The Life of Sir William Crookes

A third large bulb stood near this V-shaped tube. This bulb had a cathode which had been sealed in the side. Two anodes had been sealed at opposing angles and at differing distances from this cathode. The current was applied. “Notice,” he said, “the rays fall on the opposing side of the bulb, and produce a circular patch of green phosphorescent light. As I turn the bulb round you will all be able to see the green patch on the glass. Whether I now electrify the top or bottom anode, the rays remain unmoved from their path…. Radiant Matter darts in straight lines from the negative.”

The positive proximity to the ray path did not alter the beam in the least. Were these the light mass particles claimed by Thomson and his adherents, this ray path would have bent to the closer anode. But it did not. He beamed nearly as bright as one of his tubes. Now he turned to a very large diameter tube. His fourth proof for the existence of cathode light rays. It was long, fitted at one end with a split cathode. At the other end was a single anode. Through the center of this tube, a phosphor coated card was placed for the visual inspection of cathode rays in their progress across the space. “If the streams of Radiant Matter are simply built up of negatively electrified particles, then they will repel one another. But if the streams are neutral, then they will proceed independently of one another.”

Now switching the current on, two straight and brilliant green rays traced their thin paths across the card. The surprised reaction in his audience was delightful! Both rays moved independently of the other. Each touched the anode separately. Though ejected from the cathode, such emission did not conclude negative charge. Here was the proof. Sir William showed again that Radiant Matter was a neutral, light like form of energy.

A fifth globe used a large concave cathode with an opposed planar anode. Between this cathode and its small anode, a strip of silver-white metal was poised on a sealed support wire. The globe was very large in size. “The bright margin of the Dark Space becomes concentrated at the concave side of the cup to a luminous focus, and widens out at the convex side. When the dark space is very much larger than the cup, its outline forms an irregular ellipsoid, drawn in toward the focal point… the whole appearance being strikingly similar to the rays of the sun reflected from a concave mirror.”

“You will notice that the rays which project from the cup, and which cross in the centre, have a bright green appearance… the intensity of the color varying with the perfection of the vacuum.” That strange green light, what equally bizarre properties it displayed! “The cup is made of polished aluminum, and projects the rays to a focus. In this tube, the rays focus on a piece of iridio-platinum, supported in the centre of the bulb.” The globe was ingenious, an embodiment of genuine insight. Those who long believed the inadequacy of the Victorians regained a lost admiration.

“With only a slight application of the current, the interposed metal strip suddenly became white hot. I increase the intensity of the spark, the iridio-platinum glows with almost insupportable brilliancy, and at last melts.” This demonstration showed a remarkable and uncommon property of Radiant Matter. In its apparent ability to defy the Faraday electrostatic laws, it could not be composed of negative particles. Leaving internal surfaces in converging lines, electrons could never be brought to such a tight focus without producing noticeable repulsions.

This radiant behavior more exhibited the characteristics of light than particles of matter. The radiant extension of the material shape into the vacuum was visual. It took the form of straight and continuous lines. On closer examination, and in taking consideration of electrostatic principles, here was a very different kind of ray than that which J. J. Thomson quantified.


Sir William again called for the lights. His coup-de-grace was a large and bulbous “electric” Radiometer. This demonstration Radiometer gave a most remarkable demonstration of the mechanical energy exerted by the dark space itself, a singular anomaly. “The best pressure for this Electrical Radiometer is a little beyond that at which the Dark Space extends to the sides of the glass bulb.” He attached the leads with ginger delight. Here was a “toy” which he especially enjoyed sharing with others. “On continuing the exhaustion, the Dark Space further widens out and appears to flatten itself against the glass, whence the rotation becomes very rapid.” Current was applied, and the vanes spun themselves into a blur.

“You perceive the dark space behind each vane, and moving round with it?” When the power was increased, the blackness covered the vanes completely, and the vanes began to rotate into an amazing blur. Here was true light pressure. Light pressure in the apparent absence of any material agency. In this device, motion required the mere presence of the dark space. But what was in this special space? Was it the literal extension of the cathode into the ultravacuum? Was this a revelation of the continuity of matter in space? How did vacuum and electrostatic charge now combine to expand the material volume of the cathode, revealing it as force? This was nothing less than the Reichenbach thesis, where matter and its diverse qualities extends throughout space.

“Here we have actually touched the borderland.. .where Matter and Force seem to merge into one another, the shadowy realm between Known and Unknown, which for me has always had peculiar temptations. I venture to think that the greatest scientific problems of the future will find their solution in this Border Land, and even beyond; here, it seems to me, lie Ultimate Realities, subtle, far-reaching, wonderful.” What an epithet! One might well draw the title for a scientific journal from his words.

The vacuum tubes thus provided a most potent visual means for elucidating each of these concepts. This visible proof, which the mind grasped, offered the noisy intellect perhaps more analytic substance to disannul. But the combined effect of the performance would force the intellectual process to relax, while the holistic sensibilities once more brought in true and whole vision. The analytic process simply disintegrated the world into nothingness. This qualitative grasp represented a larger consciousness. As often as he shared this demonstration model, his audiences remained completely enthralled. He knew the all too human need for colors, sounds, and motions … for sensation. Sensation, whole experience, was the proper use of the mind.

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