Faraday as a Discoverer
Rest needed--visit to Switzerland.
The last of these memoirs was dated from the Royal Institution in June, 1838. It
concludes the first volume of his 'Experimental Researches on Electricity.' In 1840, as
already stated, he made his final assault on the Contact Theory, from which it never
recovered. He was now feeling the effects of the mental strain to which he had been
subjected for so many years. During these years he repeatedly broke down. His wife
alone witnessed the extent of his prostration, and to her loving care we, and the world, are
indebted for the enjoyment of his presence here so long. He found occasional relief in a
theatre. He frequently quitted London and went to Brighton and elsewhere, always
choosing a situation which commanded a view of the sea, or of some other pleasant
horizon, where he could sit and gaze and feel the gradual revival of the faith that
'Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.'
But very often for some days after his removal to the country, he would be unable to do
more than sit at a window and look out upon the sea and sky.
In 1841, his state became more serious than it had ever been before. A published letter to
Mr. Richard Taylor, dated March 11, 1843, contains an allusion to his previous condition.
'You are aware,' he says, 'that considerations regarding health have prevented me from
working or reading on science for the last two years.' This, at one period or another of
their lives, seems to be the fate of most great investigators. They do not know the limits
of their constitutional strength until they have transgressed them. It is, perhaps, right that
they should transgress them, in order to ascertain where they lie. Faraday, however,
though he went far towards it, did not push his transgression beyond his power of
restitution. In 1841 Mrs. Faraday and he went to Switzerland, under the affectionate
charge of her brother, Mr. George Barnard, the artist. This time of suffering throws fresh
light upon his character. I have said that sweetness and gentleness were not its only
constituents; that he was also fiery and strong. At the time now referred to, his fire was
low and his strength distilled away; but the residue of his life was neither irritability nor
discontent. He was unfit to mingle in society, for conversation was a pain to him; but let
us observe the great Man-child when alone. He is at the village of Interlaken, enjoying
Jungfrau sunsets, and at times watching the Swiss nailers making their nails. He keeps a
little journal, in which he describes the process of nailmaking, and incidentally throws a
luminous beam upon himself.
'August 2, 1841.--Clout nailmaking goes on here rather considerably, and is a very neat
and pretty operation to observe. I love a smith's shop and anything relating to smithery.
My father was a smith.'