since his death by Mr. Garnett and published in 1881. 


Letters, 1871 to 1879— ^t. 39-48. 

From C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Hadlcij, Barnet, 3d March 1871. 

The Hon. J. W. Strutt, son of Lord Rayleigh, and senior 
wrangler in 1865, has been meddling with your colours, and 
has given occasion also to me to do so again. I send a selection 
of Natures containing him and me, and my old contributions of 
last year, which, or one of which, you say met Mr. Benson's 
approval. Strutt's last letter ends with a sentence Avhich obliged 
me to write to him personally ; and I could not help sa}dng, 
with regard to the sentence which begins it, p. 264, that I 
thought you would object to inferences founded on comparison 
by contrast, and that the proper way was to compare by matching 
recognised browns with a compound. 

Listing's paper, mentioned in p. 102, was to me rather a 
paradox, — I had got to regard the subdivisions of the colour- 
scale which are assumed in language, as something so arbitrary. 
If you cared to see it, I have that number of Poggendorff ; I 
think he would hardly agree with your J. J. M tiller. I wdsh 
you or Benson could eradicate the insane trick of reasoning 
about colours as identified by their names. People seem to think 
that blue is blue, and one blue as good as another. Benson's 
book I have seen (since I heard of it from you), but not read. 
His way of mixing by means of a prism is very happy. ... I 
wish, with your new set up box, you would just put the prism 
observations into relation with the disk ones. It would be very 
easy. White we have got ; and it would only be strictly neces- 
sary to determine two other standard colours, such as vermilion 
or emerald, by reference to the spectrum primaries. You don't 
say whether your dwellers in Mesopotamia and elsewhere agree 
on the whole better or worse than " J " and " K," wdio, I suppose, 
agree for better and for worse. To judge by their case, the 
discrepancy would be a little diminished by taking as units of 
colour co-ordinates for any given pair of eyes, not the intensities 
of the primaries as they aj^pear in the spectrum, but their 
intensities as they appear in the combination w^hich to that pair 
of eyes makes (say) wJnte. This amounts to transforming from 
trilinear to Hamilton's anharmonic co-ordinates with white for 
the fourth point, — in the language of "scientific metaphor." 

288 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

On tlie otlier hand, ought not all your co-ordinates to be cooked 

, ,.. 1 . ^ d , scale, pae^e 68 „ 

hj multiplying by -— ^, ^, ? 

a . wave-length 

You know where I learnt scientific metaphor. I have read 
the address in Section A more than once with much pleasure, 
and, I hope, profit in proportion. The pleasure, I confess, was 
with me, as I found it was with Litchfield, partly that of recog- 
nising an old well-remembered style, and reflecting that here at 
least was something which might be " thought to be beyond 
the reach of change." ... By the way, Boole is '^one of the 
profoundest mathematicians of our time ; " but how about 
*^ thinkers"? Certainly his expositions of the principle of a 
piece of mathematics are beautiful up to and, I don't doubt, 
beyond my appreciating. But that last chapter of the La/ws^ 
etc., from which you quote, with Empedocles and Pseudo-Origen 
and the rest of them, always seems to me to render a sound as 
of a largish internal cavity ; and the whole book, taken together 
with his R.S.E. paper on testimony and least squares, presents, 
I think, too many instances of a particular class of fallacy — I 
know I am speaking blasphemies, but there would be a strike 
among the postmen if I put in all the necessary qualifications — 
too many instances to be got over, not in absolute number if 
they were of different kinds, for anybody may make mistakes, 
but too many of one kind. The kind is insufficient interpretation, 
i.e. letting your equations lead you by the nose. The most 
serious example, — I maintain it is an example, — is his insisting 
that his theory of logic is not founded on quantity, so that it 
furnishes (he holds) an independent foundation for probabilities, 
independent of the usual quantitative foundation. That this is 
a fallacy, and that in particular, it is an example of the fallacy 
of insufficient interpretation, is evident surely when you find 
that, even in the higher case of " secondary " propositions, the 
elective symbols represent in his own opinion quantities of 
" time " after all. With regard to the sentence you quote, I am 
always suspicious of any inclination I may feel to find a question 
too easy ; and, independently of that, your quoting it is itself a 
staggerer. But the difficulty I confess does strike me as a rather 
artificial one. There is nothing, 'scarcely, in which I think Mill 
is so right and the Hamiltonians so wrong as that question about 
logic being the laws of thought. Hamilton says as thought, Mill 
says as valid, and so does Boole and so do you ; but if Mill is 
right, where is the difficulty ? Why should the conditions of 


thinking correctly be inviolable in the sense of not preventing 
you from thinking incorrectly, provided they are inviolable in 
the sense of ensuring that you take the consequences if you do ? 
The laws of projection in geometry are inviolable, but nobody 
ever thought it a paradox that it is possible for a picture to be 
out of drawing in spite of them, nor is it a paradox that in un- 
familiar classes of cases a rigorously accurate piece of perspective 
looks out of drawing. Perhaps you meant, for I suppose the 
report in Nature is incomplete, that it was a difficulty to say in 
what sense mathematical propositions could be said to be certain, 
considering that one may make mistakes about them. Perhaps 
something else, which for the above reason or others, is hidden 
from me. 

. . . By the way, I hope it is true that you are to profess 
experimental physics at Cambridge, or what I hope comes to the 
same thing, that you are a candidate. 

To C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Glenlair, Dalhcattie^ 15th March 1S71. 

I have been so busy writing a sermon on Colour, and Tyn- 
dalising my imagination up to the lecture point, that along with 
other business I have had no leisure to write to any one. 

I think a good deal may be learned from the names of colours ; 
not about colours, of course, but about names ; and I think it 
is remarkable that the rhematic instinct has been so much more 
active, at least in modern times, on the less refrangible side of 
primary green (A = 510 x 10'^ inches). 

I am not up in ancient colours, but my recollection of the 
interpretations of the lexicographers is of considerable confusion 
of hues between red and yellow, and rather more discrimination 
on the blue side. Qa. If this is true, has the red sensation 
become better developed since those days 1 Benson has a new 
book, Chapman & Hall, 1871, called Manual of Colour. 

I think it is a great improvement on the Quarto, both in size 
and quality. It is the size of this paper I write on. 

I have not asked you if you wish to go to sermon on Colour, 
for I do not think the R I.^ a good place to go to of nights, 
even for strong men. I have, however, some tickets to spare. 

^ Royal Institution. 

290 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

The peculiarity of our space is that of its three dimensions, 
none is before or after another. As is x, so is y and so is z. 

If you have 4 dimensions this becomes a puzzle, for — first, 
if three of them are in our space, then which three 1 Also, if 
we lived in space of m dimensions, but were only capable of 
thinking n of them, then 1st, Which n ? 2d, If so, things would 
happen requiring the rest to explain them, and so we should 
either be stultified or made wiser. 

I am quite sure that the kind of continuity which has four 
dimensions all co-equal is not to be discovered by merely gener- 
alising Cartesian space equations. (I don't mean by Cartesian 
space that which Spinoza worked from Extension the one essen- 
tial property of matter, and Quiet the best glue to stick bodies 
together.) I think it was Jacob Steiner who considered the 
final cause of space to be the suggestion of new forms of con- 

I hope you will continue to trail clouds of glory after you, 
and tropical air, and be as it were a climate to yourself. I am 
glad to see you occasionally in Nature. 1 shall be in London 
for a few days next week, — address Athenaeum Club. 

I think Strutt on sky-blue is very good. It settles Clausius's 
vesicular theory. 


for, putting all his words together, 

'tis 3 blue beans in 1 blue bladder." — Mat. Prior. 

The Exp. Phys. at Cambridge is not built yet, but we are 
going to try. 

The desideratum is to set a Don and a Freshman to observe 
and register (say) the vibrations of a magnet together, or the 
Don to turn a winch, and the Freshman to observe and govern 

From Professor Tyndall. 


My dear Maxwell — Why . . . did you run away so 
rapidly ? I wished to shake your hand before parting. — Yours 
ever, John Tyndall. 

To Mrs. Maxwell. 

^Oth March 1871. 

There are two parties about the professorship. One wants 
popular lectures, and the other cares more for experimental 


work. I think there should be a gradation — popular lectures 
and rough experiments for the masses ; real experiments for 
real students ; and laborious experiments for first-rate men like 
Trotter and Stuart and Strutt. 

From C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Hadley, 21st March 1871. 

... I never observed before that ancient colour-nomencla- 
ture was more discriminate than ours for the more " violently " 
refracted tints as compared with the less ; but I think there 
must be something in it. But I have always suspected that 
they referred colour to a positively distinct set of co-ordinates 
from ours. Gladstone says something of this sort in Homer ; 
who put it into his head I can't think ; if he made it out for 
himself I should be very sorry to agree with a man who does 
not believe in spectrum analysis, and does believe that Leto is 
the Virgin Mary. Such queer applications of words of colour 
one does find. You know the " pale " horse of the Apocalypse 
(vi. 8) ; well, that is yXinpo^^ which is usually " green," you 
know. General Daumas says the Arabs call " vert " what the 
French call "louvet" in horses ; and louvetj in Littre, " Se dit, 
chez le cheval, d'une robe caracteris^e par la presence de la 
nuance jaune et du noir, qui lui donne une certaine ressemblance 
avec le poll du loup. . . . Substantivement," he continues, 
" Le louvet n'est, k proprement parler, qu'un isabelle charbonne." 
The Arabic for green, and (I have no doubt) the word Daumas 
speaks of, is akhddr, kh as ch in Scotch, and the dot marking a 
modification which, it happens, is imitated by interpolating an 
L in Spanish and Portuguese ; so ;)(Aa)/3o? may have been sup- 
posed to have something to do with the Semitic word. How- 
ever, according to dictionaries, '' the three greens" in Arabic 
are " gold, wine, and meat," which beats the green horse. I 
suppose the Revisionists will leave '^pale," and certainly x^<^pov 
Sees is the Homeric for a blue funk. But x^^^po?, and akbdar, 
too, are certainly the colour of chlorophyll, and Daumas's 
remark is a note on a line in a translation from a poet, which 
runs " Ces chevaux verts comme le roseau qui croit au bord des 

I am glad you are going to preach, and I should like to sit 
under you, but, as you assume, it would not do. Thanks all 
the same. 

292 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

To Mrs. Maxwell. 

AtJienceum, 2M March 1871. • 
I also got a first-rate letter from Monro about colour, and 
the Arab words for it (I suppose he studied them in Algeria). 
They call horses of a smutty yellow colour " green." The 
" pale " horse in Revelation is generally transcribed green else- 
where, the word being applied to grass, etc. But the three 
green things in the Arabic dictionary are " gold, wine, and 
meat," which is a very hard saying. 

From C. J. Monro, Esq. 

Hadley, Barnet, 10th September 1871. 
... Of your own things, the Classification of Quantities and 
the Hills and Dales, are all I have read to much purpose. Nor 
them either, you may say, if I go on to ask why you say that 
"in the pure theory of surfaces there is no method of deter- 
mining a line of water-shed or water-course, except as therein 
is excepted, that is in page 6 ? Why does not this determine 
them ? to wit — 

(dz\^ /dz\^ . ^ ^ max. for a shed. 

— I +1 — I maximum, & - 
dx/ \dy / { ^ min. for a course. 

Or if this does determine them, how does it resolve itseK into 
^' first findiog," etc. ? 

I am glad you like Strutt on sky-blue. You see he sees his 
way now to a new theory of double refraction. Looking at your 
old letter again, I don't quite see the force of either of your 
objections to space of more than three dimensions. First, you 
ask if we can think some of the dimensions and not others, then 
j^hich ? Surely one might answer, that depends — depends 
namely on your circumstances — on circumstances which in your 
circumstances you cannot expect to judge of. 

" I can easily believe," as Darwin would say, that before we 
were tidal ascidians we were a slimy sheet of cells floating on 
the surface of the sea. Well, in those days, the missing dimen- 
sion, and the two forthcoming ones respectively, kept changing 
with the rotation of the earth, — we noio know how, but could 
not guess then. So, now, the missing dimension or dimensions, if 
any, might be determined by circumstances which we could not 
tell unless we knew all about the said dimension or dimensions. 


To Dr. Huggins, F.R.S. 

11 Scroojye Terrace, Cambridge, 2d May 1872. 

My dear Sir — Toby and I enclose our photogra]3lis ^\dth 
our best regards to you and Kepler. ^ I had intended to be in 
London to-morrow, but I am busy here. I hope the air-pump 
has recovered its cohesion. There seemed to be a solution of 
continuity between the mercury and the glass. — Yours very 
truly, J. C. M. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

Glcnlair, Dalbeattie, 19th October 1872. 

. . . Lectures begin 24th. Laboratory rising, I hear ; but I 
have no place to erect my chair, but move about like the cuckoo, 
depositing my notions in the chemical lecture-room 1st term ; 
in the Botanical in Lent, and in Comparative Anatomy in 

I am continually engaged in stirring up the Clarendon Press, 
but they have been tolerably regular for two months. I find 
nine sheets in thirteen weeks is their average. Tait gives me 
great help in detecting absurdities. I am getting converted to 
Quaternions, and have put some in my book, in a heretical 
form, however, for as the Greek alphabet was used up, I have 
used German capitals from 21 to 3 to stand for Vectors, and, of 
course, y occurs continually. This letter is called "Nabla,"^ 
and the investigation a Nablody. You will be glad to hear 
that the theory of gases is being experimented on by Profs. 
Loschmidt and Stefan of Vienna, and that the conductivity of 
air and hydrogen are within 2 per cent of the value calculated 
from my experiments on friction of gases, though the diffusion 
of one gas into another is " in ergldnzender uhereinstimmung mit 
—schen TJieorie.'' 

^ The following scrap from a letter written fiive years after this may 
he inserted here : — 

Dear Dr. Huggins — "We were very sorry to hear about poor Kepler. 
. . . "We can quite enter into the feeling of the melancholy home it makes 
when a dear doggie dies. Of course you have buried him in your own 
garden. . . . 

^ The name of an Assyrian harp of the shape v« 

294 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

■ To Professor W. G. Adams. 

Natural Science Tripos^ 
3d December 1873. 

I got Professor Guthrie's circular some time ago. I do not 
approve of the plan of a physical society considered as an in- 
strument for the improvement of natural knowledge. If it is 
to publish papers on physical subjects which would not find 
their place in the transactions of existing societies, or in scientific 
journals, I think the progress towards dissolution will be very 
rapid. But if there is sufficient liveliness and leisure among 
persons interested in experiments to maintain a series of stated 
meetings to show experiments, and talk about them as some of 
the Ray Club do here, then I wish them all joy ; only the 
manners and customs of London, and the distances at which 
people live from any convenient centre, are very much against 
the vitality of such sociability. 

To make the meeting a dinner supplies that solid ground to 
which the formers of societies must trust if they would build 
for aye. A dinuer has the advantage over mere scientific com- 
munications, that it can always be had when certain conditions 
are satisfied, and that no one can doubt its existence. On the 
other liand, it completely excludes any scientific matter which 
cannot be expressed in the form of conversation with your two 
chance neighbours, or else by a formal speech on your legs ; and 
during its whole continuance it reduces the Society to the form 
of a closed curve, the elements of which are incapable of chang- 
ing their relative position. 

For the evolution of science by societies the main requisite 
is the perfect freedom of communication between each member 
and any one of the others who may act as a reagent. 

The gaseous condition is exemplified in the soiree, where the 
members rush about confusedly, and the only communication is 
during a collision, which in some instances may be prolonged 
by button-holing. 

The opposite condition, the crystalline, is shown in the 
lecture, where the members sit in rows, while science flows in 
an uninterrupted stream from a source which we take as the 
origin. This is radiation of science. 

Conduction takes place along the series of members seated 
round a dinner table, and fixed there for several hours, with 
flowers in the middle to prevent any cross currents. 


The condition most favourable to life is an intermediate 
plastic or colloidal condition, wliere the order of business is (1) 
Greetings and confused talk ; (2) A short communication from 
one who has something to say and to show ; (3) Remarks on 
the communication addressed to the Chair, introducing matters 
irrelevant to the communication but interesting to the members ; 
(4) This lets each member see who is interested in his special 
hobby, and who is likely to help him ; and leads to (5) Confused 
conversation and examination of objects on the table. 

I have not indicated how this programme is to be combined 
with eating. It is more easily carried out in a small town than 
in London, and more easily in Faraday's young days (see his life 
by B. Jones) than now. It might answer in some London 
district where there happen to be several clubbable senior men 
who could attract the juniors from a distance. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

GlenlaiVj Dalbeattie, 3d A}:)!-!! 1873. 

The roof of the Devonshire Laboratory is being put on, and 
we hope to have some floors in by May, and the contractors 
cleared out by October. We are busy electing School Boards 
here. The religious difficulty is unknown here. The chief 
party is that which insists on keeping down the rates ; no other 
platform will do. All candidates must show the retrenchment 

The Cambridge Philosophical Society have been entertained 
by Mr. Paley on Solar Myths, Odusseus as the Setting Sun, etc. 
Your Trachinice is rather in that style, but I think Middlemarch 
is not a mere unconscious myth, as the Odyssey was to its 
author, but an elaborately conscious one, in which all the char- 
acters are intended to be astronomical or meteorological. 

Rosamond is evidently the Dawn. By her fascinations she 
draws up into her embrace the rising sun, represented as the 
Healer from one point of view, and the Opener of Mysteries 
from another ; his name, Lyd Gate, being compounded of two 
nouns, both of which signify something which opens, as the 
eye-lids of the morn, and the gates of day. But as the sun-god 
ascends, the same clouds which emblazoned his rising, absorb all 
his beams, and put a stop to the early promise of enlightenment, 
so that he, the ascending sun, disappears from the heavens. 
But the Rosa Munda of the dawn (see Vision of Sin) reappears 

296 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

as tlie Rosa Mundi in the evening, along with her daughters 5 
and $ , in the chariot of the setting sun, who is also a healer, 
but not an enlightener. 

Dorothea, on the other hand, the goddess of gifts, represents 
the other half of the revolution. She is at first attracted by 
and united to the fading glories of the days that are no more, 
but after passing, as the title of the last book expressly tells us, 
" from sunset to sunrise," we find her in union vrith. the pioneer 
of the coming age, the editor. 

Her sister Celia, the Hollow One, represents the vault of the 
midnight sky, and the nothingness of things. 

There is no need to refer to Nicolas Bulstrode, who evidently 
represents the Mithraic mystery, or to the kindly family of 
Gai'th, representing the work of nature under the rays of the 
sun, or to the various clergymen and doctors, who are all planets. 
The whole thing is, and is intended to be, a solar myth from 
beginning to end. 

To Mrs. Maxwell. 

December 1S73. 
I am always with you in spirit, but there is One who is 
nearer to you and to me than we ever can be to each other, and 
it is only through Him and in Him that we can ever really get 
to know each other. Let us try to realise the great mystery in 
Ephesians v., and then we shall, be in our right position with 
respect to the world outside, the men and women whom Christ 
came to save from their sins. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

11 Scroope Terrace^ 
Cambridge, 26th February 1874- 

Jackson has sent me a MS. of yours about the mechanism of 
the heavens. 1 After the interpretation of etAAo/xevT^v, about 
which Greek appears to meet Greek as to whether it expresses 
motion or only configuration, the main point seems to be, What 
is the motion and function of tov 8ta iravros ttoAov 1 

(a) Is it in one piece with the sphere of the stars 1 ot (fi) 
with that of the sun ? or {y) is it fixed in the earth ? 

It is evidently a good stout axle, not a mere geometrical line, 
and it has some stiff" work to do. 

1 See the Cairibridge Jourrud of Philology ^ vol. v., No. 10, pp. 206, foil. 


What is this work ? 

If the earth is fixed, and the great shaft has its bearings in a 
hole in the earth, then she (the earth) may, in virtue of her 
dignity and office, cause the axle to revolve, carrying with it 
the stars according to a, or the sun according to /3. Thus the 
earth may be the cause of the motion of the Same without 
moving herself, as a spinster is the cause of the whirling of the 
spindle, though she does not herself pirouette. 

Or we may suppose the earth to act as one who twirls an 
expanded umbrella over his head about its stick as an axis, the 
holes in the same representing the stars. The objection to this 
view (which seems to me to be Jowett's) is, that in stating the 
relation between the earth and the axis, the earth is said to be 
related to the axis (packed or whiiiing as the case may be), and 
not the axis to the earth. Now, I suppose that wdthout all 
contradiction the less is related to the better. Here the earth 
is like a ball of clay packed round a graft on the branch of a 
tree, rather than like a field in which, by means of a rotatory 
boring tool, men bore for water. 

But the business of the earth is not so much to keep the 
stars in motion as to effect the changes of night and day. This 
she may do either by rotating herself from W. to E., or by con- 
trolling the motion of the sun by the help of the great shaft. 

Now, if you always observe at the same time of night (a 
common practice), you find the eastern stars higher every day, 
and the western lower. All have the same motion, which carries 
them round from E. to W. in a year. 

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, in spite of their wanderings, go 
on the whole in the same direction, but slower. Yenus and 
Mercury oscillate about the sun, and the moon goes the opposite 
way — from W. to E. 

That this way of viewing the matter was really prevalent at 
one time is plain, from the expression the rising of such a star 
to denote not a time of night but a time of year. It means 
either (1) the day when the star rises, just before it is lost in 
the brightness of the sun who follows it, or (2) the day when 
the star is rising, when it just becomes visible after sunset. 

Virgil, who speaks of stars rising, evidently had no practical 
knowledge of what he meant. Plato, if he sometimes gets hazy, 
is far clearer than Virgil. Grote would place him far below 
Mr. Jellinger Symons, who denied the rotation of the moon, 
because Grote makes Plato say that both the heavens and the 

298 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

eartli rotate both in the same direction and with the same 
angular velocity. 

I think I understand you to make Plato make the earth sit 
still and preside over the heavenly motions, and so become the 
artificer of day and night, like a policeman who swings his bull's- 
eye round to his back. But his words are capable of being 
used by the movers of the earth, as Milton says, 

If earth, industrious of herself, fetch day 
Travelling east. 

I hope you will let me know whether I have not misunder- 
stood both you, Plato, and the Truth. I have never thanked 
you for your (Edipus, etc., which I have enjoyed. But at 
present I am all day at the Laboratory, which is emerging 
from chaos, but is not yet cleared of gas-men, who are the 
laziest and most permanent of all the gods who have been 
hatched under heaven. ^ 

Mrs. Maxwell joins me in kind regards to Mrs. Campbell 
and yourself. — Your afft. friend. 

To W. Garnett, Esq. 

Glenlair, 8th July 1874' 
... In the MS. he [Cavendish] appears to be familiar with 
the theory of divided currents, and also of conductors in series, 
but some reference to his printed paper [on the Torpedo] is 
required to throw light on what he says. He made a most 
extensive series of experiments on the conductivity of saline 
solutions in tubes compared with wires of different metals, and 
it seems as if more marks were wanted for hini if he cut out 
G. S. Ohm long before constant currents were invented. His 
measurements of capacity will give us some work at the Caven- 
dish Lab., before we work up to the point where he left it. 
His only defect is not having Thomson's electrometer. He 
found out inductive capacity of glass, resin, wax, etc. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 26th Septemher 1874" 
^t. 43. Yours of the 29th instant is to hand. Whether your 

^ Alluding to the passage of Plato's Timceios, p. 40, which had given 
rise to the previous discussion. 


devotion to Michael Angelo has urged you to anticipate his day, 
or whether Time gallops with those who sit to view Necessity, 
with her weary pund o' tow massed round her rock, being all 
the remains of the stane o' lint with which she was originally 
endowed, those who may be set to construe this sentence will 
be apt to lose much time. 

With regard to atoms, I am preparing a hash of them for 
Baynes of the Britannica. The easiest way of showing what 
atoms can't do is to get some sort of notion of what they can 
do. If atoms are finite in number, each of them being of a 
certain weight, then it becomes impossible that the germ from 
which a man is developed should contain (actually, of course, 
not potentially, for potentiality is nonsense in materialism un- 
less it is expressed as configuration and motion) gemmules of 
everything which the man is to inherit, and by which he is 
difi'erentiated from other animals and men, — his father's temper, 
his mother's memory, his grandfather's way of blowing his nose, 
his arboreal ancestor's arrangement of hair on his arms, and his 
more remote littoral ancestor's devotion to the tide-swaying moon. 
Francis Galton, whose mission it seems to be to ride other men's 
hobbies to death, has invented the felicitous expression " struct- 
ureless germs." Now, if a germ, or anything else, contains in 
itself a power of development into some distinct thing, and if 
this power is purely physical, arising from the configuration 
and motion of parts of the germ, it is nonsense to call it struct- 
ureless because the microscope does not show the structure ; 
the germ of a rat must contain more separable parts and organs 
than there are drops in the sea. But if Ave are sure that there 
are not more than a few million molecules in it, each molecule 
being composed of component molecules, identical with those of 
carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc., there is no room left 
for the sort of structure which is required for pangenesis on 
purely physical principles. Again, suppose that a great many 
individual atoms take part in a disturbance in my brain, to 
whom does this signify anything ? As for the atoms, they have 
been in far worse rows before they become naturalised in my 
brain, but they forget the days before, etc.^ At any rate the 
atoms are a very tough lot, and can stand a great deal of knock- 
ing about, and it is strange to find a number of them combining 
to form a man of feeling. 

^ Tennyson's In Memoii,am, xliii. 

300 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

In your letter you apply the word imponderable to a mole- 
cule. Don't do that again. It may also be worth knowing that 
the aether cannot be molecular. If it were, it would be a gas, 
and a pint of it would have the same properties as regards heat, 
etc., as a pint of air, except that it would not be so heavy. 

Under what form (right or light) can an atom be imagined ? 
Bezonian ! speak or die ! Now I must go to post with two 
dogs in the rain. — Your afft. friend. 

To THE Same. 

11 Scroope Terrace, 
Cambridge, 4^h March 1876. 

jEt. 44. Aias arrived here about a week ago. I read him with 

pleasure. He recalled the year 1851, when I got him up. 
The outline of the play seems very bare and unpromising com- 
pared with some others, but this is relieved by other features 
which are not in the "argument," as e.g. the loyalty of the 
chorus and of Tecmessa to Aias under all circumstances (for the 
chorus in general veers about, and backs occasionally, according 
as the wind blows or the cat jumps). This contrasts favourably 
with the character of Athena, who is but so so, only not so 
comic as the Atreidae. 

But why do Ulysses and Aias not name each other in the 
same language 1 I suppose the last syllable of Odysseus, pro- 
nounced Anglic^, is somewhat unpleasant in verse, and Ajax, 
though familiarised by Pope, has lost the interjectional sound 
of your hero's name. 

Two Aberdonians, Chrystal and Mollison, are working at the 
Cavendish Laboratory. I think Chrystal's work is of a kind 
not comparable with that done in "a third-class German uni- 
versity," which was the charitable hope of Nature as to what 
we might aspire to in ten years' time. He has worked steadily 
at the testing of Ohm's Law since October, and Ohm has come 
out triumphant, though in some experiments the wire was kept 
bright red-hot by the current. — Your afft. friend. 

From the Right Rev. C. J. Ellicott, D.D., Lord Bishop 

of Gloucester and Bristol. 

Palace, Gloucester, ^Ist Nov. 1876. 
My dear Sir — Will you kindly pardon a great liberty ? I 


have quoted in a forthcoming charge a remarkable expression of 
yours that atoms are "manufactured articles." Could you in 
your kindness give me the proper title and reference to the 
paper and the page 1 I am now, alas, far from libraries, and 
have, in matters scientific especially, to ask the aid of others. 
Will you excuse me asking this further question ? 

Are you, as a scientific man, able to accept the statement 
that is often made on the theological side, viz., that the creation 
of the sun posterior to light involves no serious difficulty, — the 
creation of light being the establishment of the primal vibra- 
tions, generally ; the creation of the sun, the primal formation 
of an origin, whence vibrations would be propagated earthward ? 

My own mind, — far from a scientific one, — is not clear on this 
point. I surmise, then, that the scientific mind might not only 
not be clear as to the explanation, but equitably bound to say 
that it was no explanation at all. Excuse the trouble I am 
giving you, for the truth's sake, and believe me, very faithfully 
yours, C. J, Gloucester and Bristol. 

Maxwell replied as follows by return of post : — 

11 Scroope Terrace, Cambridge, 
22cl Nov. 1876. 

My Lord Bishop — The comparison of atoms or of molecules 
to " manufactured articles," was originally made by Sir J. F. D. 
Herschel in his " Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural 
Philosophy," Art. 28, p. 38 (ed. 1851, Longmans). 

I send you by book post several papers in which I have 
directed attention to certain kinds of equality among all mole- 
cules of the same substance, and to the bearing of this fact on 
speculations as to their origin. 

The comparison to " manufactured articles " was criticised 
(I think in a letter to Nature) by Mr. C. J. Monro [Nature, x. 
481, 15th October 1874], and the latter part of the Encijc. Brit., 
Article *' Atom," is intended to meet this criticism, which points 
out that in some cases the uniformity among manufactured 
articles is evidence of want of power in the manufacturer to 
adapt each article to its special use. 

What I thought of was not so much that uniformity of result 
which is due to uniformity in the process of formation, as a 
uniformity intended and accomplished by the same wisdom and 

302 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

power of which uniformity, accuracy, symmetry, consistency, 
and continuity of plan are as important attributes as the con- 
trivance of the special utility of each individual thing. 

With respect to your second question, there is a statement 
printed in most commentaries that the fact of light being created 
before the sun is in striking agreement with the last results of 
science (I quote from memory). 

I have often wished to ascertain the date of the original 
appearance of this statement, as this would be the only way of 
finding what " last result of science " it referred to. It is 
certainly older than the time when any notions of the undula- 
tory theory became prevalent among men of science or com- 

If it were necessary to provide an interpretation of the text 
in accordance with the science of 1876 (which may not agree 
with that of 1896), it would be very tempting to say that the 
light of tlie first day means the all-embracing aether, the vehicle 
of radiation, and not actual light, ^^'hether from the sun or from 
any other source. But I cannot suppose that this was the very 
idea meant to be conveyed by the original author of the book 
to those for whom he was writing. He tells us of a previous 
darkness. Both light and darkness imply a being who can see 
if there is light, but not if it is dark, and the words are always 
understood so. That light and darkness are terms relative to 
the creature only is recognised in Ps. cxxxix. 12. 

As a mere matter of conjectural cosmogony, however, we 
naturally suppose those things most primeval which we find 
least subject to change. 

Now the aether or material substance which fills all the 
interspace between world and world, without a gap or flaw of 
'i ()o\}oo ^^^^ anywhere, and which probably penetrates through 
all grosser matters, is the largest, most uniform, and apparently 
most permanent object we knoAv, and we are therefore inclined 
to suppose that it existed before the formation of the systems of 
gross matter which now exist within it, just as we suppose the 
sea older than the individual fishes in it. 

But I should be very son*y if an interpretation founded on 
a most conjectural scientific hypothesis were to get fastened to 
the text in Genesis, even if by so doing it got rid of the old 
statement of the commentators which has long ceased to be 
intelligible. The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is 
naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, 


so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, 
it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it 
ought to be buried and forgotten. 

At the same time I think that each individual man should 
do all he can to impress his own mind with the extent, the 
order, and the unity of the universe, and should carry these 
ideas with him as he reads such passages as the 1st Cliap. of 
the Ep. to Colossians (see Lightfoot on Colossians, p. 182), just 
as enlarged conceptions of the extent and unity of the world of 
life may be of service to us in reading Psalm viii. ; Heb. ii. 6, 
etc. Believe me, yours faithfully, 

J. Clerk Maxwell. 

From the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. 

Palace, Gloucester, 

24th Nov. 1876. 

Dear Professor Clerk Maxwell — Allow me not to lose 
a post in thanking you most warmly for your most kind letter 
and for the packet of pamphlets, — for which I hardly know 
how enough to express my gratitude. They are exactly what I 
needed, — yet I fear I may be taking from your stock more than 
I ought to take. I have already read a good deal of the Encyc. 
Brit, article on atoms ; so pray, if you are short of copies, don't 
hesitate to drop me a line. The paper on attraction was also most 
welcome. I am ashamed to own (for bishops should not enter 
into these pleasures) that I have of late been speculating a good 
deal on the physical explanation of gravitation. I seem to feel 
it must be in the Ether, — and yet how, I see not. In the case 
of a body near the earth, I can conceive a vast amount of elastic 
ether behind it, and possibly urging it on, while a small quan- 
tity is under it, being excluded by the earth. 

I seem also to see how this might be applied to the case of 
the hea\^ bodies that fell nearer to the steep side of Schehallion 
than they ought to have done by calculation ; but then, when 
I attempt to go further, I find the theory break down. 

It seems to me that we want for several things, e.g. light, 
the conception of an ether-beach all round the visible universe 
from which waves might be reflexively started, and at which 
the particles might be more closely packed ; but then again I 
see not what it is that keeps up the beach. 

But I am really ashamed of troubling you, a scientific man, 

304 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

with such wanderings. It will only show that your kindness is 
thoroughly appreciated. 

I cordially agree with you as to the light question. Theo- 
logians are a great deal too fond of using up the last scientific 
hypothesis they can get hold of. The Christian Knowledge 
Society are publishing my charge. When it is published I 
shall ask you to do me the favour to accept a copy. You will 
then see that the best note in the little volume is due to your 
kindness and aid. I remain, with all good wishes, and sincere 
thanks, very faithfully yours, 

C. J. Gloucester and Bristol. 

(P.S.) — If you are in London in the spring and near the 
Athenaeum, do me the kindness of looking in on me, as I shall 
be very glad to make your personal acquaintance. I am com- 
monly in town regularly after Easter. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, Christmas 1876. 

... I hope that when this severe weather is past you will 
^t. 45. be able to derive benefit from a moderate use of Plato and 

We intended to have gone round by Edinburgh to pay 
Aunt Jane a visit ; but we both had such bad colds that we 
came home to nurse them, and are now snowed up, and enjoy- 
ing the artificial heat of coals, peats, and sticks, judiciously 

The demonstrator at the Cavendish Laboratory has been out 
of sorts all this term, and has had to go home about a month 
ago, so we have not been in full force there. I hope he will be 
well in February, to absorb the energy of the new B.A.'s set 
free from the Tripos and its attendant anxieties. 

As we get richer in apparatus, mathematical lectures give 
way to experimental, and the black board to the lamp and 
scale. I have had a pupil quite innocent of mathematics who 
has learned to measure focal lengths of lenses, and has found 
the electro-motive force from the water-pipes to the gas-pipes, 
and from either set of pipes to the lightning-conductor. 

I have been making a mechanical model of an induction coil, 
in which the primary and secondary currents are represented by 
the motion of wheels, and in. which I can symbolise all the 


effects of putting in more or less of the iron core, or more or 
less resistance and Ley den jars in either circuit. 

I have also been making a clay model of Prof. W. Gibb's 
thermodynamic surface, representing the relations of the solid, 
liquid and gaseous states, and the different paths by which a 
body may get from the one to the other. — Your afft. friend, 

J. Clerk Maxwell. 

To W. Garnett, Esq. 

Glenlair, 4i^i Jamcary 1877. 
By all means take the Groves and coils for your lecture. 
Are you aware that the electric flash is entirely due to the 
resinous particles of electricity ? This is well known on the 
stage, where they blow the particles through a tube over a candle 
to make stage lightning. The vitreous electricity has nothing to 
do with it, as you may prove by using pounded glass. 

In a letter to Mr. Garnett, dated Glenlair, 9th July 
1877, Professor Maxwell gave the following suggestions 
respecting a projected article on Dynamics, and the letter, 
like those which follow it, is a good illustration of the help 
he was constantly rendering to his students and others who 
asked his advice : — 

I think it a pity that the old historical word Dynamics 
should, for mere considerations of time, be split up into Kin- 
ematics, Kinetics, and Statics. With respect to the divisions of 
the subject, I think they fall thus : — 

1. Early attempts at founding the science, ancient Kinematics 
(mechanical description of curves, etc.) generally correct. 

Ancient Statics. — Archimedes. 

Modern Dynamics. — Galileo, first founder. Descartes, good 
up to Kinematics and Statics, failed in Kinetics. 

Promoters — 

Wren, Wallis, Huyghens, Hooke. 

Laws of collision established, and motion in a circle. 


306 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 


Three laws of motion. Form suggested by the laws of 
Descartes. Meaning established by Newton's own copious and 
complete examples of using them. 

Second statement of Newton's third Law. 

My notions on the three laws are in " Matter and Motion." 


Cambridge School. Popularisers. Scotch School. 

Roger Cotes. D. Gregory. Colin Maclaurin.^ 

Robert Smith, etc. Desaguliers. James Gregory. 

Attwood. Mme. du Chatelet J. Playfair. 

Whewell. and Voltaire. Ivory. 

Leibnitz and the Vis Viva Controversy. 

Methods of dealing with connected systems. 

Example of correct methods by Newton and others before 

D'Alembert's enunciation, — Its historical importance. 

Euler. The Bernoullis, etc. Laplace, the flower of this 
stage of develo]Dment. 
' Lagrange and Virtual Velocity. 

This is the germ of the method of energy which was fully 
developed in mathematical form in the Mecanique Analytique, 
but very little appreciated outside the inner circle of mathe- 
maticians till the physical theory of energy became generally 

Mathematical development of higher dynamics. (See Cayley's 
Brit. Ass. Report, 1857 and 1862 ? specially Hamilton and Jacobi.) 

Effect of T and T' since 1867. 

Kirchoff's notions in beginning of Vorlesungen (not equal to 
Lagrange, but worth noticing). 

I also think that Clausius's equation and definition of " Virial" 
is important. 

The dynamics of other varieties of space than our own re- 
quires very brief notice indeed. — Yours truly, 

J. Clerk Maxwell. 

^ Introduces M -—^ = X, etc. See Maclaurin's Fluxions. 


To W. Garnett, Esq. 

Glenlairj Dalbeattie^ 24th July 1877. 

. . , There is a great slur over the word mechanics since a 
few poets and biologists have misused it. Pratt thought it a 
fine word. 

The result of motion without reference to time I call Dis- 
placement. Kinematics must involve the idea of time if it 
treats of continuous displacements, velocities, and accelerations, 
though it does not contain within itself materials for comparing 
different intervals of time. For this we must go to the science 
which deals with matter ; call it Kinetics, Dynamics, or 

But I consider that Statics also deserves a place on the same 
level as Kinematics, as it deals with the equivalence of different 
systems of forces. But I do not agree with Whewell that Statics 
is more elementary than Kinematics. 

• • « 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair, 11th August 1877. 

Your experiments on electrified paraffin oil are excellent, and 
may lead to increase of knowledge. 

If the fluid dielectric and also the air are perfect insulators, 
nothing can get electrified, but the equation at the surface, 
instead of being P = Pq, \^dll be 

= Po 

(excluding capillary action) where -j- is the resultant electric 

force normal to the surface and just outside it. This causes the 
surface to rise wherever the normal force is great, or close to 
the electrodes. 

The science of displacements is in Euc. I. 4, etc., and wher- 
ever one figure is placed upon another. It belongs to the 
method of contemplating the relations of two figures which may 
be supposed to co-exist, though we may also suppose that they 
are copies of the same figure in different positions. 

But just as we assume that distance is a continuous quantity 

308 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

capable of measiirement, thougli all our attempts at measurement 
are made with instruments made of non-rigid and discontinuous 
matter, so we may assume that time is a continuously flowing 
quantity capable of measurement, though we have not yet foun^ 
out any accurate method of comparing distant intervals of, 

Now Kinematics requires no more than this notion of time, 
as the common independent variable t. If we suppose that r 
is that (unknown) which flows uniformly, then for kinematical 
purposes it is enough that ^ is a function of r ; but when we 

come to Kinetics proper we must have -r—^ very small. 

Have you read Julius in Nature, about the beginning of 
June ? [14th June]. 

The most constant things we know are the properties of 
bodies. For instance, water in equilibrium with ice and vapour 
gives us a good deal. 


I. A unit of density (not the orthodox one) ^ = D. 


II. A unit of pressure (too small for practical use) =r=-o = ?• 


III. A unit of time (namely, the time of revolution of a 
satellite just grazing a sphere of water) = T. 

These three quantities being independent of each other give 
M, L, and T. 

P P 

-^ gives a (velocity )2 which could also be got from the — 

of the vapour (a different one). 

Then this gives also a standard temperature ; all that we 
want is to get pure water. 

To THE Same. 

Glenlair, 23d August 1877. 

I have been copying Cavendish on the resistance of electro- 
lytes. If there is any one who would try a few of them roughly 
in the U tube, it might be interesting to compare with 
Cavendish's results. For weak solutions Kohlrausch may be 
referred to. 

Watered to 
1 of Salt. 


Saturated sol. 3*78 















Sea Salt {Chloride of Sodium). 

Experiments in January 1781. 

X quantity of Salt. 


Salt in 20,000 conducts about 7 times better tban distilled 

Salt in 69 of water conducts 1-97 times better at 105° F. 
than at 5 8 J". 

If Professor Liveing is in Cambridge could you ask bim to 
put me in tbe way of finding the best book on chemistry for 
the year 1777, so as to obtain the equivalents and the names of 
salts used by Cavendish ? 

The numbers in the first columns are the quantities which 
were equivalent to the " acid " in solution of 1 of salt in 29 of 

3*2 Sal Sylvii (potassium chloride), 
2*3 Sal Amm. (ammonium chloride). 
14-10 Calc. S.S.A. (?) 
2 '21 Calcined Glauber's Salt (sodium sulphate). 
3*17 Quadrangular Nitre (sodium nitrate). 
5^19 Salt D. (?) 
The solutions were 3, 10, 12. 

I am going to try if this is Troy or Apothecaries' weight. 
Saturated solution (1 in 3^78) of common salt has 437,000 
the resistance of iron wire. New distilled water has more 
resistance than distilled water kept a year. 

All these results and many more were got by comparison of 
the strength of shocks taken through Cavendish's body. I 
think this series of experiments is the most wonderful of them 
all, and well worth verification. 

• ••••• 

Cavendish is the first verifier of Ohm's Law, for he finds by 
successive series of experiments that the resistance is as the 

310 JAMES CLERK MAX.WELL. [chap. xi. 

following power of the velocity, I'OS, 1 '03, '980, and concludes 
that it is as the first power. All this by the physiological 

. . . Can you solve the equation 

dz / d?z dH \ dz /d^z o ^^^ \ _ n 9 

dx \dy^ dxdyj dy \dx^ dxdyj 

z— — is a solution. Find the general ditto. 

To Professor Lewis Campbell. 

11 Scroope Terrace, 
Cambridge, 5th January 1878. 

jEt. 46. It is more than a month that I have had your letter lying 

by me. I am glad you like Chrystal. His departure is a great 

loss to the laboratory, as it is diflB.cult to find any one to take 

up heavy work. W. D. Niven (brother of the competitor) is 

going in for a heavy piece of work on conduction of heat in 

gases. I am no judge of Greek plays, but I think that your 

success in choruses is fully equal to that in dialogue, considering 

the greater difliculty, not only in the interpretation but ia 

guessing the kind of effect, musical, rhythmical, rhetorical, 

poetical, and -pictorial, which was aimed at in the delivery of 

the chorus. 

We have all been conversing on the telephone. Gamett 

recognised the voice of a man who called by chance. But the 

phonograph will preserve to posterity the voices of our best 

speakers and singers. See Nature of Jan. 3d. 

To W. Garnett, Esq. 

Glenlair, 20th September 1878. 
. . . Cavendish would speak of the pressure of a voltaic 
battery (only he hadn't one), but we require to be educated up 
to his mark. 

To the Librarian op the Eoyal Society. 

Glenlair y Dalbeattie, 23d June 1879. 
Dear Sir — Your information about FF.R.S. has been so 


useful to me that I now ask about Dr. G. Kniglit, F.R.S., 
librarian to the British Museum. 

(1.) Is his name Go wan, Go wen, Gowin, or Godwin, for I 
find all four spellings current ? 

(2.) Who is the author of the paper in Phil. Trans, for 1776 
(near the end of the vol.) describing his great magazines of 
magnets 1 

(3.) Are the magazines [sketch shown] mounted Hke great 
guns still in the possession of the R.S. ? 

(4.) Is the portrait of Gowin Knight, by Benjamin Wilson, 
F.RS., among the pictures of the R. S. 1 

I have got from the Meteorological OlBfice some Cavendish 
MSS. on Magnetism which prompt these inquiries, and also 
this — 

When the R. S. was at Crane Court had it a garden adjoin- 
ing ? Also, where was Crane Court ? 

Henry Cavendish and his father Lord Charles worked together 
at observations of the variation compass and dipping needle in 
the R. S. room and garden. Are the variation compass and 
dipping needle still in the R. S. collection ? 

Cavendish wrote out directions for using the dipping needle 
for Captain Pickersgill, Captain Bayley, Dalrymple. 

Dalrymple, I find from Poggendorff, was hydrographer to 
the H.E.I.C. If Cavendish apportioned his instructions accord- 
ing to the capacity of the recipients, then their capacities would 
be in descending order, Dalrymple, Pickersgill, Bayley. Were 
any of these F.R.S. ? 

Also, was John Walsh, F.R.S., also M.P. ? 

Do not answer any of these questions which would involve 
trouble, but I have not here any means of answering them 
except by the "aid of those who are among the records of the 
past. None of the questions are of vital importance, because I 
can leave out any statements I have made which are doubtful. 
— Yours very truly, J. Clerk Maxwell. 

Professor Maxwell was frequently invited to join the 
Victoria Institute, and in March 1875 he received a letter 
from the secretary conveying the special invitation of the 
President and Council to join the Society, " among whose 
members are his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, and 
other prelates and leading ministers, several professors of 

512 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xi. 

Dxford and Cambridge and other universities, and many 
[iterary and scientific men." The following is all that has 
been found of a rough draft of his reply : — 

Sir — I do not think it my duty to become a candidate for ^ 
idmission into the Victoria Institute. Among the objects of 
the Society are some of which I think very highly. I think 
naen of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, 
md I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to 
study science that their view of the glory of God may be as 
extensive as their being is capable of. But I think that the 
results which each man arrives at in his attempts to harmonise 
bis science with his Christianity ought not to be regarded as 
daving any significance except to the man himself, and to him 
Duly for a time, and should not receive the stamp of a society. 
For it is of the nature of science, especially of those branches 
jf science which are spreading into unknown regions to be 
continually [here the MS. ends]. 



ILLNESS AND DEATH 1879 iET. 47, 48. 

Aeter his recovery from the attack of erysipelas at Glenlair 
in 1865, Maxwell's health appears to have been fairly good 
until the spring of 1877. He then began to be troubled 
with dyspeptic symptoms, especially with a painful choking 
sensation after taking meat. He consulted no one for 
about two years. But one day in 1877, on coming into 
the Laboratory after his luncheon, he dissolved a crystal 
of carbonate of soda in a small beaker of water, and drank 
it off. A little while after this he said he had found how to 
manage so as to avoid pain. The trouble proved obstinate, 
however, and at last, on the 21st of April 1879, he men- 
tioned it when writing to Dr. Paget about Mrs. Maxwell. 

By this time his friends at^ Cambridge had begun to 
observe a change in his appearance, and some failure of 
the old superabundant energy. They missed the elasticity 
of step, and the well-known sparkle in his eye. During 
the Easter Term of 1879 he attended the Laboratory daily, 
but only stayed a very short time. At the end of the 
term he remarked that he had been unable to do much 
more than to give his lectures. And before leaving Cam- 
bridge for the vacation he was more than once very 
seriously unwell. 

In June he returned, as usual, to Glenlair. His letters 
continued to be marked by humorous cheerfulness, and, as 
was always the case, contained information about every- 
thing and everybody except himself. He was still 
unwearied in his exertions for those to whom his services 
could be of use. But some casual remarks gave cause for 


3U JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

apprehension that he was not gaining strength, and after 
he had been in Scotland for a few weeks he wrote that 
" he felt like a child, as for some time he had been allowed 
no food but milk." By and by the reports were more 
encouraging, and in September, according to appointment, 
Mr. and Mrs. Garnett were received at Glenlair. On 
Maxwell's coming out of the house to welcome them, Mr. 
Garnett saw a great change in him, and was for the first 
J time seriously alarmed. 

In the evening, however, the master of the house con- 
ducted family worship as usual for the assembled household. 
And the days passed much ih the same kindly fashion as 
of old, linking the present to the past in ^' natural piety." 
There were the drawings of the oval curves of 1846 ; the 
family scrap-book, with Mrs. Blackburn's water-colour 
sketches from the earliest time ; the Glenlair autograph 
book ; the bagpipes which saved the life of Captain Clerk 
in the Hooghly ; and a host of other treasures which 
Maxwell took delight in showing. He led his guests 
down to the river, and accompanied them a little way 
along its wooded banks, pointing out where the stepping- 
stones used to be, where he bathed when a boy, and 
where the exploit of tub-navigation had been performed. 
This was the longest walk he had taken for some time. 
He was unable to drive with them in the afternoon, because 
he could not bear the shaking of the carriage. 

On the 2d of October 1879, in the midst of great 
weakness and of great pain, he was told by the late Dr. 
Sanders of Edinburgh, who had been summoned to Glenlair, 
that he had not a month to live. From that moment he 
had only one anxiety, the same which had for so long been 
his chief care — to provide for lur comfort, whom he now 
saw that he must leave behind. 

The following letter, probably the last that Maxwell 
penned, was written on the day after Dr. Sanders's visit : — 

Glenlair, Dalbeattie, 3d October 1879. 
Dear Garnett — ^We were glad to hear from Mrs. Gramett 


of your arrival in Cambridge. We intend to travel through by 
the Rugby and Bletchley route on Monday the 6th, arriving at 
the Cambridge Station at 10 p.m. If Pullin is well enough, 
please tell him to get a fly from Curwain (or if not, from some 
one else), and so be ready to help us. 

I have had some relief from some of the things which 
troubled me, so I am not in such pain ; but, on the whole, I 
am getting weaker, and we had Dr. Sanders from Edinburgh 
on "Wednesday, who recommended us to go to Cambridge as 
soon as we could. So we mean to come on Monday ; but if we 
have to change I will write or telegraph to Pullin at the 
Laboratory, as I do not know where you are between the nest 
and the rookery.^ I address this to the rookery. 

Mrs. Maxwell has done wonderfully since I have been so 
much laid up, but she will be very tired when she gets to 
Cambridge, and I shall not be much better. — Yours very truly, 

J. Clerk Maxwell. 

He returned to Cambridge ] but he was so weak as to 
be hardly able to walk from the train to a carriage. Under 
the diligent care of Dr. Paget his most painful symptoms 
were considerably relieved, and his friends began to enter- 
tain fond hopes of his recovery. But his strength gradually 
failed, and at length it was evident to all that the disease 
could not be stayed. 

During the last few weeks his sufferings were very 
great, but he seldom mentioned them; and, apart from 
his anxiety for others, his mind w^as absolutely calm. The 
one thought which weighed upon him, and to which he 
constantly referred, was for the future welfare and comfort 
of Mrs. Maxwell. During the whole period of their 
married life (twenty-one years) his ever-present watchfulness 
and sympathy had supported her even in the smallest 
domestic concerns ] his knowledge, his constructiveness, his 
dexterity of hand, had been ever ready to minister to her 
slightest need, — and now, unable to nurse him as of old, she 
seemed more than ever dependent on his care. To the last, 
he regularly gave the orders that were necessary for her 
comfort, and endeavoured to see that they were carried out. 

1 i.e. Home and College. 

316 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

When too weak to dwell on those scientific inquiries 
which had been the work of his life, his mind continued 
active about many of his favourite studies. He remarked 
one day that he had been wondering why the lines in 
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, about the harmony that 
is in mortal souls (repeating the whole passage) should 
have been put in the mouth of such a frivolous person as 
Lorenzo. At another time, when continuous conversation 
had become impossible, and he had been lying for some 
time with closed eyes, he looked up and repeated the 
verse, ''Every good gift and every perfect gift is from 
above," etc., and then added — " Do you know that that is 

a hexameter 1 Traxra Socrts dyaO-q Kul TTav Btjp-q/jxi. reAetov. 

I wonder who composed it ? '' He frequently quoted 
Eichard Baxter's hymn — 

" Lord, it belongs not to my care, 
Whether I die or live ; 
To love and serve Thee is my share, 
And that Thy grace must give," etc. 

On the Saturday preceding his death he received the 
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper from Dr. Guillemard, 
and it was while Dr. G. was putting on his surplice 
that Maxwell repeated to him George Herbert's lines 
on the priest's vestments, entitled Aaron} Maxwell's 

^ Aaron. 

Holiness on the head. 

Light and perfections on the breast, 
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead 

To lead them nnto life and rest : 

Thus are true Aaron8,dre8t 

Profaneness in my head. 

Defects and darkness in my breast, 
A noise of passions ringing me for dead 

Unto a place where is no rest : 

Poor priest, thus am I drest. 

Only another head 

I have, another heart and breast, 
Another music, making live, not dead. 

Without whom I could have no rest : 

In Him I am well drest. 


mind and memory remained perfectly clear to the very 

The fortitude with which he bore his sufferings, and 
the calm self-possession with which he met his end, im- 
pressed those most who watched him most narrowly, and 
had the best reason to know the acuteness of his sufferings. 

The end may best be told by those who were nearest to 
him at the time. I have been favoured with the following 
communications : — (1) From Dr. Paget; (2) from the Eev. 
Dr. Gruillemard ; and (3) from his cousin, Mr. Colin 
Mackenzie, who acted the part of a brother at the last, as 
he had done many a time before. 

(1.) Dr. Pagefs Statement. 

In April 18*79 lie began to be troubled with some difficulty 
in swallowing — the first significant symptom of the disease which 
was to prove fatal. The summer he spent at Glenlair. At the 
end of July he consulted Prof. Sanders and Prof. S]Dence of 
Edinburgh, and while at Glenlair was attended by Dr. Lorraine 
of Castle-Douglas. But he grew worse, and at the end of Sep- 
tember Prof. Sanders was summoned to him from Edinburgh. 
He was then suffering from attacks of violent pain, had be- 
come dropsical, and his strength was rapidly failing. At Glen- 
lair he was seven miles from Dr. Lorraine. It was therefore 
decided to remove him to Edinburgh or Cambridge. He chose 
Cambridge, and arrived there on October 8, accompanied by 
Mrs. Maxwell, and attended during the journey by Dr. Ei chard 

In Cambridge his more severe sufferings were gradually in 
great measure relieved, but the disease continued its progress. 

Christ is my only head, 

My alone only heart and breast, 
My only music, striking me e'en dead ; 

That to the old man I may rest, 

And be in him new drest. 

So holy in my head, 

Perfect and light in my dear breast, 
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead, 

But lives in me while I do rest), 

Come, people ; Aaron's drest. 

318 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xir. 

It was tlie disease of which his mother had died at the 
same age. 

As he had been in health, so was he in sickness and in face 
of death. The calmness of his mind was never once disturbed. 
His sufferings were acute for some days after his return to Cam- 
bridge, and, even after their mitigation, were still of a kind to 
try severely any ordinary patience and fortitude. But they were 
never spoken of by him in a complaining tone. In the midst of 
them his thoughts and consideration Avere rather for others than 
for himself. 

Neither did the approach of death disturb his habitual com- 
posure. Before leaving Glenlair he had learnt from Prof. 
Sanders that he had not more than about a month to live. A 
few days before his death he asked me (Dr. Paget) how much 
longer he could last. The inquiry was made with the most 
perfect calmness. He wished to live until the expected arrival 
from Edinburgh of his friend and relative Mr. Colin Mackenzie. 
His only anxiety seemed to be about his wife, whose health had 
for a few years been delicate, and had recently become worse. 
He had been to her for some time the most tender and assiduous 
of nurses. An hour only before his death, when, through ex- 
treme bodily weakness, his voice was reduced to a whisper so 
feeble that it could be heard only when the ear was held close to 
his mouth, the words whispered to Dr. Paget related not to 
himself but to Mrs. Maxwell. 

His intellect also remained clear and apparently unimpaired 
to the last. While his bodily strength was ebbing away to death, 
his mind never once wandered or wavered, but remained clear to 
the very end. No man ever met death more consciously or 
more calmly. ^ 

On November 5 he gently passed away. 

1 Dr. J. W. Lorraine of Castle-Douglas, in a letter addressed to Dr. 
Paget, and dated 5tli October 1879, remarks as follows concerning his 
patient : — ''I must say he is one of the best men I have ever met, and a 
greater merit than his scientific attainments is his being, so far as human 
judgment can discern, a most perfect example of a Christian gentleman." 
This remark, Dr. Paget observes, '*is a very unusual one in a letter from 
one physician to another." Dr. Paget also says in writing to Mr. Gamett : 
' ' There is a deep interest in the fact of how such a man as Maxwell met 
the trials of sickness and the approach of death. They are severe tests 
of amiability and unselfishness, and of the genuineness of religious convic- 
tions. It is something to say of a man that his unselfishness and 
composure remained undisturbed, and it is interesting physiologically and 

CHAP. XII.] OCTOBER, 1879. 319 

Dr. Paget' s report of Maxwell's composure throughout 
his illness is very strikingly confirmed by his letter to that 
physician, dated October 3, which is too confidential to be 
inserted here, but consists of a simple unadorned description 
of the facts of the case, and a request for aid which he knew 
would be forthcoming. A stranger, in reading that letter, 
would never divine, and indeed might find it hard to be- 
lieve, that on the previous day (Oct. 2) the writer had been 
told by medical authority that he had only a month to live. 
Yet such is the fact. The words "for I am really very 
helpless," however touching as a description of his condition, 
are merely the statement of a reason why some one should 
be got " officially to help " Maxwell himself, but really and 
chiefly to do for Mrs. Maxwell what he had done so long as 
he had any strength in him. Students of history may per- 
haps recall Nicias's letter to the Athenians : — " You should 
also send a general to succeed me, for I have a disease, and 
cannot remain ;"^ but the words of the unfortunate general, 
" I claim your indulgence," ^ though dignified enough, are 
more than Maxwell would have written. 

(2.) The following letter, addressed to me by the E-ev. 
Dr. Guillemard, of St. Mary's the Less, Cambridge, may be 
left to speak for itself : — 

Cambridge, 19th May 1S81. 

My dear Sir — I shall disappoint you very much in my 
reminiscences of Maxwell. I never was an intimate friend of 
his, though we were alwayg on the very best terms, and met not 
unfrequently, and he was most constant and assiduous in his 
attendance at church, and interested in all church matters. 

But I knew very little about his inner self before I was sum- 
moned to his dying bed ; and he had been brought very low 
physically, before his return to Cambridge, and was unequal to 
much continuous thought or conversation. He welcomed me 
warndy whenever I visited him, joined fervently in all acts of 

psychologically, that in the very extremity of "bodily weakness, when the 
nourishment of the brain must have hecome so reduced, the mind remained 
perfectly clear." Dr. Lorraine's remark on Maxwell's personal character 
expresses the feelings of all, nurses included, that were about Maxwell in 
his last illness. ^ Thuc. 7, 15. - Ibid. 

320 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

prayer, listened "with a most intelligent interest to all I read, 
either out of the Bible (which he knew well-nigh by heart) or 
out of any of our great devotional writers in prose or poetry; 
was especially fond of any new hymns, and frequently capped 
such by reciting from his wonderful memory some parallel pas- 
sages of his favourite old authors, specially George Herbert. 

His faith in the grand cardinal verities was firm, simple, and 
full ; and he avowed it humbly but unhesitatingly, with the 
deepest gratitude for the revelation of the truth in Jesus. I do 
not think he had any doubts or difficulties to cloud his clear 
mind or shake his peace. 

He was calmly and serenely resigned to the will of God, and 
bowed in meek acquiescence before what he believed to be the 
Word of God. 

I never saw a sign of impatience or fretfulness under all his 
long suffering, or heard an approach to a murmur. His one and 
only care was for his wife. It was a grand sight to see him day 
by day girding himself calmly and resolutely for the last struggle, 
and he passed through it undismayed. I wish I had preserved 
any of his last words : they have passed away from my shallow 
memory. — Yours very truly, W. H. Guillemard. 

I am also permitted to insert the following more circum- 
stantial account, which was written by Dr. Guillemard to 
the Rev. Isaac Bowman, Vicar of South Creake, Fakenham, 
Norfolk, on the 9th of December 1879, within five weeks 
after Maxwell's death : — 

He suffered exquisite pain, hardly able to lie still for a 
minute together, sleepless, and with no appetite for the food 
which he so required. 

He understood his position from the first ; knew what it all 
meant, and calmly girded himself for the awful struggle. He 
welcomed me at once as visiting him, not only as a friend, but 
as the Parish Priest come to assist him and to minister to bim, 
and spoke of our relations with a grave, simple cheerfuLuess. 
You know the lightheartedness of the man in ordinary times ; 
and really it abode on him throughout ; he was never downcast 
or overburdened, and yet he was the humblest and most diffident 
of men, with the deepest sense of his own unworthiness, of his 
many short-comings, of his neglected opportunities. "But he 


loved much, and love had cast out fear." I used to go to him 
nearly every day of the five or six weeks he was here, to read 
and pray with him. He preferred the prayers of the Church, 
and asked for them, and by the wonderful power of his memory 
knew them all by heart ; but he gladly joined in other devo- 
tions, and took special delight in sacred poetry, of which I 
generally read him two or three short pieces. 

He knew all our best writers in that line thoroughly : 
Milton, Keble, Newman, Wesley, George Herbert — the latter 
his chief favourite ; and he repeated to me the morning after 
an unusually bad night, the five stanzas of ** Aaron " without 
a mistake. His knowledge of the Bible was remarkable, and 
he constantly asked for his most deeply-prized passages. Four 
days before he was removed from us he received the Holy 
Communion at my hands, with holy, reverent, fervid devotion, 
and said what strength it gave him. 

I saw him only once again ; he was too weak and restless 
and exhausted for much intercourse ; but as I rose from my 
knees he said : — " My dear friend, you have been a true under 
shepherd to me : read me, before you go, the beautiful prayer 
out of the Burial Service, ' Suff'er me not at my last hour ' " — 
and his grasp of my hand, as we parted, told me all he felt. 

I had known but little of his inner self before his illness ; 
he was singularly reticent ; and though we occasionally discussed 
a text critically, we rarely got upon doctrine, or anything that 
touched upon the spiritual life. He was a constant regular 
attendant at church, and seldom, if ever, failed to join in our 
monthly late celebration of Holy Communion, and he was a 
generous contributor to all our parish charitable institutions. 
But his illness drew out the whole heart and soul and spirit of 
the man : his firm and undoubting faith in the Incarnation and 
all its results ; in the full sufi&cing of the Atonement ; in the 
work of the Holy Spirit. He had gauged and fathomed all the 
schemes and systems of philosophy, and had found them utterly 
empty and unsatisfying — "unworkable" was his own word 
about them — and he turned with simple faith to the Gospel of 
the Saviour. 

(3.) Mr. Colin Mackenzie, who is by this time well 
known to the reader, was present at the last. He 
says : — 


322 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

A few minutes before his death, Professor Clerk Maxwell 
was being held up in bed, struggling for breath, when he said 
slowly and distinctly, " God help me ! God help my wife ! '^ he 
then turned to me (Mr. Mackenzie) and said, *' Colin, you are 
strong, lift me up ; " He next said, '^ Lay me down lower, for 
I am very low myself, and it suits me to lie low." After this 
he breathed deeply and slowly, and, with a long look at Ms 
wife, passed away. 

(4.) Another friend who saw him in his last illness, 
the Rev. Professor Hort, has summed up his recollections 
of Maxwell, especially of the graver side of his character, 
in the following letter : — 

From Prof. P. J. A. Hort to Prof. L. Campbell. 

Feb. 4, 1882. 

It is with extreme regret that I find myself powerless to 
comply with your request that I should contribute to your 
Memoir of Professor Maxwell a sketch of his position in reference 
to theology and reli^on. A competent and faithful account of 
Maxwell's inner thoughts during manhood would, for several 
reasons, have been of the highest interest. But his habitual 
reticence as to all that moved him deeply, and my owti bad 
memory, have together left me without the materials needed for 
a task in itself most attractive. Though the impression of rare 
greatness which he left upon me in the fii-st days of our 
acquaintance became stronger and stronger to the end, I have 
little to offer but a few vague and scattered reminisceuces. Such 
as they are, I am thankful to be allowed to send them. 

My earlier recollections of Maxwell are chiefly associated 
with a small society at Cambridge to which we both belonged, 
which used to meet on Saturday evenings for the discussion of 
literary and speculative questions. The aversion to rhetoric 
which he found traditional among its members was much to his 
taste, and he always took an animated and interested part in the 
conversations. Unfortunately his love of speaking in parables, 
combined with a certain obscurity of intonation, rendered it 
often difficult to seize his meaning ; but bright and penetrating 
little sayings, usually whimsical in form, and sometimes accom- 
panied by strange gestures, recurred almost unfailingly at no 


distant intervals. Whether the tone of his mind was much 
affected by his participation in our discussions it is difficult to 
say. During the time that I knew him I can recall no percep- 
tible signs of change other than quiet growth, and suspect that 
he attained too early and too stable a maturity to receive easily 
a new direction from any kind of intercourse with his University 
contemporaries. But it is likely enough that his mind was at 
least invigorated and consolidated by an influence which others 
have found reason to count among the strongest and also on the 
whole most salutary that they have known. The same may 
probably be said of the influence of Mr. Maurice's writings, 
which certainly occupied Maxwell at this time. To what extent 
he was affected by them I do not know ; but the tone in which 
he used to speak of Mr. Maurice leads me to think that they 
must have at least given him considerable aid in the adjustment 
and clearing up of his own beliefs on the highest subjects. 

My intercourse with Maxwell dropped when we both left 
Cambridge. When I returned in 1872, after an absence of 
fifteen years, he had lately been installed at the new Cavendish 
Laboratory, and I had the happiness of looking forward to a 
renewal of friendship with him. I found him, as was natural, 
a graver man than of old ; but as warm of heart and fresh in 
mind as ever. Owing to accidental circumstances on both sides, 
we met seldomer than I had hoped, though certainly there was 
no diminution of cordiality on the part of either. Strangely 
enough, it was again to the meetings of a small society, in 
purpose not unlike the former, that I owe most of my impres- 
sions of Maxwell in these later years. Though he was often 
unable to attend its meetings, and could rarely stay for more 
than an hour, he seemed to find much satisfaction in thus join- 
ing in the discussion of speculative questions with a few friends, 
chiefly middle-aged men, representing among them great diversity 
of studies and no less diversity of opinion. The old peculiarities 
of his manner of speaking remained virtually unchanged. It 
was still no easy matter to read the course of his thoughts 
through the humorous veil which they wove for themselves ; 
and still the obscurity would now and then be lit up by some 
radiant explosion. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy of Maxwell's characteristics was 
his absolute independence of mind, an independence unsullied 
by conceit or consciousness. Preserved by his simplicity and 
humility from any fondness for barren paradox, he endeavoured 

324 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chai'. xii. 

alwaj^s to see things with his own eyes, without regard to the 
points of view assumed on one side or another in ordinary con-. 
troversy : in a word, he was more free from " notionalism " than 
any one whom I have known. The testimony of his unshaken 
faith to Christian truth was, I venture to think, of exceptional 
value on account of his freedom from the mental dualism often 
found in distinguished men who are absorbed chiefly in physical 
inquiries. It would have been alien to his whole nature to 
seclude any province of his beliefs from the free exercise of 
whatever faculties he possessed ; and in his eyes every subject 
had its affinities with the rest of the universal truth. His 
strong sense of the vastness of the world not now accessible to 
human powers, and of the partial nature of all human modes of 
apprehension, seemed to enlarge for him the domain of reason- 
able belief. Thus in later years it was a favourite thought of 
his that the relation of parts to wholes pervades the invisible no 
less than the visible world, and that beneath the individuality 
which accompanies our personal life there lies hidden a deeper 
community of being as well as of feeling and action. But no 
one could be less of a dreamer, or less capable of putting either 
fancies or wishes in the place of sober reality. In mind, as in 
speech, his veracity was thorough and resolute : he carried into 
every thought a perfect fidelity to the divine proverb which 
hung beside yet more sacred verses on the wall of his private 
room, " The lip of truth shall be established for ever." 

During Maxwell's last illness I had the privilege of enjoying 
two conversations with him ; and not long afterwards I put on 
paper a short and desultory record of some of his words. These 
notes contain nothing that might not with propriety be brought 
under other eyes, and therefore I venture to quote them here. 
Most of what passed on these two occasions presented nothing 
worthy of remark, unless it be the cheerful naturalness with 
which Maxwell spoke on all the varied topics that happened 
to come up before us. His thoughts had evidently been mainly 
taking a retrospective direction ; and every interest of life 
seemed to be hallowed and brightened by the probable nearness 
of the Divine summons to a new form of existence. 

He told me briefly the story of his illness ; how he had been 
ailing all the year, but had gone northward after Easter Term 
without apprehending anything worse than transient ill-health. 
He had taken with him Professor Clifford's Lectures and Essays 
which he had been asked to review. He had read them with 


close attention for the purpose, and had then, at some time in 
the summer, prepared to write his criticism. It was a difficult 
and delicate task, he said, for " there were many things in the 
book that wanted trouncing, and yet the trouncing had to be 
done with extreme care and gentleness, Clifford was such a nice 
fellow." As soon as he tried to begin, his brain refused its 
office, and he found himself incapable of composition ; and then 
he knew that his illness had become serious. 

Something, I forget what, led the conversation to the peril- 
ousness of strong religious excitement in early youth, on account 
of the spiritual exhaustion and permanent religious insensibility 
that are apt to follow the dying-out of the original fervour, and 
that derive a plausible justification from the premature and 
fallacious experience. He spoke with thankfulness of his own 
escape from a similar danger. "The ferment," he said, "about 
the Free Church movement had one very bad effect. Quite 
young people were carried away by it ; and when the natural 
reaction came, they ceased to think about religious matters at all, 
and became unable to receive fresh impressions. My father was 
so much afraid of this that he placed me where I should be 
under the influence of Dean Ramsay, knowing him to be a good 
and sensible man. 

" My father was an advocate. This added much to his 
usefulness in the country. He was always fond of inventing 
plans for country houses ; his note-books show that he did this 
as early as when he was twelve years old. He wanted to build 
his house on a scale suited to what he thought he would require 
as sheriff, and had so built a small part of it when he died. We 
afterwards completed it, as far as possible according to his idea, 
but on a much smaller scale. He had wished me to be an 
advocate ; but I never attended law classes, as by that time it 
had already become apparent that my tastes lay in another 
direction. Moreover, he looked up greatly to James Forbes, 
and desired that I should be like him. My father died before 
my marriage, and before I had been actually elected Professor 
at Aberdeen. He had been greatly interested in the sending in 
of offers of application. He much wished me to have a Scottish 
Professorship, that I might have the long vacation free for living 
at home. 

" My interest is always in things rather than in persons. I 
cannot help thinking about the immediate circumstances which 
have brought a thing to pass, rather than about any will setting 

326 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xir. 

them in motion. What is done by what is called myself is, I 
feel, done by something greater than myself in me. My interest 
in things has always made me care much more for theology than 
for anthropology ; states of the will only puzzle me. I cannot 
ascribe so much to a depraved will as some people do, though 
I do to a certain extent believe in it. Much wrong-doing seems 
to be no more than not doing the right thing ; and that finite 
beings should fail in that does not seem to need the supposition 
of a depraved will." On my saying that, though the immediate 
cause of the miseries of the world is oftener folly than wicked- 
ness, yet men's folly can frequently be traced back to past 
misdoing on their part, he warmly assented, and then added in 
a different strain : " They were foolish because they did not ask 
for wisdom, — not, of course, absolute wisdom, but the wisdom 
needed for the moment. 

" I have been thinking how very gently I have been always 
dealt with. I have never had a violent shove in all my life. 

" The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my 
own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep." 

The unexampled impression which his death produced 
at Cambridge was due to other causes besides his scientific 
eminence. Those who lived so near to him, though they 
saw little of him, could not fail to have some feeling of the 
man. Some rumours of his wonderful peacefulness in 
sufi'ering had gone far enough to touch many hearts. And 
it was a deep and widely-spread emotion which found a 
voice that Sunday in St. Mary's Church, through the mouth 
of one who had known him when both were scholars of 
Trinity — the Rev. Dr. Butler, the distinguished headmaster 
of Harrow School : — 

It is a solemn thing — even the least thoughtful is touched 
by it — when a great intellect passes away into the silence, and 
we see it no more. Such a loss, such a void, is present, I feel 
certain, to many here to-day. It is not often, even in this 
great home of thought and knowledge, that so bright a light is 
extinguished as that which is now mourned by many illustrious 
mourners, here chiefly, but also far beyond this place. I shall 
be believed when I say in all simplicity that I wish it had faUen 
to some more competent tongue to put into words those feelings 


of reverent affection which are, I am persuaded, uppermost in 
many hearts on this Sunday, My poor wbrds shall be few, but 
believe me they come from the heart. You know, brethren, 
with what an eager pride we follow the fortunes of those whom 
we have loved and reverenced in our undergraduate days. We 
may see them but seldom, few letters may pass between us, but 
their names are never common names. They never become 
to us only what other men are. When I came up to Trinity 
twenty-eight years ago, James Clerk Maxwell was just beginning 
his second year. His position among us — I speak in the presence 
of many who remember that time — was unique. He was the 
one acknowledged man of genius among the undergraduates. 
We understood even then that, though barely of age, he was in 
his own line of inquiry not a beginner, but a master. His name 
was already a familiar name to men of science. If he lived, it 
was certain that he was one of that small but sacred band to 
whom it would be given to enlarge the bounds of human know- 
ledge. It was a position which might have turned the head of 
a smaller man ; but the friend of whom we were all so proud, 
and who seemed, as it were, to link us thus early with the great 
outside world of the pioneers of knowledge, had one of those 
rich and lavish natures which no prosperity can impoverish, and 
which make faith in goodness easy for others. I have often 
thought that those who never knew the grand old Adam Sedg- 
wick and the then young and ever youthful Clerk Maxwell, 
had yet to learn the largeness and fulness of the moulds in 
which some choice natures are framed. Of the scientific greatness 
of our friend we were most of us unable to judge ; but any one 
could see and admire the boylike glee, the joyous invention, the 
wide reading, the eager thirst for truth, the subtle thought, the 
perfect temper, the unfailing reverence, the singular absence of 
any taint of the breath of worldliness in any of its thousand 

Brethren, you may know such men now among your college 
friends, though there can be but few in any year, or indeed in 
any century, that possess the rare genius of the man whom we 
deplore. If it be so, then, if you will accept the counsel of a 
stranger, thank God for His gift. Believe me when I tell you 
that few such blessings will come to you in later life. There 
are blessings that come once in a lifetime. One of these is the 
reverence with which we look up to greatness and goodness in a 
college friend — above us, beyond us, far out of our mental or 

328 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xir. 

moral grasp, but still one of us, near to us, our own. You know 
in part, at least, how in this case the promise of youth was more 
than fulfilled, and how the man who, but a fortnight ago, was 
the ornament of the University, and — shall I be wrong in saying 
it ? — almost the discoverer of a new world of knowledge, was 
even more loved than he was admired, retaining after twenty 
years of fame that mirth, that simplicity, that childlike delight 
in all that is fresh and wonderful, which we rejoice to think of 
as some of the surest accompaniment of true scientific genius. 

. You know, also, that he was a devout as well as thoughtful 
Christian. I do not note this in the triumphant spirit of a con- 
troversialist. I will not for a moment assume that there is any 
natural opposition between scientific genius and simple Christian 
faith. I will not compare him with others who have had the 
genius without the faith. Christianity, though she thankfully 
welcomes and deeply prizes them, does not need now, any more 
than when St. Paul first preached the Cross at Corinth, the 
speculations of the subtle or the wisdom of the wise. If I wished 
to show men, especially young men, the living force of the 
Gospel, I would take them not so much to a learned and devout 
Christian man, to whom all stores of knowledge were familiar, 
but to some country village, where for fifty years there had been 
devout traditions and devout practice. There they would see 
the gospel lived out ; truths, which other men spoke of, seen and 
known ; a spirit not of this world visibly, hourly present ; 
citizenship in heaven daily assumed, and daily realised. Such 
characters I believe to be the most convincing preachers to those 
who ask whether Eevelation is a fab]e and God an unknowable. 
Yes, in most cases, — not, I admit in all, — simple faith, even 
peradventure more than devout genius, is mighty for removing 
doubts and implanting fresh conviction. But having said this, 
we may well give thanks to God that our friend was what he 
was, a firm Christian believer, and that his powerful mind, after 
ranging at will through the illimitable spaces of Creation, and 
almost handling what he called ^'the foundation stones of the 
material universe," found its true rest and happiness in the love 
and the mercy of Him whom the humblest Christian calls his 
Father. Of such a man it may be truly said that he had his 
citizenship in heaven, and that he looked for, as a Saviour, the 
Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the unnumbered worlds were 
made, and in the likeness of whose image our new and spiritual 
body will be fashioned. 


There was a preliminary funeral ceremony in Trinity 
College Chapel, where the first part of the Burial Service 
was read, in the presence of all the leading members of the 
University. The body was then taken home to Glenlair, 
and buried in Parton Churchyard, the funeral being at- 
tended by numbers of his countrymen from far and near. 

In these reminiscences I have purposely abstained as 
much as possible from comment. But, in concluding this 
biographical narrative, I may be permitted to record a very 
few general observations or impressions. 

The leading note of Maxwell's character is a grand 
simplicity. But in attempting to analyse it we find a com- 
plex of qualities which exist separately in smaller men. 
Extraordinary gentleness is combined with keen penetra- 
tion, wonderful activity with a no less wonderful repose, 
personal humility and modesty with intellectual scorn. 
His deep reserve in common intercourse was commensurate 
with the fulness of his occasional outpourings to those he 
loved. His tenderness for all living things was deep and 
instinctive ; from earliest childhood he could not hurt a fly. 
Not less instinctive was the sense of equality amongst all 
human beings, which underlay the plainness of his address. 
But, on the other hand, his respect for the actual order of 
the world and for the wisdom of the past was at least as 
steadfast as his faith in progress. While fearless in specu- 
lation he was strongly conservative in practice. 

In his intellectual faculties there was also a balance of 
powers which are often opposed. His imagination was in 
the highest sense concrete, grasping the actual reality, and • 
not only the relations of things. No one was ever more 
impatient of mere abstractions.^ Yet few have had so firm 
a hold upon ideas. Once more, while he was continually 
striving to reduce to greater definiteness men's conceptions 
of leading physical laws, he seemed habitually to live in a 
sort of mystical communion with the infinite. 

^ He was particularly indignant at the confusion by some would-lDe 
philosopliers oi facts with laws. 

330 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

His aunt, Mrs. Wedderburn, who had had the care of 
him during so much of his early life, said on the occasion 
of his marriage, "James has lived hitherto at the gate of 

Mr. Colin Mackenzie has repeated to me two sayings of 
his during those last days, which may be repeated here — 
" Old chap, I have read up many queer religions : there is 
nothing like the old thing after all ;" and — " I have looked 
into most philosophical systems, and I have seen that none 
will work without a God." 

'Maxwell's humour, which with many passed for mere 
eccentricity, and to some was the characteristic by which 
he was chiefly known, at least in earlier life, may be passed 
over lightly here. With strangers it was sometimes the 
veil of a sensitiveness which but for this would have made 
him the victim of his immediate surroundings. In confi- 
dential intercourse it was a perpetual fund of delight, the 
vehicle of his exuberant fancy, as it glanced in all directions 
from the immediate topic oi^ discourse. 

It was his way of acknowledging "the grotesque view"^ 
of everything. Like other humourists whom I have known, 
he was never tired of a joke which had once tickled him ; 
only, if retained in employment, it must always be tricked 
out with some new livery, and have some fresh turn given 
to it. As late as the summer of 1879, in writing to Pro- 
fessor Baynes about the article on Harmonic Analysis for 
the EncyclopcBdia Britannica, he repeated in a novel shape 
the well-worn jest ^ about " an Analyser or a Charlatan.'' 
Even on his deathbed at Cambridge, in familiar converse 
with his cousin and friend, Mr. Colin Mackenzie, he still 

1 P. 179. 

2 "In Preparation 

" The Harinonic Anne Eliza 

' * By Charlotte Anne 

"0-001 vol. 4to. 

*'Edin. A. & C. Black.- 

Postmark— " Dalbeattie, July 19/79." 


used the old quaint familiar speech : — " No, not that phial ! 
the little red-headed chap !" 

Nor is it necessary to dwell on the rare freshness of 
feeling which he carried into middle life. The reader of 
his correspondence at any period must feel involuntarily 
that he had "the dew of his youth." 

In thinking of him in college days, I used often to 
associate him in my own mind with Socrates. There is 
one point in the resemblance which I had not then realised, 
the " Socratic strength " of Antisthenes — his extraordinary 
power of moral and physical endurance. — Once at Cam- 
bridge, when his wife was lying ill in her room, and a 
terrier, who had already shown "a wild trick of his 
ancestors," was watching beside the bed, Maxwell happened 
to go in for the purpose of moving her. The dog sprang 
at him and fastened on his nose. In order not to disturb 
Mrs. Maxwell, he went out quietly^ holding his arm be- 
neath the creature, which was still hanging to his face. 

What had struck me, I suppose, in making the above 
comparison, was the eager spirit of inquiry beneath the 
ironical shell. I might have added the union of specula- 
tion with mysticism, and of conservatism with progressive 
thought. But in one essential point, the dialectical cross- 
questioning method, the analogy fails. For Maxwell had 
not spent his youth in the Athenian agora, but in the 
solitudes of Galloway, where he had interrogated Nature 
more than Man. 

In his conversation he might rather be compared with 
the earlier Greek thinkers, " who," says Plato (Soph. 243 B), 
" went on their several ways, without caring whether they 
took us with them or left us behind." The necessity of 
utterance was often stronger with him than the endeavour 
to make himself understood, and he would pour out his 
ideas in simple affectionateness to those who could not 
follow them. His thoughts were often tentative, but his 
expression of them was always dogmatic, even in the nega- 
tive formula " No one knows what is meant by " so and so. 

His indirect, allusive way of speaking was not, however, 
wilfully assumed, but was the result of idiosyncrasy and 


332 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

early habit ] and it disappeared utterly in the presence of 
any great occasion — a great joy, a great sorrow, or a great 
duty. Then his speech resolved itself into statements of 
fact, brief and unemotional, but absolutely simple and 
direct. And latterly, at all events, such were generally 
the characteristics of his style in writing. I have been 
told by Mr. Huddlestone, a late Fellow of King's College, 
Cambridge, that when consulted about a lightning con- 
ductor for King's College Chapel (a building which he 
greatly loved) Maxwell called and made a verbal explana- 
tion which was unintelligible, but in going away he for- 
tunately left a written statement, and this was perfectly clear. 

The Galloway boy was in many ways father to the 
Cambridge man; and even the "ploys" of his childhood 
contained a germ of his life-work. Indeed, it may be said 
that with him, despite the popular adage, ''Work when 
you work," etc., play was always passing into work and 
work into play. In twirling his magic discs his mind was 
already busied about the cause of optical phenomena. He 
plied the devil-on-two-sticks with the same eager industry 
and with the same simple enjoyment with which he after- 
wards spun his dynamical top. And amidst his profoundest 
investigat^ions, whether about the Eings of Saturn or the 
Lines of Force, or the molecular structure of material 
things, the playful spirit of his boyhood was ever ready to 
break forth. Meanwhile, alike beneath the grave and 
sparkling mood, a spirit of deep piety pervaded all he 
did, whether in the most private relations of life, or in his 
position as an appointed teacher and investigator, or in his 
philosophic contemplation of the universe. There is no attri- 
bute from which the thought of him is more inseparable. 

He had keen sympathy with ideal aspirations, together 
with an occasional sense of their fruitlessness. " It's no 
use thinking of the chap ye might have been." When, in 
their early married life, Mrs. Maxwell was oppressed with 
a sense of failure in her first attempts at Cottage-visiting, he 
madeher sit down while he read to her Milton's sonnet ending 
with the line, " They also serve, who only stand and wait." 

He appears in early days to have been conscious of 


some superficial weaknesses, of a certain excitability of 
temperament, leading to " preconscious states " and pre- 
venting him from at once setting himself right in new- 
surroundings ; also of the equal danger of shrinking into 
himself, and "mystifying" those about him. This diffi- 
culty, and many others "within and without," he over- 
came. But it would be too much to say of him that " his 
affections never swayed more than his reason," or that he 
obtained as firm a foothold in practical life as he had by 
birthright in the region of scientific thought. This great 
mass of mind Avas so delicately hung as to be guided some- 
times by a silken thread. Few men, if any, would venture 
to argue or remonstrate with Maxwell when he had decided 
on a course of action in the council-chamber of his- own 
breast. But he could not consciously hurt any creature, 
nor permit the possibility of causing pain to those he 
loved. Nor was his power over others always adequate to 
the keenness of his perceptions. For while his penetration 
often reached the secrets of the heart, his generosity some- 
times overlooked the most obvious characteristics — especi- 
ally in the shape of mean or vulgar motives. 

His liberality, in every sense of the word, was absolute. 
People have be^n disposed to criticise the plainness of his 
entertainments, without knowing that while this was a 
matter of taste, the difference between the plain and the 
luxurious table was uniformly ■ dispensed in charity. He 
has also been supposed by some who think that science 
should disown religion, to have been intolerant as well as 
orthodox. The contrary was true. And, in particular, the 
mutual admiration and regard forgone another of two such 
men as Maxwell and Clifford, notwithstanding their pro- 
found divergence of opinion on subjects of human interest, 
deserves to be quoted as an honourable exception to the 
narrow exclusiveness which has been too prevalent alike 
in the Christian and the anti-Christian world. ^ 

^ About the year 1860 I remember discussing ^vith him J. Macleod 
Campbell's book on the Atonement, which had lately appeared. He 
made some criticisms, which I have forgotten, but I remember the em- 
phatic tone in which he said, "We want light." 

334 JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. [chap. xii. 

He never sought for fame, but with sacred devotion 
continued in mature life the labours which had been his 
spontaneous delight in boyhood. Yet, considering the 
high region in which he worked, he received a large 
measure of recognition even in his lifetime. The Eumford 
Medal, conferred in 1860, was the first of a long list of 
honours, which up to his last year continued to accumulate 
from all parts of the civilised world.^ And some of those 
who had an eye for genius, though their intellectual 
interests lay in different spheres from his, could not forbear 
their testimony. Out of many such expressions it is enough 
to have selected one. Mr. Frederick Pollock in his work 
on Spinoza, having occasion to refer to Maxwell's views 
on matter and space, adds the following note (p. 115) : — 

Clerk Maxwell was living when these lines were written : I 
cannot let them pass through the press without adding a word 
of tribute to a man of profound and original genius, too early 
lost to England and to Science. 

, Great as was the range and depth of Maxwell's powers, 
that which is still more remarkable is the unity of his 
nature and of his life. This unity came not from circum- 
stance, for there were breaks in his outward career, but 
from the native strength of the spirit that was in him. 
In the eyes of those who knew him best, the whole man 
gained in beauty year by year. As son, friend, lover, 
husband; in science, in society, in religion; whether buried 

1 In 1870 Maxwell received the honorary degree of LL.D. in the 
University of Edinburgh; on 11th November 1874 he was elected 
Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 
of Boston ; on 15th October 1875, Member of the American Philosophical 
Society of Philadelphia; on 4th December 1875, Corresponding Member 
of the Royal Society of Sciences of Glittingen ; on 21st June 1876 he 
received the honorary degree of D.C. L. at Oxford; on 5th December 
1876 he was elected Honorary Member of the New York Academy of 
Science ; on 27th April 1877, Member of the Royal Academy of Science 
of Amsterdam ; on 18th August 1877, Foreign Corresponding Member in 
the Mathematico- Natural -Science Class of the Imperial Academy of 
Sciences of Vienna ; and in the spring of 1878 he received the Volta 
Medal and degree of Doctor of Physical Science honoris causd in the 
University of Pavia. 


in retirement or immersed in business — he is absolutely 
single-hearted. This is true of his mental as well as of his 
emotional being, for indeed they were inseparably blended. 
And the fixity of his devotion both to persons and ideas 
was compatible with all but universal sympathies and the 
most fearless openness of thought. There are no " water- 
tight compartments,"^ there is no ^'tabooed ground ;"^ in 
spite of much natural reserve, he never really lost his 
predilection for "a thorough draft." ^ That marvellous 
interpenetration of scientific industry, philosophic insight, 
poetic feeling and imagination, and overflowing humour, 
was closely related to the profound sincerity which, after 
all is said, is the truest sign alike of his genius and of his 
inmost nature, and is most apt to make his life instructive 
beyond the limits of the scientific world. He would not 
wish to be set up as an authority on subjects (such as 
historical criticism) which, however interesting to him, he 
had not had leisure to study exhaustively. But our age 
has much to learn from his example. And in his life, 
regarded as a whole, there is a depth of goodness which 
can be but faintly indicated in his biography. 

1 P. 148. - P. 126. 

^ See the Poem on St. David's Day. 


ESSAYS AT CAMBRIDGE— 1853 to 1856. 

The description of Maxwell's life at Cambridge would be 
incomplete without some notice of the Essaj^s written by him 
from time to time for the " Apostles' " Club. These range 
from the spring of 1853 to the summer of 1856. Thrown off, 
as such things are, in irresponsible gaiety of heart, mere 
"gardens of Adonis," as Plato would call them, they contain 
real indications of the writer's speculative tendencies, and are 
most characteristic of the acti\dty and fulness of his mind, of 
his ironical humour, and of his provoking discursiveness and 
indirectness of expression. He is not "upon his oath," and 
often throws out tentatively a whole train of arguments or ideas. 

1. '^ Decision.''^ Written in February 1853. 

After a humorous sketch of the distraction arising from the ^t. 21. 
different associations of term and vacation time, the question is 
raised whether on the whole a learned education is unfavourable 
to decision of character and opinion. The answer pointed at, 
though not distinctly given, is that high education may often 
unsettle opinion, but ought to strengthen character. It must 
suffice here to quote a few of the most characteristic passages : — 

"... In this charitable (holiday) frame of mind, we 
resolved to try the effect of our learning upon a mixed company. 

" Not to dazzle them too much at first, we merely ventured 
to quote to an elderly lady a passage from Griffin on Presbyopic 
Vision. She intended to get a new pair of spectacles, and hoped 



that optical advice, fresli from College, might assist her in her 
choice. She was surprised to leam that she must ascertain the 
distance behind the retina at which the image of a distant object 
is formed, and that she might then determine from the proper 
formula the focal lengths of the lenses she required. 

"Shocked at the unhesitating way in which we proposed 
the most barbarous if not impossible operations, she replied that 
she would rather try several pairs, and take those that suited 
her best.'' 

"... When this indecision" (of opinion) "cannot be 
traced to hypochondria, we generally find indications of a 
defective appreciation of quantity and a deceptive memory. 

" Its victims measure reasons by their number and not by 
their weight. They do not say ' so much,' but ' so many things 
to be said on both sides.' To make the number equal on both 
sides they will split an argument or state it in several ways. 
These ingenious self-tormentors have invented a form of reason- 
ing which ought to take its place beside the * reasoning in a 
circle.' We may call it reasoning in a comer, or tergiversation. 
... It derives its name from the motion of the imprisoned 
monarch in a drawn game at draughts, and is resorted to when 
hard pressed by a disjunctive argument. ... In this way these 
clacking metronomes endeavour to transfer their inquietude to 
their neighbours.'' 

'' ... It is this consciousness of aim that gives to their 
experience the character of self-education. T^Tiile other men 
are drifted hither and thither by conflicting influences, their 
sails seem to resolve every blast in a favourable direction. To 
them catastrophes are lessons and mysteries illustrations. Every 
thing and every person is estimated by its effect in accelerating 
personal advancement. 

" The aims thus adopted may be different in kind and value. 
One may aim at effective deeds, another at completeness, a third 
at correctness, a fourth at dignity, while another class estimates 
its progress by the universality of its sentiments and the com- 
prehensiveness of its sympathy with the varieties of the human 
mind. Some, in short, attend more to self-government, and 
some to mental expansion. When these tendencies can be com- 
bined and subordinated, there emerges the perfectly educated 
man, who, in the rigidity of his principles, acts with deci- 
sion, and in the expansibility of his sympathy tolerates all 


2. " TFhat is the Nature of Evidence of Design?'' 1853. 

" Design ! The very word . . . disturbs our quiet dis- 
cussions about how things happen with restless questionings 
about the ivhy of them aU. We seem to have recklessly aban- 
doned the railroad of phenomenology, and the black rocks of 
Ontology stiffen their serried brows and frown inevitable 

"... The belief in design is a necessary consequence of 
the Laws of Thought acting on the phenomena of perception. 

'^ . . . The essentials then for true evidence of design are 
— (1) A phenomenon having significance to us ; (2) Two ascer- 
tained chains of physical causes contingently connected, and 
both having the same apparent terminations, viz. , the phenomenon 
itself and some presupposed personality. ... If the discovery 
of a watch awakens my torpid intelligence I perceive a sig- 
nificant end which the watch subserves. It goes, and, consider- 
ing its locality, it is going well. . . . My young and grow- 
ing reason points out two sets of phenomena ... (a) the 
elasticity of springs, etc. etc., and (b) the astronomical facts 
which render the mean solar day the unit of civil time combined 
with those social habits which require a cognisance of the time 
of day. 

" . . . It is the business of science to investigate these 
causal chains. If they are found not to be independent but to 
meet in some ascertained point, we must transfer the evidence 
of design from the ultimate fact to the existence of the chain. 
Thus, suppose we ascertained that watches are now made by 
machinery . . . the machinery including the watch forms one 
more complicated and therefore more evident instance of design." 

"... The only subordinate centres of causation which I 
have seen formally investigated are men and animals ; the latter 
even are often overlooked. But every well-ascertained law 
points to some central cause, and at once constitutes that centre 
a being in the general sense of the word. Whether that being 
be personal is a question which may be determined by induction. 
The less diflBicult question whether the being be intelligent is 
more practicable, and should be kept in view in the investiga- 
tion of organised beings. 

' " The search for such invisible potencies or wisdoms may 
appear novel and unsanctioned. . . . For my part I do not 


think that any speculations about the personality or intelligence 
of subordinate agents in creation could ever be perverted into 
witchcraft or demonolatry. 

'* Why should not the Original Creator have shared the 
pleasure of His work with His creatures and made the morning 
stars sing together, etc. ? 

" I suspect that such a hope has prompted many speculations 
of natural historians, who would be ashamed to put it into 
words .^ 

" , . , Three fallacies — (1) Putting the final cause in the 
place of a physical connection, as when Bernoulli saw the pro- 
priety of making the curves of isochronous oscillations and of 
shortest time of descent both cycloids ; (2) The erroneous 
assertion of a physical relation, as when Bacon supplemented 
the statement of Socrates about the use of the eyebrows by 
saying that pilosity is incident to moist places ; (3) (and worst) 
applying an argument from final causes to wrongly asserted 
phenomena : — ' Because water is incompressible, it cannot trans- 
mit sound, and therefore fishes have no ears.' Every fact here 
stated is erroneous." 

In the course of this paper — in which are discernible the 
traces of early impressions derived through the poetry of Milton 
— there occurs also incidentally a statement of the Hamiltonian 
doctrine of Perception,^ with the following significant corollary : — 

" Perception is the ultimate consciousness of self and thing 

" If we admit, as we must, that this ultimate phenomenon is 
incapable of further analysis, and that subject and object alone 
are immediately concerned in it, it follows that the fact is strictly 
private and incommunicable. One only can know it, therefore 
two cannot agree in a name for it. And since the fact is simple 

^ This Neo-platonic fancy (of b-qfitovpyoi), with which the reader may 
co?i^ra5i tbe serio-comic lines on "Paradoxical Philosophy," is embodied 
in the alternative title of the paper — " Ought the discovery of a Plurality 
of Intelligent Creators to weaken our Belief in an Ultimate First Cause ? " 
A third title has been added later in the author's hand — "Does the 
Existence of Causal Chains prove an Astral Entity or a Cosmothetic 

^ This statement concludes as follows : — "The late superfluity of asser- 
tions might have been avoided by simply, unintelligibly, and therefore 
unanswerably, proclaiming myself a natural dualist, uncontaminated with 
the heresy of unitarianism or the pollution of cosmothetic idealism. " 


it cannot be thought of by itself nor comjMred alone with any 
other equally simijle fact. We may therefore dismiss all ques- 
tions about the absolute nature of perception, and all theories of 
their resemblances and differences. We may next refuse to 
turn our attention to perception in general, as all perceptions 
are particular." 


Idiotic Im-ps. Summer Term, 1853. 

Starting from Isaac Taylor's Physical Theory of another Life^ 
which Maxwell at this time seems to have regarded as in itself 
an innocent and rather attractive piece of fancy, — "the perusal 
of it has a tendency rather to excite speculation than to satisfy 
curiosity, and the author obtains the approbation of the reader, 
while he fails to convince him of the soundness of his views," — 
he takes occasion from it to characterise the " Dark Sciences " to 
which Taylor's book may unintentionally lend encouragement — 
a result to be deprecated. 

" The first question I would ask concerning a spiritual theory 
would be, Is it favourable or adverse to the present developments 
of Dark Science ? The Dark Sciences . . . while they profess 
to treat of laws which have never been investigated, afford the 
most conspicuous examples of the operation of the well-known 
laws of association ... in imitating the phraseology of science, 
and in combining its facts with those which must naturally 
suggest themselves to a mind unnaturally disposed. In the mis- 
begotten science thus produced we have speciously sounding laws 
of which our first impression is that they are truisms, and the 
second that they are absurd, and a bewildering mass of experi- 
mental proof, of which all the tendencies lie on the surface and 
all the data turn out when examined to be heaped together as 
confusedly as the stores of button-makers . . , and those un- 
digested narratives which are said to form the nutriment of the 
minute philosopher. . . . The most orthodox system of meta- 
physics may be transformed into a dark science by its phraseology 
being popularised, while its principles are lost sight of." 

Three phases of dark science are described : — 
^' (1.) At first they were or pretended to be physical sciences. 
Their language was imitated from popular physics, and their 


professed aim was to explain occult phenomena hy means of new 
and still more occult material laws. Experiments in animal 
magnetism were always performed with the nose carefull}^ turned 
towards the north. In electrobiology a scrupulous system of 
insulation was practised at first, and afterwards, when galvanism 
became more popular than statical electricity, circuits were 
formed of alternate elements, those of one sex being placed be- 
tween those of the other. . . . The fluid which in former times 
circulated through the nerves under the form of animal spirits, 
is in our day expanded so as to fill the universe, and is the in- 
visible medium through which the communion of the sensitive 
takes place. 

" (2.) The next phase of the dark sciences is that in which 
. . . the phraseology of physics is exchanged for that of psycho- 
logy. In this stage we hear much of the power of the will. 
The verb to will acquires a new and popular sense, so that every 
one now is able to will a thing mthout bequeathing it. People 
can will not to be able to do a thing, then try and not succeed ; 
while those of stronger minds can will their victims out of their 
wits and back again. 

" (3.) The third or pneumatological phase begins by distrust- 
ing, as it well may, the explanations prevalent during the former 
stages of apparitions, distant intercourse, etc. It suggests that 
different minds may have some communion though separated 
by space, through some spiritual medium. Such a suggestion if. 
discreetly followed up might lead to important discoveries, and 
would certainly give rise to entertaining meditations. But the 
cultivators of the dark sciences have done as they have ever 
delighted to do. Their spirits are not content with making 
themselves present 

* Where all the nerves of sense are numb, 
Spirit to spirit, ghost to ghost.' 

but they become the familiar spirits of money-making media, 
and rap out lies for hours together for the amusement of a pro- 
miscuous ' circle.' . . . While the believers sit round the table 
of the medium and form one loop of the figure 8, the spiritual 
circle enclosing the celestial mahogany forms the upper portion 
of the curve, the medium herself constituting the double point. 
But who shall say of the dark sciences that they have reached 
the maximum of darkness ? Men have listened to the toes of a 
medium as to the voice of the departed. Let them now stand 


about lier table as about the table of devils. If one spirit can 
wrap itself in petticoats, why may not another dance with three 
legs ? A most searching question truly ! And, accordingly, the 
powerful analysis of Godfrey has led him to the conclusion that 
a table of which the plane surface is touched by believing fingers 
may be transformed into a diaboloid of revolution. . . . Will 
there be an interminable series of such expressions of belief, each 
more unnatural than its predecessor, and gradually converging 
towards absolute absurdity ? " 

4. Has everything beautiful in Art its original in Nature ? 
Spring of 1854 — shortly after the Tripos Examination. 

'^ As the possibility of working out the question within the 
time forms no part of our specification, we may glance at heights 
which mock the attenuated triangle of the mathematician, and 
throw our pebble into depths whicli his cord and plummet can 
never sound." 

Maxwell here takes his revenge upon the Senate-house by 
becoming more discursive than ever.^ 

He begins by deprecating precise definitions and proposing 
an appeal to facts. 

His conclusion is as follows : — '' Nothing beautiful can be 
produced by Man except by the laws of mind acting in him as 
those of Nature do without him ; and therefore the kind of 
beauty he can thus evolve must be limited by the very small 
number of correlative sciences which he has mastered ; but as 
the Theoretic and imaginative faculty is far in advance of Reason, 
he can apprehend and artistically reproduce natural beauty of a 
higher order than his science can attain to ; and as his Moral 
powers are capable of a still wider range, he may make his work 
the embodiment of a still higher beauty, which expresses the 
glory of nature as the instrument by which our spirits are ex- 
ercised, delighted, and taught. If there is anything more I 
desire to say it is that while I confess the vastness of nature and 
the narrowness of our symbolical sciences, yet I fear not any 
effect which either Science or Knowledge may have on the beauty 
of that which is beautiful once and for ever." 

The followinc( observations occur in the course of the essav : — 

^ See above, pp. 115, 117. 


'*A11 your analysis is cruelly anatomical, and your separated 
faculties have all the appearance of preparations. You may 
retain their names for distinctness, but forbear to tear them 
asunder for lecture-room demonstration. . . . They separate a 
faculty by saying it is not intellectual, and then, by reasoning 
blindfold, every philosopher goes up his own tree, finds a 
mare's nest and laughs at the eggs, which turn out to be pure 
intellectual abstractions in spite of every definition. 

" With respect to beauty of things audible and visible, we 
have a firm conviction that the pleasure it afi'ords to any being 
would be of the same kind by w^hatever organisation he became 
conscious of it. . . . Our enjoyment of music is accgmpanied 
by an intuitive perception of the relations of sounds, and the 
agreement of the human race would go far to establish the 
universality of these conditions of pleasure, though Science 
had not discovered their physical and numerical signifi- 

Beauty of Form. — ^'A mathematician might express his 
admiration of the Ellipse, Ruskin agrees with him. ... It is 
a imiversal condition of the enjoyable that the mind must believe 
in the existence of a law, and yet have a mystery to move about 
in. . . . All things are full of ellipses — bicentral sources of 
lasting joy, as the wondrous Oken might have said." Beauty 
of form, then, is — 1. Geometrical; 2. Organic; 3. "Rivers 
and mountains have not even an organic symmetry ; the pleasure 
we derive from their forms is not that of comprehension, but of 
apprehension of their fitness as the forms of flowing and with- 
standing matter. When such objects are represented by Art 
they acquire an additional beauty as the language of Nature 
understood by Man, the interpreter, although by no means the 
emendator, of her expressions. 

"... The power of Making is man's highest power in'con- 
nexion with Nature." 

Beauty of Colour. — "The Science of Colour does, indeed, 
point out certain arrangements and gradations, which follow as 
necessarily from first principles as the curves of the second 
order from their equations. These results of science are, many 
of them, realised in natural phenomena taking place according 
to those physical laws of which our mathematical formulse are 
symbols j but it is possible that combinations of colours may be 
imagined or calculated, which no optical phenomenon we are 
acquainted with could reproduce. Such a result would no more 


prove tlie impropriety of the arrangement than ignorance of the 
planetary orbits kept the Greeks from admiring the Ellipse." 

5. JEnvelopment : Can Ideas he developed without Reference to Things 
as their developing Authorities'^ Summer Term, 1854. 

Early in 1854 Maxwell had read J. H. Newman's ^ Essay 
on the Development of Christian Doctrine. He appears to have 
felt an inconsistency between the tenor of that work and its 
title, which set him meditating on the difference between true 
Development — i.e. Education — and Envelopment or Self-Involu- 
tion, as a tendency incident to certain habits of thought. 

He traces the working of this tendency in various subjects, 
ending with theology, and then proceeds as follows : — 

" Envelopment is a process by which the human mind, pos- 
sessed with a preternatural impatience of facts and fascinated by 
the apparent simplicity of some half-apprehended theory, seeks, 
by involving the chain of its speculations in hopeless confusion, 
to round it, as it were, to a separate whole. 

"Thus Mr. Newman and his predecessors take up some 
single practice of Christians, and by means of analogies derived 
from the practices of Egyptian priests, Roman emperors, or 
Jewish rabbis, they determine, most precisely, the situation, 
extent, and exposure of the place of purging by fire, together 
with all the technicalities, observances, and etiquette of that 
mysterious region. The convolutions of the brain are very 

As a further illustration he proceeds to trace the genesis of 

Against the Theory of the Development of Doctrine he sets 
the fact of the Education of Mankind. 

The Essay is highly ironical and full of caustic touches, but 
it is difficult to detach them for quotation. 

" One great art in argument when you have the first move is 
to divide everything into that which is and that which is not in 
some assigned class. In this way you make it the business of 
the opponent to discover what other important things there may 
be which may be said of the subject in hand. 

1 Cardinal Newman. 



. . These subtle diflPerences when further multiplied by 
the application of the seven tests of development, would require 
a seven years' apprenticeship with Thomas Aquinas before any- 
thing could be said of them except assent or contempt. 

" . . . In every human pursuit there are two courses — one, 
that which in its lowest form is called the useful, and has for its 
ultimate object the extension of knowledge, the dominion over 
Nature, and the welfare of mankind. The objects of the second 
course are entirely self-contained. Theories are elaborated for 
theories' sake, difficulties are sought out and treasured as such, 
and no argument is to be considered perfect unless it lands the 
reasoner at the point from which he started. 

"... Some years ago I encountered a gentleman whose 
main object was to discover the musical relations of the number 
eleven. I hear on good authority that the question is not only 
more perplexed but more interesting than ever. 

'^ . . . I have unaccountably passed over that Logic by 
means of which many a powerful mind has persuaded itself that 
it was usefully engaged while devoting a life to the defence or 
attack of the fourth figure of the syllogism, and that Metaphysics 
which even now seeks to find arguments about the operations 
of the senses, while it rejects the aid of physiology or any other 
appeal to facts. 

" I now proceed to envelop an argument from one of those 
dark sciences which seem to have been sent up from Dom Daniel 
for the special purpose of displaying reasonings of this kind. 

" It is well known that the brain is the organ of intellectual 
acti^dty. It is held by all that the intellect is made up of many 
distinct faculties. Therefore the brain must be composed of 
corresponding organs." 

The Essay concludes quite seriously — "The education of 
man is so well provided for in the world around him, and so 
hopeless in any of the worlds which he makes for himself, that 
it becomes of the utmost importance to distinguish natural truth 
from artificial system, the development of a science from the 
envelopment of a craft." 

6. Morality. May 1855. (See above, p. 154.) Is Ethical Truth 
obtainable from an Individual Point of View ? 

An inquiry concerning the first principles of Moral Philosophy. 
Of three criteria, fitness, pleasure, and freedom, the last is 


preferred, but is pronounced incomplete. Adam Smith's use of 
the principle of sympathy is then considered. " The repeated 
action of what Smith calls sympathy, calls forth various moral 
principles, which may be deduced, no doubt, from other theories, 
as necessary truths, but of which the actual presence is now first 
accounted for. . . . Instead of supposing the moral action of 
the mind to be a speculation on fitness, a calculation of happi- 
ness, or an effort towards freedom, he makes it depend on a 
recognition of our relation to others like ourselves." This 
method (that of self-projection) is pronounced the only true one, 
but is to be extended so as to embrace other relations than that 
of mere similarity. 

Such is the bare outline of an essay which would fill at least 
a dozen pages. It touches on various themes, from the origin 
of law to the religious sanction of morals, and contains no little 
evidence of the writer's growing power of observing human life. 

V. Language and Speculation. Autumn of 1855. (See above, 
p. 159.) Is the Modern Vocabulary of the English Lan- 
gitage the Effect or the Cause of its Sioeculative State .^ 

A series of observations on style, original but very discursive, 
chiefly aimed at certain literary affectations which were then 
beginning to creep in. 

"... The new form of the old thought must be dressed 
out mth words, and must attract attention by bringing forward 
what should be kept in the background. No wonder the poor 
fellow thinks his head is turned when he is trying to see over 
the collar of his coat. 

"... By all means let us have technical terms belonging 
to every science and mystery practised by men, but let us not 
have mere freemasonry or Ziph language by which men of the 
same cult can secretly combine." 

8. Analogies. February 1856. Are there Real Analogies 

in Nature ? 

This essay contains a serious exposition of Maxwell's deli- 
berate views on philosophical questions, and is therefore given 
here entire, not omitting the playful opening paragraph. 


'^ In the ancient and religious foundation of Peterhouse there 
is observed this rule, that whoso makes a pun shall be counted 
the author of it, but that whoso pretends to find it out shall be 
counted the publisher of it, and that both shall be fined. Now, 
as in a pun two truths lie hid under one expression, so in an 
analogy one truth is discovered under two expressions. Every 
question concerning analogies is therefore the reciprocal of a 
question concerning puns, and the solutions can be transposed 
by reciprocation. But since we are still in doubt as to the 
legitimacy of reasoning by analogy, and as reasoning even by 
paradox has been pronounced less heinous than reasoning by puns, 
we must adopt the direct method with respect to analogy, and 
then, if necessary, deduce by reciprocation the theory of puns. 

'' That analogies appear to exist is plain in the face of things, 
for all j)arables, fables, similes, metaphors, tropes, and figures 
of speech are analogies, natural or revealed, artificial or con- 
cealed. The question is entirely of their reality. Now, no 
question exists as to the possibility of an analogy without a 
mind to recognise it — that is rank nonsense. You might as 
well tails: of a demonstration or refutation existing uncondi- 
tionally. Neither is there any question as to the occurrence of 
analogies to our minds. They are as plenty as reasons, not to 
say blackberries. For, not to mention all the things in external 
nature which men have seen as the projections of things in their 
own minds, the whole framework of science, up to the very 
pinnacle of philosophy, seems sometimes a dissected model of 
nature, and sometimes a natural growth on the inner surface of 
the mind. Now, if in examining the admitted truths in science 
and philosophy, we find certain general principles appealing 
throughout a vast range of subjects, and sometimes re-appearing 
in some quite distinct part of human knowledge ; and if, on 
turning to the constitution of the intellect itself, we think we 
can discern there the reason of this uniformity in the form of 
a fundamental law of the right action of the intellect, are we to 
conclude that these various departments of nature in which 
analogous laws exist, have a real inter-dependence ; or that 
their relation is only apparent and owing to the necessary con- 
ditions of human thought ? 

" There is nothing more essential to the right understanding 
of things than a perception of the relations of number. Now 
the very first notion of number implies a previous act of intelli- 
gence. Before we can count any number of things we must 


pick them out of the universe, and give each of them a ficti- 
tious unity by definition. Until we have done this, the universe 
of sense is neither one nor many, but indefinite. But yet, do 
what we will, Nature seems to have a certain horror of parti- 
tion. Perhaps the most natural thing to count " one " for is a 
man or human being, but yet it is very difficult to do so. Some 
count by heads, others by souls, others by noses ; still there is 
a tendency either to run together into masses or to split up into 
limbs. The dimmed outlines of phenomenal things all merge into 
one another unless we put on the focussing glass of theory, and 
screw it up sometimes to one pitch of deliDition and sometimes 
to another, so as to see down into different depths through the 
great millstone of the world. 

"As for space and time, any man will tell you that 'it is 
now known and ascertained that they are merely modifications 
of our own minds.' And yet if we conceive of the mind as 
absolutely indivisible and capable of only one state at a time, 
we must admit that these states may be arranged in chrono- 
logical order, and that this is the only real order of these states. 
For we have no reason to believe, on the ground of a given 
succession of simple sensations, that differences in position, as 
well as in order of occurrence, exist among the causes of these 
sensations. But yet we are convinced of the co-existence of 
different objects at the same time, and of the identity of the 
same object at different times. Now if we admit that we can 
think of difference independent of sequence, and of sequence 
without difference, we have admitted enough on which to found 
the possibility of the ideas of space and time. 

" But if we come to look more closely into these ideas, as 
developed in human beings, we find that their space has triple 
extension, but is the same in all directions, without behind or 
before, whereas time extends only back and forward, and always 
goes forward. 

" To inquire why these peculiarities of these fundamental 
ideas are so would require a most painful if not impossible act 
of self- exenteration ; but to determine whether there is any- 
thing in Nature corresponding to them, or whether they are 
mere projections of our mental machinery on the surface of 
external things, is absolutely necessary to appease the cravings 
of intelligence. Now it appears to me that when we say that 
space has three dimensions, we not only express the impossi- 
bility of conceiving a fourth dimension, co-ordinate with the 


three knoA\Ti ones, but assert the objective truth that points 
may differ in position by the independent variation of three 
variables. Here, therefore, we have a real analogy between 
the constitution of the intellect and that of the external 

"With respect to time, it is sometimes assumed that the 
consecution of ideas is a fact precisely the same kind as the 
sequence of events in time. But it does not appear that there 
is any closer connection between these than between mental 
difference and difference of position. No doubt it is possible 
to assign the accurate date of every act of thought, but I doubt 
whether a chronological table drawn up in this way would 
coincide with the sequence of ideas of which we are conscious. 
There is an analogy, but I think not an identity, between these 
two orders of thoughts and things. Again, if we know what is 
at any assigned point of space at any assigned instant of time, 
we may be said to know all the events in Nature. We cannot 
conceive any other thing which it would be necessary to know ; 
and, in fact, if any other necessary element does exist, it never 
enters into any phenomenon so as to make it differ from what 
it would be on the supposition of space and time being the only 
necessary elements. 

" We cannot, however, think any set of thoughts without 
conceiving of them as depending on reasons. These reasons, 
when spoken of with relation to objects, get the name of causes, 
which are reasons, analogically referred to objects instead of 
thoughts. When the objects are mechanical, or are considered 
in a mechanical point of view, the causes are still more strictly 
defined, and are called forces. 

" Now if we are acquainted not only with the events, but 
also with the forces, in Nature, we acquire the power of pre- 
dicting events not previously known. 

" This conception of cause, we are informed, has been ascer- 
tained to be a notion of invariable sequence. No doubt invari- 
able sequence, if observed, would suggest the notion of cause, 
just as the end of a poker painted red suggests the notion of 
heat, but although a cause without its invariable effect is absurd, 
a cause by its apparent frustration only suggests the notion of 
an equal and opposite cause. 

" Now the analogy between reasons, causes, forces, principles, 
and moral rules, is glaring, but dazzling. 


'* A reason or argument is a conductor by wliicli the mind is 
led from a proposition to a necessary consequence of that pro- 
position. In pure logic reasons must all tend in the same direc- 
tion. There can be no conflict of reasons. We may lose sight 
of them or abandon them, but cannot pit them against one 
another. If our faculties were indefinitely intensified, so that 
we could see all the consequences of any admission, then all 
reasons would resolve themselves into one reason, and all demon- 
strative truth would be one proposition. There would be no 
room for plurality of reasons, still less for conflict. But when 
we come to causes of phenomena and not reasons of truths, the 
conflict of causes, or rather the mutual annihilation of effects, is 
manifest. Not but what there is a tendency in the human 
mind to lump up all causes, and give them an aggregate name, 
or to trace chains of causes wp to their knots and asymptotes. 
Still we see, or seem to see, a plurality of causes at work, and 
there are some who are content with plurality. 

" Those who are thus content with plurality delight in the 
use of the word force as applied to cause. Cause is a meta- 
physical word implying something unchangeable and always 
producing its effect. Force, on the other hand, is a scientific 
word, signifying something which always meets with opposition, 
and often with successful opposition, but yet never fails to do 
what it can in its own favour. Such are the physical forces 
with which science deals, and their maxim is that mii/ht is riaht, 
and they call themselves laws of nature. But there are other 
laws of nature which determine the form and action of organic 
structure. These are founded on the forces of nature, but they 
seem to do no work excej^t that of direction. Ought they to be 
called forces ? A force does work in proportion to its strength. 
These direct forces to work after a model. They are moulds, not 
forces. Now since we have here a standard from which devia- 
tion may take place, we have, besides the notion of strength, 
which belongs to force, that of health, which belongs to organic 
law. Organic beings are not conscious of organic laws, and it 
is not the conscious being that takes part in them, but another 
set of laws now appear in very close connection with the con- 
scious being. I mean the laws of thought. These may be 
interfered with by organic laws, or by physical disturbances, and 
no doubt every such interference is regulated by the laws of the 
brain and of the connection between that medulla and the pro- 
cess of thought. But the thing to be observed is, that the laws 


which, regulate the right process of the intellect are identical 
with the most abstract of all laws, those which are found among 
the relations of necessary truths, and that though these are mixed 
up with, and modified by, the most complex systems of pheno- 
mena in physiology and physics, they must be recognised as 
supreme among the other laws of thought. And this supremacy 
does not consist in superior strength, as in physical laws, nor yet, 
I think, in reproducing a type as in organic laws, but in being 
right and true ; even when other causes have been for a season 
masters of the brain. 

"When Ave consider voluntary actions in general, we think 
we see causes acting like forces on the willing being. Some of 
our motions arise from physical necessity, some from irritability 
or organic excitement, some are performed by oui- machinery 
without our knowledge, and some evidently are due to us and 
our volitions. Of these, again, some are merely a repetition of 
a customary act, some are due to the attractions of pleasure or 
the pressure of constrained activity, and a few show some indi- 
cations of being the results of distinct acts of the will. Here 
again we have a continuation of the analogy of Cause. Some 
had supposed that in will they had found the only true cause, 
and that all physical causes are only apparent. I need not say 
that this doctrine is exploded. 

" What we have to observe is, that new elements enter into 
the nature of these higher causes, for mere abstract reasons are 
simply absolute ; forces are related by their strength ; organic 
laws act towards resemblances to types ; animal emotions tend 
to that which promotes the enjoyment of life ; and will is in 
great measure actually subject to all these, although certain 
other laws of righty which are abstract and demonstrable, like 
those of reason, are suineme among the laws of will. 

" Now the question of the reality of analogies in nature 
derives most of its interest from its application to the opinion, 
that all the phenomena of nature, being varieties of motion, can 
only diifer in complexity, and therefore the only way of studying 
nature, is to master the fundamental laws of motion first, and 
then examine what kinds of complication of these laws must be 
studied in order to obtain true views of the universe. If this 
theory be true, we must look for indications of these fundamental 
laws throughout the whole range of science, and not least among 
those remarkable products of organic life, the results of cerebra- 


tion (commonly called ' thinking '). In tins case, of conrse, the 
resemblances between the laws of different classes of phenomena 
should hardly be called analogies, as they are only transformed 

" If, on the other hand, we start from the study of the laws 
of thought (the abstract, logical laws, not the _29%sio-logical), then 
these apparent analogies become merely repetitions by reflexion 
of certain necessary modes of action to which our minds are 
subject. I do not see how, upon either hypothesis, we can 
account for the existence of one set of laws of which the 
supremacy is necessary, but to the operation contingent. But 
we find another set of laws of the same kind, and sometimes 
coinciding with physical laws, the operation of which is inflexible 
when once in action, but depends in its beginnings on some act 
of volition. The theory of the consequences of actions is greatly 
perplexed by the fact that each act sets in motion many trains 
of machinery, Avhich react on other agents and come into regions 
of physical and metaphysical chaos from which it is diflicult to 
disentangle them. But if we could place the telescope of theory 
in proper adjustment, to see not the physical events which form 
the subordinate foci of the disturbance propagated through the 
universe, but the moral foci where the true image of the original 
act is re]Droduced, then we shall recognise the fact, that when 
we clearly see any moral act, then there appears a moral neces- 
sity for the trains of consequences of that act, which are spread- 
ing through the world to be concentrated on some focus, so as 
to give a true and complete image of the act in its moral point 
of view. All that bystanders see, is the physical act, and some 
of its immediate physical consequences, but as a partial pencil 
of light, even when not adapted for distinct vision, may enable 
us to see an object, and not merely light, so the partial view 
we have of ^jrj act, though far from perfect, may enaljle us to 
see it morally as an act, and not merely physically as an 

" If we think we see in the diverging trains of physical con- 
sequences not only a capability of forming a true image of the 
act, but also of reacting upon the agent, either directly or after 
a long circuit, then perhaps we have caught the idea of necessary 
retribution, as the legitimate consequence of all moral action. 

" But as this idea of the necessary reaction of the consequences 
of action is derived only from a few instances, in which we have 
guessed at such a law among the necessary laws of the universe ; 

2 A 


and we have a mucli more distinct idea of justice, derived from 
those laws which we necessarily recognise as supreme, we con- 
nect the idea of retribution much more with that of justice than 
with that of cause and effect. We therefore regard retribution as 
the result of interference with the mechanical order of things, 
and intended to vindicate the supremacy of the right order of 
things, but still we suspect that the two orders of things will 
eventually dissolve into one. 

*'I have been somewhat diffuse and confused on the subject 
of moral law, in order to show to what length analogy will carry 
the speculations of men. Whenever they see a relation between 
two things they know well, and think they see there must be a 
similar relation between things less known, they reason from the 
one to the other. This supposes that although pairs of things 
may differ widely from each other, the relation in the one pair 
may be the same as that in the other. Now, as in a scientific point 
of view the relation is the most important thing to know, a 
knowledge of the one thing leads us a long way towards a know- 
ledge of the other. If all that we know is relation^ and if all 
the relations of one pair of things correspond to those of another 
pair, it will be difficult to distinguish the one pair from the other, 
although not presenting a single point of resemblance, unless 
we have some difference of relation to something else, whereby 
to distinguish them. Such mistakes can hardly occur except in 
mathematical and physical analogies, but if we are going to study 
the constitution of the indi-vddual mental man, and draw all our 
arguments from the laws of society on the one hand, or those of 
the nervous tissue on the other, we may chance to convert useful 
helps into Wills-of-the-wisp. Perhaps the ' book,' as it has been 
called, of nature is regularly paged ; if so, no doubt the intro- 
ductory parts will explain those that follow, and the methods 
taught in the first chapters will be taken for granted and used 
as illustrations in the more advanced parts of the course ; but if 
it is not a ^ book ' at all, but a magazine, nothing is more foolish 
to suppose that one part can throw light on another. 

" Perhaps the next most remarkable analogy is between the 
principle, law, or plan according to which all things are made 
suitably to what they have to do, and the intention which a 
man has of making machines which will work. The doctrine 
of final causes, although productive of barrenness in its exclusive 


form, has certainly been a great help to inquirers into nature ; 
and if we only maintain the existence of the analogy, and allow 
observation to determine its form, we cannot be led far from the 

" There is another analogy which seems to be supplanting 
the other on its own ground, which lies between the principle, 
law, or plan, according to which the forms of things are made 
to have a certain community of type, and that which induces 
human artists to make a set of diiierent things according to 
varieties of the same model. Here apparently the final cause 
is analogy or homogeneity, to the exclusion of usefulness. 

" And last of all we have the secondary forms of crystals 
bursting in upon us, and sparkling in the rigidity of mathemat- 
ical necessity, and telling us neither of harmony of design, 
usefulness or moral significance, — nothing but spherical trigo- 
nometry and Napier's analogies. It is because we have blindly 
excluded the lessons of these angular bodies from the domain of 
human knowledge that we are still in doubt about the great 
doctrine that the only laws of matter are those which our minds 
must fabricate, and the only laws of mind are fabricated for it by 

9. Autohiofjra2Jhy. (Dated) 8th March 1856. 
Is Autohiogra])Ky iiossihle ? 

Under the guise of an ironical paradox, that all biography 
is (l) impossible, (2) inevitable. Maxwell recommends the 
simple record of facts, and deprecates the method of introspection. 
Of manj'" shrewd remarks occurring in the course of this essay, 
the following are the most noticeable : — 

"... When a man once begins to make a theory of him- 
self, he generally succeeds in making himself into a theory. 

"... The truthfulness of the biography depends quite as 
much upon the relations which subsisted between the author 
and his subject as upon his fidelity in collecting authentic 
accounts of his actions. 

"... It will be found that the motives under which the 
celebrated characters of history have acted, are, whether good 
or bad, pretty much of the same order of refinement, as long as 
we gather them from the same historian. It is when we pass 
from one historian to another that we discover a new order of 
motives, both in the good and the bad characters. 


'' . . . People do not talk of you, or if they do, they make 
blunders. But they do reflect you, and that more faithfully 
than your looking-glass. 

"... The stomach-pump of the confessional ought only 
to be used in cases of manifest poisoning. More gentle remedies 
are better for the constitution in ordinary cases. 

"... Every man has a right and is bound to become 
acquainted with himseK ; but he will find himself out better by 
intercourse vdtli well-chosen reagents than by putting on his 
own thumbscrews, or by sending round to his friends for their 
opinions. In the choice of reagents, the first thing to be avoided 
is incapability and insincerity, which generally go together. 

' ' . . . Suppose such a liistory or biography to exist, where 
actions are described without comment, but in a spirit faithful 
to the highest truth. It vnll be an indestructible picture of 
life, which cannot be distorted by future accidents, and wliich, 
by its cleai' arrangement and perfect simplicity, is sure to pass 
into our experience without that opposition which, by the con- 
stitution of man, accompanies the forcible administration of 
moral precept." 

10. Unnecessary Thought. October (?), 1856. ^'- Is a horror of 
Unnecessary Thought natural or unnatural ? TJliich does 
Nature abhor most, a supeiylemim or a vacuum of thought 

>y ? 

A great part of every life is necessarily unconscious or 
mechanical. " We have a natural and Avidespread aversion to 
the act of thinlving, which exists more or less in all men." 
But, on the other hand, abstract thought needs to be continually 
checked through contact with reality, and it is more important 
that our thoughts should have a li^^ing root in experience than 
that they should be jperfectly self-consistent at any particular 
stage of their growth. 

'' . . . They know the laws by heart, and do the calcula- 
tions by fingers. . . . When will they begin to think ? Then 
comes active life : Wliat do they do that by ? Precedent, 
wheel-tracks, and finger-posts. 

' . . . There is one part of the process at least to which 
attention is unfavourable. I mean the very important and 
necessary operation of forgetting useless facts. 

"... Growth goes on in the mind as in the body by a 


process of appropriation and rejection ; and the mental growth 
is rendered steady and real by its close connection with material 
and external things." 

11 and 12. Two unfinished Essays, on Sensation, and on 
Reason and Faith, may be probably assigned to the period of 
attendance on his father's illness in Edinburgh, in the spring of 
1855. See his letter to C. J. Monro, of Feb. 19, on p. 152. 
"I have a few thoughts on . . . sensation generally, and a 
kind of dim outline of Cambridge palavers, tending to shadow 
forth the influence of mathematical training on opinion and 



After Maxwell's return to Cambridge in 1871, several persons 
of high standing, some of whom had been " Apostles " together 
in 1853-57, revived the habit of meeting together for the dis- 
cussion of speculative questions. This club of seniors {dwSpMv 
TTpecrlSvTepijjv kraipio)^ which included such men as Dr. Light- 
foot, now Bishop of Durham, and Professors Hort and Westcott, 
was christened Eranus (see p. 279), and three of Maxwell's 
contributions, dated by himself, have been preserved. It seems 
advisable to print these entire, — although not even chips from 
his workshop, but rather sparks from the whetstone of his mind, 
— since what he thous^ht worth v of detaininfr the attention of 
such listeners in those ripe years cannot fail to be of interest to 
many readers. 


Does the progress of Physical Science tend to give any advantage to 
the opinion of Necessity (or Determinism) over that of the ' 
Contingency of Events and the Freedom of the Will ? 

11th February 187 3. ^^.41, 
The general character and tendency of human thought is a 
topic the interest of which is not confined to professional philo- 
sophers. Though every one of us must, each for himself, accept 
some sort of a philosophy, good or bad, and though the whole 
virtue of this philosophy depends on it being our own, yet none 
of us thinks it out entirely for himself. It is essential to our 


comfort that we should know whether we are going with the 
general stream of human thought or against it, and if it should 
turn out that the general stream flows in a direction difi'erent 
from the current of our private thought, though we may endea- 
vour to explain it as the result of a widespread aberration of 
intellect, we would be more satisfied if we could obtain some 
evidence that it is not ourselves who are going astray. 

In such an inquiry we need some fiducial point or standard 
of reference, by which we may ascertain the direction in which 
we are drifting. The books written by men of former ages who 
thought about the same questions would be of great use, if it 
were not that we are apt to derive a wrong impression from 
them if we apj)roach them by a course of reading unknown to 
those for whom they were written. 

There are certain questions, however, which form the pUces 
de resistance of philosophy, on which men of all ages have 
exhausted their arguments, and which are j^erfectly certain to 
furnish matter of debate to generations to come, and which may 
therefore serve to show how we are drifting. At a certain 
epoch of our adolescence those of us who are good for anything 
begin to get anxious about these questions, and unless the cares 
of this world utterly choke our metaphysical anxieties, we 
become developed into advocates of necessity or of free-will. 
What it is which determines for us which side we shall take 
must for the purpose of this essay be regarded as contingent. 
According to Mr. F. Galton, it is derived from structureless 
elements in our parents, which were probably never developed 
in their earthly existence, and which may have been handed 
down to them, still in the latent state, through untold genera- 
tions. Much might be said in favour of such a congenital bias 
towards a particular scheme of philosophy ; at the same time 
we must acknowledge that much of a man's mental history 
depends upon events occurring after his birth in time, and that 
he is on the whole more likely to espouse doctrines which har- 
monise with the particular set of ideas to which he is induced, 
by the process of education, to confine his attention. What 
will be the probable efi'ect if these ideas happen mainly to be 
those of modern physical science ? 

The intimate connection between physical and metaphysical 
science is indicated even by their names. What are the chief 
requisites of a physical laboratory ? Facilities for measuring 
space, time, and mass. What is the occupation of a metaphysi- 


cian ? Speculating on the modes of difference of co-existent 
things, on invariable sequences, and on the existence of matter. 

He is nothing but a physicist disarmed of all his weapons, — 
a disembodied spirit trying to measure distances in terms of his 
own cubit, to form a chronology in which intervals of time are 
measured by the number of thoughts which they include, and 
to evolve a standard pound out of his own self-consciousness. 
Taking metaphysicians singly, we find again that as is their 
physics, so is their metaphysics. Descartes, with his perfect 
insight into geometrical truth, and his wonderful ingenuity in 
the imagination of mechanical contrivances, was far behind the 
other great men of his time with respect to the conception of 
matter as a receptacle of momentum and energy. His doctrine 
of the collision of bodies is ludicrously absurd. He admits, 
indeed, that the facts are against him, but explains them as the 
result either of the want of perfect hardness in the bodies, or of 
the action of the surrounding air. His inability to form that 
notion which we now call force is exemplified in his explanation 
of the hardness of bodies as the result of the quiescence of their 

" Neque profecto ullum glutinum possumus excogitare, quod 
particulas durorum corporum firmius inter se conjungat, qu^m 
ipsarum quies." — Princi}?., Pars II. LV. 

Descartes, in fact, was a firm believer that matter has but 
one essential property, namely extension, and his influence in 
preserving this pernicious heresy in existence extends even to 
very recent times. Spinoza's idea of matter, as he receives it 
from the authorities, is exactly that of Descartes ; and if he has 
added to it another essential function, namely thought, the new 
ingredient does not interfere with the old, and certainly does 
not bring the matter of Descartes into closer resemblance with 
that of Newton. 

The influence of the physical ideas of Newton on philoso- 
phical thought deserves a careful study. It may be traced in 
a very direct way through Maclaurin and the Stewarts to the 
Scotch School, the members of which had all listened to the 
popular expositions of the Newtonian Philosophy in their 
respective colleges. In England, Boyle and Locke reflect 
Newtonian ideas with tolerable distinctness, though both have 
ideas of their own. Berkeley, on the other hand, though he 
is a master of the language of his time, is quite impervious to 
its ideas. Samuel Clarke is perhaps one of the best examples 


of the influence of Newton ; while Roger Cotes, in spite of his 
clever exposition of Newton's doctrines, must be condemned as 
one of the earliest heretics bred in the bosom of Newtonianism. 

It is absolutely manifest from these and other instances that 
any development of physical science is likely to produce some 
modification of the methods and ideas of philosophers, provided 
that the physical ideas are expounded in such a way that the 
philosophers can understand them. 

The principal developments of physical ideas in modern 
times have been — 

1st. The idea of matter as the receptacle of momentum and 
energy. This we may attribute to Galileo and some of his con- 
temporaries. This idea is fully expressed by Newton, under 
the form of Laws of Motion. 

2d. The discussion of the relation between the fact of gravi- 
tation and the maxim that matter cannot act where it is not. 

3d. The discoveries in Physical Optics, at the beginning of 
this century. These have produced much less effect outside 
the scientific world than might be expected. There are two 
reasons for this. In the first place it is difficult, especially in 
these days of the separation of technical from popular knowledge, 
to expound physical optics to persons not professedly mathema- 
ticians. The second reason is, that it is extremely easy to show 
such persons the phenomena, which are very beautiful in them- 
selves, and this is often accepted as instruction in physical 

4th. The development of the doctrine of the Conservation 
of Energy. This has produced a far greater eftect on the think- 
ing world outside that of technical thermodynamics. 

As the doctrine of the conservation of matter gave a definite- 
ness to statements regarding the immateriality of the soul, so 
the doctrine of the conservation of energy, when applied to 
living beings, leads to the conclusion that the soul of an animal 
is not, like the mainspring of a watch, the motive power of the 
body, but that its function is rather that of a steersman of a 
vessel, — not to produce, but to regulate and direct the animal 

5th. The discoveries in Electricity and Magnetism labour 
under the same disadvantages as those in Light. It is difficult 
to present the ideas in an adequate manner to laymen, and it is 
easy to show them wonderful experiments. 

6th. On the other hand, recent developments of Molecular 


Science seem likely to have a powerful effect on the world of 
thought. The doctrine that visible bodies apparently at rest are 
made up of parts, each of which is moving with the velocity of 
a cannon ball, and yet never departing to a visible extent from 
its mean place, is sufficiently startling to attract the attention 
of an unprofessional man. 

But I think the most important effect of molecular science 
on our way of thinking will be that it forces on our attention 
the distinction between two kinds of knowledge, which we may 
call for convenience the Dynamical and Statistical. 

The statistical method of investigating social questions has 
Laplace for its most scientific and Buckle for its most popular 
expounder. Persons are grouped according to some character- 
istic, and the number of persons forming the group is set down 
under that characteristic. This is the raw material from which 
the statist endeavours to deduce general theorems in sociology. 
Other students of human nature proceed on a different plan. 
They observe individual men, ascertain their history, analyse 
their motives, and compare their expectation of what they will 
do with their actual conduct. This may be called the dynami- 
cal method of study as applied to man. However imperfect the 
dynamical study of man may be in practice, it evidently is the 
only perfect method in principle, and its shortcomings arise 
from the limitation of our powers rather than from a faulty 
method of procedure. If we betake ourselves to the statistical 
method, we do so confessing that we are unable to follow the 
details of each individual case, and expecting that the effects of 
widespread causes, though very different in each individual, 
will produce an average result on the whole nation, from a 
study of which we may estimate the character and propensities 
of an imaginary being called the Mean Man. 

Now, if the molecular theory of the constitution of bodies 
is true, all our knowledge of niatter is of the statistical kind. 
A constituent molecule of a body has j^roperties very different 
from those of the body to which it belongs. Besides its immu- 
tability and other recondite properties, it has a velocity which 
is different from that which we attribute to the bodv as a whole. 

The smallest portion of a body which we can discern con- 
sists of a vast number of such molecules, and all that we can 
learn about this group of molecules is statistical information. 
We can determine the motion of the centre of gravity of the 
group, but not that of any one of its members for the time 


being, and these members themselves are continually passing 
from one group to another in a manner confessedly beyond our 
power of tracing them. 

Hence those uniformities which we observe in our experi- 
ments with quantities of matter containing millions of millions 
of molecules are uniformities of the same kind as those explained 
by Laplace and wondered at by Buckle, arising from the slump- 
ing together of multitudes of cases, each of which is by no 
means uniform with the others. 

The discussion of statistical matter is ■Ruthin the province 
of human reason, and valid consequences may be deduced from 
it by legitimate methods ; but there are certain peculiarities in 
the very form of the results which indicate that they belong to 
a different department of knowledge from the domain of exact 
science. They are not symmetrical functions of the time. It 
makes all the difference in the world whether we suppose the 
inquiry to be historical or prophetical — whether our object is to 
deduce the past state or the future state of things from the 
known present state. In astronomy, the two problems differ 
only in the sign of t, the time ; in the theory of the diffusion 
of matter, heat, or motion, the prophetical problem is always 
capable of solution ; but the historical one, except in singular 
cases, is insoluble. There may be other cases in which the past, 
but not the future, may be deducible from the present. Perhaps 
the process by which we remember past events, by submitting 
our memory to analysis, may be a case of this kind. 

Much light may be thrown on some of these questions by 
the consideration of stability and instability. When the state 
of things is such that an infinitely small variation of the present 
state will alter only by an infinitely small quantity the state at 
some future time, the condition of the system, whether at rest 
or in motion, is said to be stable ; but when an inffnitely small 
variation in the present state may bring about a finite difference 
in the state of the system in a finite time, the condition of the 
system is said to be unstable. 

It is manifest that the existence of unstable conditions 
renders impossible the prediction of future events, if our know- 
ledge of the present state is only approximate and not accurate. 

It has been well pointed out by Professor Balfour Stewart 
that physical stability is the characteristic of those systems from 
the contemplation of which determinists draw their arguments, 
and physical instability that of those living bodies, and moral 


instability that of those developable souls, which, furnish to 
consciousness the conviction of free will. 

Having thus pointed out some of the relations of physical 
science to the question, we are the better prepared to inquire 
what is meant by determination and what by free will. 

No one, I suppose, would assign to free will a more than in- 
finitesimal range. No leopard can change his spots, nor can any 
one by merely wishing it, or, as some say, willing it, introduce 
discontinuity into his course of existence. Our free will at the 
best is like that of Lucretius's atoms, — which at quite uncertain 
times and places deviate in an uncertain manner from their 
course. In the course of this our moral life we more or less 
frequently find ourselves on a physical or moral watershed, where 
an imperceptible de\4ation is sufficient to determine into which 
of two valleys we shall descend. The doctrine of free wiH asserts 
that in some such cases the Ego alone is the determining cause. 
The doctrine of Determinism asserts that in everv case, without 
exception, the result is determined by the previous conditions 
of the subject, whether bodily or mental, and that Ego is mis- 
taken in supposing himself in any way the cause of the actual 
result, as both what he is pleased to call decisions and the re- 
sultant action are corresponding events due to the same fixed 
laws. Now, when we speak of causes and effects, we always 
imply some person who knows the causes and deduces the 
effects. Who is this person ? Is he a man, or is he the Deity '? 

If he is man, — that is to say, a person who can make obser- 
vations with a certain finite degree of accuracy, — we have seen 
that it is only in certain cases that he can predict results with 
even approximate correctness. 

If he is the Deity, I object to any argument founded on a 
supposed acquaintance with the conditions of Divine foreknow- 

The subject of the essay is the relation to determinism, not 
of theology, metaphysics, or mathematics, but of physical science, 
— the science which depends for its material on the observation 
and measurement of visible things, but which aims at the 
development of doctrines whose consistency with each other shall 
be apparent to our reason. 

It is a metaphysical doctrine that from the same antecedents 
follow the same consequents. No one can gainsay this. But it 


is not of miicli use in a world like this, in which the same ante- 
cedents never again concur, and nothing ever happens twice. 
Indeed, for aught we know, one of the antecedents might be the 
precise date and place of the event, in which case experience 
would go for nothing. The metaphysical axiom would be of 
use only to a being possessed of the knowledge of contingent 
events, scientia simplicis intelligentim, — a degree of knowledge to 
which mere omniscience of all facts, scientia visionis, is but 

The physical axiom which has a somewhat similar aspect is 
"That from like antecedents follow like consequents." But 
here we have passed from sameness to likeness, from absolute 
accuracy to a more or less rough approximation. There are 
certain classes of phenomena, as I have said, in which a small 
error in the data only introduces a small error in the result. 
Such are, among others, the larger phenomena of the Solar 
System, and those in which the more elementary laws in 
Dynamics contribute the greater part of the result. The course 
of events in these cases is stable. 

There are other classes of phenomena which are more compli- 
cated, and in which cases of instability may occur, the number 
of such cases increasing, in an exceedingly rapid manner, as the 
number of variables increases. Thus, to take a case from a 
branch of science which comes next to astronomy itself as a 
manifestation of order : In the refraction of light, the direction 
of the refracted ray depends on that of the incident ray, so that 
in general, if the one direction be slightly altered, the other 
also will be slightly altered. In doubly refracting media there 
are two refracting rays, but it is true of each of them that like 
causes produce like effects. But if the direction of the ray 
within a biaxal crystal is nearly but not exactly coincident witla 
that of the ray-axis of the crystal, a small change in direction 
will produce a great change in the direction of the emergent ray. 
Of course, this arises from a singularity in the properties of the 
ray-axis, and there are only two ray-axes among the infinite 
number of possible directions of lines in the crystal ; but it is to 
be expected that in phenomena of higher complexity there will 
be a far greater number of singularities, near which the axiom 
about like causes producing like effects ceases to be true. Thus 
the conditions under which gun-cotton explodes are far from 
being well known ; but the aim of chemists is not so much to 
predict the time at which gun-cotton will go off of itself, as to 


find a kind of gun-cotton which, when placed in certain circum- 
stances, has never yet exploded, and this even when slight 
irregularities both in the manufacture and in the storage are 
taken account of by trying numerous and long-continued 

In all such cases there is one common circumstance, — the 
system has a quantity of potential energy, which is capable of 
being transformed into motion, but which cannot begin to be so 
transformed till the system has reached a certain configuration, 
to attain which requires an expenditure of work, which in certain 
cases may be infinitesimally small, and in general bears no 
definite proportion to the energy developed in consequence 
thereof. For example, the rock loosed by frost and balanced on 
a singular point of the mountain-side, the little spark which 
kindles the great forest, the little word which sets the world a 
fighting, the little scruple which prevents a man from doing his 
will, the little spore which blights all the potatoes, the little 
gemmule which makes us philosophers or idiots. Every existence 
above a certain rank has its singular points : the higher the 
rank the more of them. At these points, influences whose 
physical magnitude is too small to be taken account of by 
a finite being, may produce results of the greatest importance. 
All great results produced by human ' endeavour depend on 
taking advantage of these singular states when they occur. 

There is a tide in the affairs of meu 

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 

The man of tact says " the right word at the right time," and, 
" a word spoken in due season how good is it ! " The man of 
no tact is like vinegar upon nitre when he sings his songs to a 
heavy heart. The ill-timed admonition hardens the heart, and 
the good resolution, taken when it is sure to be broken, becomes 
macadamised into pavement for the abyss. 

It appears then that in our own nature there are more 
smgular points, — where prediction, except from absolutely per- 
fect data, and guided by the omniscience of contingency, becomes 
impossible, — than there are in any lower organisation. But 
singular points are by their very nature isolated, and form no 
appreciable fraction of the continuous course of our existence. 
Hence predictions of human conduct may be made in many 
cases. First, with respect to those who have no character at all, 
especially when considered in crowds, after the statistical method. 


Second, with respect to individuals of confirmed character, with 
respect to actions of the kind for which their character is con- 

If, therefore, those cultivators of physical science from whom 
the intelligent public deduce their conception of the physicist, 
and whose style is recognised as marking with a scientific stamp 
the doctrines they promulgate, are led in pursuit of the arcana 
of science to the study of the singularities and instabilities, rather 
than the continuities and stabilities of things, the promotion of 
natural knowledge may tend to remove that prejudice in favour 
of determinism which seems to arise from assuming that the 
physical science of the future is a mere magnified image of that 
of the past. 


On Modified Aspects op Pain. 

31st October 1876. 
JSt. 45. We often make sensation in general the subject of discussion, 

but it does not appear that we think much about particular sen- 
sations. If we did, we should have had more names for them. 
Most of the words which seem at first sight to be names of sen- 
sations are really used as names of objects which we suppose to 
be associated with the sensation, and to be indicated by it. All 
such words as hot and cold, flat and sharp, green, bright, bitter, 
frouzy, and so on, though they may sometimes excite in a very 
sympathetic mind a faint image of some actual sensation, call 
up much more vividly the idea of some external object or pheno- 
menon. Language, in fact, has become far more an instrument 
for conveying information and for recording facts than for 
awakening sympathy ; and even thought, in articulately speak- 
ing men, is occupied rather in methodising our perceptions than 
in chewing the cud of our sensations. 

Of the few words which we have left to distinguish states of 
feeling, most of the better sort, such as pleasure, joy, happiness, 
are remarkably vague, so that the only available part of the 
vocabulary of sensations consists of the names of pains. 

Such words as toothache, headache, heartache, certainly fulfil 
the condition of suggesting, at least to non-medical persons, a 
state of feeling rather than an objective phenomenon. 

Now, whatever Ave may think, each for ourselves, at the 


time when we feel a pain or an ache, about consciousness or 
subjectivity, we are compelled, when we have to speak about it, 
or even to think about it, to view it from the outside, and to 
adopt the objective method of treatment. 

A pain, then, in a sentient being other than ourselves is a 
condition which that being ordinarily endeavours to put a stop 
to, and the recurrence of which it tries to prevent ; just as a 
pleasurable sensation is one which it endeavours to prolong, and 
afterwards to reproduce. 

The psychologist has therefore to study pleasures and pains 
in their effects on a sentient being, just as the naturalist studies 
forces in their effects on the motion of a material system. The 
motion of the material system would go on in a determinate 
manner though no forces were in action. The actions of a 
living being, when not in a state of conscious effort, and often, 
indeed, even when it supposes itself to be exercising what it 
would call its will, go on in a manner determined by habits estab- 
lished by long custom, and transmitted from generation to gener- 
ation, though varying slightly from individual to individual. 

According to the simplest form of the Evolution theory, those 
individuals, tribes, or sj^ecies, which have habits unfavoiu^able 
to their success in the battle of life, die out, and help to improve 
the average quality of the remainder. This good old rule, 
however, this simple plan, though it might suffice for beings 
of great fecundity, would involve a great waste of life among 
higher and less prolific forms. Hence if any of these should 
come to have tastes and feelings, and if these should happen 
to be such as to repel them from pernicious courses and attract 
them into salutary ones, this would give them an advantage in 
the struggle for existence. Of course, there would be an equal 
chance that the tastes and feelings, when first developed, would 
be in favour of courses leading to destruction ; but the indi- 
viduals possessed by these tastes and feelings would be all the 
quicker exterminated for the good — that is to say, the more 
vigorous continuation — of the species. 

The susceptibility to pleasure and pain must therefore be 
regarded as permitting a certain mitigation of the first covenant 
of the evolutionists, "This do and live ;" the original severity 
of which was all the greater since the word " this " could be 
interpreted only by observing what actions were not followed 
by death. 


By pursuing what we feel to be pleasant, and avoiding what 
we feel to be painful, we are following a course which was pro- 
bably followed by many of our ancestors, and of which we know 
at least this much — that it did not bring them to such speedy 
destruction as to prevent them from leaving us as their descen- 
dants ; and this is more than we can say for any absolutely new 
rule of life struck out by ourselves. 

But it must be confessed that the monitions of pleasure and 
pain are not held in such high esteem by all men, as the view 
which we have just taken would seem to warrant. For though 
here and there we may find an isolated teacher who has incul- 
cated the cultivation of all forms of pleasurable sensation, and 
the elimination of whatever is disagreeable, yet there has 
never been a state of society in which it has not been reckoned 
more honourable 

To scorn delights and live laborious days, 

than to run after pleasure and to shrink from pain. 

And this brings me to the main point for our consideration. 
Why is it that in all times and countries the endurance of pain 
has been looked upon with great respect, and has been con- 
sidered necessary, salutary, honourable, or meritorious '? There 
is no difficulty, of course, about those cases in which a person 
undertakes some enterprise, good in itself, and in pursuance of 
this enterprise meets with various forms of suffering. These 
are only instances of the general maxim to despise evils of a 
lower order when they stand in the way of some good of a 
higher order. 

The ability to endure suffering while engaged in a good 
work being recognised as a species of excellence, it is only 
natural that this kind of ability should become the subject of 
special cultivation. The aspirant to this form of virtue, there- 
fore, voluntarily submits himself to suffering, not for the sake 
of any -sdsible benefit to himself and others to be obtained by 
enduring that particular pain, but for the sake of discipline. ' 

The aim of discipline is that he himself, and still more that 
others, may have confidence that he is able to endure suffering 
in a good cause, because he has already endured suffering merely 
to justify this confidence. 

Practices of this kind have in some countries been developed 
to an extravagant degree, and may have given rise to various 
abnormal sentiments and maxims ; but in the principle of edu- 


cational discipline there is nothing but the soundest wisdom, for 
the only way in which an individual can acquire confidence 
that he can perform a given act when he wishes to do so is by 
previous practice ; and when it is necessary for the public good 
that there should be a body of men, of each of whom we can 
be sure that he will act in a particular manner when the occa- 
sion for it arrives, it is absolutely necessary that they should be 
drilled to an exercise as like as possible to the action which is 
expected of them. But in all this the inconvenience or suffer- 
ing which has to be endured is by no means regarded as good 
in itself. It is treated as a necessary concomitant of the act to 
be performed, just as muscular effort, which may sometimes 
arise to the intensity of a pain, is a necessary concomitant of an 
athletic exercise in which we may find pleasure. 

Indeed the pleasurable or painful character of an elementary 
sensation or thought cannot be determined without taking into 
account all its surroundings. A sensation or a thought when 
separated from its surroundings may be disagreeable or painful ; 
but when it occurs as a part of an act of perception, we may not 
recognise it as painful. 

There may even be a pleasurable complex emotion into 
which the painful elementary sensation enters as an essential 
ingredient, so that if on any occasion the painful sensation is 
deficient, we feel that the pleasurable emotion is thereby marred 
and rendered incomplete. 

There is another class of cases, however, in which the pain 
itself is the essential element. I mean penal suffering. The 
aim of punishment, when not vindictive, is to prevent the 
repetition of certain acts by associating with them penal con- 

The painful consequences of an act may be associated with 
it by the way of natural consequence, or through the medium 
of some external punishing authority, or by the determination 
of the actor to punish himself. 

When painful effects follow an act by way of natural conse- 
quence, they are not generally called punishment, because we 
do not attribute to nature any intention of punishing the par- 
ticular act. But there can be no better instances of the condi- 
tions of efficacious punishment than those in which an act is 
so immediately and so certainly followed by a painful sensation, 
that the sensation becomes inseparably associated with the act, 

2 B 


as in the case in whicb. vre toncli red-hot iron. In such cases 
the act is hardly ever repeated. 

When the connection between the act and the sensation is 
not so immediate, but has to be traced through the action of a 
voluntary punisher, as when an act of a boy or a dog is followed 
by an unpleasant skin-sensation inflicted by the master, the 
efficacy of the punishment still depends in a great degree on its 
promptness and certainty, for these are the conditions under 
which a permanent association can be effected between the act 
and the sensation. 

Let us now consider the feelings with which punishment 
may be regarded by the recipient. 

There may be beings in whom the feeling is simple — pure 
repugnance. There is a beast called the Tasmanian Devil, 
which is said to fight against any odds, however overpowering, 
as long as any of him can stick together. There is no hope of 
taming or subduing such a beast by force, and it is probable 
that he will soon become extinct. 

But in the case of less indomitable beings, punishment may 
soon assume a less hateful aspect. 

For even if it is not efficacious in changing the habits, as 
soon as it is recognised as a certain consequence of transgression, 
the execution of the punishment may be welcomed as a relief 
from the expectation of it, and the culprit may have a satisfac- 
tion in getting it over, as an honest man has when he pays his 

If, however, he is really cured of the habit, he may look on 
the punishment as an operation by which he has not only paid 
in full for his past transgression, but has been freed from the 
danger of falling into future transgressions. 

Lastly, if his moral perceptions have been so far improved 
that he recognises that the action for which he was punished 
was really bad, he will sympathise more with the punisher than 
with his former self, and will admit not only the justice of his 
punishment as being according to law, but the justice of the law 
according to which he was punished. 

We come next to those cases in which there is no external 
punisher, but in which grief or sorrow is awakened within our- 
selves on account of what we have done. 

Here, again, the effect may be very different, according to 


the mode in which the sensation of grief is applied, and the 
result is rendered complicated on account of the identity between 
the punisher and the punished. 

The legitimate application of the emotion of grief is of 
course to the wrong act, so as to associate the act and all that 
belongs to it with this painful emotion, and so diminish the 
tendency to repeat the act. 

But the association may not be strong enough, or the 
emotion of grief may altogether miss its mark, and may concen- 
trate attention on itself, and so become transformed into self- 
pity, — a very complex emotion, in which the sweet is so mingled 
with the bitter that its ultimate effect on our conduct becomes 
very uncertain ; the most probable result, however, being that 
on future occasions what should have been contrition passes still 
more easily into self-pity, and the whole performance assumes 
the character of a graceful play of feelings which we enjoy 
rather than sufifer. 

But though such perversions of feeling may occur, there is 
no doubt that men do make successful use of self-inflicted 
discipline as a means of influencing their own conduct. The 
lower degrees of such discipline are put in practice whenever 
we have to change our habits in the most minute particular. 
Without it we could not improve our pronunciation or our 

The great difficulty, however, in providing for the punish- 
ment being applied in the right quarter, when the punisher is 
identical with the punished person, has led to the adoption of 
various imperfect solutions of the problem of penance, in some 
of which the discipline is inflicted by the arms on some other 
part of the body, and in others hunger is brought into play by 
abstaining from food. But in no sacrament is the intention of 
the administrator of such vital importance as in self-penance. 
Spenser tells us how the Red-Cross Knight underwent discipline 
under the directions of Patience ; 

But yet the cause and root of all his ill, 
Inward corruption and infected sin, 

Not purged nor healed, behind remained still, 
And fest'ring sore, did ranckle yet within, 

Close creeping 'twixt the marrow and the skin 5 
Which to extirpe, he laid him privily- 
Down in a darksome lowly place far in, 

"Whereas he meant his corrosives to apply, 

And with streight diet tame his stubborn malady. 


In ashes and sackclotli he did array 

His daintie corse, proud humours to abate 

And dieted ^vith fasting every day 

The swelling of his wounds to mitigate ; 

And made him pray both early and eke late. 

And ever as superfluous flesh did rot, 

Amendment ready still at hand did wayt, 

To pluck it out with pincers fiery whott 

That soon in him was left no one corrupted iott. 

Here we see the advantage of allegory. lu real life the 
poor man, instead of having Patience and Amendment as his 
good friends standing by his side, wonld have to conjure them 
up inside of him, and to apply the pincers with his own hand. 
But setting allegory aside, we can find here no exaltation of 
pain in itself. The pain is a necessary concomitant of the 
extirpation of evil habits from a conscious being. Amendment 
is the aim and end of the discipline, and the sole reason that he 
has to heat his pincers fiery whott is, that the evil which he has 
to extirpe has crept close betwixt the marrow and the skin, and 
requires the actual cautery to prevent its creeping further. 

Again, in the Collect for the first Sunday in Lent, we pray 
for " grace to use such abstinence," that, our flesh being subdued 
to the spirit, we may ever obey " the godly motions " of Christ. 
Abstinence is to be used only as a help towards the subjugation 
of our lower nature, and the opening up of our higher nature to 
divine influence. 

I have said nothing of the aspect of penal suffering as a 
satisfaction either of justice from the point of view of a ruler, or 
of vengeance from the point of view of an aggrieved person. 

Nor have I attempted to discuss the process by which the 
suffering, real or apparent, of one may be a direct source of 
pleasure to another who has cultivated the spirit of cruelty. 
For I cannot think that pure cruelty, as distinct from com- 
bativeness, anger, and love of power, is anything but a morbid 
growth of feeling, subject, of course, to the general laws of the 
growth of feeling, whatever they may be ; but no more to be 
regarded as a subject for our discussion here than those forms 
of perverted feeling which induce dogs to gnaw off their own 
toes, or devotees to hold their arms above their heads till they 
can no longer bring them down again. 




5th Febriuiry 1878. 

Whence came we ? whither are we going 1 and what should 
we do now 1 are three questions of some celebrity. We have 
come from somewhere between this and Orion ; we are going 
at kilomMres per second towards Hercules ; and we must 
therefore observe stars in a direction at right angles to our path ; 
— are the answers suggested twenty-five years ago. It seems to 
me that a change has come over the questions, so that they now 
read, What used I to believe about myself 1 what is it likely I 
shall have to believe about myself ? and what should I believe 
about myself now ? 

I used to believe myself to be the Conscious Ego. I am 
told I shall have soon to believe myself to be a congeries of 
plastidule souls, and that I must at once study psychophysik in 
order to obtain a true knowledge of myself. 

I propose, therefore, to talk of the Conscious Ego, of 
Plastidule souls, and of Psychophysik. 

(I.) What is your name ? is a still more celebrated ques- 
tion. The suggested answer, N. or M., recalls to the mathema- 
tician ideas and operations of the most heterogeneous kind. Let 
us consider some of them. The instructors of my youth would 
have expected me to answer — My name is the Conscious Ego, 
one and indivisible, the Subject, in relation to whom all other 
beings, material, human, or divine, are mere Objects. Whether 
the being of such Objects can be maintained or upheld apart 
from my continuous perception of them is the great question 
of Metaphysic. 

Though nothing can rise to the dignity even of an Object, 
except in so far as it is perceived by me, I regard certain Objects 
as nearer in rank to me, the Subject, than others, because it is 
through them that other Objects are perceived. Indeed, I often 
catch myself, when thinking about my body or my mind, sup- 
posing that I am thinking about myself. 

There are other objects within the sphere of our perceptions 
which resemble our bodies, though they are not ours. The 
actions of these objects are so far like our own that we not only 
attribute to these objects the power of thinking, but also the 
consciousness of knowing, feeling, desiring and willing. In 


short, we suppose that each of these objects, when he asserts 
himself to be the Conscious Ego, means what we do when we 
make a similar statement. 

The late Professor Ferrier, in his " Metaphysic," makes great 
use of this Alter Ego, and for his own purposes he treats him as 
a true Ego, whereas in Metaphysic he can never be more than an 
Object. This, however, is only a confusion of persons, not an 
actual division of the substance of the Ego. Our business to- 
night lies in the abysmal depths of Personality, and relates to 
the Unity of the Ego. 

A great deal of what has been written on this subject relates 
to the continuity of the Ego in space and time, or in what cor- 
responds in metaphysic to the space and time of physic. And 
first of Space. Has the Ego anything corresponding to Exten- 
sion 1 Has he parts ? and, if so, are these parts separable in 
fact or even in idea ? 

It has been maintained that he has no parts ; that his state 
of consciousness at any instant is an inseparable whole, com- 
parable, in respect of extension, to a mathematical point. 
According to this view, when I think I see an extensive prospect 
all at once before me, I am in reality either actually rolling my 
eye in an unconscious frenzy, or without any bodily motion I, 
— that is, the perceptive Ego, — am attending first to one 
minimum visihile, and then to another, so that what is presented 
to me is like the idea which a blind man forms of the shape of 
an object by stroking it with the end of his stick. The evidence 
relates only to the position of points in the line traced by the 
end of his stick, but he fills in the rest of the surface in accord- 
ance with his notions of continuity and probability. 

There is no department of psychophysik which has been so 
successfully studied as that which relates to vision. When we 
keep not only our eyes, but our attention, fixed on one small 
object, the field of conscious vision seems to contract, till only 
that object remains visible, and even it seems about to disappear. 
It generally happens, however, that the feeling of uneasiness 
which grows upon us causes at last a slight displacement of the 
eye, when suddenly a large extent of the field starts into visi- 
bility, and the edges of objects, especially those normal to the 
line of displacement, become obtrusively prominent. This ex- 
periment seems at first sight to indicate that the central spot of 
the retina has some exclusive privilege in the economy of vision. 
What it really shows is that changes in the mode of excitation 


are essential to perfect vision, and that vision cannot be main- 
tained under an absolute sameness of excitation. On the other 
hand, by means of the instantaneous light of a single electric 
spark, we may read a whole sentence of print. Here we know 
that though the illumination lasts only for a few millionths of a 
second, the image on the retina lasts for a time amply sufl&cient 
for an expert reader to go over it letter by letter, and even to 
detect misprints. This experiment suggests certain speculations 
about memory, a faculty which is often supposed to be essential 
to the continuity of the Ego in time. 

When men wish to have things remembered they set up 
monuments, and write inscriptions and books, — they draw 
pictures and take photographs, — in order that these material 
things may help them, in time to come, to call up the thought 
of that which the}^ were intended to commemorate. 

In our own bodies we have records of past events. Old 
wounds may remind us of impressions made years ago, and 
ocular spectra remind us of impressions made seconds ago. 
Even in quiet meditation we sometimes find the ideas of visible 
objects accompanied with sensations hardly less vivid than those 
produced by real objects, and the memory of spoken words passes 
in a continuous manner, as the condition of our nerves becomes 
more exalted, first into a silent straining of the organs of speech, 
and then into an audible voice. 

Beginners in music may practise on a dumb piano, and there 
is a silent process by which we may improve our pronunciation 
of foreign words. 

We can thus trace a continuous series of the instruments of 
memory, beginning at the tables of stone and going on to the 
tables of the heart ; and we are tempted to ask whether all 
memorials are not of the same kind — a physical impression on 
a material system. 

The last American invention of the past year is Edison's 
Talking Phonograph. This instrument has an ear of its own, 
into which you may say your lesson, and a mouth of its own, 
which at any future time is ready to repeat that lesson. 

The memory of this machine consists of tinfoil thin enough 
to be impressionable by the metal style which is set in motion 
by the voice, and yet thick enough to be retentive of these im- 
pressions, and at a proper time to communicate a corresponding 
motion to the style of the talking part of the machine. 


Such is the heart of this instrument, by which it gets its 
speeches. Are our own hearts essentially different 1 We know 
what damage can be done to our memory by physical disturb- 
ances. We find ourselves quite unable to recall what we had 
often perused and reperused on the pages of memory. The 
page is lost out of our consciousness. Time goes on, and some 
day we find that the page with all that it contained has been 
restored to its place. Where was that page when it was out of 
our consciousness ? Not surely in the Ego, unless there be an 
unconscious Ego. It must be out of the Ego, and therefore an 
Object. If this be so, it is of no great consequence to the dignity 
of the Ego whether this particular object is purely spiritual or 
has a material substratum, just as history is history whether or 
not it has a material substratum of paper and ink. 

Memory is sometimes spoken of as if it were essential to 
individuality. When I wash to convince myself that I am the 
same person as a certain baby, I may do so by remembering as 
my own certain acts done by that baby. It may happen, how- 
ever, that I cannot ascertain whether my present memory of 
these acts is due entirely to the direct impression made by these 
acts on me, or whether it is not mainly due to the frequent 
repetition of the story of these acts, as told to me afterwards by 
older persons. 

But even if I were to find my memory to be all wrong, 
and that I am not that baby but a changeling, this would not 
touch my conviction that I who now am, am one. 

The phenomenon of double consciousness, though not com- 
mon, seems to be well established. A person has a double series 
of alternate states. In one the memory, education, accomplish- 
ments, and temper, are quite different from what they are in the 

Instances have even been adduced of a man believing him- 
self to be two or even three different individuals at the same 
time. But when we come to examine any particular case we 
find that the man has nothing more than an erroneous opinion 
that he is entitled to the position and rights of the King, or of 
some other person, as well as his own, so that even in his own 
imagination he is no more than a person who holds several 
different offices at the same time. 

(2.) The theory of Plastidule souls has been hinted at by 
several persons, of whom Dr. Tyndall has spoken loudest. A 
much clearer utterance is that of Professor von Nageli, of 


Munich, in an address delivered at the Munich meeting of the 
German Association in 1877. 

Dii Bois Eeymond, in an address to the same body at Leipzig 
in 1872, had asserted — 

*' That in the first trace of pleasure which was felt by one of 
the simplest beings in the beginning of animal life upon our 
earth, an insuperable limit was marked ; while upwards from 
this, to the most elevated mental activity, and downwards from 
the vital force of the organic to the simple physical force, he 
nowhere finds another limit." 

To this Professor Nageli replies — 

"Experience shows that from the clearest consciousness of 
the thinker downwards, through the more imperfect conscious- 
ness of the child, to the unconsciousness of the embryo, and to 
the insensibility of the human ovum, — or through the more 
imperfect consciousness of undeveloped human races and of 
higher animals to the unconsciousness of lower animals and of 
sensitive plants, and to the insensibility of all other plants, — 
there exists a continuous gradation without definable limit, and 
that the same gradation continues from the life of the animal 
ovum and the vegetable cell downwards, through organised 
elementary and more or less lifeless forms (parts of the cell), to 
crystals and chemical molecules." 

Professor von Nageli accepts the fact of sensation, appetency, 
and thought, in the higher forms of life ; but instead of trying 
to resolve it into a mechanical process, he levels up the discon- 
tinuity of the chain of being by attributing sensation not only 
to all organisms, but also to all cells, molecules, and atoms. 
This is what he says — 

'^Now, if the molecules possess anything which is ever so 
distantly related to sensation, and we cannot doubt it, since each 
one feels the presence, the certain condition, the peculiar forces 
of the other, and, accordingly, has the inclination to move, and 
under circumstances really begins to move — becomes alive as it 
were ; moreover, since such molecules are the elements which 
cause pleasure and pain ; if, therefore, the molecules feel some- 
thing that is related to sensation, then this must be pleasure, if 
they can respond to attraction and repulsion, i.e. follow their 
inclination or disinclination ; it must be displeasure if they are 
forced to execute some opposite movement, and it must be 
neither pleasure nor displeasure if they remain at rest." 

Professor von Nageli is what Professor Huxley would call a 


mere biologist, or lie would have known that the molecules, like 
the planets, move along like blessed gods. They cannot be dis- 
turbed from the path of their choice by the action of any forces, 
for they have a constant and perpetual will to render to every 
force precisely the amount of deflexion which is due to it. They 
must therefore enjoy a perpetuity of the highest and most 
unmixed pleasure, even when, as Professor Nageli says, they 
are the cause of pain to us. 

To attribute life, sensation, and thought to objects in which 
these attributes are not established by sufficient evidence is 
nothing more than the good old figure of Personification. 

If certain bodies, like the sun and stars, move in a regular 
manner, which we can predict, we may, if it pleases us, suppose 
that their nature is like that of the just man whom nothing can 
turn from the path of rectitude. If the motion of other bodies 
is less simple, so that we cannot account for it, we may suppose 
their nature to be tainted with that capriciousness which we 
observe in our fellow men, and of which we are occasionally 
conscious in ourselves. 

But the study of nature has always tended to show that 
what we formerly attributed to the caprice of bodies is only an 
instance of a regularity which is unbroken, but which cannot 
be traced by us till we acquire the requisite skill. 

But granting that the mental powers of atoms may be, for 
anything we know, of the very highest order, what step have 
we made towards linking our own mental powers with those of 
lower orders of being 1 

(3.) Let us suppose that a thinking man is built up of a 
number of thinking atoms. Have the thoughts of the man any 
relation to the thoughts of atoms or of one or more of them ? 
Those wh.0 try to account by means of atoms for mental processes 
do so not by the thoughts of the atoms but by their motions. 

Hobbes, in the frontispiece of his Leviathan^ shows us a 
monster like the wicker images of our British antecessors stuffed 
with men, and the whole method of his book is founded on an 
analogy between the body politic and the individual man. 

Herbert Spencer has pushed the analogy both upwards and 
downwards as far as it will go, and further than it can go on 
all fours. He shows us how a society is an organism, and how 


an organism is a society, — how the lower forms of societies and 
organisms consist of a multitude of homogeneous parts, the 
functions of which are imperfectly differentiated, so that each 
can at a pinch undertake the office of any other ; whereas the 
parts of higher forms of organisms and societies are exceed- 
ingly heterogeneous, and discharge more perfectly differentiated 
functions. Hence to the lower forms a breaking up may be a 
multiplication of the species, whereas to the higher forms it is 

In a society, as in an organism, both the working and the 
thinking will be better done if undertaken by different members, 
provided that the thinking members can guide the working 
members, while [the working members support the thinking 
members, — the workers retaining just enough intelligence to 
enable them to receive the guidance, and the thinkers retaining 
just enough working power to enable them to appropriate the 
pabulum presented to them by the workers. 

Hence, in the more highly developed systems, the guiding 
powers may be concentrated into a smaller portion of the whole 
system, and may exercise a more undisputed power of guiding 
the rest, till in the highest organism we arrive at what is called 
Personal Government, and the organism may bear without abuse 
the grand old name of Individual. This result is brought about 
by all the members except one bartering their right of guiding 
themselves for the privilege of being guided, and so delegating 
to the one ruling member the functions of government. When 
the human society has lapsed into the condition of personal 
government, the consciousness of the head of the state may be 
expressed by him in the phrase, "L'^tat c'est moi ;" but though 
the other members of the society may delegate to the head all 
their political powers, they cannot delegate their sensations or 
any other fact of consciousness, for these are the incommunicable 
attributes of that Ego to whom they belong. 

I have now to confess that up to the present moment I have 
remained in ignorance of how I came to be, or, in the Spencerian 
language, how consciousness must arise. I was dimly aware 
that somewhere in the vast System of Philosophy this question 
had been settled, because the Evolutionists are all so calm about 
it ; but in a hasty search for it I never suspected in how quiet 
and unostentatious a manner the origin of myself would be 
accounted for. I am indebted to Mr. Kirkman for pointing it 


out in his Philosophy without Assumptions. Here it is with Mr. 
Kirkman's comment. Principles of Psychology^ § 179, p. 403 : — 
" These separate impressions are received by the senses — by- 
different parts of the body. If they go no further than the 
places at which they are received, they are useless. Or if only 
some of them are brought into relation with one another, they 
are useless. That an effectual adjustment may be made, they 
must all be brought into relation with one another. But this 
implies some centre of communication common to them all, 
through which they severally pass ; and, as they cannot pass 
through it simultaneously, they must pass through it in succes- 
sion. So that as the external phenomena responded to become 
greater in number and more complicated in kind, the variety and 
rapidity of the changes to which this common centre of communi- 
cation is subject must increase — there must result an unbroken 
series of these changes — there must arise a consciousness." 

On this Kirkman remarks : "He knew he could do it, and 
he did it ! " — What was the evolution of light to this ? The 
next Longinus will put that in before yevecrOo) ^w? koI 

The opinions about my origin are as various as those about 
my nature. Canon Liddon tells me that I was created out of 
nothing in the year 1831, though I cannot make out from what 
he says on what day of that year the event took place, or why 
my parents and not some one else found me under a goose- 
berry bush ; or, indeed, why I should have any part or lot 
in family matters, from Adam's first sin down to my father's 
last name. 

Mr. Francis Galton tells me that I am developed from 
structureless germs contributed not only by my two parents 
but by their remotest ancestors centuries ago. My existence, 
therefore, does not begin abruptly, but tails off as an expo- 
nential function of t does for negative values of that variable. 
My local existence, however, though at present confined within 
the periphractic region of my skin, was in former times discon- 
tinuous as regards space, being carried about by two, four, or 
more, distinct human beings. 

Dr. Julius Miiller tells me that by an analysis of my con- 
science I shall come to a very different result, namely, that I 
existed (if, indeed, the fact can be expressed by a past tense 
and not a pure aorist), in an extra-temporal state, and that in 


that state I freely determined myself to choose evil rather than 

He does not say I can remember this transaction. The con- 
viction I am to acquire of it is not to be an experimental 
or empirical consciousness, but a speculative or philosophical 

Since, according to Miiller's theory, this extra -temporal 
decision is perfectly free, and since it would be difficult to 
predicate freedom of a choice which is invariably on one side, 
he is obliged to assert that, in the extra-temporal state, some of 
our species must have chosen the better part. But he has also 
to maintain that all of us who are born into this world by 
ordinary generation have already chosen the worse part. 

Hence, though he does not say so, he makes the extra- 
temporal fall a condition of our being born into this w^orld. 
Whether those of us who make the better choice are born into 
some other world, or whether, so long as they remain unfallen, 
they continue in the extra-temporal state — a state certainly not 
higher but rather more undeveloped than that of time — Miiller 
does not say. 

Dr. John Henry Newman has shown us how the doctrine 
of post-baptismal sin became developed iuto the discovery of 
Purgatory, with all its geographical details. It would seem as 
if the doctrine of original sin, in the hands of speculative theo- 
logians, might open up to our view a far more transcendental 
region, compared with which the stairs and terraces and fires 
of purgatory are as familiar as those of our own hearths and 

As to my present state, Du Bois Reymond tells me that not 
only my bodily but a large part of my mental functions are 
performed by the motion of atoms under fixed laws, and his 
result is that the finite mind, as it has developed itself through 
the animal world up to man, is a double one, — on the one side 
the acting, inventing, unconscious, material mind, which puts 
the muscles into motion and determines the world's history : 
this is nothing else but the mechanics of atoms, and is subject 
to the causal law ; and on the other side the inactive, contem- 
plative, remembering, fancying, conscious, immaterial mind, 
which feels pleasure and pain, love and hate : this one lies 
outside of the mechanics of matter and cares nothing for cause 
and effect. 

Dr. Drysdale tells me that not only my thinking powers but 


my feelings are functions of the material organism, and that I 
myself am such a function. He admits that I am not material 
— no function can be material, for matter is a substance, and a 
function is not a being at all. Dr. Drysdale, as a Christian 
materialist, follows his master Fletcher, who saye — 

"As often as it shall be said that mind or the faculty of 
thinking is a property of living matter, — that it is bom with 
the body, is developed with the body, decays with the body, 
and dies with the body, — it is to be understood of the mind 
only, not the souL The soul is something not material indeed, 
but substantial — a divine gift to the highest alone of God's 
creatures, responsible for all the actions of mind, but as totally 
distinct from it as one thing can be from another, or rather 
as something is from nothing.^' 

Dr. Drysdale, however, in order to save the dynamical theory 
of life and mind, says that this soul or spirit must either, if 
now existing, be a passive spectator of the action of the living 
being connected with it, or else that he has no existence during 
this present life, but is to be constituted by a divine act after 
the death of the living being. 

In either case, I cannot identify this soul with myself, for I 
know that I exist now, and that I act, and that what I do muy 
be right or wrong ; and that, whether right or wrong, it is my 
act, which I cannot repudiate. 

: - In this search for information about myself from eminent 
thinkers of different types, I seem to have learnt one lesson, 
that all science and philosophy, and every form of human speech, 
is about objects capable of being perceived by the speaker and 
the hearer ; and that when our thought pretends to deal with 
the Subject it is really only dealing with an Object under a 
false name. The only proposition about the Subject, namely, 
*• I am," cannot be used in the same sense by any two of us, 
and, therefore, it can never become science at all. 

POEMS. 383 


The Vampyre.i 
Gom2)yU into Meeter hy James Clerk Maxwell, [1845.] 

Thair is a knichte rydis throTigh the wood, 

And a douchty knichte is hee, 
And sure hee is on a message sent, 

He rydis sae hastilie. 
Hee passit the aik, and hee passit the birk, 

And hee passit monie a tre, 
Bot plesant to him was the saugh sae slim, 

For beneath it hee did see 
The boniest ladye that ever he saw, 

Scho was sae schyn and fair. 
And there scho sat, beneath the saugh, 

Kaiming hir gowden hair. 
And then the knichte — " Oh ladye brichte. 

What chance hes broucht you here. 
But say the word, and ye schall gang 

Back to your kindred dear." 
Then up and spok the Ladye fair — 

" I have nae friends or kin, 
Bot in a littel boat I live. 

Amidst the waves' loud din." 
Then answered thus the douchty knichte — 

" I'll follow you through all. 
For gin ye bee in a littel boat, 

The world to it seemis small." 
They gaed through the wood, and through the wood 

To the end of the wood they came : 
And when they came to the end of the wood 

They saw the salt sea faem. 
And then they saw the wee, wee boat. 

That daunced on the top of the wave, 
And first got in the ladye fair, 

And then the knichte sae brave ; 
They got into the wee, wee boat, 

And rowed wi' a' their micht ; 

1 P. 48. 


When the knichte sae brave, he tarnit about, 

And lookit at the ladye brichte ; 
He lookit at her bonie cheik, 

And hee lookit at hir twa brichte eyne, 
Bot hir rosie cheik growe ghaistly pale, 

And scho seymit as scho deid had been. 
The fause fause knichte growe pale wi' frichte, 

And his hair rose up on end, 
For gane-by days cam to his mynde. 

And his former luve he kenned. 
Then spake the ladye, — " Thou, fause knichte, 

Hast done to mee much ill, 
Thou didst forsake me long ago, 

Bot I am constant still ; 
For though I ligg in the woods sae cauld, 

At rest I canna bee 
Until I sucke the gude lyfe blude 

Of the man that gart me dee." 
Hee saw hir lipps were wet wi' blude. 

And hee saw hir lyfelesse eyne, 
And loud hee cry'd, '' Get frae my syde. 

Thou vampyr corps uncleane !" 
Bot no, hee is in hir magic boat, 

And on the wyde wyde sea ; 
And the vampyr suckis his gude lyfe blude 

Sho suckis hym till hee dee. 
So now beware, whoe^re you are. 

That walkis in tliis lone wood ; 
Beware of that deceitfull spright. 

The ghaist that suckis the blude. 

(Song of the Edinburgh Academician 


If ony here has got an ear, 
He'd better tak' a baud o' me 

Or I'll begin, wi' roarin' din, 

To cheer our old Academv. 

POEMS. 385 

Dear old Academy, 
Queer old Academy, 
A merry lot we were, I wot, 
When at the old Academy. 

There's some may think me crouse wi' drink, 

And some may think it mad o' me, 
But ither some will gladly come 

And cheer our old Academy. 

Some set their hopes on Kings and Popes, 

But, o' the sons of Adam, he 
Was first, without the smallest doubt, 

That built the first Academy, 

Let Pedants seek for scraps of Greek, » 

Their lingo to Macadamize ; 
Gie me the sense, without pretence, 

That comes o' Scots Academies. 

Let scholars all, both grit and small, 

Of Learning mourn the sad demise ; 
That's as they think, but we will drink 

Good luck to Scots Academies. 


Keflex Musings : 

Reflection from Various Surfaces. 

18th April 1853. 

In the dense entangled street. 

Where the web of Trade is weaving, 
Forms unknown in crowds I meet 

Much of each and all believing ; 

Each his small designs achieving 
Hurries on with restless feet. 

While, through Fancy's power deceiving, 
Self in every form I greet. 

2 C 


Oft in yonder rocky dell 

^Neath the birches* shadow seated, 

I have watched the darksome well, 
Where my stooping form, repeated, 
Now advanced and now retreated 

With the spring's alternate swell. 
Till destroyed before completed 

As the big drops grew and felL 

By the hollow mountain-side 

Questions strange I shout for ever, 
While the echoes far and wide 

Seem to mock my vain endeavour ; 

Still I shout, for though they never 
Cast my borrowed voice aside, 

Words from empty words they sever — 
Words of Truth from words of Pride. 

Yes, the faces in the crowd. 

And the wakened echoes, glancing 

From the mountain, rocky browed, 
And the lights in water dancing — 
Each, my wandering sense entrancing. 

Tells me back my thoughts aloud, 
All the joys of Truth enhancing, 

Cmshing all that makes me proud. 

A Student's Evening Hymn. 

Cairibridge, April 25, 1853. 

Now no more the slanting rays 
With the mountain summits dally. 

Now no more in crimson blaze 
Evening's fleecy cloudlets rally. 
Soon shall Night from off the valley 

Sweep that bright yet earthly haze, 
And the stars most musically 

Move in endless rounds of praise. 

POEMS. 387 


While the world is growing dim, 
And the Sun is slow descending 

Past the far horizon's rim, 

Earth's low sky to heaven extending, 
Let my feeble earth-notes, blending 

With the songs of cherubim, 

Through the same expanse ascending, 

Thus renew my evening hymn. 


Thou that fill'st our waiting eyes 

With the food of contemplation, 
Setting in thy darkened skies 

Signs of infinite creation. 

Grant to nightly meditation 
What the toilsome day denies — 

Teach me in this earthly station 
Heavenly Truth to realise. 


Give me wisdom so to use 

These brief hours of thoughtful leisure, 
That I may no instant lose 

In mere meditative pleasure, 

But with strictest justice measure 
All the ends my life pursues. 

Lies to crush and truths to treasure, 
Wrong to shun and Right to choose. 

Then, when unexpected Sleep, 

O'er my long-closed eyelids stealing, 

Opens up that lower deep 

Where Existence has no feeling. 
May sweet Calm, my languor healing, 

Lend me strength at dawn to reap 
All that Shadows, world-concealing. 

For the bold inquirer keep. 



Through the creatures Thou hast made 

Show the brightness of Thy glory, 
Be eternal Truth displayed 

In their substance transitory, 

Till green Earth and Ocean hoarj^, 
Massy rock and tender blade 

Tell the same unending story — 
" We are Truth in Form arrayed." 


When to study I retire, 

And from books of ancient sages 
Glean fresh sparks of buried fire 

Lurking in their ample pages — 

While the task my mind engages 
Let old words new truths inspire — 

Truths that to all after-ages 
Prompt the Thoughts that never tire. 


Yet if, led by shadows fair, 

I have uttered words of folly. 
Let the kind absorbing air • 

Stifle every sound unholy. 

So when Saints with Angels lowly 
Join in heaven's unceasing prayer. 

Mine as certainly, though slowly, 
May ascend and mingle there. 

Two stanzas omitted y the Author knows where, hut not to he inserted 

till he knows how. 

Teach me so Thy works to read 

That my faith, — new strength accruing, — 
May from world to world proceed. 

Wisdom's fruitful search pursuing ; 

Till, thy truth my mind imbuing, 
I proclaim the Eternal Creed, 

Oft the glorious theme renewing 
God our Lord is God indeed. 

POEMS. 389 

Give me love ariglit to trace 
Tliine to everything created, 

Preaching to a ransomed race 
By Thy mercy renovated, 
Till with all thy fulness sated! 

I behold thee face to face 
And with Ardour unabated 

Sing the glories of thy grace. 

(On St. David's Day.i To Mrs. E. C. Morrieson.) 

1st March 1854. 

'TwAS not chance but deep design, 
Tho' of whom I can't di^dne 
Made the courtly Valentine 

(Corpulent saint and bishop) 
Such a time with Bob to stay : — - 
Let me now in bardish way 
On your own St. DaAdd's day 

Toss you a simple dish up. 

'Tis a tale we learnt at school, — 
Oft we broke domestic rule. 
Standing till our brows were cool 

In the forbidden lobby. '-^ 
There we talked and there we laughed, 
■ Till the townsfolk thought us daft, 
What of that ? a thorough draft 

Was and is still my hobby. 

To my tale : In ancient days. 
Ere men left the good old ways. 
Lived a lady whose just praise 

Passes all fancied glory. 
Eich was she in field and store, 
Bicher in the sons she bore, 
How could she be honoured more ? 

Listen and hear the story. 

1 See p. 150. ^ p^ 43^ 1^ jq. 


On a higli and festive day 
When the chariots bright and gay 
To the temple far away 

Passed in majestic order, — 
"When the hour was nigh at hand, 
She who should have led the band 
Found no oxen at command, 

Searching through all her border.^ 

Then her two sons brave and strong 
Girt their limbs with band and thong, 
And before the wondering throng 

Drew their exulting mother. 
Swift and steady, on they came ; 
At the temple loud acclaim 
Greeted that illustrious dame, 

Blest above every other. 

Then, while triumph filled her breast, 
Loud she prayed above the rest. 
Give my sons whatever best 

Man may receive from heaven. 
To the shrine the brothers stept, 
Low they bowed, they sunk, they slept, 
Stillness o'er their brave limbs crept : — 

Kest was the guerdon given. 

Such the simple story told. 
By a sage renowned of old,^ 
To a king ^ whose fabled gold 

Could not procure him learning. 
Heathen was the sage indeed. 
Yet his tale we gladly read. 
Thro' his dark and doubtful creed 

Glimpses of Truth discerning. 

Now no more the altar's blaze 
Glares athwart our worldly haze, 
Warning men how evil ways 
Lead to just tribulation. 

1 Herodotus, i. 31. 2 Solon. 3 Ooesus. 

POEMS. 391 

Now no more the temple stands, 
Pointing out to godless lands 
That which is not made with hands, 
Even the whole Creation. 

Ask no more, then, " what is best, 
How shall those you love be blest," 
Ask at once, eternal Kest, 

Peace and assurance giving. 
Rest of Life and not of death, 
Rest in Love and Hope and Faith, 
Till the God who gives their breath 

Calls them to rest from living. 

Recollections of Dreamland. 

Camhridge, Jwnel 1856 ?■ 

Rouse ye ! torpid daylight - dreamers, cast your carking cares 

As calm air to troubled water, so my night is to your day ; 
All the dreary day you labour, groping after common sense. 
And your eyes ye will not open on the night's magnificence. 
Ye would scoff were I to tell you how a guiding radiance gleams 
On the outer world of action from my inner world of dreams. 

When, with mind released from study, late I lay me down to 

From the midst of facts and figures, into boundless space I leap ; 
For the inner world grows wider as the outer disappears. 
And the soul, retiring inward, finds itself beyond the spheres. 
Then, to this unbroken sameness, some fantastic dream succeeds, 
Vague emotions rise and ripen into thoughts and words and 

Old impressions, long forgotten, range themselves in Time and 

Till I recollect the features of some once familiar place. 
Then from valley into valley in my dreaming course I roam, 
Till the wanderings of my fancy end, where they began, at home. 

^ See p. 165. 


Calm it lies in morning twilight, while each streamlet far and 

Still retains its hazy mantle, borrowed from the mountain's side ; 
Every knoll is now an island, every wooded bank a shore, 
To the lake of quiet vapour that has spread the valley o'er. 
Sheep are couched on every hillock, waiting till the morning 

Hares are on their early rambles, limping o'er the dewy lawn.s. 
All within the house is silent, darkened all the chambers 

As with noiseless step I enter, gliding onwards in my dream. 

What ! has Time run out his cycle, do the years return again ? 
Are there treasure - caves in Dreamland where departed days 

remain ? 
I have leapt the bars of distance — left the life that late I led — 
I remember years and labours as a tale that I have read ; 
Yet my heart is hot within me, for I feel the gentle power 
Of the spirits that still Ics^e me, waiting for this sacred hour. 
Yes, — I know the forms that meet me are but phantoms of the 

For they walk in mortal bodies, and they have not ceased from 

Oh ! those signs of human weakness, left behind for ever now, 
Dearer far to me than glories round a fancied seraph's brow. 
Oh ! the old familiar voices ! Oh ! the patient waiting eyes ! 
Let me live with them in dreamland, while the world in slumber 

lies ! 
For by bonds of sacred honour will they guard my soul in sleep 
From the spells of aimless fancies, that around my senses creep. 
They will link the past and present into one continuous life, 
While I feel their hope, their patience, nerve me for the daily 


For it is not all a fancy that our lives and theirs are one. 
And we know that all we see is but an endless work begun. 
Part is left in Nature's keeping, part is entered into rest. 
Part remains to grow and ripen, hidden in some living breast. 
What is ours we know not, either when we wake or when we 

But we know that Love and Honour, day and night, are ours 

to keep. 

POEMS. 393 

Wliat though Dreams be wandering fancies, by some lawless 

force entwined, 
Empty bubbles, floating upwards through the current of the 

mind ? 
There are powers and thoughts within us, that we know not, 

till they rise 
Through the stream of conscious action from where Self in 

secret lies. 
But when Will and Sense are silent, by the thoughts that come 

and go, 
"We may trace the rocks and eddies in the hidden depths below. 

Let me dream my dream till morning ; let my mind run slow 

and clear. 
Free from all the world's distraction, feeling that the Dead are 

Let me wake, and see my duty lie before me straight and 

Let me rise refreshed, and ready to begin my work again. 

To THE Am OF " Lorelei." 

Aberdeen, January 1858. 

Alone on a hillside of heather, 

I lay with dark thoughts in my mind, 
In the midst of the beautiful weather 

I was deaf, I was dumb, I was blind. 
I knew not the glories around me, 

I counted the world as it seems. 
Till a spirit of melody found me. 

And taught me in visions and dreams. 


For the sound of a chorus of voices 

Came gathering up from below, 
And I heard how all Nature rejoices. 

And moves with a musical flow. 


O strange ! we are lost in delusion, 
Our ways and doings are wrong, 

We are drowning in^ wilful confusion 
The notes of tliat ^ wonderful sonsj. 


But listen, what harmony holy 

Is mingling its notes with our own ! 
The discord is vanishing slowly, 

And melts in that dominant tone. 
And they that have heard it can never 

Keturn to confusion again. 
Their voices are music for ever, 

A-nd join in the mystical strain. 


No mortal can ^ utter the beauty 

That dwells in * the song that they sing ; 
They move in the pathway of duty, 

They follow the steps of their King. 
I would barter the world and its glory, 

That vision of joy to prolong, 
Or to hear and remember the story 

That lies in the heart of their song. 

" I've heard the rushing." 

Aberdeen, 1858, 

IVe heard the rushing of mounts^in torrents, gushing 
Down through the rocks, in a cataract of spray, 

Onward to the ocean ; 

Swift seemed their motion. 
Till, lost in the desert, they dwindled away. 

I've learnt the story of all human glory, 

IVe felt high resolves growing weaker every day, 

1 v.T. marring with. ^ v.r. the. 

5 v.r. may. * v.r. breathes through. 

POEMS. 395 

Till cares, springing round me, 
With creeping tendrils bound me, 
And all I once hoped for was wearing fast away. 

IVe seen the river rolling on for ever, 

Silent and strong, without tumult or display. 

In the desert arid, 

Its waters never tarried, 
Till far out at sea we still found them on their way. 

Now no more weary we faint in deserts dreary. 
Toiling alone till the closing of the day ; 

All now is righted, 

Our souls flow on united, 
Till the years and their sorrows have all died away. 

" Will tou come along with me 1 " 

Aberdeen^ 1858. 

Will you come along with me. 

In the fresh spring-tide, 
My comforter to be 

Through the world so wide ? 
Will you come and learn the ways 
A student spends his days. 
On the bonny, bonny braes 

Of our ain burnside ? 


For the Iambs will soon be here, 

In the fresh spring-tide ; 
As lambs come every year 

On our ain burnside. 
Poor things, they will not stay, 
But we will keep the day 
When first we saw them play 

On our ain burnside. 


We will watch the budding trees 
In the fresh spring-tide. 


Wliile the murmurs of the breeze 

Through the branches glide. 
Where the mavis builds her nest, 
And finds both work and rest, 
In the bush she loves the best, 
On our ain burnside. 


And the life we then shall lead 

In the fresh spring-tide, 
"Will make thee mine indeed, 
Though the world be wide. 
No stranger's blame or praise 
Shall turn us from the ways 
That brought us happy days 
On our ain burnside. 

''Why, when our sun shines clearest." 


Why, when our sun shines clearest, 
Why, when our hopes seem nearest, 
Why, when our life feels dearest, 

Rises a secret pain — 
Hope's perfect mirror broken — 
Shadows of things unspoken — 
Why will not some sure token 

Calm us to rest again ? 

Mixed with all earthly blessing 
Lingers the fear distressing — 
Conscience within confessing 

Nothing of ours is pure. 
Still must such thoughts upbraid us, 
Seeking our own to aid us ; 
God, not ourselves, hath made us ; 

Trusting in Him we're sure. 

POEMS. 397 

Thus, from our sorrows gleaning 
Thouglits of the world's deep meaning, 
Let us rejoice while leaning 

Firm on our Father's arm. 
Now are we one for ever, 
Joined so that none may sever, 
Souls, so united, never 

Faint through mischance or harm. 

To K. M. D. 

Aberdeen, 1858. 

In the buds, before they burst, 

Leaves and flowers are moulded ; 
Closely pressed they lie at first, 

Exquisitely folded. 

Though no hope of change they felt. 

Folded hard together. 
Soon their sap begins to melt 

In the warmer weather. 

Till, when Life returns with Spring, 

Through them softly stealing, 
All their freshness forth they fling, 

Hidden forms revealing. 

Who can fold those flowers again, 

In the way he found them ? 
Or those spreading leaves restrain, 

In the buds that bound them ? 

Trust me. Spring is very near, 

All the buds are swelling ; 
All the glory of the year 

In those buds is dwelKng. 

What the opened buds reveal 

Tells us — Life is flowing ; 
What the buds, still shut, conceal. 

We shall end in knowing. 


Long I lingered in the bud, 
Doubting of the season, 

Winter's cold bad cbilled my blood- 
I was ripe for treason. 

Now no more I doubt or wait, 
All my fears are vanished, 

Summer's coming, dear, though late, 
Fogs and frosts are banished. 

Tune, II Segreto per esser felice. 

24th March 1858. 


There are some folks that say, 
They have found out a way, 

To be healthy and wealthy and wise — 
" Let your thoughts be but few, 
Do as other folk do, 

And never be caught by surprise. 
Let your motto be — Follow the fashion, 

But let other people alone ; 
Do not love them, nor hate them, nor care for their fate. 

But keep a look out for your own. 
Then what though the world may run riot. 

Still playing at catch who catch can ; 
You may just eat your dinner in quiet, 

And live like a sensible man." 


'Twere a beautiful thing, 
Thus to sit like a king. 

And talk of the world turning round, 
If it were not that we. 
Like all things that we see. 

Are standing on movable ground. 
While we boast of our tranquil enjoyments, 
The means of enjoyment are flown, 

POEMS. 399 

Both our joys and our pains, till there's nothing remains, 

But the tranquil repose of a stone. 
The world may be utterly crazy, 

And life may be labour in vain ; 
But I'd rather be silly than lazy, 
• And would not quit life for its pain. 


In Nature I read 
Quite a different creed, 

There everything lives in the rest ; 
Each feels the same force, 
As it moves in its course, 

And all by one blessing are blest. 
The end that we live for is single. 

But we labour not therefore alone. 
For together we feel how by wheel within wheel. 
We are helped by a force not our own. 
we flee not the world and its dangers. 
For He that has made it is wise, 
He knows we are pilgrims and strangers, 
And He will enlighten our eyes. 

(To HIS Wife.) 

Oft in the night, from this lone room 
I long to fly o'er land and sea. 

To pierce the dark, dividing gloom. 
And join myself to thee. 

And thou to me wouldst gladly fly, 
I know thee well, my own true wife ! 

We feel, that when we live not nigh. 
We lose the crown of life. 

Yet soon I hope, at dead of night. 
To meet where all is strange beside, 

And 'mid the train's resounding flight 
To have thee by my side. 



Then shall I feel that thou art near, 
Joined hand to hand and soul to soul ; 

Short will that happy night appear, 
As through the dark we roll. 

Then shall the secret of the will, 
That dares not enter into bliss ; 

That longs for love, yet lingers still, 
Be solved in one long kiss. 

I, drinking deep of thy rich love, 

Thou feeling all the strength of mine, 

Our souls will rise in faith above 
The cares which make us pine. 

Till I give thee, thou giving me, 
As that which either loves the best, 

To Him that loved us both, that He 
May take us to His rest. 

Wandering and weak are all our prayers, 
And fleeting half the gifts we crave ; 

Love only, cleansed from sins and cares, 
Shall live beyond the grave. 

Strengthen our love, Lord, that we 
May in Thine own great love believe 

And, opening all our soul to Thee, 
May Thy free gift receive. 

All powers of mind, all force of will, 
May lie in dust when we are dead. 

But love is ours, and shall be still, 
T^Tien earth and seas are fled. 

POEMS. 401 


Lines toritteyi under the conviction that it is not wise to read 
Mathematics in November after one's fire is out. 

10th Nov. 1853. 

In the sad November time, 
When the leaf has left the lime, 
And the Cam, with sludge and slime. 

Plasters his ngly channel, 
While, with sober step and slow, 
Round about the marshes low, 
Stiffening students stumping go 

Shivering through their flannel. 

Then to me in doleful mood 
Rises up a question rude. 
Asking what sufficient good 

Comes of this mode of living ? 
Moping on from day to day, 
Grinding up what will not " pay," 
Till the jaded brain gives way 

Under its own misgiving. 

Why should wretched Man employ 
Years which Nature meant for joy, 
Striving vainly to destroy 

Freedom of thought and feeling 1 
Still the injured powers remain 
Endless stores of hopeless pain, 
When at last the vanquished brain 

Languishes past all healing. 

Where is then his wealth of mind — 
All the schemes that Hope designed 1 
Gone, like spring, to leave behind 

Indolent melancholy. 
Thus he ends his helpless days, 
Yex't with thoughts of former praise — 
Tell me, how are Wisdom's ways 

Better than senseless Folly ? 
2 D 


Happier those whom trifles please, 
DreamiDg out a life of ease, 
Sinking by nnfelt degrees 

Into annihilation. 
Or the slave, to labour born, 
Heedless of the freeman's scorn, 
Destined to be slowly worn 

Down to the brute creation. 

Thus a tempting spirit spoke, 
As from troubled sleep I woke 
To a morning thick with smoke, 

Sunless and damp and chilly. 
Then to sleep I turned once more. 
Eyes inflamed and windpipe sore, 
Dreaming dreams 1 dreamt before, 

Only not quite so silly. 

In my dream methought I strayed 
Where a learned-looking maid 
Stores of flimsy goods displayed, 

Articles not worth wearing. 
" These," she said, with solemn air, 
" Are the robes that sages wear, 
Warranted, when kept with care, 
Never to need repairing." 

Then unnumbered witlings, caught 
By her wiles, the trappings bought, 
And by labour, not by thought, 

Honour and fame were earning. 
While the men of wiser mind 
Passed for blind among the blind ; 
Pedants left them far behind 

In the career of learning. 

" Those that fix their eager eyes 
Ever on the nearest prize 
Well may venture to despise 
Loftier aspirations. 

POEMS. 403 

Pedantry is in demand ! 
Buy it up at second-hand, 
Seek no more to understand 

Profitless speculations." 

Thus the gaudy gowns were sold, 
Cast off sloughs of pedants old ; 
Proudly marched the students bold 

Through the domain of error, 
Till their trappings, false though fair. 
Mouldered off and left them bare, 
Clustering close in blank despair, 

Nakedness, cold, and terror. 

Then, I said, " These haughty Schools 
Boast that by their formal rules 
They produce more learned fools 

Than could be well expected. 
Learned fools they are indeed, 
Learned in the books they read ; 
Fools whene'er they come to need 

Wisdom, too long neglected. 

" Oh ! that men indeed were wise. 
And would raise their purblind eyes 
To the opeuing mysteries 

Scattered around them ever. 
Truth should spring from sterile ground, 
Beauty beam from all around. 
Right should then at last be found 

Joining what none may sever." 


A Problem in Dynamics. 

An inextensible liea^'y chain 
Lies on a smooth horizontal plane, 
An impulsive force is applied at A, 
Required the initial motion of K. 

19th Feb. 1854. 

Let ds be the infinitesimal link, 

Of which for the present we've only to think ; 

Let T be the tension, and T + (ZT 

The same for the end that is nearest to B. 

Let a be put, by a common convention, 

For the angle at M 'twixt OX and the tension ; 

Let Yt and V^ be fZs's velocities, 

Of which V^ along and Y^ across it is ; 

Then — the tangent will equal, 

Of the angle of starting worked out in the sequel. 

In working the problem the first thing of course is 

To equate the impressed and effectual forces. 

K is tugged by two tensions, whose difference dT 

(1) Must equal the element's mass into V^. 
Yn must be due to the force perpendicular 
To c^s's direction, which shows the particular 
Advantage of using da to serve at your 
Pleasure to estimate rfs's curvature. 

For Yn into mass of a unit of chain 

(2) Must equal the curvature into the strain. 

POEMS. 405 

Thus managing cause and effect to discriminate, 

The student must fruitlessly try to eliminate, 

And painfully learn, that in order to do it, he 

Must find the Equation of Continuity. 

The reason is this, that the tough little element, 

Which the force of impulsion to beat to a jelly meant, 

"Was endowed with a property incomprehensible, 

And was "given," in the language of Shop, "inextensible." 

It therefore with such pertinacity odd defied 

The force which the length of the chain would have modified, 

That its stubborn example may possibly yet recall 

These overgrown rhymes to their prosody metrical. 

The condition is got by resolving again, 

According to axes assumed in the plane. 

If then you reduce to the tangent and normal, 

(3) You will find the equation more neat tho' less formal. 

(4) The condition thus found after these preparations. 
When duly combined with the former equations. 
Will give you another, in which differentials 

(5) (When the chain forms a circle), become in essentials 
No harder than those that we easily solve 

(6) In the time a T totum would take to revolve. 

Now joyfully leaving ds to itself, a- 

Ttend to the values of T and of a. 

The chain undergoes a distorting convulsion. 

Produced first at A by the force of impulsion. 

In magnitude R, in direction tangential, 

(7) Equating this E. to the form exponential. 
Obtained for the tension when a is zero. 

It will measure the tug, such a tug as the '^hero 
Plume-waving " experienced, tied to the chariot. 
But when dragged by the heels his grim head could not 
carry aught, 

(8) So give a its due at the end of the chain, 
And the tension ought there to be zero again. 
From these two conditions we get three equations, 
WTiich serve to determine the proper relations 
Between the first impulse and each coefficient 

In the form for the tension, and this is sufficient 
To work out the problem, and then, if you choose, 
You may turn it and twist it the Dons to amuse. 


Equations referred to. 

(I) cn:=my,ds 

(2) mT^ = T~ 



(5) 7-T-T = 

(6) T = Cie- + C2«— 

(7) R = Cj^ -}- C.2 

(8) = Cie»i-hCV-«i 

V„ -. g(<^i-o) — e-(<^i-'^) 
— = tan /j = - -J r 

Yaledictory Address to the D — >:. 

May ISoj^ 


JoHX Alexander Frere, John, 

Wlien we were first acquent. 
You lectured us as Freshmen 

In the holy term of Lent ; 
But now you're gettin' bald, John, 

Your end is drawing neai*, 
And I think we'd better sav " Goodbye, 

John Alexander Frere." 

John Alexander Frere, John, 

How swiftlv Time has flown ! 
The weeks that you refused us 

Are now no more your own ; 
Tho' Time was in your hand, John, 

You lingered out the year, 
That Grace might more eJjound unto 

John Alexander Frer-.^ 

^ Mr. Frere had accepted the living of ShiUington, but retained his 
fellowship for the custoinary "year of grace." 

POEMS. 407 

There's young Monro of Trinity, 

And Hunter bold of Queen's, 
Who spurn the chapel system, 

And " vex the souls of Deans." 
But all their petty squabbles 

More ludicrous appear, 
When we muse on thy departed form, 

John Alexander Frere. 

There's many a better man, John, 

That scorns the scotting crew, 
But keeps with fond aifection 

The notes he got from you — 
" Why he was out of College, 

Till two o'clock or near, 
The Senior Dean requests to know, 

Yours truly, J. A. Frere." 

John Alexander Frere, John, 

I wonder what you mean 
By mixing up your name so 

With me, and ^dth " The Dean." 
Another Don may dean us, 

But ne'er again, Ave fear, 
Shall we receive such notes as yours, 

John Alexander Frere. 

The Lecture Room no more, John, 

Shall hear thy drowsy tone, 
No more shall men in Chapel 

Bow down before thy throne. 
But Shillington with meekness 

The oracle shall hear. 
That set St. Mary's all to sleep — 

John Alexander Frere. 

Then once before we part, John, 

Let all be clean forgot, 
Our scandalous inventions, 

[Thy note-lets, prized or not]. 


For under all conventions 


The small man lived sincere, 
The kernel of the Senior Dean, 
John Alexander Erere.^ 

In Memory of Edward Wilson, 
WTio repented of what was in his mind to write after section. 

Rigid Body (sings). 

Gin a body meet a body 

Flyin' through the air, 
Gin a body hit a body, 

Will it fly '? and where ? 
Ilka impact has its measure, 

Ne'er a ane hae I, 
Yet a' the lads they measure me, 

Or, at least, they try. 

Gin a body meet a body 

Altogether free, 
How they travel afterwards 

We do not always see. 
Ilka problem has its method 

By analytics high ; 
For me, I ken na ane o' them, 

But what the waur am I ? 

Valentine bt a Telegraph Clerk (J to a Telegraph 

Clerk $ . 

" The tendrils of my soul are twined 

With thine, though many a mile apart, 
And thine in close-coiled circuits wind 
Around the needle of my heart. 

^ The genume esteem expressed iu the concluding words, wliich alone 
in this youthful pasquinade are to be taken seriously, must be the apology 
for inserting -what Maxwell himself would not have printed. 

POEMS. 409 

** Constant as Daniell, strong as Grove, 

Ebullient through its depths like Smee, 
My heart pours forth its tide of love, 
And all its circuits close in thee. 

" tell me, when along the line 

From my full heart the message flows, 
What currents are induced in thine ? 
One click from thee will end my woes." 

Through many an Ohm the Weber flew. 
And clicked this answer back to me, — 
" I am thy Farad, staunch ^ and true. 

Charged to a Volt with love for thee." 

Lectures to Women on Physical Science. 

Place. — A small alcove ivith dark curtains. 

The Class consists of one member. 
Subject. — Thomson's Mirror Galvanometer. 

The lamp-light falls on blackened walls. 

And streams through narrow perforations, 
The long beam trails o'er pasteboard scales, 
With slow-decaying oscillations. 
Flow, current, flow, set the quick light-spot flying, 
Flow current, answer light-spot, flashing, quivering, dying. 

look ! how queer ! how thin and clear, 
And thinner, clearer, sharper growing 
The gliding fire ! with central wire. 
The fine degrees distinctly showing. 
Swing, magnet, swing, advancing and receding. 
Swing magnet ! Answer dearest, What's your final reading ? 

^ v.r. Stout. 


love ! you fail to read the scale 
Correct to tenths of a division. 
To mirror heaven those eyes were given, 
And not for methods of precision. 
Break contact, break, set the free light-spot flying ; 
Break contact, rest thee, magnet, swinging, creeping, dying. 

Lectures to Women on Physical Science. 

July 1874. 

Professor CJirschtschonovitsch, Ph.D., ^^ On the 0. G, S.^ system 

of Units." 

Remarks submitted to the Lecturer by a student 

Prim Doctor of Philosophy 

From academic Heidelberg ! 
Your sum of vital energy 

Is not the millionth of an erg.^ 
Your liveliest motion might be reckoned 
At one-tenth metre '"^ in a second. 

" The air," you said, in language fine, 
Which scientific thought expresses, 
" The air — which mth a megadyne,* 
On each square centimetre presses — 
The air, and I may add the ocean, 
Are nought but molecules in motion." 

Atoms, you told me, were discrete, 

Than you they could not be discreter. 
Who know how many Millions meet 
Within a cubic millimetre. 

^ C. Gr. S. system — the system of units founded on the centimetre, 
gramme, and second. See report of Committee on units. — Brit. Ass. 
Report for 1873, p. 222. 

2 Erg — the energy communicated by a dyne, acting through a centi- 
metre. See p. 411, note 1. 

3 Tenth-metre = 1 metre x 10-^''. 

^ Megadyne = 1 dyne x 10^. It is somewhat more than the weight 
of a Idlogramme. 


POEMS. 411 

They clash together as they fly, 
But you I — you cannot tell me why. 

And when in tuning my guitar 

The interval would not come right, 
" This string," you said, " is strained too far, 

'Tis forty dynes,i at least too tight !" 
And then you told me, as I sang, 

What overtones were in my clang. 2 

You gabbled on, but every phrase 

Was stiff with scientific shoddy, 
The only song you deigned to praise 

Was " Gin a body meet a body," 
" And even there," you said, " collision 
Was not described with due precision." 

" In the invariable plane," 

You told me, "lay the impulsive couple."^ 
You seized my hand — you gave me pain, 

By torsion of a wrist so supple ; 
You told me what that wrench would do, — 
" 'T would set me twisting round a screw. "^ 

Were every hair of every tress 

(Which you, no doubt, imagine mine). 

Drawn towards you with its breaking stress — 
A stress, say, of a megadyne, 

That tension I would sooner suffer 

Than meet again with such a duffer ! 

^ Dyne — the force which, acting ou a gramme for a second, wotdd 
give a velocity of a centimetre per second. The weight of a gramme is 
about 980 dynes. 

^ See Sound and Music, by Sedley Taylor, p. 89. 

^ See Poiusot, TMoric nouvelle de la rotation des corps. 

^ See Prof. Ball on the Theory of Screws, Phil. Trans., 1873. 


To THE Chief Musician upon Nabla.^ 
A Tyndallic Ode. 


I COME from fields of fractured ice. 

Whose wounds are cured by squeezing, 
Melting 2 they cool, but in a trice, 

Get^ warm again by freezing. 
Here, in the frosty air, the sprays 

With fern-like hoar-frost bristle, 
There, liquid stars their watery rays 

Shoot through the solid crystal 


I come from empyrean fires — 

From microscopic spaces. 
Where molecules with fierce desires, 

Shiver in hot embraces. 
The atoms clash, the spectra flash, 

Projected on the screen, 
The double D, magnesian 6, 

And Thallium's living green. 


We place our eye where these dark rays 

Unite in this dark focus. 
Eight on the souixe of power we gaze, 

Without a screen to cloak us. 
Then, where the eye was placed at first. 

We place a disc^ of platinum. 
It glows, it puckers ! will it^ burst ? 

How ever shall we^ flatten him ! 

^ Nabla was the name of an Assyrian harp of the shape v* V is 
a quaternion operator f i -^ "^ ^^p '^ ^ J~] i^^vented by Sir W. R. 

Hamilton, whose use and properties were first fully discussed by Professor 
Tait, who is therefore called the *' Chief Musician upon Nabla." 

2 v.r. They melt. ^ v.r. Grow. "* v.r. dish. 

^ v.7\ like to. ^ v.r. By Jove, I'll have to. 

POEMS. 413 


This crystal tube the electric ray 

Shows optically clean, 
No dust or haze within, but stay ! 

All has not yet been seen. 
What gleams are these of heavenly blue ? 

What air-drawn form appearing, 
What mystic fish, that, ghostlike, through ^ 

The empty ^ space is steering ? 


I light this sympathetic flame, 

My faintest wish that answers, 
I sing, it sweetly sings the same. 

It dances with the dancers. 
I shout, I whistle, clap my hands, 

And ^ stamp upon ^ the platform, 
The flame responds ^ to my commands, 

In this form and in that form. 


What means that thrilling, drilling scream, 

Protect me ! 'tis the siren : 
Her heart is fire, her breath is steam, 

Her larynx is of iron. 
Sun ! dart thy beams ! in tepid streams, 

Rise, ^dewless exhalations ! 
And lap me round, that no rude sound 

May mar my meditations. 


Here let me pause. — These transient facts, 

These fugitive impressions. 
Must be transformed by mental acts, 

To permanent possessions. 

^ v.r. What fish, what whale is this, that through. - v.r. vacuous. 

3 q;,^r. I. ^ v.r. about. ^ v.r. bows do\vn. 


Then summon np your grasp of mind, 

Your fancy scientific, 
Till 1 sights and sounds with thought combine 

Become ^ of truth prolific. 


Go to ! prepare your mental bricks, 

Fetch them from every quarter, 
Firm on the sand your basement fix 

With best sensation mortar. 
The top ^ shall rise to heaven on high — 

Or such an elevation, 
That the swift whirl with which we fly 

Shall conquer gravitation. 

To THE Committee of the Cayley Portrait Fund. 

wretched race of men, to space confined ! 
What honour can ye pay to him, whose mind 
To that which lies beyond hath penetrated 1 
The symbols he hath formed shall sound his praise, 
And lead him on through unimagined ways 
To conquests new, in worlds not yet created. 

First, ye Determinants ! in ordered row 
And massive column ranged, before him go, 
To form a plialanx for his safe protection. 
Ye powers of the n^^^ roots of — 1 ! 
Around his head in ceaseless ^ cycles run, 
As unembodied spirits of direction. 

And you, ye undevelopable scrolls ! 

Above the host wave your emblazoned rolls, 

Ruled for the record of his bright inventions. 

Ye Cubic surfaces ! by threes and nines 

Draw round his camp your seveu-and-twenty lines — 

The seal of Solomon in three dimensions. 

^ v.r. That. - r.r. May be. ^ v.r. tower. ■* v.r. endless. 

POEMS. 415 

March on, symbolic host ! with step sublime. 
Up to the flaming bounds of Space and Time ! 
There pause, until by Dickenson depicted, 
In two dimensions, we the form may trace 
Of him whose soul, too large for vulgar space, 
In n dimensions flourished unrestricted. 

British Association, 1874. 
Notes of the Presidents Address. 

In the very beginnings of science, tlie parsons, who managed 

things then, 
Being handy with hammer and chisel, made gods in the likeness 

of men ; 
Till Commerce arose, and at length some men of exceptional 

Supplanted both demons and gods by the atoms, which last to 

this hour. 
Yet they did not abolish the gods, but they sent them well out 

of the way, 
With the rarest of nectar to drink, and blue fields of nothing to 

From nothing comes nothing, they told us, nought happens 

by chance, but by fate ; 
There is nothing but atoms and void, all else is mere whims 

out of date. 
Then why should a man curry favour with beings who cannot 

To compass some petty promotion in nebulous kingdoms of 

But not by the rays of the sun, nor the glittering shafts of the 

Must the fear of the gods be dispelled, but by words, and their 

wonderful i)lay. 
So treading a path all untrod, the poet-philosopher sings 
Of the seeds of the mighty world — the first beginnings of 

things ; 
How freely he scatters his atoms before the beginning of years ; 
How he clothes them with force as a garment, those small in- 

com]3ressible spheres ! 


Nor yet does he leave them hard-hearted — he dowers them with 

love and with hate, 
Like spherical small British Asses in infinitesimal state ; 
Till just as that living Plato, whom foreigners nickname 

Drops oil in his whisky -and -water (for foreigners sweeten 

it so), 
Each drop keeps apart from the other, enclosed in a flexible 

Till touched by the gentle emotion evolved by the prick of a 

pin : 
Thus in atoms a simple collision excites a sensational thrill, 
Evolved through all sorts of emotion, as sense, understanding, 

and will ; 
(For by laying their heads all together, the atoms, as councillors 

May combine to express an opinion to every one of them new. ) 
There is nobody here, I should say, has felt true indignation at 

Till an indignation meeting is held in the Ulster Hall ; 
Then gathers the wave of emotion, then noble feelings arise, 
Till you all pass a resolution which takes every man by surprise. 
Thus the pure elementary atom, the unit of mass and of thought, 
By force of mere juxtaposition to life and sensation is brought ; 
So, down through untold generations, transmission of structure- 
less germs 
Enables our race to inherit the thoughts of beasts, fishes, and 

We honour our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grand- 
mothers too ; 
But how shall we honour the vista of ancestors now in our 

First, then, let us honour the atom, so lively, so wise, and so 

The atomists next let us praise, Epicurus, Lucretius, and all ; 
Let us damn with faint praise Bishop Butler, in whom many 

atoms combined 
To form that remarkable structure, it pleased him to call — his 


^ Statique JExperimentale et Theorique des Liquides soumis aux sevles 
Forces MoUculaires, Par J. Plateau, Professeur a I'Universite de Gaud. 

POEMS. 417 

Last, praise we the noble body to Avliich, for the time, we 

Ere yet the swift whirl of the atoms has hurried us, ruthless, 

The British Association — like Leviathan worshipped by 

The incarnation of wisdom, built up of our Avitless nobs, 
Which will carry on endless discussions, when I, and probably 

Have melted in infinite azure — in English, till all is blue. 

Report on Tait's Lecture on Force: — b.a., 1876. 

Ye British Asses, who expect to liear 

Ever some new thing, 
I've nothing new to tell, but what, I fear, 

May be a true thing. 
For Tait comes with his plummet and his line. 

Quick to detect your 
Old bosh new dressed in what you call a fine 

Popular lecture. 

Whence comes that most peculiar smattering, 

Heard in our section ? 
Pure nonsense, to a scientific swing 

Drilled to perfection^ 
That small word "Force," they make^ a barber's block, 

Ready to put on 
Meanings most strange and various, fit to shock 

Pupils of Newton. 

Ancient and foreign ignorance they throw 

Into the bargain ; 
The shade of Leibnitz'-^ mutters from below 

Horrible jargon. 
The phrases of last century in this 

Linger to play tricks — 
Vis Viva and Vis Mortua and Vis 

Acceleratrix : — 

1 v.r. is made. ^ v.r. sage of Leipzig. 

2 E 


Those loug-nebbecl words that to our text books still 

Cling by their titles, 
And from them creep, as entozoa will, 

Into oui* vitals. 
But see ! Tait writes in lucid symbols clear 

One small equation ; 
And Force becomes of Energy a mere 

Space- variation. 

Force, then, is Force, but mark you ! not a thing, 

Only a Vector ; 
Thy barbed arrows now have lost their sting, 

Impotent spectre ! 
Thy reign, Force ! is over. Now no more 

Heed we thine action ; 
Repulsion leaves us where we were before, 

So does attraction. 

Both Action and Reaction now are gone. 

Just ere they vanished. 
Stress joined their hands in peace, and made them one ; 

Then they were banished. 
The Universe is free from pole to pole, 

Free from all forces. 
Rejoice ! ye stars — like blessed gods ye roll 

On in your courses. 

No more the arrows of the Wrangler race, 

Piercing shall wound you. 
Forces no more, those symbols of disgrace, 

Dare to surround you : 
But those whose statements baffle all attacks, 

Safe by evasion, — 
Whose definitions, like a nose of wax, 

Suit each occasion, — ' 

Whose unreflected rainbow far surpassed 

All our inventions, 
Whose very energy appears at last 

Scant of dimensions : — 

POEMS. 41 

Are these the gods in whom ye put your trust. 

Lordlings and ladies ? 
The hidden^ potency of cosmic dust 

Drives them to Hades. 

While you, brave Tait ! who know so well the wa}^ 

Forces to scatter, 
Calmly await the slow but sure decay, 

Even of Matter. 

(Cats) Cradle Song. 
By a Babe in Knots. 

Peter the Repeater, 
Platted round a platter 

Slips of slivered paper, 
Basting them with batter. 

Flype 'em, slit 'em, twist 'em. 
Lop-looped laps of paper ; 

Setting out the system 
By the bones of Neper. 

Clear your coil of kinkings 

Into perfect plaiting, 
Locking loops and linkings 


Why should a man benighted, 
Beduped, befooled, besotted, 

Call knotful knittings plighted. 
Not knotty but beknotted ? 

It's monstrous, horrid, shocking, 
Beyond the power of thinking, 

Not to know, interlocking 
Is no mere form of linking. 

^ v.r. secret. 


But little Jacky Horner 
"Will teach you what is proper, 

So pitch him, in his comer, 
Your silver and your copper. 

To Hermann Stoffkraft, Ph.D., the Hero of a recent work 

called " Paradoxical Philosophy." 

A Paradoxical Ode. 

[After Shelley.] 


My soul is an entangled^ knot, 

Upon a liquid vortex wrought 
By Intellect, in the Unseen residing. 

And thine doth like a convict sit, 

With marlinspike untwisting it, 
Only to find its knottiness abiding ; 

Since all the tools for its untying 

In four-dimensioned space are lying, 

Wherein thy fancy intersperses 

Long 2 avenues of universes, 

While Klein and Cliiford fill the void 

With one finite, unbounded homaloid. 
And think the Infinite is now at last destroyed. 


But when thy Science lifts her pinions 

In Speculation's wild dominions, 
We treasure every dictum thou emittest, 

While down the stream of Evolution 

We drift, expecting no solution 
But that of the survival of the fittest. 

Till, in the twilight of the gods, 

When earth and sun are frozen clods, 

When, all its energy degraded, 

Matter to aether shall have faded ; 

^ v.r. 's an amphicheiral. 2 ^.^^ Whole. 

POEMS. 421 

We, tliat is, all tlie work we've done, 
As waves in aether, shall for ever run 
In ever-widening 1 spheres through heavens beyond the sun. 


Great Principle of all we see, 

Unending Continuity ! 
By thee are all our angles sweetly rounded, 

By thee are our misfits adjusted, 

And as I still in thee have trusted. 
So trusting, let me never be confounded ! 

Oh never may direct Creation 

Break in upon my contemplation ; 

Still may thy causal chain, ascending. 

Appear unbroken and unending, 

While Residents in the Unseen — 

iEons and Emanations — intervene, 
And from my shrinking soul the Unconditioned screen.^ 

■^ v.r. swift expanding. 

^ v.r. And where that chain is lost to sight 

Let viewless fancies guide my darkling flight, 
Through atom-haunted worlds in series infinite. 


Printed hv R. & R. Clark, Edinburgh. 





A Selection from his Correspondeuce aud Occasional Writings, 
and a Sketch of his Contributions to Science, 

By lewis CAMPBELL, M.A., LL.D., 


With Three Portraits, IHustrations, etc. 8vo. 18s. 

yvw out of Print. 

"To those who knew him, especially those who had the rare pri\a- 
lege of counting him friend, the mention of the name of Clerk Maxwell 
Avill induce a strange mixture of feeling — tenderness at the memoiy of 
a love of rare unselfishness, and a devout faith whose seienitA" no 
science could ruffle ; admiration for an intellect of such scope and 
elasticity that it could with equal ease throw off a song of grotesque 
humour, or give mathematical expression to the most complicated 
physical problem ; reverence for a genius that seemed actually to see 
the ultra -microscopic workings of the ultimate molecules of matter. 
Those who desire to make the acquaintance of one of the rarest and 
most original spirits of our time will read this biography." — The Tiiiics. 

''A large circle of readers will turn with much interest to these 
memorials of one of the leaders of physical science. . . . ilaxweU's 
own letters are very numerous, and always readable, for it was not in 
his nature to be dry ; and the account of the more important parts of 
his scientific work by Mr. Gamett is eminently clear and judicious." 
— The Atlienceum. 

' ' The history of Clerk Maxwell's life, as it is now presented to us, 
in a finished literary form, b}^ the sympathetic hand of one of his 
earliest friends, Professor Lewis Campbell, will probably have an 
attraction for many readers besides those who are drawn to it by 
Maxwell's reputation as a mathematician and a physicist. Few 
biographies give a inore elaborately truthful account of the growth, 
development, and final activity of a powerful and persistently-employed 


intelligence ; and fewer still contain the portraiture of a moral 
character so wholly exempt from every taint of the world, the flesh, 
and the devil." — The Academy. 

"Certain it is that we have here an unusually complete delineation 
of a man's life, internal as well as external. This is partly due to 
]\Iaxweirs own letters and 'other writings, but much more to the very 
lively recollection of him at different periods of his life preserved by 
friends, including Professor Campbell himself ; and the subject thus 
carefully portrayed is one of unusual attractiveness. Maxwell was a 
man of strongly-marked individuality. ... It was the combination 
of this exceptional mechanical ingenuity mth exact theoretic concep- 
tions which enabled him to make such important additions to our 
knowledge of physical phenomena. But his work is probably too well 
known to find lengthy description here. In this interesting volume 
the general reader will find an excellent summary of his researches. 
Rarely has it been our lot to find a work and a worker alike so 
attractive." — Saturday Eeview. 

*' This volume ^vill be heartily welcomed by all who knew Clerk 
^laxwell, and who cherish his memory, and by the still wider circle of 
those who derive pleasure and new vigoui" from the study of the lives 
and work of the great men that have gone before them." — Nature. 

"The present volume will do much more than confirm the good 
impression which he produced during his lifetime. The biographical 
portion of the book is by Mr. Campbell ; and a more interesting account 
of a contemporary writer we have not read for a very long time. By 
means of an unpretending narrative and a judicious selection from 
Clerk Maxwell's correspondence, Mr. Campbell has succeeded in pre- 
senting a remarkably vivid picture of the facts of his friend's life, and 
of the essential qualities of his character." — ^S'^. James's Gazette. 

Y "Clerk Maxwell's name stands, by the unanimous consent of all 
who have any voice in such matters, in the very foremost rank of 
British men of science. He possessed not only eminent power in his 
own field of work, but that still rarer genius which makes itself felt in 
manifold ways, even to those who can appreciate but a small part of 
its results. He shared this quality with Faraday in an earlier genera- 
tion, a discoverer whose conquests Maxwell followed up by other 
methods; and with Clifford, a fellow -mathematician, younger by 
several years, whose intellect was in more ways than one akin to 
Maxwell's own." — Pall Mall Gazette. 

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