The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear Bache

I would have reported myself before this time had I not since my return from Washington been afflicted with something like an opthalmia which has obliged me to use my eyes as little as possible though I have been under the necessity inorder to keep down my correspondence to write a number of letters daily. I arrived safely at home the next evening after I left you found all well and happy to see me.
Since my return I have taken entire charge of the Senior class and am now getting on quite rapidly with my lectures. I am again with the exception of my eyes in my normal condition and can look back if not with complacency at least with resignation on the erection of the norman cenotaph over one half the buried[A] funds of the Smithsonian legacy and I have concluded that after making a reasonable effort to prevent this improper application of the trust I will take your advice and if the Regents will act in the matter without much pressing I shall in this respect let things take their course. Besides this the idea has lately impressed itself on me that since we are to form a large collection of articles of Foreign and curious research which may serve to excite the love of learning a collection of Physical instruments instruments should form an essential part of this and be of such a character as to induce a pilgrimage[B] to Washington of all the quid nunc professors in our country to enlighten themselves as to the progress of science and to witness the new phenomena.[1] In accordance with this view I have sent out an order by the steamer of the 1st to Soleil[2] for a complete set of articles for the polarization diffraction and interference of light; also to Ruhmkorff for a complete collection of Melloni's apparatus with all the latest improvements.[3] I have ordered with this two extra galvanometers with wires of different lengths which will be useful in a variety of researches on electricity and heat. To these orders I have added another to Morloye for a set of the more interesting instruments on sound[4] and I have concluded to set some of the instrument makers in Boston at work on such articles as may be manufactured of a good quality in this country.
Since my return to Princeton though I have been much annoyed with my eyes and much driven with teaching and Smithsonian correspondence yet I have had by snatches quite an interesting time of experimenting. Science as if to make amends for the disquietude I have suffered for her sake during the last few days of my residence in Washington has opened her pirean[C] spring[5] and given me a few exhilerating sips which have completely restored my self-complacency and satisfaction with the world. I can now look back on the annoyances at Washington as a thing to be laughed at with the exception of the trouble and anxiety I gave you and your good wife. These are real sources of regret which no altered condition of my own mind can efface. I know that you were overwhelmed with business relative to the coast survey and preparations for your journey to the south and I deeply regret with feelings of mortification the large and perhaps uncalled for demands I made on your time as well as the uneasiness I gave you as to the fate of the Smithsonian. Still I think the stir which was made did good and were it not on your account I cannot wish that a move of the kind had not taken place.
I have written to a number of persons relative to the `Contributions' and as an additional inducement for the working men of science in our country to publish in our transactions I have thought that the annual report of the secretary to the Board of Regents of the State of the Institution should contain a popular analysis of all the papers accepted for the transactions, and as this Report would be presented to congress and published as a public document a more wide diffusion would be given of the discoveres than in any other way.[6] I have also set one of my young men at work to explore all the scientific Journals accessible at Princeton for notices of Smithson and his labours and I have in this way procured an obituary notice of our Saint by Davies Gilbert who speaks of him in terms of affection and respect. They were college mates at Oxford and were drawn to each other by a kindred love of science. Smithson was considered the best chemest at Oxford and particularly excelled in the analysis of minute quantities. The story of the analysis of a tear which the chemest caught trickling down the cheek of a Lady is told. I am under the impression that Davies Gilbert died a short time ago or I would write to him for further particulars.
The subject of my experiments has been the radiation of heat from flame; the same we conversed on in Washington. I have conclusively established the fact that an increase of radient heat does take place when an incombustible solid is introduced in to a flame. So far as I have worked out the problem the facts are as follows the solid substance absorbs the combined but not latent heat of the flame and afterwards radiates it into the surrounding space or in other words flame is an exceedingly bad radiator of heat what ever may be the degree of its temperature and the effect of the solid is to increase this power. By introducing a solid into a flame of hydrogen or alcohol the quantity of water evaporated from a vessel placed over it will be diminished while the amount of heat radiated into surrounding space will be increased.
As far as economy is concerned in some cases the introduction of the solid will have the effect of robbing Peter to pay Paul the boiling ham over the fire will lose[D] what the roasting turkey gains but when the object is to heat an appartment by a blazing fire the solid introduced will increase the econom effect. I find in looking over all the books that the radient power of flame for heat has never been investigated—when the heat of flame is mentioned a reference is made to the power of heating a body by contact and in several of the standard works it is stated on the authority of Davy that the luminosity of flame is inversely as the heat.[7] If the radiant heat be understood the assertion is not true the two are proportional or very nearly so in all cases.
Though my eyes have been a source of considerable trouble for a week or more yet they have enabled me to make rather an interesting observation on the halo which is sometimes seen around a candle when we are suddenly roused from sleep. One of my eyes a few nights ago exhibited so distinct and beautiful ↑an↓ appearance of this kind that I was induced to observe it with care, and to determine the orders of succession of colours. These I found to be the same as those of the rings by transmitted light of thin plates. This fact gave the cause of the phenomenon and suggested to me a new method of exhibiting the rings of Newton[E] (do not smile) by means of a thin film of mucilage spread over the eye.
I should have mentioned while speaking of flame that I have hit on a very simple and perfect method of measuring the relative transparency of flame by placing the candle in a cone of light from a convex lens in a hole in a window shutter and receiving the image on a white screen. Two flames may thus be very readily compared, the refraction of light through the heated air exhibits very distinctly the out line and also all the motions of the rarified air around.
I have also been giving some thought[F] to the Cavendish experiment and think one cause of error in the performance of the expermt was the want of homogeneity in the parts of the metal of the large ball. It is possible to cast so large a piece of metal without having the lower half more dense than the upper? To obviate this cause of error the ball should be so supported as to be movable in all directions so as to present each side in succession to the attracted ball. If the experiment be made in the capitol the apparatus should be so placed that nearly an equal quantity of attractive matter would[G] be found on each side in the line joining the centres of the large and small ball. If however a position of this kind cannot be obtained the effect of unequal attraction may be elimenated by turning the whole apparatus through an arc of 180[H] degrees and repeating the observations in this position. I am not quite sure as to the effect of magnetic action; according to Faraday's late discovery all unferuginous matter becomes magnetic in a direction at right angles to the magnetic meridian. An effect of this kind could hower be elimenated by observing in the meridian and at right angles to the same.[8]
I have never seen the fact noticed but I am certain the electrical currents induced in the swinging pendulum ought to have some effect on the time.
You will readily infer from this letter that my mind is in a much more pleasant state than when I left Washington. The return to scientific investigations has given a relief to the feeling of doing nothing which oppressed &↑me↓ while dancing attendance on the Regents and Building committee. I am clearly of the opinion that could we once get the Smithsonian under head way your pleasure and comfort would be much enhanced, and perhaps your life prolonged by joining me in a series of physical researches.
Do you not intend to couple with the coast survey observations on the pendulum at different points and will not some observations of this kind be necessary to correct the results of the Cavendish determination.[9]
I hope you will put the article on the gulf[I] stream in process of preparation for the Smithsonian and also the observations on the magnetism of vessels.[10]
Please give our kind regards to Mrs. B—she has laid us under an unextinguishable debt which we can only acknowledge without the hope of being able to discharge. Mrs H. joins hartily in this sentiment. She request me to ask the colours determined on for a projected scarf.
You will oblige me by informing your sister that her package came safely to hand under the accomodating frank of Mr. Owen and that it has been sent to the Lady to whom it was addressed.
Were you not surprised by the anouncement of the results obtained by Pierce; I fear he has been too hasty.[11] Mauray I see by the papers attempts to give Walker a slight tap by stating that the orbit of the new planet determined[J] from the observations made since its reappearance does not pass through the missing star.[12]
I shall expect a note from you informing me when you intend starting for the south and in the mean time I shall remain as ever

most sincerely yours

Joseph Henry
[?Dr] A. D. Bache
P.S. My eyes were so bad last night that I could not finish this letter which was begun the day before. Mrs H. will act as my amanuensis in answering the letters of the Smithsonian. I have had a number of notes from Mr Owen[13] enclosing letters &— and I have written to him once[14] but I have heard nothing of[K] the movements of the building committee or when the ground is to be broken.
Did you see by the number of the comptes Rendus for 11th Jany that Arago has honored me by an analysis of my report on the electricity of the telegraph.[15]
Bache Papers, Smithsonian Archives. Copies: Two partial drafts, March 30, 1847, in same location. Mary Henry Copy of one of the drafts, misdated March 20, 1847, in Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] As early as December 4, 1846, the regents had approved a resolution accompanying the report of the Owen committee to appropriate $4,000 for the purchase of philosophical and chemical apparatus. On January 28, 1847, a resolution was approved authorizing Henry to contract for apparatus. The total amount spent in 1847 for scientific apparatus (exclusive of that for meteorology and expeditions) was $1,571.47. Henry described it as “of importance, not only in the way of original research, but also in illustrating some of the most interesting and recent phenomena of physical science, as well as serving as samples for imitation to the artists of this country.”
Rhees, Journals, pp. 14, 29, 452, 481; Smithsonian Report for 1847, p. 189 (quotation).
    [2] Jean-Baptiste-François Soleil, the premier optical instrument maker in Paris. Henry Papers, 3:382n. None of the orders mentioned in this paragraph have been found.
    [3] Heinrich Daniel Rühmkorff was a German instrument maker who worked in Paris and was known for his electrical apparatus. Henry had ordered a set of Macedonio Melloni's thermoelectric apparatus from him in 1841. Henry Papers, 5:125, 135, 156, 161–162, 236, 327.
    [4] An invoice, bearing a file date of August 1847, for approximately $350 worth of acoustical apparatus ordered by Henry from Chez Marloye of Paris is in the Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives. Marloye's 1840 and 1845 catalogs are in the Henry Library.
    [5] The Pierian spring was the fountain of the Muses and hence a source of inspiration.
    [6] Section 3 of the act establishing the Smithsonian required the Board of Regents to present to each session of Congress "a report of the operations, expenditures, and condition, of the Institution." Published as congressional documents, the annual reports included a report by the secretary to the Board of Regents. Henry did, in fact, comment on proposed publications.
    [7] We have been unable to find such a statement specifically attributed to Davy. In Henry's later article on his experiments, he qualified the assertion and eliminated any reference to Davy: "It is frequently stated, in works on chemistry, that the heating power of the flame of the compound blowpipe is very great, while its illuminating power is quite small." "On the Effect of Mingling Radiating Substances with Combustible Materials," AAAS Proceedings, 1855, 9:112–116 (quotation on p. 116).
    [8] Henry had long been interested in Henry Cavendish's experiments to determine the density of the earth (see Henry Papers, 6:255n). Here he suggested how Bache could modify his vacuum apparatus to eliminate the anomalies that Francis Baily had encountered in his extensive repetition of the experiments from 1838 to 1842. In his investigation of diamagnetism in 1845, Faraday had shown that all matter was affected by magnetic fields (Experimental Researches in Electricity, Twentieth and Twenty-First Series, especially paragraph 2420). Thus the earth's magnetic field would have an effect on the balls of the apparatus even if they were non-ferrous. George Whitehead Hearn of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, had recently addressed this problem in "On the Cause of the Discrepancies Observed by Mr. Baily with the Cavendish Apparatus for Determining the Mean Density of the Earth," Phil. Trans., 1847, pp. 217–229, which was read to the Royal Society of London on March 11, 1847. Hearn proposed to use iron balls whose obvious magnetism could be measured and corrected for. Henry presumably did not know of Hearn's work.
[9] Pendulum observations such as Henry suggested would indicate changes in gravity on the earth's surface which were indicative of changes in the shape of the earth. The Coast Survey did not pursue such observations systematically until 1872 when Benjamin Peirce, Bache's successor, put his son, Charles Sanders Peirce, in charge of pendulum-swinging observations. Thomas G. Manning, U.S. Coast Survey vs. Naval Hydrographic Office: A 19th-Century Rivalry in Science and Politics (Tuscaloosa, 1988), pp. 5–6, 8–9, 74–77; Hugh Richard Slotten, "Patronage, Politics, and Practice in Nineteenth-Century American Science: Alexander Dallas Bache and the United States Coast Survey" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1991), pp. 246, 248, 328.
Henry and others sympathetic to the Coast Survey cited the problem of the determination of the figure of the earth as one of the contributions that it could make to basic research as a natural outgrowth of, and without detriment to, its surveying work. See, for example, Joseph Henry, "[The Coast Survey]," Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, 1845, 17:342–343; Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1848–1852, 2:127–128; Charles Henry Davis, "The United States Coast Survey," The World of Science, Arts, and Industry Illustrated from Examples in the New-York Exhibition, 1853–54, ed. B. Silliman, Jr., and C. R. Goodrich (New York, 1854), p. 40.
    [10] Neither was ever published by the Smithsonian, although Henry announced in the Smithsonian Report for 1848 (p. 16) that the first was forthcoming. Bache commented on his late brother George M. Bache's work on the distribution of temperature in the Gulf Stream at the 1849 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and referred to it again at the 1854 meeting. Bache, "On the Distribution of Temperature in and near the Gulf Stream, off the Coast of the United States, from Observations Made in the Coast Survey," Silliman's Journal, 1856, 2d ser. 21:29–37. We are unaware of any Bache publication on the magnetism of vessels.
[11] A reference to Benjamin Peirce's part in the disputes following the discovery of Neptune in September 1846 by J. G. Galle, of the Berlin Observatory, who found it following French astronomer U. J. J. Le Verrier's theoretical prediction of its location. Working independently, Le Verrier and English astronomer John Couch Adams had hypothesized an undiscovered eighth planet to account for anomalies in the orbit of Uranus.
At the Naval Observatory in Washington, Sears Cook Walker (Henry Papers, 3:369) searched old star catalogs and concluded that a supposedly fixed star observed by J.-J. L. de Lalande in 1795, but later missing from that location, was in fact Neptune. Combining Lalande's observation with recent ones, Walker computed new elements and found a much smaller and less eccentric orbit than Le Verrier and Adams had hypothesized. Peirce examined and verified Walker's work and announced to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on March 16, 1847, “THAT THE PLANET NEPTUNE IS NOT THE PLANET TO WHICH GEOMETRICAL ANALYSIS HAD DIRECTED THE TELESCOPE [emphasis in original] . . . and that its discovery by Galle must be regarded as a happy accident. [Hubbell and Smith, p. 270.]”
Peirce thus discredited one of the most exciting scientific predictions of the century. His challenge to the theoretical discovery of Neptune by Le Verrier and Adams was instantly controversial not only in Europe, where Le Verrier defended himself by attacking Peirce, but also in the United States, where not even Walker initially agreed with him. Benjamin Apthorp Gould and James Dwight Dana represented two poles in the American reaction: Gould praised Peirce's "candor and moral courage" (Hubbell and Smith, p. 281), while Dana condemned him for presuming to act as "a critic upon European astronomy" (Hubbell and Smith, p. 284). For the episode and an analysis of what it meant about the American scientific community, see John G. Hubbell and Robert W. Smith, "Neptune in America: Negotiating a Discovery," Journal for the History of Astronomy, 1992, 23:261–291, which concludes: “Peirce's own research, as well as his championing of Walker's studies, certainly had the effect of demonstrating the talents and abilities of American scientists in an extremely demanding branch of what was widely regarded as the science, astronomy. [p. 284.]”
Henry Papers, 6:526n–527n; Philip S. Shoemaker, "Stellar Impact: Ormsby Macknight Mitchel and Astronomy in Antebellum America" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1991), pp. 145–164; Morton Grosser, The Discovery of Neptune (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1962), pp. 138–141.
    [12] In a letter to Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason, Matthew Fontaine Maury (Henry Papers, 3:23n–24n), superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory, reported a recent observation of Neptune's position by Joseph Stillman Hubbard. Hubbard's observed position differed from that predicted by Walker, whose calculated orbit was based on the identity of Neptune with Lalande's "missing star." Maury wrote that this might "lessen the hypothesis as to identity." Walker had resigned from the Naval Observatory under duress in early March. Maury to Mason, March 26, 1847, in Newark Daily Advertiser, March 30, 1847 (quotation); Francis Leigh Williams, Matthew Fontaine Maury: Scientist of the Sea (New Brunswick, 1963), pp. 168, 526.
    [13] Only one such note or letter has been found. Owen wrote Henry on March 17 (Joseph Henry Papers, Duke University Library), introducing Judge Stryker, who was about to begin a periodical to which Owen thought the Smithsonian should subscribe. This is probably James Stryker, who began the American Quarterly Register and Magazine in 1848. Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741–1850 (New York, 1930), pp. 368–369.
    [14] Doc. 30.
    [15] The Comptes rendus for January 11, 1847 (p. 43), merely noted in three lines that Arago had presented a verbal analysis of Henry's report, originally delivered to the American Philosophical Society in June 1846 and published in the APS Proceedings, 1843–1847, 4:260–268. Henry Papers, 6:432.
    [A] Altered from burried
    [B] Altered, possibly from pilgramage
    [C] Altered from fou
    [D] Altered from loose
    [E] Altered from newton
    [F] Altered from thoughts
    [G] Altered from should
    [H] Altered, possibly from 90
    [I] Altered, possibly from gulpth
    [J] Altered, possibly from derived
    [K] Altered from from