The Papers of Joseph Henry


My Dear Sir

I received a few days since the enclosed letter[2] directed as you will perceive to you & to my care. I was utterly at a loss what to make of the circumstance—thought it possible the writer might have learned that you were to visit our Dutch City about this time—had in short a great variety of unplausible explanations. At length after waiting sometime seeing something about electricity by the advice of a legal gentleman I opened it & found it abounding in a commodity of which I presume many of your letters are full—queres. How it should come to be directed to my care I can only explain in one way. A member of our Senior Class who takes great interest in Electricity resides in Castleton.[3] He had probably been conversing on the subject & so mingled the names of the originator & reporter of your discoveries that the brain of Mr Lane became confused & he supposed that the two individuals must be essentially one & the same. I hope you will bea[r][A] with becoming meekness the honor thus imposed on you—an honor entirely unsought & attributable to no active agency of yours.
Though often sorely tempted I have not written you before because I supposed the increase of your correspondence since your appointment to Washington must be excessively burdensome. Few have made greater sacrifices than myself in consenting to your acceptance. Nothing but a sense of duty to the scientific interests of the country could have induced me to allow[B] your removal to such a fearful distance that I may not be able to see you again in years. Bache & Henry both gone is a thought to sigh over. I should much like to know whether there is a good degree of certainty that the Smithsonian is to be a Royal Institute or Royal Society[4] instead of an Agricultural school where lectures without number shall be yearly given to empty benches. I have watched with interest the efforts to give the Institution a right direction & sincerely hope they will meet with success even in this democratic & utilitarian country.
I was greatly rejoiced to receive the Bulletin containing your report on the Telegraph wires.[5] It came just in time for me to give the Seniors the substance of it at the close of my lectures last term. It ↑is↓ marked with all that transparency which characterizes your other papers & which I can never sufficiently admire.
My Oersted's app. for comp. water is out of order. A bubble of air has found its way into the glass bottle & divides the column of water. As yours[6] has most probably met the same accident often I should like to know what method you find best for expelling the intruder.
We all deeply sympathize with Prof. Alexander in the loss of his excellent wife. His house must be left desolate indeed.
If you can without too much trouble give me a few lines I should feel much obliged—not otherwise. I received Bache's report a few days since.[7] We are all pretty well—Jackson at work on the Optics & very dyspeptic.[C]

Yours as ever

John Foster
Prof. Joseph Henry LLD

PS. I stop the press for a moment to announce that I have just received from Mr Gurley[8] (Troy) a fine vertical & horizontal monochord.[9] The wires (two sets), I had before received from Paris.

My best regards to Mrs Henry

Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Foster was teaching mathematics and natural philosophy at Union College. Henry Papers, 6:78n.
    [2] Doc. 17.
    [3] Selah G. Perkins. A General Catalogue of the Officers, Graduates and Students of Union College, from 1795 to 1868 (Albany, 1868), p. 74.
    [4] References to the Royal Institution and the Royal Society of London, respectively.
    [5] Either Henry's presentation in the APS Proceedings, 1843–1847, 4:260–268, or its reprinting as "On the Induction of Atmospheric Electricity on the Wires of the Electrical Telegraph," Silliman's Journal, 1847, 2d ser. 3:25–32.
    [6] Purchased in Paris. Henry used his Oersted apparatus for the compression of liquids both for classroom demonstrations and research. Henry Papers, 3:541; 5:28, 179.
    [7] Probably U.S. House, 29th Congress, 2d Session, Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Showing the Progress of That Work, House Documents, No. 6 (1846).
    [8] William Gurley (1821–1887) had been trained as a civil engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was a partner in the firm of Phelps and Gurley, makers of mathematical and philosophical instruments. Charles E. Smart, The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America since 1700 (Troy, 1962), pp. 60–62.
    [9] An instrument for measuring and exhibiting the mathematical relations of musical tones.
    [A] Ink blot.
    [B] Altered from p
    [C] Altered from dyppeptic