The Life of Sir William Crookes

His was a voice which had the power to convince and thrill. “In the course of my research, anomalies have sprung up in every direction. I have felt like a traveller, navigating some mighty river in an unexplored continent.. .and promising rich rewards of discovery for the explorer who shall trace them to their source”. He was a model of the romantic and heroic Epoch, enabled by some wonderful inner force to formulate concepts which had previously occurred to no one. It was the manner in which his mind managed to “ask the right questions,” “see the right effects,” and “make the right connections” that set him apart frommost others.

“In Science, every law, every generalization, however well established, must constantly be submitted to the ordeal of a comparison with newly discovered phenomena.. .and a theory may be pronounced triumphant when it is found to harmonize with, and to account for facts which, when it was propounded, were still unrecognized or unexplained.”

Though his manner was cordial and cheerful, he did not lack in the disciplines required by his profession. Of the scientific professional he said, “[H]aving once satisfied himself that he is on the track of a new truth, that single object should animate him to pursue it…without regarding whether the facts which occur before his eyes are naturally possible or impossible.” Indeed, in this theme, he penetrated avenues of contemplation which were positively astounding. His was a vibrant and inspiring mind which was exceptionally creative on a great many issues of natural science.

“The little bye-lanes often lead to the most valuable results. After a while the facts group themselves together and best tell their own tale.” This rare and innate forte permitted his subtle but decisive ability to shock and surprise his students. But he laughed and chuckled as he spoke. Was this a scientist.. .or a magician? For those who loved Sir William Crookes, this was quite an event. Here was a reasonable lesson on a field of inquiry having potentially unreasonable directions.

But the audience was not filled with his admirers, of this he was well aware. Some had already committed the most unforgivable and ungentlemanly acts of cowardice. Having attacked his investigations in the scholarly journals, there were those who attended in order to obtain more evidence against his methods and themes. Those persons sat in his audience. But he had no animosity toward them. None was left amid the joy of love, the joy of illuminated wonder.

“Dr. De La Rue, who occupied the chair, good-naturedly challenged me to substantiate my statement that there is such a thing as a fourth, or ultragaseous state of matter. I had no time then to enter fully into the subject, but as I find that many other scientific men are in doubt, I will now endeavor to substantiate my position.” The lecturer surveyed the hall. Sir William was an exceptional master of the dramatic, exercising a distinct and unique flair by which had also become renown. Besides presenting a strictly scientific thesis, he thoroughly exploited the more theatrical aspects of the lecture hall.

Each aspect was part of his method, a method designed to stimulate an epiphany in each hearer. Metaphorwas often more valuable to his method than mathematics. He knew how to move the inflexible pride. Drama and other emotionally provocative movements were always successful in stimulating the prelude to learning, to true change. Without drama, there could be no impression in the icy world of the Royal Society. Radiance and color, darkness and Light. The prelude to Light was darkness. But before light could penetrate the mind, before it became a beauteous contrast to isolating emptiness, there had to be an immersion in darkness. The room was therefore necessarily darkened for several moments. When all eyes were now accustomed to the dark, his voice rang out quite suddenly. “One of the most noteworthy properties of Radiant Matter is its power of exciting phosphorescence.” In an instant, out of the deep darkness, a green light flickered momentarily in midst of a large glass globe.

His beaming face was semi-transparent as the pure green rays flooded the Hall. “My earlier experiments were carried on by the aid of a strange natural phosphorescence which glass takes up when it is under the influence of the radiant discharge; but many other substances possess this phosphorescent power in a still higher degree than glass.” The current was applied to another globe, one which housed a large mineral crystal. As it sprang into a blue brilliance, the room grew hushed once more. The color filled the entire room. “When this sulphide of calcium is exposed to the discharge in a good vacuum, it will phosphoresce for hours.” Withdrawing the electrical current, the stone continued glowing as brilliantly as if continually stimulated by an unknown radiant source.

“Without exception, the diamond is the most sensitive substance I have yet met for ready and brilliant phosphorescence. ” The diamond, mounted on a post within the large globe, was now glowing in a vivid green light. The sight moved the entire room. Everyone leaned forward to see, to gain some sense and feel of the phenomenon. Sir William smiled with glee! There! The vibrancy of that wonderful diamond light was fast melting away all academic resistance, all the critical effrontery, all the callous aristocratic pretense. That diamond light dissolved every personal wall, releasing the child in each member once again. The most acrid of academes remained positively entranced by the glow of his lamps.

Their vitality returned as fresh as springtime. It was as if many of them were awakened from a deep sleep of the mind. And here was his brilliant, wordless theme at once unfolding! His commentary was just as resplendent, deeper in fact than the light which now issued from the vacuum tube. His joyous voice continued. “Next to the diamond, the ruby is one of the most remarkable stones for phosphorescing.” Assistants quietly switched off electrical power from the large Ruhmkorff Coil in the center of the demonstration table. Electrical connection was established with a second large globe, an elongated ovoid.

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