Lord Kelvin and the rest

by Paul Mathers


The Wave Theory of Light, by Lord Kelvin

I will try to be as brief on these last few essays as I wish they would have been.

It was great until math showed up.

I am being slightly facetious, but I realized long ago that I was destined to be firmly in the “general reader” category of science enthusiasts. That category of reader did not exist in the 19th century (or, at least, not as we know it today). Also, it is important to note that this piece is, today, of more historical scientific interest.

The Tides, by Lord Kelvin

Lord Kelvin gives a crash refresher course on the tides. He includes historical confusion over them, as well as a few instances of historical remarkable accuracy on why they happen (which I always enjoy. It’s always nice to be reminded that we’re not so clever and original as we think we are).

The Extent of the Universe, by Simon Newcomb

This was probably my favorite piece in the volume. Newcomb is an engaging writer:

“The reader who desires to approach this subject in the most receptive spirit should begin his study by betaking himself on a clear, moonless evening, when he has no earthly concern to disturb the serenity of his thoughts, to some point where he can lie on his back on bench or roof, and scan the whole vault of heaven at one view. He can do this with the greatest pleasure and profit in late summer or autumn- winter would do equally well were it possible for the mind to rise so far above bodily conditions that the question of temperature should not enter. The thinking man who does this under circumstances most favorable for calm thought will form a new conception of the wonder of the universe… I know of no way in which complete rest can be obtained for the weary soul- in which the mind can be so entirely relieved of the burden of all human anxiety- as by the contemplation of the spectacle presented by the starry heavens under the conditions described.”

Geographical Evolution, by Sir Archibald Geikie

I just barely remember having read this. It deals with the materials which comprise the land and the architecture of the land. It was written long before the understanding of plate tectonics. It was a frustrating read in that it was the last 30 some pages between me and Cellini and because I instantly realized that if I ever thought of this piece again it would be something like “one time I read some archaic geology.” At no point did that first impression shift.

Anyway, onward to Cellini with all possible alacrity!