|Born||September 22, 1791(1791-09-22) Newington Butts, England|
|Died||August 25, 1867(1867-08-25) (aged 75) Hampton Court, Middlesex, England|
“Let others attend to the harnessing of the forces of nature. I am content merely with the study of the correlation of these forces.”
– Michael Faraday
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford WoodruffCopyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. English Scientist–Father of Electronics 1791-1867
Early LifeMichael Faraday was born in Newington Butts, Surrey county, England, 22 September 1791. His father, James, was a blacksmith. His mother, Margaret Hastwell, had grown up on a nearby farm. They belonged to a small religious sect called the Sandemanians and were very devout and humble. Faraday records of his father’s shop that “nail making … is a very neat and pretty operation to observe. I love a smith;s shop and anything relating to smithery. My father was a smith.” Faraday loved his mother and father very much, but times were hard; he was often hungry. During one particularly difficult year, young Faraday was allowed but on loaf of bread each week to eat. Consequently, his frail frame was too puny to follow his father’s trade. Faraday writes of his meager educations that is was one of the “most ordinary description consisting of little more than the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic at a common day school. My hours out of school were passed at home and in streets.” At the time he was securing his education, Faraday’s family moved a to a rather poor section of London and lived over a coach house. When not in school, Faraday spent much of his time taking care of his younger sister Margaret and playing Marbles. Because of a defect in his speech, Faraday’s formal school came to an abrupt end. Unable to correctly pronounce his “R”s, Faraday was corrected again and again by and old maid school teacher who loved precision and hated children. When correction failed, she resorted to ridicule. Finally, when these two methods failed she ordered Faraday’s old brother Robert to and buy a cane for her with which she promised to “give Michael a public flogging.” Robert pitched the halt penny over a wall and ran home to report the teacher’s cruelty. Mrs. Faraday refused to let her boys remain in such a situation and promptly removed them from school.
Acquaintance with Mr. RiebauFaraday’s youthful adventures were severely curtailed due to the poor circumstances in which the family found themselves. He went to work full time as an errand boy for the neighboring bookseller, a kindly Frenchman name Mr. Riebau. His first assignment was to deliver newspapers early in the morning and pick them up again when the people had finished reading them. Then he would deliver them to other customers. On Sundays he hurried extra fast so that he might get cleaned up in time to attend church with his family. Because of his experience delivering papers, in later years he rarely saw a paper boy that he did not go out of his way to acknowledge in a kindly way. After observing the diligence with which young Faraday worked, Mr. Riebau decided that he was an exceptional young man who would make a good apprentice. This opportunity would give young Faraday a trade that would fit his physical ability. Riebau’s offer, contrary to the custom of the day, did not require a premium or form of tuition, which made it possible for Faraday to accept and provided him with an opportunity to read and handle many books. Faraday reports his own feelings: “Whilst an apprentice, I loved to read the scientific books which were under my hands, and amongst them, delighted in Marcet’s “‘’Conversations in Chemistry’’.” One of his favorite set of books was the Encyclopedia Britannica because of the vast amount of knowledge contained therein. He told a friend that Watt’s ‘’On the Mind’’ taught him to think. On occasion Mr. Ribau allowed young Faraday to attend Mr. Tatum’s lectures on Physics. The required shilling for each lecture was provided by Faraday’s older brother Robert. Faraday kept copious notes of each lecture. He even studied “perspective” (sketching) in order to illustrate parts of the lecture notes with his drawings. Along with this notebook he kept a scrap book which he called the “Philosophical Miscellany.” In it he collected articles from newspapers and magazines, as well as notices of events relating to the arts and sciences. Also found in the scrap book was Sturm’s ‘’Reflections on the Works of God’’. (Faraday’s ‘’Diary’’ totals seven volumes and is one of Britain’s most prized scientific treasures). His first exposure to the Royal Institute of England, a scientific organization, of which he later became its most distinguished member, came one day when a regular customer of Mr. Ribeau’s, Mr. Dance, engaged young Faraday in a conversation. Learning of Faraday’s facination with science, Mr. Dance gave him tickets to four lectures by the noted Sir Humphrey Davy. Again, Farday made copious notes of the lectures and illustrated them. Upon Faraday forward them to Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society. This Faraday did, and as he expected, there was no response. In 1809 Faraday’s father died. He had been weakened by years of strenuous work, and his health had finally given way. Deeply concerned for their mother and sister, Faraday and his brother supported them on their own meager incomes.
ExperimentsDuring the little time he had after long hours of his apprenticeship, Faraday attempted several experiments in chemistry and physics. This included construction of an electrical machine, using glass cylinders and other electrical “apparatus,” many years prior to Edison’s experiments. Towards the end of his apprenticeship, Faraday began a regular correspondence with a friend named Benjamin Abbot. Abbot came from a high class and had the advantage of a good education Faraday enjoyed “trying out” some of his unusual ideas and experiments on his friend. Abbot had the good sense to preserve letters from Faraday, thereby adding great depth of understanding into Faraday’s life. These letters reflect a simple charm and earnestness as well as give a view of his straightforward search for truth as do the records of his lectures. In speaking to future scientists, Faraday said: “Truth should be [your] primary object. If to these qualities be added industry, he may, indeed, hope to walk within the veil of the temple of nature.” Having finished his apprenticeship with Mr. Ribeau, Faraday sadly parted from this kind man and his wife. He became a journeyman book-binder to a Mr. de La Roche, a violent-tempered French refugee. The situation soon proved unbearable for Faraday’s gentle spirit. He stayed with de La Roache until he could stand the cruelty no longer. Then he left, seeking to establish a career for himself. This was difficult time, for his mother was in dire circumstances, living in poverty. In a desperate attempt at any position, Faraday, being modest but not timid, again sent a copy of his notes, this time to Sir Humphrey Davy. His perseverance paid off, for Davy hired the young man to work in the Royal Institute. I was later said Sir Davy’s greatest discovery was the discovery of Faraday. It did not take long for Sir Davy to observe the young man’s quick mind. He soon allowed his young assistant to participate in his experiments, some of which backfired, with both sustaining minor injuries. So pleased was Davy with his new assistant that he invited Faraday to accompany him on a lecture-tour of the European Continent. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for this young man, who had only see n the edges of London. Having made his way into the scientific world with his notes, he again began to make minute notations of everything he saw and heard. The habit of making written observations became a habit he continued to the end of his life. Faraday was only 24 years old when he returned from the Continental tour. He was to become and integral part of the Royal Institute, which was known as the home of the highest kind of scientific research. The Institute was also known for its specialized lectures. He now earned twenty-five shillings a week, and as an assistant, was given a room in the attic in which to live. It was in this room that a half-dozen of his friends gathered to read, criticize, correct, and help improve each other’s pronunciation and construction of the language. These sessions continued for several years, greatly enhancing the education of all of the participants.
MarriageAmong his good friends were the older brothers of a lovely young lady known as Sarah Barnard. The Barnard family were members of the Sandemanian faith to which Faraday belonged. Faraday was quite taken by Sarah but was unsure of the direction he should head. One evening while visiting Faraday, Edward Barnard, Sarah’s brother, picked up Faraday’s notebook and read notes of the young bachelor’s on the subject of love. “What is love?” wrote Faraday. “[It is] a nuisance to everybody but the parties. A private affair which everyone but those concerned wishes to make public.” Edward saw the humor and repeated the lines to his then twenty-one year old sister. Faraday, who was intent on asking Sarah’s hand in marriage on their next meeting, found that upon asking her a strange look came in her eye and she changed the subject. What could be wrong? he wondered. He knew she cared for him. However, the next few months were hectic ones and they had little opportunity to see each other. Faraday persisted after Sarah’s hand almost to the point of becoming a nuisance. When he wrote her a letter with a formal proposal of marriage it was returned with a note written in the margin: “Love makes philosophers into fools.” However, Sarah finally consented to his proposal and the union proved to add strength to the marvelous works of the scientist Michael Faraday.
ResearchFaraday’s research can be divided into three periods. During the first period his discoveries and experiments were in the field of chemistry with occasional jaunts into magnetism. His conviction of the harmony in the unity of nature led him to the second period, which dwelt exclusively with magnetism and electricity. It was during this period that he succeeded in converting magnetism into electricity. His third period was concerned experiments into the relationship between electricity and light. However, Faraday paid a dear price for the discoveries he made during this period. He had worked so long and hard at his experiments that he had taken little time out, even for his meals. His mind and body completely exhausted, he was incapable of any work, and forced to leave his beloved laboratory for an extended trip to the continent. The doctors ordered him not to read or to write anything, but to completely relax. So severe was this physical collapse that it took five long years before he could go back to experimenting. When he finally did come back, he began working only two hours a day. He gradually built his strength, until he could work longer hours. This began his third period of discovery. The most important work of this time was the discovery of the relationship between electricity and light. During his long period of rest, his mind still sought to record the laws of nature. He went back to work with an inner conviction that these two forms, of energy–light and magnetism, were related in some way. His idea at this time was regarded as almost heretical, and he was mocked for his persistence. Today his discoveries for the relationship between light and magnetism are recognised as perhaps his greatest. It was from the inspired mind of Faraday that Edison first received the idea of the electric spark that now illuminates our homes. In 1824, Faraday was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the next year, 1825, he was appointed Director of the Laboratory of the Royal Institution. Then in 1840, he was elected an Elder of the Sandemanian Church and preached for four years every other Sunday. Both positions were an honor for him. In his Sabbath preaching, he used the words of the scriptures as much as possible using as little of his own words as he could. Though a commoner, in 1858 Queen Victoria gave Faraday the use of one of her Majesty’s houses at Hampton Court in honor of the great contribution he had made to his native land.
LecturesMost of his time was now spent in lectures. He did not talk about his religion unless the subject was brought up. But once in a lecture on mental education Faraday expressed the relationship between science and his religious beliefs. He said:
- I must make one distinction which, however it may appear to others, is to me of the utmost importance. High as man is placed above the creatures around him, there is a higher and far more exalted position within his view; and the ways are infinite in which he occupies his thought about the fears, or hopes, or expectation of a future live, I believe that the truth of that future cannot be brought to his knowledge by any exertion of his mental powers, however exalted they may be; that it is made known to him by other teaching than his own, and is received through a simple belief.
About the Bible and CreationBackground: After Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species was published, a group of Darwin supporters suggested that Michael Faraday was also sympathetic to their views by claiming that he had challenged the “Old Testament narrative of the creation of man” and said that “life is but electricity”. When Faraday heard of this in a letter, he responded in writing as follows: “Sir, your letter has surprised me a good deal, for I did not know before that my name had been used as you describe, and cannot imagine how it has been employed upon that side of the argument where your letter places it. All that part that is between my initials on pp. 5 and 6 is utterly untrue…if I have given offence, it has been because I … pay too much respect to the Bible, which I believe to be the Word of God.” 3
About the Laws of Nature
- “The general system of nature … changes not; its laws were established from the beginning, although we may discover new facts, and perceive new relations of things, and read laws of nature which we call new, but which are as old as creation.” 4
About Electricity and Magnetism
- “We have here a power which we cannot merely excite separately from matter; but give it strength, and cause it to pass through bodies at a most extraordinary rate, and detect all its varied phenomena in all the forms of apparatus before us. We can take account of the smallest portion; we can estimate the amount of strength of a certain quantity, and dispose of it here and there with an exactitude which is wonderful, considering the subtlety of the power, and means it has of escaping. Such is the beauty of manifestations that come before us when we deal with the great laws of nature, and observe phenomena which never fail, because the Creator governs by fixed laws. He has permitted us to examine them and trace them, and admire their effects, and make provision for their application to purposes useful to man.”5
About Electricity and Magnetism
- “We have here a power which we cannot merely excite separately from matter; but give it strength, and cause it to pass through bodies at a most extraordinary rate, and detect all its varied phenomena in all the forms of apparatus before us. We can take account of the smallest portion; we can estimate the amount of strength of a certain quantity, and dispose of it here and there with an exactitude which is wonderful, considering the subtlety of the power, and means it has of escaping. Such is the beauty of manifestations that come before us when we deal with the great laws of nature, and observe phenomena which never fail, because the Creator governs by fixed laws. He has permitted us to examine them and trace them, and admire their effects, and make provision for their application to purposes useful to man.”6
Introduction to a Speech on Electricity, Magnetism, and Gravity
- “The properties which belong to matter depend upon the power with which the Creator has gifted such matter. It is upon certain of these powers that I … dwell” 7
- “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 … for by enabling the mind to apply the natural power through law, it conveys the gifts of God to man.” 8
About his Faith in Christ
- “He who is taught of the Holy Spirit needs no crowd to teach him; if he stand alone he is fully taught, for the Comforter (the Spirit) taketh the things of Christ and showeth them to His people. And if in the mercy of God is should please Him that one seeing the commotion about him should be led to examine his ways, it will only be in the Word of testimony, the Word of God, that he will find the revelation of the new and living way by which he may rejoice in hope of entering the Kingdom of Christ.” 9
- Faraday, Michael. The Chemical History of a Candle–the Popular Educator, No. 18. Natinal Education Alliance Inc., Washington D.C., 1939, p. 1572.
- Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
- Michael Faraday, “Letter to Mr. Stroud”, quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) by Bence Jones, Vol. 2, pp. 441-442
- (Michael Faraday, “A Course of Lectures on Electricity and Magnetism”, London Medical Gazette (1846), 3, pg. 523)
- Michael Faraday, “A Course of Lectures on Electricity and Magnetism”, London Medical Gazette (1846), 3, pg. 4
- Michael Faraday, “A Course of Lectures on Electricity and Magnetism”, London Medical Gazette (1846), 3, pg. 4
- Michael Faraday, “A Course of Lectures on Electricity and Magnetism”, London Medical Gazette (1846), 2, pg. 977
- Michael Faraday, “Lecture notes of 1858”, quoted in The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870) by Bence Jones, Vol. 2, p. 404
- Michael Faraday, “Letter to Unidentified Relation”, The Correspondence of Michael Faraday: 1855-1860, pg. 476