JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Tucked away inside a volume of The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts1 is this short contribution by Michael Faraday. Faraday is not particularly well-known for a writerly style although in his huge output of papers and books he was a very effective communicator. I found in this article, "On a Peculiar Perspective Appearance of Aerial Light and Shade" , that he was really very elegant and perhaps even poetic in describing what I think are cloud shadows-- explaining the illusions created by cloud shadows, with the "aerial perspective" part perhaps not having to do with what is normally assumed to be the optical/painterly version of the term, although frankly I'm not sure.
This is the small woodcut that accompanies the three-page article, depicting the "rays" of light coming from a setting sun, which I think is charming in itself:
"Although the appearance on this evening was exceedingly beautiful and rare, and the more striking from the absence to the observer of the sun or clouds, and the complete insulation of the phenomenon, yet by close observation upon other evenings, it was found that partial effects of the same kind were very common, and from the manner in which these could be observed the explanation above given fully confirmed."
And the wonderful closing sentence:
"All these phenomena with their variations were easily referrible to their causes and may be observed at almost any sun set in fine weather, but the effect of the first evening so similar in kind though so different in appearance was not again remarked. It is with a view of guarding persons who may observe the same effect against any mistake as to its origin that the appearance with its nature has been thus particularly described."
I haven't read that much in Faraday, but this does seem to be a bit of a departure--in form and content--and so I thought I'd share it a bit.
1. The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts (of the Royal Society of Great Britain). London, printed by John Murray, volume XXII, 1827; 8.5x5”, viii, 418 pp,, 3 engraved plates. Other interesting contributions in the volume include: (Thomas Young), "Practical Application of the Doctrine of Chances, as it regards the Subdivision of Risks (by a Correspondent)"; (Michael Faraday, signed "M.F." in the article), "On the Confinement of Dry Gases over Mercury", in the Miscellaneous Intelligence section, pp 220-221; John MacCulloch, "Observations on the Geological History of the Formation of Coal"; and these shorter notices from the "Miscellaneous Intelligence" section including Wollaston "On Electro-Magnetic Rotation" and Becquerel "On the Conducting Power of Metals for Electricity" pp 374-378.