The Complete Works in Philosophy, Politics and Morals of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 1 [of 3]

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 218

K. tells me always points
to the north.

The electrical fire passing through air has the same crooked
direction as lightning[73]. This appearance I endeavour to account
for thus: Air is an electric _per se_, therefore there must be a
mutual repulsion betwixt air and the electrical fire. A column
or cylinder of air, having the diameter of its base equal to the
diameter of the electrical spark, intervenes that part of the body
which the spark is taken from, and of the body it aims at. The spark
acts upon this column, and is acted upon by it, more strongly than
any other neighbouring portion of air.

The column, being thus acted upon, becomes more dense, and, being
more dense, repels the spark more strongly; its repellency being in
proportion to its density: Having acquired, by being condensed, a
degree of repellency greater than its natural, it turns the spark out
of its strait course; the neighbouring air, which must be less dense,
and therefore has a smaller degree of repellency, giving it a more
ready passage.

The spark, having taken a new direction, must now act on, or most
strongly repel the column of air which lies in that direction, and
consequently must condense that column in the same manner as the
former, when the spark must again change its course, which course
will be thus repeatedly changed, till the spark reaches the body that
attracted it.

To this account one objection occurs; that as air is very fluid and
elastic, and so endeavours to diffuse itself equally, the supposed
accumulated air within the column aforesaid, would be immediately
diffused among the contiguous air, and circulate to fill the space
it was driven from; and consequently that the said column, on the
greater density of which the phenomenon is supposed to depend, would
not repel the spark more strongly than the neighbouring air.

This might be an objection, if the electrical fire was as sluggish
and inactive as air. Air takes a sensible time to diffuse
itself equally, as is manifest from winds which often blow for
a considerable time together from the same point, and with a
velocity even in the greatest storms, not exceeding, as it is
said, sixty miles an hour: but the electric fire seems propagated
instantaneously, taking up no perceptible time in going very great
distances. It must then be an inconceivably short time in its
progress from an electrified to an unelectrified body, which, in the
present case, can be but a few inches apart: but this small portion
of time is not sufficient for the elasticity of the air to exert
itself, and

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Page 597
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