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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It is heavier than air, and falls quick to the ground, and
disappears. Van Helmont calls it gas syivestre. Boer-
haave says, " There is nothing more surprizing in fer-
mentation than that spirit us sylvestris, war is there any
poison that I am acquainted with so subtle, swift, and
fetal. For if a very large vessel full of must, in the



166

very act of fermentation, should discharge this spirit
through a small vent-hole in the f top of a vessel, and the
stoutest man should apply his nose to the hole, and at
once draw in this vapour, he would drop down dead
in an instant, without any apparent cause of it. It ex-
tinguishes flame instantaneously. If a lighted candle be
let slowly into it, the flame is borne up from the wick,
and the candle may be raised up again so as to receive
the flame." One put a mouse into it, which was kindled
in about a second of time, it kicked once or twice, and
then was quite dead.

May we ascribe to a kind of damp, a sort of murrain,
which appeared in Italy, and made a great havoc among
the cattle ? It spread itself in the form of a blue mist,
over those pastures where they grazed, so that whole
herds came home sick, and most of them died in twenty-
four hours. Many who went among them were in-
fected, and died in the same manner. Some imputed
this contagion to noxioas vapours thrown out of the
earth by earthquakes preceding. It passed through
Germany to Poland, going without intermission eleven
or twelve miles in twenty-four hours, and suffering no
cattle in its way to escape, whether 'within doors or
without. Hence others imagined it was owing to some
volatile insect, which was able to make but short flights.

9. Ignis Fatuus, vulgarly called Will with the Wisp,
is chiefly seen in dark nights, irregularly moving over
meadows, marshes, and other moist places. It seems
to be a viscous exhalation, which being kindled in the
air, reflects a kind of thin flame in the dark, though
without any sensible heat. It is often found to fly along
rivers or hedges, probably because it there meets with a
stream of air to direct if. In Italy there are luminous
appearances nearly resembling these. *"hich, on a close
inspectioB, have been found to be no other than swarms
of shining flies.

In all the territories of Bologna these Jlery appear-
ances are common. There are some places where one



167

may be almost sure of them, every dark night, as near
the bridge Delia Salcarata, and in the fields of Bagnara,
these are large : sometimes equal to the light of a
faggot, rarely less than that of a link. That at Bagnara
not long since-kept a gentleman company for a mile,
moving just before him, and casting a stronger light on
the road than the link he had with him.

All of them resemble aflame, and are continually in
motion, but the motion is various and uncertain. In
winter, when the ground is covered with snow, they are
most frequent of all. Nor does rain hinder them : nay,
in wet weather they give the strongest light: wind also
does not disturb them. As they are not hindered by
wet, and set nothing on fire, though ever so combustible,
may it not reasonably be supposed that they have some
resemblance to that kind of phosphorus which shines
indeed in the dark, yet does not burn like common fire.

The following experiments shew a little more of the
nature of this strange substance.

Salt of phosphorus, kept in a vitrifying heat, at last
runs into perfect grass, What 'a wonderful subject is
this ! And now surprising it is that so inflammable a
body should become glass \ Here then is perfect trans-
mutation of bodies : the phosphorus being transmuted
into a transparent glass of a bluish green, coming nearer
the hardness of a diamond than any other glass what-
ever: and the glass is in the very same quantity with the
phosphorus, which produces it ounce for ounce.

Another odd circumstance relating to phosphorus is,

cut it small, or scrape it with a knife, and lay it on a

glass dish in moist air. In a week it resolves into a

liquid near eighty times its original weight. This liquid

is the same in all respects with that which conies from

" the sublimed flowers by deflagration. And this may be

turned into the same glass with the original phosphorus.'

One of the most singular kinds of lambent fires is

that discovered at certain times on sea-water. Where



168

the ship goes swiftly in the night, in many seas the \\hok
breaking of the water will appear behind it as if on
fire, sparkling and shiniug all the way that it moves from
the ship,

It is in this part as bright and glittering as if the
moon shone upon it, and chiefly when there is neither
moon nor stars, nor any light in the lanterns. But it is
not always the same : sometimes it is scarce perceiveable,
sometimes very vivid and bright. Sometimes it is only
just behind the ship, sometimes it spreads a great way
on each side. It commonly reaches thirty or forty feet
from the stern of the ship, but is fainter as it is farther
off. At the stern it is often so bright, that a person on
deck may see to read by it. The luminous water that
follows the ship is sometimes distinct from the rest of
the surface. Sometimes it is so blended with the ad-
jacent water, that the appearance is confused. The
luminous matter seems composed of small sparkles,
which are sometimes in the figure of a star, sometimes
it forms globules, without any radiations from them.
These are some of the size of a large pin's head ; some
larger, even to a foot in diameter. Sometimes the lu-
minous matter is in oblong squares, of three or four
inches. When the ship goes swiftly, these figures all
combine and form a sort of luminous whirlpool. Nor
does a ship only, but whatever moves swift through the
sea, cause the same appearance. Large fish, when they
swim near the surface, leave a luminous road between
them. So have a number of fish moving together.^
And sometimes the throwing out a rope, or any thing
that breaks the surface of the water, will render it lu-
minous. If sea-water be taken up, and placed in a
vessel, as soon as it is stirred it will sparkle : and if a
linen rag be dipped in sea-water, and hung up, when
it is thoroughly dried, it will appear luminous on being
Tubbed in the dark; and when half dry, it need only
be shook, to shew a great number of sparkles. When
these sparkles are once formed, and fall on any solid
body, they will last a considerable time. If they remain
on the water they will soon go out.



169

The waves beating against the rocks or shore > yea, or
against one another, will occasion the same appearance,
and often yield -a long course of light the whole night.
In the Brasils the shores often seem all on fire by th**
waves dashing against them, hi general, the thicker
and fouler the seas are, the more of this light they
afford. In many places the sea is covered with a
yellowish matter like saw-dust, which seems to be the
excrement of some sea-animal. The water where this
is found gives more light, upon moving, than any other.

Some parts of the northern seas are covered with this
for several leagues together, and this is often luminous
all over in the night, though not stirred by any thing
moving through it.

In the gulph of Venice the water is luminous only
from the beginning of summer till the end of harvest
This light is most copious in places abounding with sea-
grass, especially when any thing moves the water. One
iiled a flask with this water ; but it emitted no light till
it was stirred in the dark. When this "was strained
through a fine cloth, the cloth shone in the dark, but not
the water. This light consisted of innumerable lucid
particles. When some of this sea-grass was taken up,
there were above thirty of these particles on one leaf,
one of which, when it was shaken, fell off. It was as
fine as an eye-lash, and about as long. Viewed with a
microscope it appeared to be a worm or maggot, consist-
ing of eleven rings, with as many ma mill on the sides
instead of feet. Their whole bodies were lucid, though
least so when at rest. In spring they confine themselves
to the sea-grass : but in summer they are dispersed all
over the sea, and mostly on the surface. When this sea
sparkles more than usual, it is the sure sign of a storm ;
and this proceeds from the greater agitation of the
worms, already sensible of the approaching change.
Hence it is clear, that the glittering of this sea, in a
ship's course, is occasioned by these worms, which pro-
bably is the case in some other seas also ; and they are
certainly the cause of the light in the Pinaa-Marina,



170

a large muscle frequently caught by the Aigeriue
fishermen.*

Many sea-fish indeed have a viscous matter about
their gills, especially when they have been some time
dead. These, when kept in sea-water, shine as bright
as a flaming coal. A stick rubbed on their gills becomes
luminous wherever it has touched them, and continues
so while it continues moist ; but as it dries the light
fades.

There is a small shell-fish called a dacfylus, which is
luminous all over. When it is taken out of the shell,
in the dark, every part of its surface shines with a bright
light. Nor is it the surface only, but the whole body ;
for if it be wounded either lengthways or across, the out-
parts are as luminous as the surface. It is therefore a
true, natural phosphorous, and makes every thiijg lumi-
nous that touches it, which remains so as long as it is
wet. When it is fresh caught it abounds with water,
and the very drops which fall from it are luminous.

Some boiled nsackrel having been left in the water for
pickle, the cook, a day or two after, stirring the water,
found it very luminous. Wherever the drops of it fell
on the ground they shined. The next day \ve repeated
the trial. The water, till stirred, gave no light; but
when gently stirred by the hand it shone bright ; and by
a brisker motion it seemed to flame. The fish shone
as well from the inside as the out : yet they were not
either fetid or insipid. When fetid they did not shine
at all.

The chief circumstances which Mr. B. noted con-
cerning luminous Jiesh were, 1. It was a neck of veal,
bought some days before : 2. In this about twenty
places shone, though not alike : 3. Most of these were
as big as the nail of a man's finger, and irregularly
shaped : 4. The parts which shone most were the grisly,

* See a farther account of this phseaomenon, p, 172.



171

or the bruised parts of the bonnes : 5. Some of these were
so bright, tha-t holding a printed paper to them I could
read several letters : b One could not discern in any of
thi: m the least degree of heat, neither of putrefaction :
7- One of these being put in a cup of coid water, the
light continued the same.

Not only water, fish and flesh, but some sort of iroo-i
will shine as bright as a burning cnaL And herein they
agree, I. Both have light in themselves : 2. Both need
the air, to make them continue shining : 3. Both having
lost their light, by being deprived of air, recover it,
when fresh air is let in : 4. Both are easily quenched by
water, and 5. Neither of them is affected by the cold-
ness of the air.

But herein they differ: 1, The light of a coal is put
out by compression : that of wood is not : 2. The coal
is quite extinguished by withdrawing the air : that of the
wood is only eclipsed : 4<-t t.li air in again within half
an hour, and it immediately recovers : 3. A coal put
into a small, close glass, will not burn many minutes: a
piece of wood will shine many days : 4. A burning coal
emits much smoke, shining wood none at ail.

A diamond, by an easy friction in the dark, by the
finger or a woollen cloth, appears in its v\hole body to
be luminous : and if it has been rubbed a good while,
it will keep its light for a little time. If when the sun K
set, one holds up a piece of flannel stretched tight be-
tween both hands at ^a little distance, and another rubs
the diamond swiftly a-nd strongly on the other side of it,
the light to the eye of him that holds the cloth, seems

uch more pleasant and perfect. What is more sur-
prising, is, that a diamond exposed to the open air, in
view of the sky, (even without being in the sunshine)
gives nearly the same fight of ilyelf without rubbing, as
when rubbed in a dark room. But if you hold your
hand or any thing else over it, to hinder its communica-
tion with the sky, let it lie ever so long in the open air,
yet it will give no light.

VOL. in. r



172

A we$l polished piece of amber, will yield light if
rubbed in the dark. And if it be drawn swiftly through
a woollen cloth, very many little cracklings are heard, and
each produces a little flash of light. If drawn gently it
.produces a light, but no crackling.

The splendor of the sea water during the night, hath
long been a subject of admiration, and upon the coasts
of Chioggia it is particularly remarkable : at first sight
one would imagine that the brilliant images of the fixed
stars were reflected by the sea, when agitated by the
winds. This brightness becomes much more vivid and
copious, in places abounding with the Alga Marina, or
sea weed.

One summer night I took a vessel full of the sea
water home with me. I placed it in a dark room, and
observed as often as 1 disturbed the water, a very bright
light issued from it. I then passed the water through
a very close linen cloth, to try if it would still retain its
splendour after such percolation. But notwithstanding
JL agitated it in the most violent manner, I could not ex-
cite the least luminousness in it. The linen cloth how-
ever afforded the most charming spectacle imaginable :
it was covered with an infinity of lucid particles. To the
naked eye they appear smaller than the finest hairs :
their colour of a deep yellow, and their substance deli-
cate beyond imagination : but having a mind to exa-
mine them more curiously, 1 furnished myself with a
good microscope, and was soon convinced that these lu-
minous atoms are really living animals of a very singu-
lar structure, and from the brightness of their lustre, I
thought myself authorised to name them marine glow-
worms.

The^e little animals, similar to caterpillars, and other
insects of that species, are composed of eleven articula-
tions, or annuli, a number which, according to the ce-
lebrated Malpighi, is peculiar to the whole vermicular
Upon these annuli, and near the belly of the ani-



173

raal, are a sort of small fins or wings, which seems to be
the instruments of its motion. It has two small horns
issuing from the fore part of its head, and its tail is cleft
in two. Their whole body is luminous, and when cut to
pieces, every piece emits a vivid light for some time ;
probably so long as the conclusive motion of the dying
parts continues.

Many philosophers of the first rank have imagined that
tlie luminousness of the sea water in the night season js
occasioned by some electric matter. " The surface of i he
sea," say they, " having been exposed all the summer to
the impulse of the solar rays, when it begins to be agi-
tated by the autumnal winds, throws out luminous sparks
perfectly similar to those which issue from electrified
bodies/'

But occular demonstration now convinces us, that this
brightness is frequently, if not always, to be ascribed to
the little animals.

The light of a glow-worm is so strong, that it will
shew itself through several substances. The creature
seems dead in the day time, and its light is not then vi-
sible even in a dark room, unless it be put in motion,
and then it is very faint. After sun-set .the light begins
to return, and with it thejjfe and motion of the animal.
Indeed, the motion and light seem to depend on each
other ; it never shines, but when it moves : and when it
shines most, the body is one third longer than in the day
time. While it shines brightest, it sometimes turns
about, and the light is no larger than a pin's head. But
on being touched, it immediately extends itself, and the
light is as large and bright as ever.

The luminous parts are two small specks tinder th6
tail. The use of its light is, to direct the animal in its
course, and in taking of its prey. It is admirably placed
for this purpose. The tail is easily bent under its belly,
and throws its light full upon any object, about or under
the head of the animal, and the eyes are placed not on
the upper part, but on the under side of the head, s6
I 2



174

that they have all the advantages of it, while the light IB
this part is not offensive to the eyes, as it natitfalh
would have been, If carried about the head. The crea-
ture can upon occasion cover this Jiht,.so as not to be
known, or pursued by its enemies. It is an iiu-ect of the
beetle kind, of a brown and dusky colour. It has shell
wings as the other beetles have. Its head is covered
with a sort of buoad brimmed hat, under which.. are the
eyes, which are black and large.

Falling stars, so called, seem to be vapours of an
unctuous kind, kindled in the lower regions of the air :
unless this al>o (as many other phenomena of the sort)
be owing to what is vulgarly termed electricity.

10. From a thousand experiments it appears, that
there is a fluid far more subtle than air, which is every
where diffused through all space, which surrounds the
earth, and pervades every part of it. And such is the
extreme fineness, velocity, and expansiveness of this
active principle, that all oilier matter seems to be only
the body, and this the soul of the universe.

It is highly probable that this is the general inst rumen
of all the motion in the universe : from this pure Jlr
(which is properly so called) the vulgar culinary fire
kindled. For in truth, there, is but one kind of fire i
nature, which exists in till places, and in all bodie
And this is subtle and active enough, not only to be uj
der the great cause, the secondary cause of motion, b.i
to produce and sustain life throughout all nature,
well in animals as in vegetables.

This great machine of the world, requires some sue
constant, active, and powerful principle, constituted by
its Creator, to keep-the heavenly bodies in their severa
courses, and at the same time give support, life, am*, in
crease, to the various inhabitants of the earth Now a
the heat of every animal is the engine which circuJaie
the blood through the whole body, so the sun, as tK
heart of the work!, circulates his fire through the wholt
universe. And this element is not capable of any essen



175

"iiii alteration, increase, or diminution; It is sr species
by itself ; iui is of a nature totally distinct from that of
yii other bodies.

That this is absolutely necessary both to feed common*
fire, and to sustain the life of animals-, may be learned
from an easy experiment. Place a cat, together with a
lighted candle, m a cold oven ; then lute the door close,,
having fixed a glass in the middle of it; and if you look
through this, you may observe at one and the same in-
stant, the candle goes out, and the animal dies. A plain
proof, that the same tire is needful to- sustain both culi-
nary fire and animal life: and a large quantity of it,
Some doubtless pervades the oven door, but not enough
>o sustain either iiame or life. Indeed, every animal is a
kind of lire engine. As soon as the lungs inspire the air,
tlu? fire mingled with it is imtuntly dispersed through f he
pulmonary vvssds mlo the blbo\i ' thence it is diiiu* i
through every part of the body, even the most -minute
arteries, veins and nerves. In the mean time the lungs
inspire more air and fire, and so provide a constant supply.

The air seems to be universally impregnated with this-
fire, but so diluted, as not to hurt the animal in respira-
ration. So a small quantity of a liquor dropt in water
may foe friendly to a human body, though a few drops
of the same liquor given by themselves, would have, oc-
casioned certain death. And yet you cannot conceive
one pai tide -of the water\ without a particle of the 'me-
dicine. It is not impossible, this may be one great use
of air, by -adhering so closely to the elementary fire, to
temper and render salutary to the body, what would
'otherwise be fatal to it.

To put It beyond dispute, that this fire is largely
''mixed with the air, you may make the following experi-
ment. Take around lump of iron, and heat it to a de-
gree called a we Ming heat* take it out of the fire, and
with, a pair of beiious, blow cold air upon it. .The iron
^'ili then melt, as if rt were in the hottest

fire. Now when taken out of the forge, it had not fire
"enough" m it to ro-v.u.u;r the ccaesimvof its parts ; but
1 3



176

this lire is joined with that which was mixed with
the air, it is sufficient to do it. On the same principle
we account for the increase of a coal or wood-fire, by
blowing it.

And let none wonder, that fire should be so connected
with air as hardly to be separated. As subtil as tire is,
we may even by art attach it to other bodies ; yea, and
keep it prisoner fer many years : and that, either in a
solid or fluid form. An instance of the first we have in
steel ; which is made such, only by impacting a large
quantity of fire into bars of iron. In like manner, we
impact a great quantity of fire into stone to make lime.
An instance of the second kind we have in spirits, where-
in fire is imprisoned in a fluid form ; hence common
spirits will burn all away. And if you throw into the
air, spirits rectified to the highest degree, not one drop
will come down again, but the universal fire will take
bold of and absorb it all.

That this fire subsists both in air, earth, and water :
that it is diffused through all and every part of the uni-
\erse, was suspected by many of the ancient naturalists,
and Idieved by the great Sir Isaac Newton. But oJ
late years it has been fully demonstrated : particularly
by Mr. Stephen Gray, a pensioner at the Charter-house,
who some years since presented to the Royal Society, au
account of many experiments he had made, whereby
this subtle fluid became clearly perceptible both to the
sight and feeling. Because the glass tube, by means o.i
which those experiments were made, was observed when
rubbed to attract straws and other light bodies, (a known
property of amber, called in latin electrum) these experi-
ments were termed electrical : a word which was soou
affixed to that subtil fluid itself, and every thing per-
taining to it. But improperly enough, seeing the at-
tracting (or seeming to attract) straws and feathers, is
one of the most inconsiderable of all the effects, wrought
by this powerful and universal cause.

U \yas afterwards found,, that a glass globe was prefer-



177

able to a glass tube. A greater quantity of etherial fire
is collected by this means than by the other. I say,
collected ; for that fire is no more created by rubbing,
than water is by pumping. The grand reservoir thereof
is the earth, fro:n which it is diffused every way. Ac-
cordingly HI tiiese experiments, the globe rubbing against
the cushion, collects fire from it. The cushion receives
it from the frame of the machine : the frame of the ma-
chine from the floor. But if you cut off the communi-
cation with the floor, far less fire can be produced,
because less is collected.

Many new discoveries have been made by means of a
large, but thin glass phial. This phial is hung on any
metallic body, which communicates by a wire, with the
globe. This metallic body has been termed the prime
conductor, as it conducts or conveys the fire, collected
by the globe, either into the phial, or into any other body
communicating therewith.

But all bodies are not capable of receiving it. There
is in this respect an amazing difference between them.
The excrements of nature, as wax, silk, hair, will not re-
ceive the etherial lire, neither convey it to other bodies :
so that, whenever in circulating it comes to any of these,
it is at a full stop. Air itself is a body of this kind; with
great difficulty either receiving or conveying this fire to
other bodies : so are pitch and rosin (excrcineiits, as it
were, of trees.) 'I o these we may add glass, amber,
brimstone, dry earth, and a few other bodies. Ihese
have been *requently stiled electrics per se ; as if they
alone contained the electric Jire : an eminently improper
title, founded on a palpable mistake. From the same
mistake, all other bodies, which easily receive and readily
convey it, were termed non electrics; on a supposition,
that they contained no electric Jire : the contrary of
which is now allowed by all.


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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 15 of 24)