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moment I threw it on the water it called the fairy "chemical
attraction' to help it, and dragged the atoms of oxygen out of
the water and joined them to itself. In doing this it also
caught part of the hydrogen, but only half, and so the rest was
left out in the cold. No, not in the cold! for the potassium and
oxygen made such a great heat in clashing together that the rest
of the hydrogen became very hot indeed, and sprang into the air
to find some other companion to make up for what it had lost.
Here it found some free oxygen floating about, and it seized upon
it so violently, that they made a burning flame, while the
potassium with its newly found oxygen and hydrogen sank down
quietly into the water as potash. And so you see we have got
quite a new substance potash in the basin; made with a great deal
of fuss by chemical attraction drawing different atoms together.

When you can really picture this power to yourself it will help
you very much to understand what you read and observe about

Next, as plants grow around you on every side, and are of so much
importance in the world, you must also learn something of the
names of the different parts of a flower, so that you may
understand those books which explain how a plant grows and lives
and forms its seeds. You must also know the common names of the
parts of an animal, and of your own body, so that you may be
interested in understanding the use of the different organs; how
you breathe, and how your blood flows; how one animal walks,
another flies, and another swims. Then you must learn something
of the various parts of the world, so that you may know what is
meant by a river, a plain, a valley, or a delta. All these
things are not difficult, you can learn them pleasantly from
simple books on physics, chemistry, botany, physiology, and
physical geography; and when you understand a few plain
scientific terms, then all by yourself, if you will open your
eyes and ears, you may wander happily in the fairy-land of
science. Then wherever you go you will find

"Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

And now we come to the last part of our subject. When you have
reached and entered the gates of science, how are you to use and
enjoy this new and beautiful land?

This is a very important question for you may make a twofold use
of it. If you are only ambitious to shine in the world, you may
use it chiefly to get prizes, to be at the top of your class, or
to pass in examinations; but if you also enjoy discovering its
secrets, and desire to learn more and more of nature and to revel
in dreams of its beauty, then you will study science for its own
sake as well. Now it is a good thing to win prizes and be at the
top of your class, for it shows that you are industrious; it is a
good thing to pass well in examinations , for it show that you
are accurate; but if you study science for this reason only, do
not complain if you find it full, and dry, and hard to master.
You may learn a great deal that is useful, and nature will answer
you truthfully if you ask you questions accurately, but she will
give you dry facts, just such as you ask for. If you do not love
her for herself she will never take you to her heart.

This is the reason why so many complain that science is dry and
uninteresting. They forget that though it is necessary to learn
accurately, for so only we can arrive at truth, it is equally
necessary to love knowledge and make it lovely to those who
learn, and to do this we must get at the spirit which lies under
the facts. What child which loves its mother's face is content
to know only that she has brown eyes, a straight nose, a small
mouth, and hair arranged in such and such a manner? No, it knows
that its mother has the sweetest smile of any woman living; that
her eyes are loving, her kiss is sweet, and that when she looks
grave, then something is wrong which must be put right. And it
is in this way that those who wish to enjoy the fairy-land of
science must love nature.

It is well to know that when a piece of potassium is thrown on
water the change which takes place is expressed by the formula K +
H2O = KHO + H. But it is better still to have a mental picture of
the tiny atoms clasping each other, and mingling so as to make a
new substance, and to feel how wonderful are the many changing
forms of nature. It is useful to be able to classify a flower and
to know that the buttercup belongs to the Family Ranunculaceae,
with petals free and definite, stamens hypogynous and indefinite,
pistil apocarpous. But it is far sweeter to learn about the life
of the little plant, to understand why its peculiar flower is
useful to it, and how it feeds itself, and makes its seed. No one
can love dry facts; we must clothe them with real meaning and love
the truths they tell, if we wish to enjoy science.

Let us take an example to show this. I have here a branch of
white coral, a beautiful, delicate piece of nature's work. We
will begin by copying a description of it from one of those
class-books which suppose children to learn words like parrots,
and to repeat them with just as little understanding.

"Coral is formed by an animal belonging to the kingdom of
Radiates, sub-kingdom Polypes. The soft body of the animal is
attached to a support, the mouth opening upwards in a row of
tentacles. The coral is secreted in the body of the polyp out of
the carbonate of lime in the sea. Thus the coral animalcule
rears its polypidom or rocky structure in warm latitudes, and
constructs reefs or barriers round islands. It is limited in
rage of depth from 25 to 30 fathoms. Chemically considered,
coral is carbonate of like; physiologically, it is the skeleton
of an animal; geographically, it is characteristic of warm
latitudes, especially of the Pacific Ocean." This description is
correct, and even fairly complete, if you know enough of the
subject to understand it. But tell me, does it lead you to love
my piece of coral? Have you any picture in your mind of the
coral animal, its home, or its manner of working?

But now, instead of trying to master this dry, hard passage, take
Mr. Huxley's penny lecture on 'Coral and Coral Reefs,' and with
the piece of coral in your hand try really to learn its history.
You will then be able to picture to yourself the coral animal as
a kind of sea-anemone, something like those which you have often
seen, like red, blue, or green flowers, putting out feelers in
sea-water on our coasts, and drawing in the tiny sea-animals to
digest them in that bag of fluid which serves the sea-anemone as
a stomach. You will learn how this curious jelly animal can
split itself in two, and so form two polyps, or send a bud out of
its side and so grow up into a kind of "tree or bush of polyps,"
or how it can hatch little eggs inside it and throw out young
ones from its mouth, provided with little hairs, by means of
which they swim to new resting-places. You will learn the
difference between the animal which builds up the red coral as
its skeleton, and the group of animals which build up the white;
and you will look with new interest on our piece of white coral,
as you read that each of those little sups on its stem with
delicate divisions like the spokes of a wheel has been the home
of a separate polyp, and that from the sea-water each little
jelly animal has drunk in carbonate of lime as you drink in sugar
dissolved in water, and then has used it grain by grain to build
that delicate cup and add to the coral tree.

We cannot stop to examine all about coral now, we are only
learning how to learn, but surely our specimen is already
beginning to grow interesting; and when you have followed it out
into the great Pacific Ocean, where the wild waves dash
restlessly against the coral trees, and have seen these tiny
drops of jelly conquering the sea and building huge walls of
stone against the rough breakers, you will hardly rest till you
know all their history. Look at that curious circular island in
the picture, covered with palm trees; it has a large smooth lake
in the middle, and the bottom of this lake is covered with blue,
red, and green jelly animals, spreading out their feelers in the
water and looking like beautiful flowers, and all round the
outside of the island similar animals are to be seen washed by
the sea waves. Such islands as this have been build entirely by
the coral animals, and the history of the way in which the reefs
have sunk gradually down, as the tiny creatures added to them
inch by inch, is as fascinating as the story of the building of
any fairy palace in the days of old. Read all this, and then if
you have no coral of your own to examine, go to the British
Museum and see the beautiful specimens in the glass cases there,
and think that they have been built up under the rolling surf by
the tiny jelly animals; and then coral will become a real living
thing to you, and you will love the thoughts it awakens.

But people often ask, what is the use of learning all this? If
you do not feel by this time how delightful it is to fill your
mind with beautiful pictures of nature, perhaps it would be
useless to say more. But in this age of ours, when restlessness
and love of excitement pervade so many lives, is it nothing to be
taken out of ourselves and made to look at the wonders of nature
going on around us? Do you never feel tired and "out of sorts,"
and want to creep away from your companions, because they are
merry and you are not? Then is the time to read about the
starts, and how quietly they keep their course from age to age;
or to visit some little flower, and ask what story it has to
tell; or to watch the clouds, and try to imagine how the winds
drive them across the sky. No person is so independent as he who
can find interest in a bare rock, a drop of water, the foam of
the sea, the spider on the wall, the flower underfoot or the
starts overhead. And these interests are open to everyone who
enters the fairy-land of science.

Moreover, we learn from this study to see that there is a law and
purpose in everything in the Universe, and it makes us patient
when we recognize the quiet noiseless working of nature all
around us. Study light, and learn how all colour, beauty, and
life depend on the sun's rays; note the winds and currents of the
air, regular even in their apparent irregularity, as they carry
heat and moisture all over the world. Watch the water flowing in
deep quiet streams, or forming the vast ocean; and then reflect
that every drop is guided by invisible forces working according
to fixed laws. See plants springing up under the sunlight, learn
the secrets of plant life, and how their scents and colours
attract the insects. Read how insects cannot live without
plants, nor plants without the flitting butterfly or the busy
bee. Realize that all this is worked by fixed laws, and that out
of it (even if sometimes in suffering and pain) springs the
wonderful universe around us. And then say, can you fear for
your own little life, even though it may have its troubles? Can
you help feeling a part of this guided and governed nature? or
doubt that the power which fixed the laws of the stars and of the
tiniest drop of water - that made the plant draw power from the
sun, the tine coral animal its food from the dashing waves; that
adapted the flower to the insect and the insect to the flower -
is also moulding your life as part of the great machinery of the
universe, so that you have only to work, and to wait, and to

We are all groping dimly for the Unseen Power, but no one who
loves nature and studies it can ever feel alone or unloved in the
world. Facts, as mere facts, are dry and barren, but nature is
full of life and love, and her calm unswerving rule is tending to
some great though hidden purpose. You may call this Unseen Power
what you will - may lean on it in loving, trusting faith, or bend
in reverent and silent awe; but even the little child who lives
with nature and gazes on her with open eye, must rise in some
sense or other through nature to nature's God.

Week 3

Lecture II Sunbeams and How They Work

Who does not love the sunbeams, and feel brighter and merrier as
he watches them playing on the wall, sparkling like diamonds on
the ripples of the sea, or making bows of coloured light on the
waterfall? Is not the sunbeam so dear to us that it has become a
household word for all that is merry and gay? and when we want to
describe the dearest, busiest little sprite amongst us, who wakes
a smile on all faces wherever she goes, do we not call her the
"sunbeam of the house"?

And yet how little even the wisest among us know about the nature
and work of these bright messengers of the sun as they dart
across space!

Did you ever wake quite early in the morning, when it was pitch-
dark and you could see nothing, not even your own hand; and then
lie watching as time went on till the light came gradually
creeping in at the window? If you have done this you will have
noticed that you can at first only just distinguish the dim
outline of the furniture; then you can tell the difference
between the white cloth on the table and the dark wardrobe beside
it; then by degrees all the smaller details, the handles of the
drawer, the pattern on the wall, and the different colours of all
the objects in the room become clearer and clearer till at last
you see all distinctly in broad daylight.

What has been happening here? and why have the things in the room
become visible by such slow degrees? We say that the sun is
rising, but we know very well that it is not the sun which moves,
but that our earth has been turning slowly round, and bringing
the little spot on which we live face to face with the great
fiery ball, so that his beams can fall upon us.

Take a small globe, and stick a piece of black plaster over
England, then let a lighted lamp represent the sun, and turn the
globe slowly, so that the spot creeps round from the dark side
away from the lamp, until it catches, first the rays which pass
along the side of the globe, then the more direct rays, and at
last stands fully in the blaze of the light. Just this was
happening to our spot of the world as you lay in bed and saw the
light appear; and we have to learn today what those beams are
which fall upon us and what they do for us.

First we must learn something about the sun itself, since it is
the starting-place of all the sunbeams. If the sun were a dark
mass instead of a fiery one we should have none of these bright
cheering messengers, and though we were turned face to face with
him every day we should remain in one cold eternal night. Now
you will remember we mentioned in the last lecture that it is
heat which shakes apart the little atoms of water and makes them
gloat up in the air to fall again as rain; and that if the day is
cold they fall as snow, and all the water is turned into ice.
But if the sun were altogether dark, think how bitterly cold it
would be; far colder than the most wintry weather ever known,
because in the bitterest night some warmth comes out of the
earth, where it has been stored from the sunlight which fell
during the day. But if we never received any warmth at all, no
water would ever rise up into the sky, no rain ever fall, no
rivers flow, and consequently no plants could grow and no animals
live. All water would be in the form of snow and ice, and the
earth would be one great frozen mass with nothing moving upon it.

So you see it becomes very interesting for us to learn what the
sun is, and how he sends us his beams. How far away from us do
you think he is? On a fine summer's day when we can see him
clearly, it looks as if we had only to get into a balloon and
reach him as he sits in the sky, and yet we know roughly that he
is more than ninety-one millions of miles distant from our earth.

These figures are so enormous that you cannot really grasp them.
But imagine yourself in an express train, travelling at the
tremendous rate of sixty miles an hour and never stopping. At
that rate, if you wished to arrive at the sun today you would
have been obliged to start 171 years ago. That is, you must have
set off in the early part of the reign of Queen Anne, and you
must have gone on, never, never resting, through the reigns of
George I, George ii, and the long reign of George III, then
through those of George IV, William IV, and Victoria, whirling on
day and night at express speed, and at last, today, you would
have reached the sun!

And when you arrived there, how large do you think you would find
him to be? Anaxagoras, a learned Greek, was laughed at by all
his fellow Greeks because he said that the sun was as large as
the Peloponne-sus, that is about the size of Middlesex. How
astonished they would have been if they could have known that not
only is he bigger than the whole of Greece, but more than a
million times bigger than the whole world!

Our world itself is a very large place, so large that our own
country looks only like a tiny speck upon it, and an express
train would take nearly a month to travel round it. Yet even our
whole globe is nothing in size compared to the sun, for it only
measures 8000 miles across, while the sun measures more the

Imagine for a moment that you could cut the sun and the earth
each in half as you would cut an apple; then if you were to lay
the flat side of the half-earth on the flat side of the half sun
it would take 106 such earths to stretch across the face of the
sun. One of these 106 round spots on the diagram represents the
size which our earth would look if placed on the sun; and they
are so tiny compared to him that they look only like a string of
minute beads stretched across his face. Only think, then, how
many of these minute dots would be required to fill the whole of
the inside of Fig. 4, if it were a globe.

One of the best ways to form an idea of the whole size of the sun
is to imagine it to be hollow, like an air-ball, and then see how
many earths it would take to fill it. You would hardly believe
that it would take one million, three hundred and thirty-one
thousand globes the size of our world squeezed together. Just
think, if a huge giant could travel all over the universe and
gather worlds, all as big as ours, and were to make first a heap
of merely ten such worlds, how huge it would be! Then he must
have a hundred such heaps of ten to make a thousand world; and
then he must collect again a thousand times that thousand to make
a million, and when he had stuffed them all into the sun-ball he
would still have only filled three-quarters of it!

After hearing this you will not be astonished that such a monster
should give out an enormous quantity of light and heat; so
enormous that it is almost impossible to form any idea of it.
Sir John Herschel has, indeed, tried to picture it for us. He
found that a ball of lime with a flame of oxygen and hydrogen
playing round it (such as we use in magic lanterns and call oxy-
hydrogen light) becomes so violently hot that it gives the most
brilliant artificial light we can get - such that you cannot put
your eye near it without injury. Yet if you wanted to have a
light as strong as that of our sun, it would not be enough to
make such a lime-ball as big as the sun is. No, you must make it
as big as 146 suns, or more than 146,000,000 times as big as our
earth, in order to get the right amount of light. Then you would
have a tolerably good artificial sun; for we know that the body
of the sun gives out an intense white light, just as the lime-
ball does, and that , like it, it has an atmosphere of glowing
gases round it.

But perhaps we get the best idea of the mighty heat and light of
the sun by remembering how few of the rays which dart out on all
sides from this fiery ball can reach our tiny globe, and yet how
powerful they are. Look at the globe of a lamp in the middle of
the room, and see how its light pours out on all sides and into
every corner; then take a grain of mustard-seed, which will very
well represent the comparative size of our earth, and hold it up
at a distance from the lamp. How very few of all those rays
which are filling the room fall on the little mustard-seed, and
just so few does our earth catch of the rays which dart out from
the sun. And yet this small quantity (1/2000-millionth part of
the whole) does nearly all the work of our world. (These and the
preceding numerical statements will be found worked out in Sir J.
Herschel's 'Familiar Lectures on Scientific Subjects,' 1868, from
which many of the facts in the first part of the lecture are

In order to see how powerful the sun's rays are, you have only to
take a magnifying glass and gather them to a point on a piece of
brown paper, for they will set the paper alight. Sir John
Herschel tells us that at the Cape of Good Hope the heat was even
so great that he cooked a beefsteak and roasted some eggs by
merely putting them in the sun, in a box with a glass lid!
Indeed, just as we should all be frozen to death if the sun were
sold, so we should all be burnt up with intolerable heat if his
fierce rays fell with all their might upon us. But we have an
invisible veil protecting us, made - of what do you think? Of
those tiny particles of water which the sunbeams draw up and
scatter in the air, and which, as we shall see in Lecture IV, cut
off part of the intense heat and make the air cool and pleasant
for us.

Week 4

We have now learnt something of the distance, the size, the
light, and the heat of the sun - the great source of the
sunbeams. But we are as yet no nearer the answer to the
question, What is a sunbeam? how does the sun touch our earth?

Now suppose I with to touch you from this platform where I stand,
I can do it in two ways. Firstly, I can throw something at you
and hit you - in this case a thing will have passed across the
space from me to you. Or, secondly, if I could make a violent
movement so as to shake the floor of the room, you would feel a
quivering motion; and so I should touch you across the whole
distance of the room. But in this case no thing would have
passed from me to you but a movement or wave, which passed along
the boards of the floor. Again, if I speak to you, how does the
sound reach you ear? Not by anything being thrown from my mouth
to your ear, but by the motion of the air. When I speak I
agitate the air near my mouth, and that makes a wave in the air
beyond, and that one, another, and another (as we shall see more
fully in Lecture VI) till the last wave hits the drum of your

Thus we see there are two ways of touching anything at a
distance; 1st, by throwing some thing at it and hitting it; 2nd,
by sending a movement of wave across to it, as in the case of the
quivering boards and the air.

Now the great natural philosopher Newton thought that the sun
touched us in the first of these ways, and that sunbeams were
made of very minute atoms of matter thrown out by the sun, and
making a perpetual cannonade on our eyes. It is easy to
understand that this would make us see light and feel heat, just
as a blow in the eye makes us see starts, or on the body makes it
feel hot: and for a long time this explanation was supposed to be
the true one. But we know now that there are many facts which
cannot be explained on this theory, though we cannot go into them
here. What we will do, is to try and understand what now seems
to be the true explanation of the sunbeam.

About the same time that Newton wrote, a Dutchman, named
Huyghens, suggested that light comes from the sun in tiny waves,
travelling across space much in the same way as ripples travel
across a pond. The only difficulty was to explain in what
substance these waves could be travelling: not through water, for
we know that there is no water in space - nor through air, for
the air stops at a comparatively short distance from our earth.
There must then be something filling all space between us and the
sun, finer than either water or air.

And now I must ask you to use all you imagination, for I want you
to picture to yourselves something quite as invisible as the
Emperor's new clothes in Andersen's fairy-tale, only with this
difference, that our invisible something is very active; and
though we can neither see it nor touch it we know it by its
effects. You must imagine a fine substance filling all space
between us and the sun and the starts. A substance so very

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Online LibraryArabella B. BuckleyThe Fairy-Land of Science → online text (page 2 of 14)