The Complete Works in Philosophy, Politics and Morals of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 2 [of 3]

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 112

by some
oiliness proceeding from their bodies.

A gentleman from Rhode-island told me, it had been remarked, that the
harbour of Newport was ever smooth while any whaling vessels were
in it; which probably arose from hence, that the blubber which they
sometimes bring loose in the hold, or the leakage of their barrels,
might afford some oil, to mix with that water, which from time to
time they pump out to keep their vessel free, and that some oil might
spread over the surface of the water in the harbour, and prevent the
forming of any waves.

This prevention I would thus endeavour to explain.

There seems to be no natural repulsion between water and air, such as
to keep them from coming into contact with each other. Hence we find
a quantity of air in water; and if we extract it by means of the
air-pump, the same water, again exposed to the air, will soon imbibe
an equal quantity.

Therefore air in motion, which is wind, in passing over the smooth
surface of water, may rub, as it were, upon that surface, and raise
it into wrinkles, which, if the wind continues, are the elements of
future waves.

The smallest wave once raised does not immediately subside, and leave
the neighbouring water quiet: but in subsiding raises nearly as much
of the water next to it, the friction of the parts making little
difference. Thus a stone dropped in a pool raises first a single wave
round itself; and leaves it, by sinking to the bottom; but that first
wave subsiding raises a second, the second a third, and so on in
circles to a great extent.

A small power continually operating will produce a great action. A
finger applied to a weighty suspended bell can at first move it but
little; if repeatedly applied, though with no greater strength, the
motion increases till the bell swings to its utmost height, and with
a force that cannot be resisted by the whole strength of the arm and
body. Thus the small first-raised waves, being continually acted upon
by the wind, are, though the wind does not increase in strength,
continually increased in magnitude, rising higher and extending their
bases, so as to include a vast mass of water in each wave, which in
its motion acts with great violence.

But if there be a mutual repulsion between the particles of oil, and
no attraction between oil and water, oil dropped on water will not be
held together by adhesion to the spot whereon it falls; it will not
be imbibed by the water; it will be at

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