By F Greenaway
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Extra resources for John Dalton and the Atom
He began his study of chemistry with the aim of co-ordinating its facts and unifying its theory. By and large, he succeeded in both these objects. At his death, by execution for alleged crimes as a tax-farmer against a state he wished only to serve, SCIENTIFIC SCENE IN DALTON S EA RLY YEARS 55 he left a theory of the conservation of matter which made the relation of synthesis and analysis rational, a classification of the elements and their compounds which made sense of most qualitative observations of inorganic compounds, and a nomenclature which was linked directly with composition.
He certainly made a crude hygrometer, as described at the end of Section III. , and the lengthening and shortening of fibres. His own instrument is six yards of whipcord, fastened at one end, passing over a pulley and supporting a weight of two or three ounces. The variation in length has ranged over thirteen inches. He gives results, which tell us little, but points out that a yearly increase is due probably to the stretching of the cord, so that a correction must be applied. Section IV describes a simple rain gauge ten inches in diameter ‘of sheet iron, tinned and painted, with a perpendicular rim two or three inches high, fixed horizontally in a convenient frame, with a bottle under it to receive the rain’.
This was a period when some parts of the scientific world enj'oyed a fairly easy flow of knowledge, when anyone in the metropolitan centres could get at a fair proportion of important books and periodicals published. The letter is that of someone willing but largely ignorant. He still had a lot to learn, and he learned it by the best method: by setting out to teach it. Poor Dalton! This is perhaps the only time in his life at which we can be sorry for this self-reliant man. He never married and there were incidents which suggest that he may have come near to the love of a woman more than once and just not grasped it, but the evidence is too vague for us to know whether or not to be sorry for him over this.