- Frank A. J. L. James
Michael Faraday (1791–1867)
Faraday, Michael (1791–1867), natural philosopher, scientific adviser, and Sandemanian, was born on 22 September 1791 in Newington Butts, Surrey, the third of four children of James Faraday (1761–1810), blacksmith, and his wife, Margaret (1764–1838), daughter of Michael Hastwell, farmer of Mallestang near Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland. Faraday's father had been born at Clapham, Yorkshire, but had moved to Outhgill near Kirkby Stephen where he met his wife, who was then in service; they married on 11 June 1786. James Faraday and all his children belonged to the small Christian sect called in Scotland the Glasites after their founder, John Glas, and in England the Sandemanians, after Robert Sandeman, who had brought some dissident Inghamite congregations in north-west England into the Glasite fold. In February 1791 James Faraday joined the London Sandemanian congregation after moving south with his family by 1788—possibly with the assistance of the Sandemanian community, since he found employment as a blacksmith with James Boyd, a Sandemanian ironmonger of Welbeck Street, London. The Faradays shortly moved to Gilbert Street and about 1796 to Jacob's Mews.
Little is known of Faraday's early life. In an autobiographical fragment he commented that 'my education was of the most ordinary description, consisting of little more than the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic at a common day-school. My hours out of school were passed at home and in the streets' (Jones, 1st edn, 1.9). In 1804 he became an errand boy, delivering among other things newspapers, for the bookseller George Riebau of 2 Blandford Street. In October 1805, at the age of fourteen, he was indentured for seven years to Riebau as an apprentice bookbinder and moved into Blandford Street. Faraday's parents moved in 1809 to 18 Weymouth Street, where the following year, James Faraday died.
During his apprenticeship Faraday cultivated an enthusiasm for chemistry. In the bindery he read books such as Jane Marcet's Conversations on Chemistry, and he also read Isaac Watt's Improvement of the Mind, the advice of which he sought to follow, for instance in letter-writing to clarify ideas. He also attended lectures on scientific topics at a number of places, but particularly the City Philosophical Society which met at 53 Dorset Street, the home of the silversmith John Tatum (c.1772–1858). There he formed lifelong friendships with, for example, Benjamin Abbott (1793–1870), whose correspondence with Faraday is a unique source of information on his life in the 1810s, Edward Magrath (c.1791–1861), who later became secretary of the Athenaeum, and the chemist Richard Phillips. In the spring of 1812, the year his apprenticeship ended, William Dance, a customer of Riebau's, gave Faraday tickets to attend four lectures to be delivered by the professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution, Humphry Davy. (These were Davy's last lectures as he soon after married a wealthy widow, Jane Apreece, and was thus able to retire from his professorship.)
Faraday had become so interested in science that by the end of his apprenticeship he resolved to abandon his career as a journeyman bookbinder and, instead, sought a scientific career. This was an unusual ambition at a time when, outside medicine, there was no career structure for science in England. As he later wrote:
The desire to be engaged in scientific occupation, even though of the lowest kind, induced me, whilst an apprentice, to write, in my ignorance of the world and simplicity of my mind, to Sir Joseph Banks, then President of the Royal Society. Naturally enough, ‘no answer’ was the reply left with the porter.Jones, 1st edn, 1.14–15
Faraday next turned his attention to Davy, to whom he sent neat notes of the lectures he had attended. Davy interviewed Faraday and advised him to 'Attend to the book binding' (James, Correspondence, 1. letter 30), adding that he would bear Faraday in mind in the future. In late October 1812 Davy's sight was affected in a laboratory explosion and he employed Faraday as his amanuensis. Nevertheless, Faraday did begin a career as a bookbinder with Henri De La Roche.
Assistant in the Royal Institution
In February 1813 William Payne, the laboratory assistant at the Royal Institution, was sacked following a fight in the lecture theatre. Davy was asked by the managers of the institution to find a replacement; he remembered Faraday, called him for a second interview, and after telling him 'that Science was a harsh mistress' and smiling at Faraday's 'notion of the superior moral feelings of philosophic men' (James, Correspondence, 1. letter 419), appointed him to the position. Faraday moved into the Royal Institution and for the next six months began what was in effect a second apprenticeship, this time in chemistry.
In October Faraday agreed to accompany Davy, as his assistant, on a tour of the continent. Davy had obtained a special passport from Napoleon stipulating that he could be accompanied only by his wife and two others. With Jane Davy requiring a maid, Davy (claiming that his valet had suddenly withdrawn) asked Faraday to undertake the tasks of a valet, making a promise, never fulfilled, to find a valet once they were on the continent. Faraday reluctantly agreed but this was the source of considerable friction between him and Jane Davy, who regarded him as a servant. For eighteen months they toured France, Switzerland, Italy, and southern Germany visiting many chemical laboratories. They met, among others, André-Marie Ampère in Paris, Charles-Gaspard and Arthur-Auguste De La Rive in Geneva, and the aged Alessandro Volta in Italy. Davy demonstrated the elemental nature of iodine to the French and in Florence showed that diamond was composed of carbon using the burning-glass of the duke of Tuscany. They witnessed the end of Napoleon's empire but following Napoleon's escape from Elba for the hundred days Davy decided to cut short the tour and returned to England in the middle of April 1815.
Faraday was re-employed at the Royal Institution as a laboratory assistant, working mainly under the new professor of chemistry, William Thomas Brande. He prepared the demonstrations for Brande's lectures and also helped him edit the Quarterly Journal of Science. Davy, however, continued to exert considerable influence at the Royal Institution. Faraday assisted him in the period immediately following their return with inventing the miners' safety lamp; indeed the manuscripts of Davy's papers on the lamp in the Philosophical Transactions are largely in Faraday's hand. Thus from his earliest time in science Faraday was concerned with practical problems.
Faraday also rejoined the City Philosophical Society, where he delivered his first lectures. Although this society was proscribed under the terms of the Seditious Meetings Act in 1817, the proscription was quickly lifted. However, the society was never as active thereafter and many members, including Faraday, joined the Society of Arts which had not been proscribed. There he played a major role on its chemistry committee, jointly chairing it for most of the period between 1826 and 1838, along with two other former members of the City Philosophical Society. In 1848 he declined to be nominated vice-president of the Society of Arts, but in 1866 he was the third recipient of its Albert medal.
The Royal Institution and electromagnetism
Since the Royal Institution had the best-equipped laboratory in Britain those seeking professional scientific advice frequently consulted Davy, Brande, and Faraday. For example, between 1818 and 1822 Faraday and James Stodart (1760–1823) worked on alloy steels and in the 1820s he analysed large quantities of gunpowders for the East India Company. Professional chemists often provided expert testimony in court cases—Faraday gave evidence in the famous Severn and King insurance case in 1820 and also in a number of patent and pollution cases. In 1834 Faraday gave up most of his court work and in 1836 most of his professional business. In later periods he frequently undertook analyses gratis for one reason or another, and he reminded those who asked for professional advice that by declining such work he had given up a considerable income. Although most of his professional work was chemically mundane, in 1825 while analysing some oil-gas he discovered a new compound of hydrogen and carbon which he named bicarburet of hydrogen. In 1834 Eilhard Mitscherlich undertook the first careful studies of the properties of this compound and renamed it benzene.
The year 1821 was perhaps the most important in Faraday's life: on 21 May he was appointed acting superintendent of the house of the Royal Institution; on 12 June he married Sarah Barnard (1800–1879), daughter of the Sandemanian silversmith Edward Barnard (1767–1855); on 15 July he made his confession of faith in the Sandemanian church; and on 3–4 September he made his first major scientific discovery—that of electromagnetic rotations. After their marriage, Sarah Faraday moved into the Royal Institution. From the evidence that has survived (and a great deal of personal material clearly did not), the Faradays' marriage appears to have been happy and she was very supportive. Although they had no children, at least two nieces lived with them in the Royal Institution for extended periods, Margery Ann Reid (1815–1888) between about 1826 and 1840 and from the early 1850s Jane Barnard (1832–1911). As superintendent Faraday was responsible for maintaining the fabric of the building, including overseeing the addition of the Corinthian column façade in 1837. In his declining years, both Sarah Faraday and Jane Barnard helped Faraday with his duties.
By making his confession of faith Faraday pledged to practise Christianity with literalist purity and live his life in Christian brotherhood according to the Bible in imitation of Christ's perfect thoughts and deeds. When in London he would attend church (in Paul's Alley until 1862, and then in Barnsbury Grove) on Sundays and also on Wednesday evenings. In his scientific practice Faraday recognized that he was uncovering the laws of nature that God had written into the universe at the creation. Though he wrote to Ada Lovelace in 1844 that 'There is no philosophy in my religion' (James, Correspondence, 3. letter 1631), there was plenty of religion in his philosophy. It was in his lectures, rather than his published papers, that Faraday publicly stated his theistic view of the universe. For instance, in 1846 he claimed that the properties of matter 'depend upon the power with which the Creator has gifted such matter' (London Medical Gazette, 2, 1846, 977) and in an 1858 lecture on the electric telegraph he concluded: 'for, by enabling the mind to apply the natural power through law, it conveys the gifts of God to man' (Proceedings of the Royal Institution, 2, 1858, 560). In his scientific practice such religious beliefs found expression in his views on subjects such as the economy of nature, the simplicity of causes, the interconvertibility of forces, the desire to apply scientific knowledge to the common good, and the brotherhood of men of science.
In 1820 Hans Christian Oersted discovered that a compass needle could be deflected by a wire carrying an electric current. This new phenomenon, electromagnetism, was rapidly taken up by men of science throughout Europe, including Ampère who developed a theory of electromagnetism based on mathematical analysis which he called electrodynamics. In London, Davy and William Hyde Wollaston, who was interregnum president of the Royal Society between Banks's death and Davy's election in November 1820, also turned their attention to this newly discovered phenomenon. By the middle of 1821 so much had been published on electromagnetism that Phillips, as editor of the Annals of Philosophy, asked Faraday to review the literature. Faraday did so, and in the course of repeating many of the experiments, discovered, on 3–4 September, that a vertically mounted wire carrying an electric current would rotate continuously round a magnet protruding from a bowl of mercury. This phenomenon, which Faraday called electromagnetic rotation, showed that it was possible to produce continuous motion from the interaction of electricity and magnetism; it was thus the principle behind the electric motor. This discovery strengthened Faraday's scepticism about the value of mathematics in describing nature. Ampère's theory had claimed to provide a complete description of electromagnetism, but Faraday had found a phenomenon not predicted by Ampère. In a letter to Mary Somerville in 1833, Faraday used this example to contrast the success of his experimental approach and the limitations of Ampère's mathematically based approach.
Within a month of his discovery rumours were circulating that Faraday had used some experimental work of both Davy and Wollaston without due acknowledgement. Faraday, just turned thirty, was disturbed by these rumours and was able to satisfy both Davy and Wollaston as to the propriety of his conduct, but this episode provided a foretaste of what was to come. In March 1823 Faraday performed an experiment, suggested by Davy, which unexpectedly resulted in chlorine being liquefied. Much to Davy's annoyance Faraday published this result. This episode contributed to Davy's opposition to Faraday's election to fellowship of the Royal Society to which he was nominated by Phillips in May 1823. Davy asked Faraday to take down the certificate, which he refused to do, and Davy became angry. Nevertheless Faraday was elected in early 1824, but, as he put it, he was thereafter 'by no means in the same relation as to scientific communication with Sir Humphry Davy' (Jones, 1st edn, 1.353).
Davy subsequently took advantage of Faraday's undoubted abilities, with little consideration as to whether he was acting in Faraday's best interests. Faraday did the follow-up experiments for Davy's electrochemical method to protect the copper sheeting of ships for the Admiralty, which ended in disaster and a serious loss of reputation for Davy. Through Davy, Faraday was appointed the first secretary of the Athenaeum, which involved him in writing a large number of letters during the early months of 1824; when the club was established and could offer a salary to its secretary, Faraday immediately passed the position on to Magrath. On the positive side, Davy was instrumental in appointing Faraday director of the laboratory in the Royal Institution in 1825.
Director of the Royal Institution laboratory
Faraday spent much of the 1820s helping run the Royal Institution. He assisted Brande with his lectures there to medical students and from 1824 he and Brande jointly delivered the lectures. In 1826 Faraday founded the Friday evening discourses, which, though mainly for members of the Royal Institution, rapidly became, through newspaper reports, an important vehicle for diffusing knowledge of the latest scientific and technological developments. Originally they were fairly informal lectures but by the 1840s they had become very formal affairs indeed. In total Faraday delivered 123 discourses. He also established, in 1826, the Christmas lectures for children, of which he gave nineteen series. In addition, from 1827 he delivered an annual series of Saturday afternoon lectures after Easter on chemical or physical topics. Though most of Faraday's lectures were delivered within the institution, in early 1827 he also delivered a course of twelve lectures to the London Institution on chemical manipulation. Later that year he turned these lectures into his only book conceived as a single entity, Chemical Manipulation (2nd edn, 1830; 3rd edn, 1842).
In the late 1820s the most serious impediment to Faraday's pursuing research was his involvement (at Davy's instigation) in the time-consuming work of the joint Royal Society–board of longitude committee to improve optical glass. This committee was established in 1824 as a move to prevent the abolition of the board of longitude, of which Davy was chairman. The board, established in 1714, was a likely candidate for abolition since the problem of finding longitude at sea had been solved; Davy, by suggesting it should improve optical glass, provided a reason to continue its existence. Initially Faraday's involvement was restricted to supervising the manufacture of the glass by Pellatt and Green. By 1827 the results were proving unsatisfactory and so Faraday agreed to make the glass in a furnace built at the Royal Institution. Over the next two years he made a total of 215 pieces of glass, the time he thus spent occupying roughly two-thirds of what was available for research. One lasting benefit to Faraday of this project was that Charles Anderson (c.1790–1866) joined him as an assistant. A former sergeant in the Royal Artillery, Anderson continued to work with Faraday until the 1860s.
The unsatisfactory results of the glass work, together with the low esteem in which the Admiralty held Davy, contributed to the abolition of the board of longitude in July 1828. In its place, as recognition of the importance of science, the Admiralty founded a scientific advisory committee at the end of 1828, comprising Faraday, Thomas Young, and Edward Sabine; Faraday gave advice to the Admiralty until at least the Crimean War.
To ensure that he would never again be put into the position of having to undertake projects such as the glass work, Faraday secured for himself, in mid-1829, the professorship of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a post which he held until 1852. For delivering twenty-five lectures annually to the cadets, Faraday received £200, which provided him with some economic independence from the Royal Institution. Although these lectures occupied his time for two days a week during the academy's terms, this was significantly less than he had spent working on glass. A whole generation of officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers grew up learning their chemistry from Faraday.
Following Davy's death in Geneva in 1829 Faraday ceased the glass work and expressed to the Royal Society his anger that his time had been wasted, which had prevented him from making experimental discoveries. This claim was fully vindicated on 29 August 1831 when he discovered electromagnetic induction. Natural philosophers since Oersted had believed that, on analogy with electrostatic induction, electromagnetic induction should exist. Although it appears that Ampère had observed it in 1822, his theoretical views prevented him from realizing the significance of his observation. Faraday also sought the phenomenon sporadically during the 1820s. He made his discovery in 1831 by winding and insulating two coils of wire on opposite sides of a soft-iron ring. This device was not an easy one to construct and it has been found, by replicating the way that Faraday would have built it, that it takes about ten working days to construct. When he passed an electric current into one coil, a transient electric current was induced in the other; when the primary circuit was broken, the current in the secondary flowed transiently in the opposite direction. These observations led him to propose that matter when electrified was in a special state which he named the 'electrotonic' state, though he soon abandoned this idea. Very quickly after this discovery, Faraday found how electricity could be generated by passing a magnet in and out of a helix wound with wire. These devices were, in effect, the first transformer and dynamo. This work of Faraday's was widely viewed from the end of the nineteenth century as laying the foundation of the practical use of electricity.
With this work Faraday also perfected his methodical way of recording and keeping control of his experimental results. On 25 August 1832 he commenced numbering the paragraphs of his laboratory notebook in a sequence that would conclude on 6 March 1860 with paragraph 16,041. He would cross-refer between entries and on at least two occasions he compiled indexes allowing him quickly to locate the results of experiments conducted many years previously. Faraday published his induction work in the first of a series of papers with the overarching title Experimental Researches in Electricity. The papers were nearly all published in the Philosophical Transactions and their paragraphs also were sequentially numbered ending with paragraph 3430 of series thirty in 1856.
After his discovery of electromagnetic induction Faraday's fame as a natural philosopher began to grow. His importance was recognized at the second meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Oxford in 1832, when the university conferred the degree of DCL on Faraday, David Brewster, John Dalton, and Robert Brown. Since they were all dissenters, members of what was about to become the Tractarian movement, such as John Henry Newman, condemned the university's action. In early 1833 John Fuller (1757–1834) endowed the Royal Institution to found the Fullerian professorships of chemistry and physiology on the condition that Faraday would be the first holder of the chemistry chair.
Faraday's production of electricity from magnetism added to the already known sources of electricity: chemical, static, thermal, and animal. Before he could proceed further with his work on electricity, he had to establish to his own satisfaction whether electricity from these different sources was the same entity. Thus during 1832 he turned his attention to establishing the identity of electricities. Using various tests for the presence of electricity such as physiological effects, magnetic effects, the production of chemical action and sparks, and a few others, Faraday showed that most electricities produced all or most of these phenomena. On this basis Faraday asserted that all electricity, from whatever source, was the same entity.
In the course of the experiments which showed that all electricities produced chemical action, Faraday came to doubt both the theory of electrochemical action that had been proposed by Davy and also the two-fluid theory of electricity. By mid-1833 he had come to view electricity as an axis of power, rather than as a fluid. In contrast to Davy's view that the action occurred at the poles of a solution undergoing decomposition, Faraday concluded that the action occurred in the solution itself. Furthermore, he showed in 1833 that the amount of chemical action caused by a current passing through a solution was directly related to the quantity of electricity, and that the masses of the products evolved, deposited, or dissolved were proportional to their chemical equivalents. One result of this electrochemical work was that Faraday, in conjunction with Whitlock Nicholl and William Whewell, developed a new language for electrochemistry. According to this nomenclature, the process became known as electrolysis and occurred in an electrolyte; poles became electrodes which were either anodes or cathodes; the electrolyte decomposed into cations or anions, or, more generally, ions.
In his experiments, which measured the quantity of electricity, Faraday sometimes found that results did not agree. Eventually he discovered that chemical reactions took place on the surface of very clean platinum even when no electricity was passing. To explain this phenomenon (named catalysis by Jöns Jakob Berzelius in 1836), Faraday proposed an elaborate theory of inter-particle forces. He soon realized that he was theorizing without sufficient experimental evidence and abandoned the theory. This was his first concerted attempt to deal with the problems surrounding the nature of matter. By the end of 1833 Faraday had ceased to believe in atoms, remarking that 'although it is very easy to talk of atoms, it is very difficult to form a clear idea of their nature' (PTRS, 124, 1834, 121). On a visit to Dublin in June 1834 he expressed his antagonistic views on atomism and the fluid theory of electricity to William Rowan Hamilton, who was surprised to find that Faraday held views almost as anti-materialistic as his own.
Following his rejection of the fluid theory of electricity, Faraday was thinking carefully about the nature of charge and of electricity generally. Indeed there is a gap of more than two years between series ten and eleven of his Experimental Researches in Electricity during which he considered the problem. As a step towards its resolution, in January 1836 he built what is now known as the ‘Faraday cage’ in the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution. This was a 12 ft cube covered with wire which isolated electrically the space inside the cage from the rest of the universe. The cage allowed Faraday to argue by experimental demonstration against the prevailing notion of absolute charge and for a view that what was observed as charge depended on the electrical state of the observer. It thus permitted him to develop further arguments against the fluid theory and for electricity's being a power between contiguous particles. In this context he introduced the term dielectric (again at the suggestion of Whewell). So radical was Faraday's reconceptualization of the nature of electricity that Joseph Henry wrote to him saying that if the suggestions had come from anyone else, they would have been met with scepticism. With this work Faraday appears consciously to have brought to a conclusion a programme of research, since he published in 1839 his fourteen papers Experimental Researches in Electricity in a volume of the same title. He did, however, continue his electrical work by examining the electricity produced by an electric eel in the Adelaide Gallery and addressing the problem of how the battery produced its electricity.
Although Faraday had given up much of his professional chemical work during the 1830s, his time was taken up by new activities. For example, in 1831, doubtless obeying the biblical injunction of James 1:27, Faraday became a subscriber of the London Orphan Asylum, a cause he supported into the 1860s. Each subscriber had one or more votes (depending on the size of the subscription) for suitable candidates for a place in the orphanage, which was in Clapton. Votes could be transferred by proxy between subscribers. Faraday occasionally helped orphans of fellow Sandemanians or employees of the Royal Institution gain a place in the orphanage and in turn he was frequently approached by other subscribers for his proxy to aid them with their particular orphan. In 1832 Faraday and his brother Robert (1788–1846) were appointed deacons in the London Sandemanian church. This position, which testifies to the Sandemanian congregation's unanimous view of Faraday's high moral character, entailed dealing with the physical needs of the community such as visiting the sick and poor and running the church building. Faraday took his duties seriously and, for instance, cancelled some of his lectures in 1837 so that he could look after his brother-in-law William Barnard (1801–1848), who was seriously ill.
One of the characteristics of a Sandemanian is a distancing from party politics and Faraday was careful not to become embroiled in them; as he owned neither house nor land he never had the vote. He was always careful to point out that he was not a knight on the (fairly frequent) occasions when he was referred to as 'Sir Michael' and he generally added that he would never accept a knighthood; there is, however, no evidence that he was ever offered one. Faraday viewed such honours as an integral part of the system of party politics rather than as an honour to science. However he did accept membership of the Prussian order of merit (1842) and the French Légion d'honneur (1855), which he believed were for his work.
The difficulties Faraday experienced in distancing himself from party politics were most apparent during discussions concerning the award to him of an annual civil-list pension of £300. Apparently at the prompting of James South, Lord Ashley suggested to Robert Peel, tory prime minister from December 1834 to April 1835, that Faraday should be granted such a pension. Peel was on the point of granting it when he was turned out of office by the whig Lord Melbourne. In October 1835 Melbourne offered Faraday a pension at a meeting in Downing Street, but in such a way that Faraday declined and abruptly walked out. (Melbourne referred to pensions as 'humbug' and prefaced this remark with an adjective which Faraday later called 'theological'.) What next happened is not entirely clear, but it would appear that William IV's natural daughter, Mary Fox (1798–1864), who was also the daughter-in-law of Lord Holland, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, persuaded the king to put pressure on Melbourne to apologize to Faraday, which he did. If this did happen, then it would have been part of the king's general harassment of Melbourne's administration at this time, giving rise to the rather curious political spectacle of a cabinet minister's daughter-in-law helping the king's campaign against the administration. Someone leaked the story to the tory press which, needless to say, had a field day. Faraday and Melbourne sought to distance themselves from the ensuing controversy and at one point Faraday contemplated refusing the pension again; the king, however, signed the authorization on 9 December 1835. Faraday, it seems, was able to negotiate his way through this dispute and keep his self-respect intact.
Participation in learned societies and Trinity House
During the 1830s Faraday had been involved with the Royal Society, of which he had been a fellow since 1824. Though generally supporting the reformers (in that he wanted to make it more scientific), he sought to keep clear of the party factions within it. For instance he played a minor role in the 1830 presidential election in which the duke of Sussex defeated John Herschel. Even so he served on the Royal Society council for much of the first half of the 1830s, during which period he undertook work for the society's excise committee in which he helped prepare a system for determining the alcohol content of spirits. In November 1836 he finally retired from the council, pleading that his knee was causing him a good deal of pain. This seems a somewhat weak reason, bearing in mind that Faraday did not withdraw from any of his other (more physically demanding) positions on its account. Although Faraday was offered the presidency in 1848 and again in 1858, his role in the Royal Society was minimal after 1836, mainly because he believed that the society in its 'present state is not wholesome' (James, Correspondence, 3. letter 1455) as he told William Robert Grove in 1842. Nevertheless, Faraday continued to publish most of his important papers in the Philosophical Transactions and the society showed its esteem for his work by awarding him its Copley medal twice (1832, 1838), its royal medal twice (1835, 1846), and its Rumford medal (1846), as well as naming him Bakerian lecturer on five occasions (1829, 1832, 1849, 1851, 1857).
Although Faraday was unwilling to occupy the highest positions in scientific institutions, he was willing to serve in less demanding roles. Thus he was an active member of the British Association, serving as president of the chemical section in 1837 and 1846, and vice-president of the association on three occasions, in 1844, 1849, and 1853. He was a fairly regular attender and contributor to the annual meetings of the association, but would normally return from a meeting by the Saturday to attend church the following day. In 1842 he was vice-president of the newly founded Chemical Society and served on its council in the following two years. In 1836 he was appointed to the senate of the newly founded University of London, a position he held until 1863. The university was an examining body (as opposed to the teaching colleges, King's College and University College, where Faraday had declined the offer of the first chemistry chair in 1827). Faraday played an active role in the senate, particularly in establishing the curriculum for the science component of degrees, and served on the committee which established science degrees in 1858.
Also in 1836 Faraday was appointed scientific adviser to the Corporation of Trinity House. Since 1514 the elder brethren of Trinity House had been in principle, but not until the 1830s in practice, responsible for safe navigation round the shores of England and Wales. Following major government-inspired reform in 1836, the corporation took over all existing lighthouses and embarked on a programme of building new lights where none had existed previously, or replacing out-of-date ones. As part of this programme the corporation decided to improve the quality of the light produced by its lighthouses and thoroughly to examine various methods of illumination proposed to it. In January 1836 Faraday was approached to be its scientific adviser, and accepted the position at an annual salary of £200. He held the post until 1865 when it was taken over by his colleague at the Royal Institution, John Tyndall. In the course of his work for the corporation Faraday created 150 files numbered in his normal meticulous way, but the first twenty-two, covering the 1830s, have been lost. His first tasks for Trinity House in 1836 were to construct a photometer and experiment on the preparation of oxygen; in 1837 and 1838 he was mainly concerned with comparing different types of lamp; during 1839 and 1840 he worked on the optical adjustment of lighthouse lenses.
Although Faraday was always anxious to advance the cause of science, his involvement in the scientific community was atypical. He refrained from adopting some practices that were frequently employed by his contemporaries. For instance, he very rarely dined out, notable exceptions to this rule being the Royal Academy dinners, the welcome home to John Herschel in 1838, and later instances at Trinity House. Furthermore, Faraday did not write testimonials for candidates for employment, although he would, if asked, provide a view on the suitability of an individual for a particular position. Thus he declined to provide a testimonial to James Clerk Maxwell in 1859, but was instrumental in securing the employment of Henry Holmes Croft (1820–1883) as first professor of chemistry at King's College, Toronto, in 1842.
In late 1839 Faraday suffered a severe illness, from which he never really fully recovered, which started on 29 November when he suddenly experienced an acute attack of vertigo. He quickly recovered from the main attack, but his physician Peter Mere Latham recommended a complete break from lecturing and from the Royal Institution. Latham also noted that Faraday complained of overwork, and specifically mentioned his 'speculations upon electricity' (Latham's notebook, Wellcome L., MS 3176, 1 Dec 1839) in this context. Brande took over the lectures, while Faraday went to Brighton. By many indicators, whether of lectures delivered, diary entries, letters written or papers published, Faraday's scientific work declined sharply during the first half of the 1840s compared with the 1830s. At the end of 1840 the managers resolved that Faraday should consider himself 'totally exonerated from all duties connected with the Royal Institution till his health should be completely re-established' (Royal Institution of Great Britain, managers' minutes, 7 Dec 1840, 9.146). Although he attended the next meeting of the managers, it is clear from his letters that his health was never really completely re-established. For the remainder of his life he suffered to one degree or another from headaches, giddiness, and loss of memory, among other symptoms.
One consequence of Faraday's illness was that he gave up the major role in organizing the Friday evening discourses. From 1841 this was taken over by John Barlow (1798–1869) who in 1843 became secretary of the Royal Institution, a position he held until 1860. Between them Faraday and Barlow were responsible for the day-to-day running of the institution, and Barlow was instrumental in making Prince Albert a member in 1843. The prince first came to hear Faraday lecture in 1849 and brought his elder sons to hear Faraday's Christmas lectures during the 1855–6 season. In the 1840s Faraday and Barlow were jointly responsible for securing the admission of women members, and in ensuring that they had the same access to lectures as men.
On 15 October 1840 Faraday became an elder in the Sandemanian church, evidence of his continuing esteem among the congregation. He was now one of the three elders who ran the London church and also assisted at the small community in Old Buckenham in Norfolk. He frequently preached, conducted baptisms, and presided over the love-feast. He held this position until 31 March 1844 when, along with about a fifth of the congregation, he was excluded for reasons that are not clear. Re-admitted to the congregation on 5 May, he remained a member until death, although he came close to a second and final exclusion in 1850 which provoked a major psychological crisis. On 21 October 1860 he resumed the position of elder, which he held until he laid down the office on 5 June 1864.
Neither the consequences of his illness nor his eldership prevented Faraday from continuing to provide expert advice. Thus during the early 1840s he invented a new form of chimney for lighthouses which would prevent the products of combustion settling on the glass of the lanthorn. The process of invention involved visits to many lighthouses to examine their ventilation, and the result proved so successful that it was installed in all lighthouses run by Trinity House, as well as the Athenaeum, Buckingham Palace, and elsewhere. Faraday made this invention over to his brother Robert who patented it—the only invention of Faraday's ever to be patented. In 1843 Faraday undertook, on behalf of the Ordnance office, the inquiry into the explosion at the Waltham Abbey gunpowder factory. The following year with Charles Lyell and Samuel Stutchbury (1798–1859) he conducted, on behalf of the Home Office, the inquiry into the explosion at Haswell colliery, Durham, in which ninety-five men and boys died. The report on the safety and ventilation of mines that he and Lyell produced was so radical and so unpalatable to the mineowners that the government had to use considerable political finesse to avoid implementing its recommendations.
By the end of the 1830s Faraday had decided that the future course of his research was to make magnetism a universal property of matter rather than one specific to two substances (iron and nickel), and to develop and sustain experimentally a non-atomic theory of matter. In 1840 he did not know how he would solve these problems, and indeed throughout the first half of the 1840s he seems to have doubted whether he would make any useful contribution to science again. This may account for his publishing the second volume of Experimental Researches in Electricity in late 1844. This volume, which reprinted just over thirty of his papers, lacked the coherence of the first. Since Faraday clearly believed that his scientific career was over, the production of such a volume was an entirely appropriate thing to do, but he did not then have a research strategy which would allow him to make the further scientific discoveries he wanted. Despite his lack of productivity in the early 1840s, this did not prevent the Académie des Sciences in Paris electing him one of its eight associés étrangers in December 1844 in the place of Dalton.
In a lecture delivered in January 1843 Faraday started to tackle the problem of the nature of matter and space and of their relationship. He posed the paradox that in metals, space was a conductor of electricity whereas it behaved as an insulator in non-conductors. He pursued this point in his lecture of 19 January 1844 entitled 'A speculation touching electric conduction and the nature of matter' and showed that the paradox could not be resolved in terms of Dalton's atomic theory. Instead he proposed the existence of point atoms where lines of force (for instance of magnetism) would meet and what was formerly perceived as a material atom would be the result of a combination of forces acting at that point. However, there was little experimental evidence for this theory. In particular, since such atoms should be structurally similar, it was peculiar that only iron and nickel evinced magnetic properties. Thus Faraday's two problems at the end of the 1830s had become linked. During 1845 he set about trying to obtain magnetic effects from a wide range of materials. At the meeting of the British Association in Cambridge in June 1845 Faraday met William Thomson who asked him if he had observed any effect on polarized light by a transparent electrolyte. This question led Faraday to conduct a series of experiments which resulted in his discovery, in September, of the magneto-optical effect and, in November, that matter generally was affected by magnetism—diamagnetism. In these experiments Faraday used a piece of heavy glass he had made during his glass work in the late 1820s and some powerful argand lamps which he had been testing for Trinity House. The material basis of Faraday's discovery illustrates, as does so much of his work, the closeness of the practice of his science with his practical work.
Faraday had thus found experimental evidence that magnetism was a universal property of matter and also for his views of the nature of matter and space. He outlined his new understanding in his lecture 'Thoughts on ray-vibrations' delivered on 3 April 1846. This lecture was seen by Maxwell, Silvanus P. Thompson, and others as laying the foundations of the field theory of electromagnetism. Although Faraday had used the word 'field' in 1845, it was in a purely descriptive sense of the space surrounding the magnet. During the first half of the 1850s he developed arguments for the reality of the field, which by 1851 he defined in terms of lines of force. The mathematization of field theory by Thomson and Maxwell, in consultation with Faraday, led to the theory becoming one of the fundamental concepts of modern physics. It also led Faraday to a lessening of his scepticism of the power of mathematics to describe nature.
During the latter half of the 1840s and early 1850s Faraday also explored experimentally diamagnetic and other phenomena. He showed that gases were also susceptible to magnetic force and that the optic axis of crystals was generally the same axis along which a crystal would align itself in the field. This work attracted much attention and the phenomena were studied by Tyndall, Julius Plücker, Wilhelm Eduard Weber, and others. In his work on terrestrial magnetism Faraday tried to impose order on the enormous quantity of data relating to magnetic variations that had become available as a result of the magnetic crusade of the late 1830s and 1840s undertaken by a number of governments. This work, together with his discovery of the magnetic susceptibility of gases, led Faraday to investigate what he called atmospheric magnetism (particularly of oxygen), to which he attributed the magnetic variation of the compass needle. For ten years from 1849 he spent much experimental effort trying, unsuccessfully, to bring gravity into his scheme of forces. This illustrates his long-standing conviction, expressed explicitly, that all forces were interconvertible.
In 1856 Faraday started his last major research project. Following George Gabriel Stokes's work on fluorescence in the early 1850s, which showed that a ray of light could change its wavelength after passing through a solution of sulphate of quinine, Faraday tried to realize this change directly. To achieve this he passed light through beaten gold and later colloidal solutions of gold. The wavelength of light was larger than the size of the gold particles, and yet they still affected the light. He sought to explain this phenomenon but, as with his work on gravity, came to no firm conclusions. Faraday's last piece of experimental work in 1862 was to see if magnetism had any effect on line spectra. He observed none and such an observation was not made until Pieter Zeeman's work in the 1890s. Faraday's late work was published in the third and final volume of Experimental Researches in Electricity (1855) and most of the remainder of his papers in Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics (1859).
An unexpected consequence of Faraday's discovery of diamagnetism was that many of those who had taken an interest in mesmerism, which was then sweeping the country, thought that Faraday had found the mechanism for the phenomena and wrote to tell him so in 1846. Although Faraday had taken some interest in mesmerism, he concluded that there was nothing in it. In this case he made no public statement about his deep scepticism (perhaps he recollected the difficulties he had experienced since 1837 when it was stated widely, but incorrectly, that he believed that Andrew Crosse had made living insects using electricity). In 1853 spiritualism and table-turning became fashionable. As with mesmerism, Faraday examined the phenomenon and came to the conclusion that table-turning was caused by a quasi-involuntary muscular action, and had nothing to do with supernatural agency. However, the fact that he had carried out this investigation led some to interpret Faraday as giving credence to table-turning. In a letter to The Times stating his results, Faraday concluded by saying that the educational system must be deficient since otherwise well-educated people would not believe in the phenomenon in the way they did. Faraday was inundated with letters (some quite abusive) from table-turners, giving accounts of their experiences. This episode led Henry Bence Jones (a manager of the Royal Institution) and Faraday to organize a set of lectures on education. These lectures, two of which were attended by Prince Albert, were delivered in 1854 by eminent men of science (including Faraday, Whewell, and Tyndall) and developed the point Faraday had made in The Times about education.
Work for Trinity House
Much of Faraday's effort during the 1850s and 1860s was concentrated on his work for Trinity House. Most crucially, he was closely involved with various schemes to electrify lighthouses. As early as 1847 it was proposed to electrify buoys. Faraday commented that the buoys had to work perfectly under all weather conditions since an unreliable light was worse than none at all, and despite his evident predilection for electric light, he always gave priority to ensuring the reliability of the light produced by lighthouses. He did not develop systems of electrical light, but was asked to investigate those proposed by others: some he dismissed quickly, but there were two that he spent some time working on, one of which went into operation. The system proposed by Joseph John William Watson involved passing an electric current from a battery across a carbon arc. Faraday, after evaluating the scheme for nearly two years from November 1852, rejected it on three grounds. First that the light produced flickered too much, second that the fumes produced by the nitric acid of the battery were too great, and finally that the operation of the light would require more intelligent lighthouse keepers.
The second system was proposed in the late 1850s by Frederick Hale Holmes. He too used a carbon arc, but its power came from an electromagnetic machine driven by a steam engine. Furthermore, Holmes had developed a mechanism which would ensure that the distance between the carbon poles of the arc remained constant, thus allowing for a sustained and constant quality of light to be produced. After considerable testing by Faraday, Holmes's system was installed in the South Foreland lighthouse and first shone on 8 December 1858. Although it was not continuously used over the next few years, it was modified so as to ensure its effectiveness. Faraday undertook much of the monitoring of the light, in which he showed great devotion, visiting South Foreland in all weather conditions and frequently going out to sea to observe the light. A voyage in 1864 caused him to become so ill that his physician (by now Bence Jones) forbade him to go to sea again. Although electric lights were installed in other lighthouses the programme was deemed a failure due to the expense involved and in 1880 it was abandoned. Despite this failure Faraday thus personally oversaw one of the earliest practical applications of his invention of the electric dynamo. Not only in lighthouse technology did Faraday's work find application during his lifetime; field theory informed the problems surrounding the construction of long-distance underwater telegraph cables in the 1850s and 1860s.
From the mid-1840s Faraday had occasionally taken a house for a month or so in or near London (for instance in Hampstead, Norwood, Tunbridge Wells, and Wimbledon) and commuted to the Royal Institution, principally to avoid the bustle of London and the institution. In 1858 this was put on a permanent basis when Queen Victoria gave him a grace-and-favour house on the river near Hampton Court Palace. From about this time he began shedding some activities. In 1861 he sought to resign from the Royal Institution, but the managers refused to accept his resignation. In December 1861 and January 1862 he delivered his last series of Christmas lectures, on the chemical history of a candle (shortly afterwards published by William Crookes as a small book), and in 1862 his last discourse (on gas furnaces). In 1864 the managers tried to elect him president of the Royal Institution which, though he declined, caused him much agitation since he viewed himself as the institution's servant, not its figurehead. By then, however, Faraday's health was steadily declining and increasingly he spent most of his time at his home, The Green, Hampton Court, where he died on 25 August 1867. He was buried five days later in the Sandemanian plot in Highgate cemetery.
During the nineteenth century, biographies of Faraday were written by John Tyndall, Henry Bence Jones, John Hall Gladstone, and Silvanus P. Thompson. Though they give some indication of the complexity of Faraday's life and character, they tend to portray him as a lone man of science experimenting in the basement laboratory of the Royal Institution. This simplified image, which continued into the 1960s, was reinforced by publications (including the seven volumes of his laboratory notebook) stemming from the extensive 1931 public celebrations marking the centenary of his discovery of electromagnetic induction. It was not until the 1980s and 1990s that a much more complex image of Faraday emerged from the studies of David Gooding on his experimentation, of Geoffrey Cantor on his religion, and of Frank James on his various roles in nineteenth-century society.
Faraday was the last major natural philosopher who could work without mathematics and thus his style is out of tune with modern science. Yet he was, and is, much admired, both among the scientific and engineering communities and more generally. This admiration has taken many forms, reflecting his wide range of interests and activities: he is one of the few scientists to have an outdoor statue in London (by Waterloo Bridge); he is the only person to have two SI units named after him (the farad for capacitance and the faraday for electric charge); the Faraday medal is the premier award of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, which also has a Faraday lecture; the Royal Society of Chemistry has a Faraday division and a Faraday medal/lecture, while the Royal Society makes the Faraday award, formerly on the recommendation of the committee on the public understanding of science; and science buildings in a number of universities have been named after Faraday. His high status within the scientific and engineering communities, together with the continuing historical interest in his life as a major topic from which to explore various approaches to the history of science, and the continuing publication of his manuscripts, all ensure that he will remain a subject of study for many years to come. One of those rare figures whose distinction was always recognized by contemporaries and by posterity, Faraday's national importance was further marked by his depiction at the end of the twentieth century on the Bank of England's £20 note.
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F. A. J. L. James, Guide to the microfilm edition of the manuscripts of Michael Faraday (1791–1867) from the collections of the Royal Institution, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Guildhall Library [and] the Royal Society (2000)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat; 2nd edn(2001)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat
- d. cert.
- m. cert.
- register, Highgate cemetery, 1867
- family Bible
- Inst. ET, corresp. and papers incl. notebooks; MSS and notes relating to lectures at Institution of Electrical Engineers
- Royal Institution of Great Britain, London, corresp., notebooks, and papers
- Royal Military College Library, Sandhurst, MSS; letters
- RS, notebook and MSS
- Wellcome L., MSS
- Académie des Sciences, Paris, letters to J. B. Dumas
- Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres, et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, corresp. with A. Quételet
- Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire de Genève, Geneva, corresp. with C. de la Rive and A. de la Rive
- BL, letters to Charles Babbage, Add. MSS 37183–37200
- Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Thomas Phillipps; letters to Mary Somerville, Ada Lovelace
- CUL, corresp. with Sir George Airy; letters to Sir George Stokes
- Dundee University, Sandemanian papers
- GL, letters, documents, mostly in MS 30108
- Glamorgan RO, letters to J. J. Guest
- ICL, letters to Lyon Playfair, T. H. Huxley
- ICL, S. P. Thompson collection, letters to Richard Phillips
- Inst. ET, corresp. with Benjamin Abbott
- National Research Council of Canada, corresp. with J. Plücker
- Queen's University Library, Belfast, corresp. with Thomas Andrews
- Royal Institution of Great Britain, London, letters to W. R. Grove, J. Tyndall
- RS, letters to Sir John Herschel
- Sci. Mus., corresp. with Thomas Andrews
- Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, corresp. (more than 100 letters)
- TNA: PRO, MSS, ADM, BT, HO, and WO classes
- Trinity Cam., corresp. with William Whewell
- U. St Andr. L., corresp. with James Forbes
- University of Basel, Schoenbein MSS
- University of Bristol, letters to I. K. Brunel
- H. W. Pickersgill, oils, 1829, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- E. H. Baily, plaster bust, 1830, Oxf. U. Mus. NH
- W. Brockedon, chalk drawing, 1831, NPG
- E. U. Eddis, engraving, 1831, Trinity Cam.
- D. Maclise, engraving, 1836, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- C. Turner, engraving, 1838, BM
- T. Phillips, oils, 1841–2, NPG [see illus.]
- double portrait, photograph, 1845 (with Daniell), Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- T. Maguire, lithograph, 1851, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- J. Z. Bell, oils, 1852, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
- H. Moore, watercolour, 1852, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- G. Richmond, crayon drawing, 1852, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- A. Blaikley, group portrait, oils, 1855, Royal Society of Chemistry, London
- A. Blaikley, oils, 1855, RS
- M. Noble, bust, 1855, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- E. Armitage, group portrait, oils, 1857, RS
- Maull & Polyblank, photograph, 1857, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- C. Dodgson, photograph, 1860, Christ Church Oxf.
- W. Walker, photograph, 1863, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- J. H. Foley, marble statue, 1877, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London
- H. Adlard, line engraving (after photograph by Maull & Co.), NPG
- T. Brock, marble bust (after J. H. Foley), NPG
- London Stereoscopic Co., carte-de-visite, NPG
- D. Maclise, lithograph, BM; repro. in Fraser's Magazine (1836)
- J. Watkins, carte-de-visite, NPG
- photographs, Inst. ET
- study, V&A
Wealth at Death
under £6000: probate, 23 Oct 1867, CGPLA Eng. & Wales