John Wesley.

A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy .. (Volume 3) online

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because they are remanded back from the earth by tiie
following day's heat, before they can soak to any con-
siderable depth. The great benefit therefore of dew
in hot weather, must be by being imbibed into vegeta-
bles, to refresh them for the present, and supply them
with moisture towards the expence of the succeeding day.

Meantime the sun draws fresh supplies of moisture
from the strata of the earth, which by means of its pene-
trating warmth insinuates itself into the roots. By the
same genial heat it is carried up through their bodies
and branches, and thence passing into the leaves, it js
vigorously acted upon in those thin plates, till perspiring
through their surface, it mounts with rapidity in the
free air.

But the strangest circumstance relating to dew, is
this. In the same night place several substances in the
open air, whilst a large dew falls : and some of them
will receive much of it, some little, and others none at
all. The drops make a sort of choice what bodies they
shall fix themselves to. Glass and crystals they fix
themselves to readily, and in the largest quantities. Me-
tals do not receive them at all, nor do the drops ever fix
on them. If a glass vessel be set out in the evening, on
a silver plate, the glass will be found quite covered with
<lew, and the silver perfectly dry. China-ware is a sort of
H



154

glass. Six pounds of mercury being exposed to the air
in a china-plate, the dew ran in streams on the edge of
the plate, but not a drop was on the mercury.

Is there not some alliance between the phenomena
observed in dew, and those which appear in electric
bodies? All hard bodies may by rubbing become elec-
tric, excepting only metals. .And metals are the only
bodies which wholly refuse to admit dew.

But this is not all ; a pewter plate placed all night in
the open air, receives no dew on its upper side, but the
under side is covered with it. On the contrary, place a
china plate near it, and the upper side of it is quite wet,
but the under side is quite dry. So one receives the
dew only on the upper, the other only on the under sur-
face ! Who can account for this ?

Mr. Kershaw has observed, that dew newly gathered
and strained, is not very clear, but of a yellowish colour.

That when he endeavoured to putrefy it by various
degrees of heat, he quite failed of his intention : for heat
rather clarified and preserved it sweet, than caused any
putrefaction :

That after it had been exposed to the sun, corked up,
for a whole summer, there was no other change than
that much green stuff (such as we see in standing water)
floated on the top :

That after it had been exposed to the sun many
weeks in an open glass, it was full of little insects like
tadpoles, which in a while dropt their skins, and became
gnats ;

That vapouring away great quantities of this dew, he
procured two pounds of greyish earth which lay in
leaves one ;.bove another, like brown paper, but very
friable :

Lastly, that by often calcining and filtering this earth,
he extracted two ounces of fine, small, white salt, which
much resembledrock salt, when it was viewed through
a microscope:

If clouds arc condensed, so as to fall in drops, this we



155

stile rain. It may rise from various causes. Some-
times cold alone condenses a warm cloud. But it is
generally wind which presses the cloud so close together,
that the particles of water unite in large drops, which
being speciiicaliy heavier than the air, can no longer be
suspended by it.

But by what power are the drops of rain so equally
dispersed ? This may he shewn by an easy experiment.
Put a quantity of brass-dust into an electric phial.
When this is charged, invert it, and throw some of the
dust out. This will be spread over a flat surface, with
exact uniformity, and wiii fall just like rain or snow. It
is highly probable this is the case with the clouds,
Being highly electrified, they of course spread their con
tents equally over the surface of the earth.

Again ; how comes it to pass, that we have not con-
stantly either too much or too little rain in any one
place 1 It is not chance, which can never steer clear of
extremes. It is the hand of Providence. There is no
other rational way of accounting for such an economy
in the clouds. Such a just and necessary distillation and
distribution of water from the grand alembic of the at-
mosphere, could never proceed, but from the superin-
tendance and direction of that Omnipotent Chymist, in
whose hands are "all the secondary powers of nature, to
vary their operations, as he sees most conducive to the
general good of mankind.

Bloody rains, as they have been sometimes called, seem
to be only the excrements of insects. ' Accordingly Gas-
sendus gives us an account of a bloody rain in France,
which much ter/ified the people. But upon enquiry, it
was found only to be red drops, coming from a sort of
butterflies, which flew about in great numbers.

During a scarcity in Silesia, a rumour was spread,
of its raining millet-seed. But it was 'soon found to-be

H 5



only the seeds of the small henbit, growing thereabouts
in great plenty. So in the Archipelago it was thought
ashes were rained, with which ships were covered for
many leagues. But in truth, they came from an erup-
tion of Vesuvius, happening at that lime. More lately*
it was reported atWarminster, in Wiltshire,, that it rained
wheat. But the supposed wheat, was really ivy-ber-
ries, blown thither in a considerable quantity by a hurri-
cane. Nay, in 1696, a ^ e ^ uear-Cranstead, in Kent,
was overspread with young whitings, supposed to fall
from the clouds, but doubtless brought thither from the
sea by a violent storm.

Nor is it strange that any of these things should be
thus transported by tempestuous winds, considering to
what distance, and in what quantities the sea water was
carried by the storm, Nov. 26, 17G3. A physician
travelling soon after,, tvventy miles from the sea, chewing/
some tops of hedges, found them salt. The grass of
the down, about Lewes,, was so salt, that for some
time the sheep could not eat it. And the miller, three
miles from the sea, attempting with his man to secure
Iiis mill, were so washed with flashes of sea water, that
they were almost strangled.

A few years ago, during a violent storm of wind-,
much rain fell iu the western part of Cornwall, which
was mere sea water, as salt as lhat which was just,
taken out of the sea. It seemed to have been drawn
out of the sea, and thrown upon the land in the same
hour: so that there was no time for that wonderful
operation of nature, whereby the water that ascends in
clouds, is freed from its salt, and .bituminous particles,,
.before it ful&to the earth.

3. When the particles of wafer in a cloud are frozen,
it occasions snow, which floats in the air till it is driven
together, so as to be heavy enough to sink. When the
drops of rain in falling toward the earth, meet with a
steam of< cold , air , they are often froze iota ke ? and so



157

fall to the ground in the form of bail, hence the rea-
son appears, why snow, which is only frozen mist, is
lighter than either rain or hail.

But why is snow, though it seems to be soft, truly
hard ? Because it is true ice, It seems soft, because at
the first touch of the finger on its sharp edges or points,
they melt ; otherwise they would pierce the finger, just
as so many lancets.,

But why, though it be true ice, which is a hard and
dense body, is it so very light 1 Because of the extreme
thinness of each circle, IH comparison of its bteadth. So
gold, the most ponderous of all bodies, when beaten into
leaves, rides upon the air.

Why is lit white ? Because its parts, though singly^
transparent, yet must appear white, when mixed together:
as do the parts of froth, of powdered glass, and other
transparent bodies, whether soft or hard.

You will see snow of a -peculiar kind, if you try the
following experiment. Set a tall phial of aquafortis by
the fire, till it is warm. Then put in filings of pure sil-
ver, a few at a time, and after a brisk ebullition, the sil-
ver slowly dissolves. Place this in a cold window. As
it cools, the silver particles shoot into crystals, several of
which running together, form a flake of snow, and de-
scend to the bottom of the phial. While they are de-
scending, they perfectly represent a shower of silver
snow. And the ilakes lie upon one another at the bot-
tom, like real snow upoaihe ground.

Many particles of snow are of a regular figure, like
rowels, or stars of six points. On each of these points,
are other collateral stars, but many of the points are
broken; others have been thawed, and are froze again
into irregular clusters. All these are perfect ice, so that
the whole of snow is an infinite number of icicles. A
cloud of vapours condensing, fotthwith descends, till
meeting with a freezing air, each drop immediately be-
comes an icicle, shooting itself into several points. These
H 6



158

descending still, and either striking on each other, or
meeting with gales of wanner air, are a little blunted or
thawed, and froze again into clusters, and so entangled
as to fall in flakes.

Even in our temperate climate, we have sometimes
had very extraordinary showers of hail. On April 29,
l6p,7> a thick black cloud, coming from Carnarvonshire,
poured such a hail on Cheshire, Lancashire, and some
other counties, that in a line two miles broad and sixty
miles long, it did inconceivable damage. It not only
killed all small animals, but split trees, and beat down
horses and men. The hail-stones, many of which,
weighed five ounces, some seven or eight, were of vari-
ous figures: some round, others half round, some
smooth, others embossed, or variously granulated. The
icy substance of them was transparent and hard ; but
there was a snowy kernel in the midle of each.

May 4, in the same year, there was a shower of hail,
in Hertfordshire, which exceeded this. Fields of rye
were cut down as with a scythe : several men killed,
and vast oaks split. The stones were from "ten to
fourteen inches round, some oval, some picked, and
others flat.

Mezeray relates that in Italy, in 1510, there was, after
a horrible darkness, a shower of hail which destroyed sil
the fish, birds, and beasts of that country, t was at-
tended with a strong smell of sulphur. Some of the
stones weighed a hundred pounds.

4. The rainbow is always seen in the region opposite
to the sun, and never but when it rains on that side. Its
colours are constantly in this order ; the outermost red,
the next yellow, the third green, the innermost violet co-
lour : but these are not always equally vivid. When
two rainbows appear, the upper exhibits the same co-
lours, but fainter, and in an inverted order. The seat
of the rainbow is the drops of rain, on which the rays of



159

the sun fall, and after various refractions and reflections,
strike on the eye of the beholder. This is rendered in-
disputable from hence, that the very same colours, and
in the same order, are exhibited in the drops of water,
spouted from a fountain.

The moon also sometimes exhibits a rainbow : but
only when she is full : her light being at other times too
faint to affect the sight, after two refractions and
a reflection. It has all the colour of the solar rain-
bow, very distinct and pleasant, only considerably
fainter.

A rainbow is likewise sometimes exhibited by the sea,
when a strong wind carries the tops of the waves aloft,
and the sun's rays falling upon them are refracted and
reflected, as in a shower. But the colours of this are
less lively, less distinct, and less durable than those of
the common bow. Scarce above two colours are distin-
guishable, a dark yellow on the side next the sun, and a
pale green on the opposite side. But sometimes 20 or
30 of them are seen at once. They appear at noon-day,
in a position opposite to that of the common rainbow,
the concave side being turned upwards.

5. Halo's are circles of various colours, which are
sometimes seen about the sun or moon. The space con-
tained within them (especially near those parts which are
tinctured with the most lively colours) is more dusky
than the sky without. (They never appear in rainy
weather.) Perhaps the air is at that time full of very
small icy particles, on which the rays of the sun and
moon falling, after refraction, exhibit that appearance.

6. As to mock suns, we sometimes see a large, white
circle, parallel to the horizon, in several parts whereof
more or fewer suns appear, though not always of the
same size or colour. As an halo frequently appears at
the same time, it is probable they spiing from much the
same cause, namely, from icy particles floating in the



160

air, between the sun, and the eye of the spectator. The
rays of the sun reflected from* these, may form that
bright circle, in certain parts whereof, by a double re-
fraction and reflection of them, those fictitious suns ap-
pear. In the same manner, the appearances termed
mock moons may be accounted for.

7. Among fiery meteors are reckoned, thunder,
lightning, ignes fatui, lambent fiames, and what are called,
falling stars. Unless we account for these (as indeed it
is easy to do) upon the principles of electricity, we must
suppose they are owing to sulphureous, or bituminous
particles floating in the air, which when collected in suf-
ficient quantities, take fire by various means. If a large
quantity of inflammable vapour takes fire at once, the
flame tears the cloud with incredible force, as well as
immense noise. But the light moving swifter than the
sound, is seen before that is heard. Sometimes an ex-
halation of a milder kind takes fire, and produces light-
ning without thunder, When it thunders and lightens,
it commonly rains too, the same shock driving together,
and condensing the clouds ; and the wisdom of God
appoints it so, for the preservation of his creatures,
For if lightning falls on one who is thoroughly wet,
it does him no arm at all. Not that the water quenches,
or resists the fire ; but it conveys it into the ground.

High places are most frequently struck with lightning,
if they have sharp points, as spires of churches, or tops
of trees, .which as it were, attract the fire. It sometimes
burns tlie clothes without hurting the body; sometimes
breaks the bones without scorching the skin. It melts the
sword in the scabbard, or money in the pocket, while
the scabbard or pocket remains as it was, In general it
passes insocently through those things that make little
or no resistance ; but tears those in pieces with impetu-
ous force, .which resist its passage.

One very particular effect of lightning, is what the
vulgar call, fairy circles. These are of two kinds. One
kind, is a round, bare path, about a foot broad, witk



161

green grass in the middle, aud is frequently seven or
eight yards in diameter. The other is a circle of the
same breadth, of very green grass, much fresher than
that in tiie middle. These are generally observed
after storms of thunder and lightning. And il is no
wonder, that lightning, like other fires, moves circularly,
and burns more at tiie extremity than in the middle-
The second kind of circles, without all doubt, spring
originally from the first : tiie grass, which was burnt up
by the lightning, growing afterward more fresh and
green*

But of what kind was that meteor which appeared
March 21, 1676? Two hours after sun-set, it came
over the Adriatic sea, from E. N. E. to W. S.. W. and
crossed over all Italy, being nearly vertical to Rimini on
the one side, and Leghorn on the other. It was at least
thirty-eight miles high. In all places near its course, it
made a hissing noise like a sky-rocket. Having passed
Leghorn, it gave a sound like that of a large cannon,
and quickly after like a cart, running over stones. It
was computed to move 160 miles in a minute, .which is
above ten times as .swift as the diurnal motion of the
earth. Its smaller diameter was judged to be above half
a mile. !No wonder then, that so large a body, moving
with such incredible swiftness through the air, though so
much rarefied, should cause that hissing noise.. It is
much harder to conceive, how sucli an impetus could be
impressed upon it : how this impetus should be deter-
mined, in a direction so nearly parallel to the horizon?
And what sort of substance it must be, that could be so
impelled and igrmted at the same time ? Whatever it
was, it sunk, and was extinguished in the Tyrrhene sea,
to the W. S. W. of Leghorn, The great noi.-e was
heard, on its immersion into the water, the rattling
sound upon its quenching,

On Thursday, March 1.9, 1719, there appeared at
London, about eight at night, a sudden great light, mov-
ing after the manner, but more slowly than a falling star,,



162

in a direct line, a little beyond and withal below Orion's
Belt, then in the south-west. In its way, it turned taper-
ing upward, and at last spherical, near as big as the full
inoon. It was whitish, with an eye of blue as bright as
the sun in a clear day. It seemed in half a minute to
move twenty degrees, and to go out as much above the
horizon. There remained after it, for more than a
minute, a track of reddish colour, such as that of red
hot iron ; and sparks seemed to issue from it such as
come from red hot iron, beaten upon an anvil.

Within* doors the candles'gave no light; and without,
not only the stars disappeared, but the moon, nine days
old, though the sky was clear, and she was then near the
meridian ; so that for some seconds we had perfect day.
Its height was seventy-three miles and a half. Hence it
might be seen in ail places, which were not distant from
it more than two hundred and twenty leagues. Accord-
ingly, it was seen at the same instant over Spain, France,
Great Britain, Ireland, Holland, and the hither parts of
Germany.

Another appearance which resembles lightning is the
Aurora Borealis, commonly called northern lights.
This is usually of a reddish colour, inclining to yellow,
and sends, out coruscations of bright light, which seem
to rise from the horizon in a pyramidical form, and
shoot with great velocity into the zenith. It appears
frequently in the form of an arch, rises far above the
regions of the clouds, yet never appears near the equator,
but always nearer the poles.

8. Vapours of the same kind, that give rise to light-
nings in the air, occasion damps in the earth. The
damps usual in mines are of four sorts. The approach
of the first and most common is known by the flame of
the candle lessening till it goes out : as also by the men's
difficulty of breathing. Those who escape swooning
are not much hurt on this : but those who swoon uvyay
are commonly on their recovery seized with strong
convulsions The second is the peasbloom damp, so

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163

called because of its smell. Tills comes only in summer,
and is common in the Peak of Derbyshire. They who
have seen the third sort of damp describe it thus. In
the highest part of the roof of those passages in a mine
which branch out from the main grove, a round thing
hangs about as big as a foot-ball, covered with a thin
skin. If this be broken, the damp immediately spreads,
and suffocates all that are near. But sometimes they
contrive to break it at a distance ; after which they
purify the place with fire. The fourth is the fire-damp,
a vapour, which if touched by the flame of a candle,
takes fire, and goes off like gunpowder, And yet some
who have had all their clothes burns off by one of these,
and their flesh torn off .their bones, at the very time felt
no heat at all, but as it were a cool air.

Sir James Lowther having collected softie of the air
in bladders, brought it up to London. Being let out
at the orifice through a tobacco-pipe, it would take fire
at the flame of a candle. And even this is imitable by
art. Most metals emit sulphureous vapours, while they
are dissolving in their several menstruums. Iron for in-
stance, while it dissolves in oil of vitriol, emits much
sulphureous vapour. If this be received jnto a bladder,
and afterwards let out in a small stream, it takes fire
just in the same manner as the natural vapour.

This experiment explains one cause of earthquakes and
volcanos ; since it appears hence, that nothing more is
necessary to form them than iron mixing with vitriolic
acid and water. Now iron is generally found accom-
panied with sulphur ; and sulphur consists of an inflam-
mable oil, and an acid like oil of vitriol.

This acid in the bowels of the earth being diluted
with a little water, becomes a menstruum to iron, with
a violent effervescence and an intense heat. The air
coining from this mixture is extremely rarified, and the
more it is compressed by the incumbent earth, so much
the more its impetus will be increased to an unlimited
degree. Nor does there need fire to set these vapours
to work. The air in the bladder, if it be much heated,



will of itself take fire as soon as it is brought into con-
tact with the external air.

Other damps are sometimes as mortal as those in
mines. In the year 1701, a mason being at work in the
city of Rennes, near the brink of a well, let his hammer
fail into it. A labourer who was sent down for it was
suffocated before lie reached the water. A second sent
to draw it up, met with the same fate. So did a third.
At last a fourth, half drunk, was let down, with a
charge to call out immediately, if he felt any inconveni-
ence. He did call as soon as he came near the water,
and was drawn up instantly ; yet he died m three days,
crying out. he felt a heat, which scorched his entrails.
Yet the three carcasses being drawn up with hooks, and
opened, there appeared no cause of their death.

The same historians relate, that a baker of Chartres
having carried seven or eight bushels of brands out of
his oven into a cellar 36 stairs deep, his son, a strong
young fellow, going with more, his candle went out on
the middle of the stairs. Having lighted it afresh, he
no sooner got into the cellar than he cried for help, and
they heard no more of him. His brother, an able youth,
ran down, cried, " Tarn dead/' and was heard no more.
He was followed by his wife, and she by a maid, and stilL
it was the same. Yet a hardy fellow resolved to go and
help them ; he cried too, and was seen no more. A six,th
man desired a hook to draw some of them out. He
drew up the maid, who fetched a sigh, and died. Next
day one undertook to draw up the rest, and was let
down on a wooden horse with ropes, to be drawn up
whenever he should call. J^e soon called, but the rope
breaking, he fell back again, and was awhile after drawn
up dead. Upon opening him the membranes of the
brain were found extremely stretched, his lungs spotted
vyith blood, his intestines swelled as big as one's arm, and
red as blood, and all the muscles of his arms, thighs,
and legs, torn and separated from their bones.



165

Whence this strange difference should arise, that the
"vapours of some mines catch fire with a spark, and
others only with a flame, is a question that we must be
content to leave in obscurity, till we know more of the
nature both of mineral vapour and fire. This only we
way observe, that gunpowder will fire with a spark, but
not with the flame of a candle: on the other hand,
spirits of wine will flame with a candle, but not with a
spark. But even here the cause of this difference re-
mains a secret.

A like instance of the fatal nature of foul air hap-
pened at Boston, in New-England. Mr. Adams and
his servant being employed to repair a pump, uncovered
the well, and Mr. Adams went down by a rope; but he
had not gone six feet before he dropt suddenly without
speaking a word, to the upper part of the joint of the
pump, where being supported about a minute, and
breathing very short, he then fell to the bottom without
any signs of life. His servant hastily went down to
help his master ; but at the same distance from the top
was .struck, and without discovering any signs of distress,
fell to the bottom. The workmen prepared a third,
with a tackle about his waist, On his descent, he was
quickly speechless and senseless. Though he made no
sign, they drew him up. He was the very picture of
death, but by the use of proper means recovered. He
remembered nothing of what had passed. The other
bodies, when taken up, had all the marks of a violent
death.

The vapour of fermenting liquors is equally extraor-
dinary in its effects. This vapour appears over the fer-
menting liquor as a fog in a meadow, but more fleecy.


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Online LibraryJohn WesleyA survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy .. (Volume 3) → online text (page 14 of 24)