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Faraday as a Discoverer
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Parentage: introduction to the royal institution: earliest experiments: first royal society
It has been thought desirable to give you and the world some image of MICHAEL
FARADAY, as a scientific investigator and discoverer. The attempt to respond to this
desire has been to me a labour of difficulty, if also a labour of love. For however well
acquainted I may be with the researches and discoveries of that great master--however
numerous the illustrations which occur to me of the loftiness of Faraday's character and
the beauty of his life--still to grasp him and his researches as a whole; to seize upon the
ideas which guided him, and connected them; to gain entrance into that strong and active
brain, and read from it the riddle of the world-- this is a work not easy of performance,
and all but impossible amid the distraction of duties of another kind. That I should at one
period or another speak to you regarding Faraday and his work is natural, if not
inevitable; but I did not expect to be called upon to speak so soon. Still the bare
suggestion that this is the fit and proper time for speech sent me immediately to my task:
from it I have returned with such results as I could gather, and also with the wish that
those results were more worthy than they are of the greatness of my theme.
It is not my intention to lay before you a life of Faraday in the ordinary acceptation of the
term. The duty I have to perform is to give you some notion of what he has done in the
world; dwelling incidentally on the spirit in which his work was executed, and
introducing such personal traits as may be necessary to the completion of your picture of
the philosopher, though by no means adequate to give you a complete idea of the man.
The newspapers have already informed you that Michael Faraday was born at Newington
Butts, on September 22, 1791, and that he died at Hampton Court, on August 25, 1867.
Believing, as I do, in the general truth of the doctrine of hereditary transmission--sharing
the opinion of Mr. Carlyle, that 'a really able man never proceeded from entirely stupid
parents'--I once used the privilege of my intimacy with Mr. Faraday to ask him whether
his parents showed any signs of unusual ability. He could remember none. His father, I
believe, was a great sufferer during the latter years of his life, and this might have masked
whatever intellectual power he possessed. When thirteen years old, that is to say in 1804,
Faraday was apprenticed to a bookseller and bookbinder in Blandford Street, Manchester
Square: here he spent eight years of his life, after which he worked as a journeyman
You have also heard the account of Faraday's first contact with the Royal Institution; that
he was introduced by one of the members to Sir Humphry Davy's last lectures, that he
took notes of those lectures; wrote them fairly out, and sent them to Davy, entreating him
at the same time to enable him to quit trade, which he detested, and to pursue science,
which he loved. Davy was helpful to the young man, and this should never be forgotten:
he at once wrote to Faraday, and afterwards, when an opportunity occurred, made him his