Michael Faraday

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Work. Finish. Publish.
ALL THIS IS A DREAM. Still examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature...

Michael Faraday (22 September 179125 August 1867) was an English chemist and physicist (or natural philosopher, in the terminology of the time) who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.

Quotes[edit]

I have far more confidence in the one man who works mentally and bodily at a matter than in the six who merely talk about it..
Nature is our kindest friend and best critic in experimental science if we only allow her intimations to fall unbiassed on our minds.
Without experiment I am nothing.
I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds.
Learn that which is already known to others, and then by the light and methods which belong to science … learn for ourselves and for others; so making a fruitful return to man in the future for that which we have obtained from the men of the past.
There is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.
The important thing is to know how to take all things quietly.
I shall be with Christ, and that is enough.
He hath set his testimony in the heavens.
  • ALL THIS IS A DREAM. Still examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these experiment is the best test of such consistency.
    • Laboratory journal entry #10,040 (19 March 1849); published in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) Vol. II, edited by Henry Bence Jones, p. 253. This has sometimes been quoted partially as "Nothing is too wonderful to be true."
  • It is the great beauty of our science, chemistry, that advancement in it, whether in a degree great or small, instead of exhausting the subjects of research, opens the doors to further and more abundant knowledge, overflowing with beauty and utility.
    • Experimental Researches in Electricity, Vol. 2 (1834) p. 257
  • I have far more confidence in the one man who works mentally and bodily at a matter than in the six who merely talk about it — and I therefore hope and am fully persuaded that you are working. Nature is our kindest friend and best critic in experimental science if we only allow her intimations to fall unbiased on our minds. Nothing is so good as an experiment which, whilst it sets an error right, gives us (as a reward for our humility in being reproved) an absolute advancement in knowledge.
    • Letter to John Tyndall (19 April 1851); letter 2411, edited by Frank A. J. L. James (1999). The correspondence of Michael Faraday, Volume 4. IET. p. 281. ISBN 0863412513. 
  • I was at first almost frightened when I saw such mathematical force made to bear upon the subject, and then wondered to see that the subject stood it so well.
    • Letter to James Clerk Maxwell (25 March 1857), commenting on Maxwell's paper titled "On Faraday's Lines of Force"; letter published in The Life of James Clerk Maxwell : With Selections from His Correspondence (1884), edited by Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, p. 200; also in Coming of Age in the Milky Way (2003) by Timothy Ferris, p. 186
  • But still try, for who knows what is possible...
    • As quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) Vol. II, edited by Henry Bence Jones, p. 483; also engraved above the doorways of the Pfahler Hall of Science at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania (see photo).
  • If you would cause your view … to be acknowledged by scientific men; you would do a great service to science. If you would even get them to say yes or no to your conclusions it would help to clear the future progress. I believe some hesitate because they do not like their thoughts disturbed.
    • Life and Letters, 2:389.
  • Among those points of self-education which take up the form of mental discipline, there is one of great importance, and, moreover, difficult to deal with, because it involves an internal conflict, and equally touches our vanity and our ease. It consists in the tendency to deceive ourselves regarding all we wish for, and the necessity of resistance to these desires. It is impossible for any one who has not been constrained, by the course of his occupation and thoughts, to a habit of continual self-correction, to be aware of the amount of error in relation to judgment arising from this tendency. The force of the temptation which urges us to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in favour of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them, is wonderfully great. In this respect we are all, more or less, active promoters of error. In place of practising wholesome self-abnegation, we ever make the wish the father to the thought: we receive as friendly that which agrees with, we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense.
    • Royal Institution Lecture On Mental Education (6 May 1854), as reprinted in Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics, by Michael Faraday, 1859, pp 474-475, emphasis verbatim.
  • I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds.
    • Lecture notes of 1858, quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) by Bence Jones, Vol. 2, p. 403
  • We learn by such results as these, what is the kind of education that science offers to man. It teaches us to be neglectful of nothing, not to despise the small beginnings — they precede of necessity all great things. Vesicles make clouds; they are trifles light as air, but then they make drops, and drops make showers, rain makes torrents and rivers, and these can alter the face of a country, and even keep the ocean to its proper fulness and use. It teaches a continual comparison of the small and great, and that under differences almost approaching the infinite, for the small as often contains the great in principle, as the great does the small; and thus the mind becomes comprehensive. It teaches to deduce principles carefully, to hold them firmly, or to suspend the judgment, to discover and obey law, and by it to be bold in applying to the greatest what we know of the smallest. It teaches us first by tutors and books, to learn that which is already known to others, and then by the light and methods which belong to science to learn for ourselves and for others; so making a fruitful return to man in the future for that which we have obtained from the men of the past.
    • Lecture notes of 1858, quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) by Bence Jones, Vol. 2, p. 403
  • Bacon in his instruction tells us that the scientific student ought not to be as the ant, who gathers merely, nor as the spider who spins from her own bowels, but rather as the bee who both gathers and produces. All this is true of the teaching afforded by any part of physical science. Electricity is often called wonderful, beautiful; but it is so only in common with the other forces of nature. The beauty of electricity or of any other force is not that the power is mysterious, and unexpected, touching every sense at unawares in turn, but that it is under law, and that the taught intellect can even now govern it largely. The human mind is placed above, and not beneath it, and it is in such a point of view that the mental education afforded by science is rendered super-eminent in dignity, in practical application and utility; for by enabling the mind to apply the natural power through law, it conveys the gifts of God to man.
    • Lecture notes of 1858, quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) by Bence Jones, Vol. 2, p. 404
  • There is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.
    • The Chemical History of a Candle (1860)
  • I am, I hope, very thankful that in the withdrawal of the powers and things of life, the good hope is left with me, which makes the contemplation of death a comfort — not a fear. Such peace is alone the gift of God, and as it is He who gives it, why should we be afraid? His unspeakable gift in His beloved Son is the ground of no doubtful hope, and there is the rest for those who )like you and me) are drawing near the latter end of our terms here below. I do not know, however why I should join you with me in years. I forget your age, but this I know (and feel as well) that next Sabbath day (the 22nd) I shall complete my 70th year. I can hardly think myself so old as I write to you — so much of cheerful spirit, ease and general health is left to me, and if my memory fails, why it causes that I forget troubles as well as pleasure and the end is, I am happy and content.
    • Letter to Auguste de la Rive (1861), as quoted in The Philosopher's Tree : A Selection of Michael Faraday's Writings (1999) edited by Peter Day, p. 199
  • The secret is comprised in three words — Work, finish, publish.
    • His well-known advice to the young William Crookes, who had asked him the secret of his success as a scientific investigator, as quoted in Michael Faraday (1874) by John Hall Gladstone, p. 123
  • Speculations? I have none. I am resting on certainties. I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
    • When asked about his speculations on life beyond death, as quoted in The Homiletic Review‎ (April 1896), p. 442
  • The important thing is to know how to take all things quietly.
    • As quoted in Treasury of the Christian Faith : An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity (1949) by Stanley Irving Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, p. 807
  • The lecturer should give the audience full reason to believe that all his powers have been exerted for their pleasure and instruction.
    • As quoted in A Random Walk in Science (1973) by Robert L. Weber, p. 76
  • As when on some secluded branch in forest far and wide sits perched an owl, who, full of self-conceit and self-created wisdom, explains, comments, condemns, ordains and order things not understood, yet full of importance still holds forth to stocks and stones around — so sits and scribbles Mike.
    • Of himself and his writing abilities, as quoted in A Random Walk in Science (1973) by Robert L. Weber, p. 76
  • Whereas, according to the declaration of that true man of the world Talleyrand, the use of language is to conceal the thoughts; this is to declare in the present instance, when I say I am not able to bear much talking, it means really, and without any mistake, or equivocation, or oblique meaning, or implication, or subterfuge, or omission, that I am not able; being at present rather weak in the head, and able to work no more.
  • I shall be with Christ, and that is enough.
    • Last words, answering the question "Have you ever pondered by yourself what will be your occupation in the next world?", as quoted in The Speaker's QuoteBook (1997) edited by Roy B. Zuck, p. 108


Disputed[edit]

  • Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it.
    • Faraday's purported reply to William Gladstone, then British Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister of finance), when asked of the practical value of electricity (1850) as quoted in Democracy and Liberty (1903) by William Edward Hartpole Lecky, p. xxxi , and in Discovery Or The Spirit And Service Of Science (1918) by R.A Gregory, p 3. The variant "One day sir, you may tax it." is given in The Harvest of a Quiet Eye : A Selection of Scientific Quotations (1977), p. 56, but they source it to Discovery which differs in its quote. According to Snopes in "Long Ago and Faraday", it is most likely an invented quotation, as there are no contemporaneous records, though Lecky did live through the same time as Faraday and Gladstone.

Quotes about Faraday[edit]

Whatever our opinions, they do not alter nor derange the laws of nature.
If the idea of physical reality had ceased to be purely atomic, it still remained for the time being purely mechanistic; people still tried to explain all events as the motion of inert masses; indeed no other way of looking at things seemed conceivable. Then came the great change, which will be associated for all time with the names of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and Hertz. ~ Albert Einstein
Faraday is, and must always remain, the father of that enlarged science of electro-magnetism. ~ James Clerk Maxwell
Faraday carried on experimenting until he was over 70. ~ Brian L. Silver
Underneath his sweetness and gentleness was the heat of a volcano. ~ John Tyndall
The experimental researches of Faraday are so voluminous, their descriptions are so detailed, and their wealth of illustration is so great, as to render it a heavy labour to master them. ~ John Tyndall
  • If the idea of physical reality had ceased to be purely atomic, it still remained for the time being purely mechanistic; people still tried to explain all events as the motion of inert masses; indeed no other way of looking at things seemed conceivable. Then came the great change, which will be associated for all time with the names of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and Hertz.
    • Albert Einstein, "Clerk Maxwell's Influence on the Evolution of the Idea of Physical Reality" in Essays in Science (1934)
  • When his faculties were fading fast, he would sit long at the western window, watching the glories of the sunset; and one day, when his wife drew his attention to a beautiful rainbow that spanned the sky, he looked beyond the falling shower and the many-colored arch, and observed, "He hath set his testimony in the heavens." On August 25, 1867, quietly, almost imperceptively, came the release. There was a philosopher less on earth, and a saint more in heaven.
  • He was little interested mathematics or theory; for example, when his ideas on magnetic fields were extensively developed later by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), Faraday was little concerned with the results. His own scientific career was characterized by simple ideas and simple experiments.
    • Aaron J. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry, Chapter V, p. 136
  • As a philosopher, his first great characteristic was the trust which he put in facts. He said of himself, "In early life I was a very lively imaginative person, who could believe in the Arabian Nights as easily as in the Encyclopedia, but facts were important to me, and saved me. I could trust a fact." Over and over again he showed his love of experiments in his writings and lectures: "Without experiment I am nothing." "But still try, for who knows what is possible?" "All our theories are fixed upon uncertain data, and all of them want alteration and support from facts." "One thing, however, is fortunate, which is, that whatever our opinions, they do not alter nor derange the laws of nature."
    His second great characteristic was his imagination. It rose sometimes to divination, or scientific second sight, and led him to anticipate results that he or others afterwards proved to be true.
  • Faraday is, and must always remain, the father of that enlarged science of electro-magnetism.
  • To estimate the intensity of Faraday's scientific power, we cannot do better than read the first and second series of his Researches and compare them...with the whole course of electro-magnetic science since, which has added no new idea to those set forth, but has only verified the truth and scientific value of every one of them.
  • It is not till we attempt to bring the theoretical part of our training into contact with the practical that we begin to experience the full effect of what Faraday has called "mental inertia"—not only the difficulty of recognising, among the concrete objects before us, the abstract relation which we have learned from books, but the distracting pain of wrenching the mind away from the symbols to the objects, and from the objects back to the symbols. This however is the price we have to pay for new ideas.
  • His health [was] probably affected by mercury poisoning. This was a then unrealized health hazard that undoubtedly affected many nineteenth-century scientists who worked in the laboratory, where spilled mercury often accumulated between and beneath floorboards and generated a permanent atmosphere of mercury vapor.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)
  • Faraday carried on experimenting until he was over 70. He died in 1867, the year that Das Kapital was published, and he was buried in Highgate cemetery... where Marx was to join him later.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)
  • A point highly illustrative of the character of Faraday now comes into view. He gave an account of his discovery of Magneto-electricity in a letter to his friend M. Hachette, of Paris, who communicated the letter to the Academy of Sciences. The letter was translated and published ; and immediately afterwards two distinguished Italian philosophers took up the subject, made numerous experiments, and published their results before the complete memoirs of Faraday had met the public eye. This evidently irritated him. He reprinted the paper of the learned Italians in the Philosophical Magazine accompanied by sharp critical notes from himself. He also wrote a letter dated Dec. 1,1832, to Gay Lussac, who was then one of the editors of the Annales de Chimie in which he analysed the results of the Italian philosophers, pointing out their errors, and' defending himself from what he regarded as imputations on his character. The style of this letter is unexceptionable, for Faraday could not write otherwise than as a gentleman; but the letter shows that had he willed it he could have hit hard. We have heard much of Faraday's gentleness and sweetness and tenderness. It is all true, but it is very incomplete. You cannot resolve a powerful nature into these elements, and Faraday's character would have been less admirable than it was had it not embraced forces and tendencies to which the silky adjectives "gentle" and "tender" would by no means apply. Underneath his sweetness and gentleness was the heat of a volcano. He was a man of excitable and fiery nature; but through high self-discipline he had converted the fire into a central glow and motive power of life, instead of permitting it to waste itself in useless passion. "He that is slow to anger" saith the sage, "is greater than the mighty, and he that ruleth his own spirit than he that taketh a city." Faraday was not slow to anger, but he completely ruled his own spirit, and thus, though he took no cities, he captivated all hearts.
    • John Tyndall, in Faraday as a Discoverer (1868) "Points of Character", p. 37
  • The experimental researches of Faraday are so voluminous, their descriptions are so detailed, and their wealth of illustration is so great, as to render it a heavy labour to master them. The multiplication of proofs, necessary and interesting when the new truths had to be established, are however less needful now when these truths have become household words in science.
    • John Tyndall, in Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), Preface to the Second Edition (December 1869)

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