Page images

Well, the great event was over. We did not see the reception at the Invalides, the two sights being incompatible. But we had seen the real thing—the coming of Napoleon through the masses of his people to the place where he would be. The services in the church were somewhat perfunctory. The king advanced to meet the coffin. The Prince de Joinville said, “Sire, I present to you the body of Napoleon.” The king replied, “I receive it in the name of France.’ Then, turning to General Bertrand, he said, ‘General, place the glorious sword of the Emperor upon his coffin.” Mass was then said, and Mozart’s “Requiem ’ sung, the solo parts being taken by Lablache, Rubini, Tamburini, Dupréz, Mario, Grisi, Persiani, Cinti-Damoreau, Pauline Garcia and others. Thackeray has given an account of this day, but the tone of it is not worthy of either himself or the event, and he makes one signal mistake. He speaks of danger to the English on this occasion. I am certain there was no such danger and no fear of it. There was fear, as I have said, of a Bonapartist uprising around the Arch, but none of an attack on the English. Our father was a man of very marked personality, a British officer who would have been a target for such an attack had any been intended. Yet, so far from expecting it, we, a family of young girls and children, were allowed to roam the avenues during that preparatory week with no attendant but our maid. Thackeray also tells of the ‘mean and tawdry character of the preparations, producing “vain heaps of tinsel, paint and plaster.” True, in a paltry sense. Five miles of avenue and the spaces around the Invalides and the Chamber of Deputies were to be decorated for the event of one day. Some parts of that great distance were adorned with real trophies, real statues. For instance, in the Court of Honour leading to the Invalides were placed historical portrait-statues of the greatest men of France, brought from all the national galleries of the kingdom. The statues on the Champs Elysées, the columns, the tripods were, it is true, of plaster, and their pedestals of painted canvas. Could it have been otherwise ? They were there to honour one event—the Coming of Napoleon. Permanency was impossible, and also out of keeping. The only fitting permanency is the tomb that may be seen to-day in the crypt of the Invalides. It is true that a few absurdities crept in. For instance, the wings of the Victories were added after the statues were set up— probably for safety in handling. Now wings, like boots and shoes, are rights and lefts, and in the hurry of preparation Eylau received a couple of right wings and some sister Victory a couple of lefts. Also, when Marshal Ney's statue was about to be erected it was found to be life-size, while those of the other marshals among whom he was to stand were colossal. It was therefore cut through the middle, supports were inserted, and the surgical operation was adroitly concealed by a drapery of flags.

On further reflection, I am not sure whether he was life-sized or colossal. At any rate, the Bravest of the Brave did not match with his co-heroes, and his stomach was either elongated or dispensed with altogether. But what of that ? it was something to provoke a merry laugh, not a sneer.

On the following day we went to the Invalides to see Napoleon lying where he had prayed to lie. But it was all unsatisfactory. The crowd was terrible; women were fainting; the church was dark with black and purple hangings; the only light came from green and lurid flames belching from tripods; the air was suffocating, and the Emperor's coffin was almost invisible within a sort of gilded cage. Nothing rewarded us but the idea—no, the reality— that Napoleon was there.


[ocr errors][merged small]

I READ the other day in one of our leading weekly reviews an eloquent article which informed me that the most striking discovery of modern times has been the ‘transmutation of the elements,’ and that while the seventy or eighty known elements have long been suspected by philosophers to be compounded from one and the same kind of matter, there has now been observed the actual transformation of uranium into radium, of radium into helium and perhaps also into lead. Now, there is in these statements so much “mixing up of things which differ,’ of facts and hypotheses still very much upon their trial, that the perusal of this article has suggested to me that those who are interested in the progress of physics and chemistry might welcome, at this moment, a brief account of that latest phase of the ever recurring idea that every bit of matter in every form may consist, really, of the same ultimate material. This idea also has recently suggested that the chemical atoms, of which all matter consists, are made up solely of systems of electric charges. As the work of this theory is not yet done, as the fate of this latest reading of the riddle of the mystery of matter still lies on the lap of the gods, it may seem to some of my readers that the subject is not very well suited for the pages of the CoRNHILL. I believe, however, that those who think this are wrong, for if we wish cultiwated men and women to take a living interest in the progress of science, and to be able, as they very well might be, to avoid falling into such mistakes as those to be found in the article referred to above, we must not ask them always to be content with the realised knowledge of the text-book and the museum, though these are very good things in their places, but must go with them also, now and then, into the workshop and there show them science in the making. And this is what I propose to do on the present occasion. Before we enter the theory shop and endeavour to follow the growth of the ‘electric theory of matter’ I must ask those who go there with me first to delay for a moment and recall one or two matters of considerable importance. In the first place we must remember that a scientific theory has to perform two distinct VOL. XXV.-NO. 145, N.S. 7

functions, viz. to record a larger or smaller number of isolated or seemingly isolated facts, and to give us some clear idea of a connection between these facts so that we may be able to deduce them one from another and predict new facts that may be discovered by means of new experiments suggested by the theory. Secondly, we must consider that a theory, like a tree, is to be judged by its fruits, and that an unproductive or worn out theory, like an unfruitful tree, must be cast into the fire. It is important that we do not forget this, for the hypothesis that is the subject of this article is as yet incomplete. Its fruits have still to be gathered and tested. There is much which suggests that in due course the electric theory of matter may prove as fruitful as the atomic theory of the nineteenth century, but the electric theory to-day, like the atomic theory a century ago, is still imperfect, still upon its trial. If I may compare it to a tool, we may say that at present we have not the finished tool, but only a rough casting from which, perhaps, a finished tool may be constructed before long. I need hardly say that it is important my readers should have a clear idea what it is the electric theory of matter has to explain. Perhaps we shall best discover how we stand on this point if we ask ourselves the question, What is matter ? What are the isolated facts about matter which this theory must co-ordinate 7 Now, this question is very difficult to answer. Most of us know a good deal about the surface differences which distinguish the myriad forms in which matter presents itself to us, but our real knowledge of its nature and constitution is slight indeed. According to J. S. Mill, matter is ‘the permanent possibility of sensations.” According to W. K. Clifford it ‘is a mental picture in which mindstuff is the thing represented,” while “mind-stuff is constituted by feelings which can exist by themselves, without forming parts of a consciousness, but are also woven into the complex form of human minds.” For our present purpose, however, speculations like these retain only an historic importance. For us, as the late Professor P. G. Tait has expressed it, the universe, including matter, has an objective existence, and we become aware of it by the aid of our senses, and, since the evidence of the senses often misleads, we endeavour to sift the mixture of truth from error gained through the use of our senses by the exercise of the reason, for example, by forming theories such as the atomic theory of Dalton and the electric theory of the new physics.

According to the electric theory, matter in all its forms consists, as I have said, of systems of electric charges. This idea is the outcome of the work of the atomists, Dalton and his colleagues, on the one hand, and of the work of Faraday and his great successors on the other. Broadly speaking, we may say that Dalton reinvented atoms for the use of the chemists, that the physicists, with Professor J. J. Thomson at their head, discovered the existence of particles, called electrons, even smaller than atoms, and that authors of the electric theory hope to establish the nature of the electron, and to discover the relation of the electron to the atom. It is not necessary to dwell for long on the atomic molecular theory, for this has already been fully discussed in the CoRNHILL.' It will be sufficient if we remember that according to chemists matter exists in the form of a limited number of elements, about eighty of these elements being known to us, and that each of these elements occurs in the form of characteristic minute unbreakable particles called atoms. I suppose that in modern times few investigators have really believed of any given atom that it would exist for ever, or that it had existed in the past from all eternity. But undoubtedly some of the greatest masters of the modern school, e.g. Clerk Maxwell, have held there is reason to believe that in the atoms of the chemists ‘we have something which has existed either from eternity, or at least from times anterior to the existing order of nature '; or, to put the point more explicitly, if I may quote Clerk Maxwell” once more, that ‘the creation of an atom is an operation of a kind which is not, so far as we are aware, going on on earth or in the sun or in the stars, either now or since these bodies began to be formed, and must be referred to the epoch of the establishment of the existing order of nature. The facts before Clerk Maxwell when he wrote the above words gave him no reason for suspecting that possibly chemical atoms might now and then undergo disintegration under our noses. But to-day, though we are as incompetent as ever to create an atom out of nothing, we are no longer quite convinced that atoms are the smallest particles of matter. This does not mean that the molecular atomic theory is used up and ready for the scrap-heap, for the idea of the atom is as necessary and as useful as ever. But atoms no longer seem to us, as to Newton, to be * See The New Physics and Chemistry, “On Weighing Atoms.' * See “Atom,' by Clerk Maxwell, Encl. Brit. 9th ed.

« PreviousContinue »