The Chemical History Of A Candle
Category: Science
Level 10.45 4:51 h 134.0 mb
The Chemical History Of A Candle is the ultimate text for the science aficionado. The book contains a series of six lectures by Engish scientist Michael Faraday on fundamental princles. Faraday speaks in detail on findings in a number of imporatnant and groundbreaking experiemnts. Faraday studied and discusses freezing water, flames, steam, atmospheric pressure, and weighing gas. While these techniques and principles are standard today, they were innovative findings when Faraday performed these early experiments.

The Chemical History of a Candle

Michael Faraday, D.C.L., F.R.S.

The Chemical History Of A Candle


From the primitive pine-torch to the paraffin candle, how wide an interval! between them how vast a contrast! The means adopted by man to illuminate his home at night, stamp at once his position in the scale of civilisation. The fluid bitumen of the far East, blazing in rude vessels of baked earth; the Etruscan lamp, exquisite in form, yet ill adapted to its office; the whale, seal, or bear fat, filling the hut of the Esquimaux or Lap with odour rather than light; the huge wax candle on the glittering altar, the range of gas lamps in our streets, — all have their stories to tell. All, if they could speak (and, after their own manner, they can), might warm our hearts in telling, how they have ministered to man's comfort, love of home, toil, and devotion.

Surely, among the millions of fire-worshippers and fire-users who have passed away in earlier ages, some have pondered over the mystery of fire; perhaps some clear minds have guessed shrewdly near the truth. Think of the time man has lived in hopeless ignorance: think that only during a period which might be spanned by the life of one man, has the truth been known.

Atom by atom, link by link, has the reasoning chain been forged. Some links, too quickly and too slightly made, have given way, and been replaced by better work; but now the great phenomena are known — the outline is correctly and firmly drawn — cunning artists are filling in the rest, and the child who masters these Lectures knows more of fire than Aristotle did.

The candle itself is now made to light up the dark places of nature; the blowpipe and the prism are adding to our knowledge of the earth’s crust; but the torch must come first.

Among the readers of this book some few may devote themselves to increasing the stores of knowledge: the Lamp of Science must burn. “Alere flammam.”

W. Crookes.

Lecture I.
A Candle: The Flame — Its Sources — Structure — Mobility — Brightness

I purpose, in return for the honour you do us by coming to see what are our proceedings here, to bring before you, in the course of these lectures, the Chemical History of a Candle. I have taken this subject on a former occasion; and were it left to my own will, I should prefer to repeat it almost every year — so abundant is the interest that attaches itself to the subject, so wonderful are the varieties of outlet which it offers into the various departments of philosophy. There is not a law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not come into play, and is touched upon in these phenomena. There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy, than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle. I trust, therefore, I shall not disappoint you in choosing this for my subject rather than any newer topic, which could not be better, were it even so good.

And before proceeding, let me say this also — that though our subject be so great, and our intention that of treating it honestly, seriously, and philosophically, yet I mean to pass away from all those who are seniors amongst us. I claim the privilege of speaking to juveniles as a juvenile myself. I have done so on former occasions — and, if you please, I shall do so again. And though I stand here with the knowledge of having the words I utter given to the world, yet that shall not deter me from speaking in the same familiar way to those whom I esteem nearest to me on this occasion.

And now, my boys and girls, I must first tell you of what candles are made. Some are great curiosities. I have here some bits of timber, branches of trees particularly famous for their burning. And here you see a piece of that very curious substance taken out of some of the bogs in Ireland, called candle-wood, — a hard, strong, excellent wood, evidently fitted for good work as a resister of force, and yet withal burning so well that where it is found they make splinters of it, and torches, since it burns like a candle, and gives a very good light indeed. And in this wood we have one of the most beautiful illustrations of the general nature of a candle that I can possibly give. The fuel provided, the means of bringing that fuel to the place of chemical action, the regular and gradual supply of air to that place of action — heat and light — all produced by a little piece of wood of this kind, forming, in fact, a natural candle.

But we must speak of candles as they are in commerce. Here are a couple of candles commonly called dips. They are made of lengths of cotton cut off, hung up by a loop, dipped into melted tallow, taken out again and cooled, then re-dipped until there is an accumulation of tallow round the cotton. In order that you may have an idea of the various characters of these candles, you see these which I hold in my hand — they are very small, and very curious. They are, or were, the candles used by the miners in coal mines. In olden times the miner had to find his own candles; and it was supposed that a small candle would not so soon set fire to the fire-damp in the coal mines as a large one; and for that reason, as well as for economy's sake, he had candles made of this sort — 20, 30, 40, or 60 to the pound. They have been replaced since then by the steel-mill, and then by the Davy-lamp, and other safety-lamps of various kinds. I have here a candle that was taken out of the Royal George, it is said, by Colonel Pasley. It has been sunk in the sea for many years, subject to the action of salt water. It shews you how well candles may be preserved; for though it is cracked about and broken a good deal, yet, when lighted, it goes on burning regularly, and the tallow resumes its natural condition as soon as it is fused.

Mr. Field, of Lambeth, has supplied me abundantly with beautiful illustrations of the candle and its materials. I shall therefore now refer to them. And, first, there is the suet — the fat of the ox — Russian tallow, I believe, employed in the manufacture of these dips, which Gay Lussac, or some one who entrusted him with his knowledge, converted into that beautiful substance, stearin, which you see lying beside it. A candle, you know, is not now a greasy thing like an ordinary tallow candle, but a clean thing, and you may almost scrape off and pulverise the drops which fall from it without soiling anything. This is the process he adopted: — The fat or tallow is first boiled with quick-lime, and made into a soap, and then the soap is decomposed by sulphuric acid, which takes away the lime, and leaves the fat re-arranged as stearic acid, whilst a quantity of glycerin is produced at the same time. Glycerin — absolutely a sugar, or a substance similar to sugar — comes out of the tallow in this chemical change. The oil is then pressed out of it; and you see here this series of pressed cakes, shewing how beautifully the impurities are carried out by the oily part as the pressure goes on increasing, and at last you have left that substance which is melted, and cast into candles as here represented. The candle I have in my hand is a stearin candle, made of stearin from tallow in the way I have told you. Then here is a sperm candle, which comes from the purified oil of the spermaceti whale. Here also are yellow bees-wax and refined bees-wax, from which candles are made. Here, too, is that curious substance called paraffin, and some paraffin candles made of paraffin obtained from the bogs of Ireland. I have here also a substance brought from Japan, since we have forced an entrance into that out-of-the-way place — a sort of wax which a kind friend has sent me, and which forms a new material for the manufacture of candles

And how are these candles made? I have told you about dips, and I will shew you how moulds are made. Let us imagine any of these candles to be made of materials which can be cast. “Cast!” you say. “Why, a candle is a thing that melts; and surely if you can melt it, you can cast it.” Not so. It is wonderful, in the progress of manufacture, and in the consideration of the means best fitted to produce the required result, how things turn up which one would not expect beforehand. Candles cannot always be cast. A wax candle can never be cast. It is made by a particular process, which I can illustrate in a minute or two: but I must not spend much time on it. Wax is a thing which, burning so well, and melting so easily in a candle, cannot be cast. However, let us take a material that can be cast. Here is a frame, with a number of moulds fastened in it. The first thing to be done is to put a wick through them. Here is one — a plaited wick, which does not require snuffing — supported by a little wire. It goes to the bottom, where it is pegged in — the little peg holding the cotton tight, and stopping the aperture, so that nothing fluid shall run out. At the upper part there is a little bar placed across, which stretches the cotton and holds it in the mould. The tallow is then melted, and the moulds are filled. After a certain time, when the moulds are cool, the excess of tallow is poured off at one corner, and then cleaned off altogether, and the ends of the wick cut away. The candles alone then remain in the mould, and you have only to upset them, as I am doing, when out they tumble, for the candles are made in the form of cones, being narrower at the top than at the bottom; so that what with their form and their own shrinking, they only need a little shaking, and out they fall. In the same way are made these candles of stearin and of paraffin. It is a curious thing to see how wax candles are made. A lot of cottons are hung upon frames, as you see here, and covered with metal tags at the ends to keep the wax from covering the cotton in those places. These are carried to a heater, where the wax is melted. As you see, the frames can turn round; and as they turn, a man takes a vessel of wax and pours it first down one, and then the next and the next, and so on. When he has gone once round, if it is sufficiently cool, he gives the first a second coat, and so on until they are all of the required thickness. When they have been thus clothed, or fed, or made up to that thickness, they are taken off, and placed elsewhere. I have here, by the kindness of Mr. Field, several specimens of these candles. Here is one only half-finished. They are then taken down, and well rolled upon a fine stone slab, and the conical top is moulded by properly shaped tubes, and the bottoms cut off and trimmed. This is done so beautifully that they can make candles in this way weighing exactly four, or six, to the pound, or any number they please

We must not, however, take up more time about the mere manufacture, but go a little further into the matter. I have not yet referred you to luxuries in candles (for there is such a thing as luxury in candles). See how beautifully these are coloured: you see here mauve, magenta, and all the chemical colours recently introduced, applied to candles. You observe, also, different forms employed. Here is a fluted pillar most beautifully shaped; and I have also here some candles sent me by Mr. Pearsall, which are ornamented with designs upon them, so that as they burn you have as it were a glowing sun above, and a bouquet of flowers beneath. All, however, that is fine and beautiful is not useful. These fluted candles, pretty as they are, are bad candles; they are bad because of their external shape. Nevertheless, I shew you these specimens sent to me from kind friends on all sides, that you may see what is done, and what may be done in this or that direction; although, as I have said, when we come to these refinements, we are obliged to sacrifice a little in utility.

Now, as to the light of the candle. We will light one or two, and set them at work in the performance of their proper functions. You observe a candle is a very different thing from a lamp. With a lamp you take a little oil, fill your vessel, put in a little moss or some cotton prepared by artificial means, and then light the top of the wick. When the flame runs down the cotton to the oil, it gets extinguished, but it goes on burning in the part above. Now, I have no doubt you will ask, how is it that the oil, which will not burn of itself, gets up to the top of the cotton, where it will burn? We shall presently examine that; but there is a much more wonderful thing about the burning of a candle than this. You have here a solid substance with no vessel to contain it; and how is it that this solid substance can get up to the place where the flame is? How is it that this solid gets there, it not being a fluid? or, when it is made a fluid, then how is it that it keeps together? This is a wonderful thing about a candle.

We have here a good deal of wind, which will help us in some of our illustrations, but tease us in others; for the sake, therefore, of a little regularity, and to simplify the matter, I shall make a quiet flame — for who can study a subject when there are difficulties in the way not belonging to it? Here is a clever invention of some costermonger or street stander in the market-place for the shading of their candles on Saturday nights, when they are selling their greens, or potatoes, or fish. I have very often admired it. They put a lamp-glass round the candle, supported on a kind of gallery, which clasps it, and it can be slipped up and down as required. By the use of this lamp-glass, employed in the same way, you have a steady flame, which you can look at, and carefully examine, as I hope you will do, at home.

You see, then, in the first instance, that a beautiful cup is formed. As the air comes to the candle it moves upwards by the force of the current which the heat of the candle produces, and it so cools all the sides of the wax, tallow, or fuel, as to keep the edge much cooler than the part within; the part within melts by the flame that runs down the wick as far as it can go before it is extinguished, but the part on the outside does not melt. If I made a current in one direction, my cup would be lop-sided, and the fluid would consequently run over, — for the same force of gravity which holds worlds together holds this fluid in a horizontal position, and if the cup be not horizontal, of course the fluid will run away in guttering. You see, therefore, that the cup is formed by this beautifully regular ascending current of air playing upon all sides, which keeps the exterior of the candle cool. No fuel would serve for a candle which has not the property of giving this cup, except such fuel as the Irish bogwood, where the material itself is like a sponge, and holds its own fuel. You see now why you would have had such a bad result if you were to burn these beautiful candles that I have shewn you, which are irregular, intermittent in their shape, and cannot therefore have that nicely-formed edge to the cup which is the great beauty in a candle. I hope you will now see that the perfection of a process — that is, its utility — is the better point of beauty about it. It is not the best looking thing, but the best acting thing, which is the most advantageous to us. This good-looking candle is a bad burning one. There will be a guttering round about it because of the irregularity of the stream of air and the badness of the cup which is formed thereby. You may see some pretty examples (and I trust you will notice these instances) of the action of the ascending current when you have A little gutter run down the side of a candle, making it thicker there than it is elsewhere. As the candle goes on burning, that keeps its place and forms a little pillar sticking up by the side, because, as it rises higher above the rest of the wax or fuel, the air gets better round it, and it is more cooled and better able to resist the action of the heat at a little distance. Now, the greatest mistakes and faults with regard to candles, as in many other things, often bring with them instruction which we should not receive if they had not occurred. We come here to be philosophers; and I hope you will always remember that whenever a result happens, especially if it be new, you should say, “What is the cause? Why does it occur?” and you will in the course of time find out the reason.

Then, there is another point about these candles which will answer a question, — that is, as to the way in which this fluid gets out of the cup, up the wick, and into the place of combustion. You know that the flames on these burning wicks in candles made of beeswax, stearin, or spermaceti, do not run down to the wax or other matter, and melt it all away, but keep to their own right place. They are fenced off from the fluid below, and do not encroach on the cup at the sides. I cannot imagine a more beautiful example than the condition of adjustment under which a candle makes one part subserve to the other to the very end of its action. A combustible thing like that, burning away gradually, never being intruded upon by the flame, is a very beautiful sight; especially when you come to learn what a vigorous thing flame is — what power it has of destroying the wax itself when it gets hold of it, and of disturbing its proper form if it come only too near.

But how does the flame get hold of the fuel? There is a beautiful point about that — capillary attraction. “Capillary attraction!” you say, — “the attraction of hairs.” Well, never mind the name: it was given in old times, before we had a good understanding of what the real power was. It is by what is called capillary attraction that the fuel is conveyed to the part where combustion goes on, and is deposited there, not in a careless way, but very beautifully in the very midst of the centre of action which takes place around it. Now, I am going to give you one or two instances of capillary attraction. It is that kind of action or attraction which makes two things that do not dissolve in each other still hold together. When you wash your hands, you wet them thoroughly; you take a little soap to make the adhesion better, and you find your hand remains wet. This is by that kind of attraction of which I am about to speak. And, what is more, if your hands are not soiled (as they almost always are by the usages of life), if you put your finger into a little warm water, the water will creep a little way up the finger, though you may not stop to examine it. I have here a substance which is rather porous — a column of salt — and I will pour into the plate at the bottom, not water, as it appears, but a saturated solution of salt which cannot absorb more; so that the action which you see will not be due to its dissolving anything. We may consider the plate to be the candle, and the salt the wick, and this solution the melted tallow. ( I have coloured the fluid, that you may see the action better.) You observe that, now I pour in the fluid, it rises and gradually creeps up the salt higher and higher; and provided the column does not tumble over, it will go to the top.

Fig. 1.Fig. 1.

If this blue solution were combustible, and we were to place a wick at the top of the salt, it would burn as it entered into the wick. It is a most curious thing to see this kind of action taking place, and to observe how singular some of the circumstances are about it. When you wash your hands, you take a towel to wipe off the water; and it is by that kind of wetting, or that kind of attraction which makes the towel become wet with water, that the wick is made wet with the tallow. I have known some careless boys and girls (indeed, I have known it happen to careful people as well) who, having washed their hands and wiped them with a towel, have thrown the towel over the side of the basin, and before long it has drawn all the water out of the basin and conveyed it to the floor, because it happened to be thrown over the side in such a way as to serve the purpose of a syphon. That you may the better see the way in which the substances act one upon another, I have here a vessel made of wire gauze filled with water, and you may compare it in its action to the cotton in one respect, or to a piece of calico in the other. In fact, wicks are sometimes made of a kind of wire gauze. You will observe that this vessel is a porous thing; for if I pour a little water on to the top, it will run out at the bottom. You would be puzzled for a good while if I asked you what the state of this vessel is, what is inside it, and why it is there? The vessel is full of water, and yet you see the water goes in and runs out as if it were empty. In order to prove this to you, I have only to empty it. The reason is this, — the wire, being once wetted, remains wet; the meshes are so small that the fluid is attracted so strongly from the one side to the other, as to remain in the vessel although it is porous. In like manner the particles of melted tallow ascend the cotton and get to the top; other particles then follow by their mutual attraction for each other, and as they reach the flame they are gradually burned.

Here is another application of the same principle. You see this bit of cane. I have seen boys about the streets, who are very anxious to appear like men, take a piece of cane, and light it and smoke it, as an imitation of a cigar. They are enabled to do so by the permeability of the cane in one direction, and by its capillarity. If I place this piece of cane on a plate containing some camphin (which is very much like paraffin in its general character), exactly in the same manner as the blue fluid rose through the salt will this fluid rise through the piece of cane. There being no pores at the side, the fluid cannot go in that direction, but must pass through its length. Already the fluid is at the top of the cane: now I can light it and make it serve as a candle. The fluid has risen by the capillary attraction of the piece of cane, just as it does through the cotton in the candle.

Now, the only reason why the candle does not burn all down the side of the wick is, that the melted tallow extinguishes the flame. You know that a candle, if turned upside down, so as to allow the fuel to run upon the wick, will be put out. The reason is, that the flame has not had time to make the fuel hot enough to burn, as it does above, where it is carried in small quantities into the wick, and has all the effect of the heat exercised upon it.

There is another condition which you must learn as regards the candle, without which you would not be able fully to understand the philosophy of it, and that is the vaporous condition of the fuel. In order that you may understand that, let me shew you a very pretty, but very common-place experiment. If you blow a candle out cleverly, you will see the vapour rise from it. You have, I know, often smelt the vapour of a blown-out candle — and a very bad smell it is; but if you blow it out cleverly, you will be able to see pretty well the vapour into which this solid matter is transformed. I will blow out one of these candles in such a way as not to disturb the air around it, by the continuing action of my breath; and now, if I hold a lighted taper two or three inches from the wick, you will observe a train of fire going through the air till it reaches the candle. I am obliged to be quick and ready, because, if I allow the vapour time to cool, it becomes condensed into a liquid or solid, or the stream of combustible matter gets disturbed.

Now, as to the shape or form of the flame. It concerns us much to know about the condition which the matter of the candle finally assumes at the top of the wick — where you have such beauty and brightness as nothing but combustion or flame can produce.

Fig. 2.Fig. 2.

You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond; but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame? It owes its lustre at night-time to the very flame shining upon it. The flame shines in darkness, but the light which the diamond has is as nothing until the flame shine upon it, when it is brilliant again. The candle alone shines by itself, and for itself, or for those who have arranged the materials. Now, let us look a little at the form of the flame as you see it under the glass shade. It is steady and equal; and its general form is that which is represented in the diagram, varying with atmospheric disturbances, and also varying according to the size of the candle. It is a bright oblong — brighter at the top than towards the bottom — with the wick in the middle, and besides the wick in the middle, certain darker parts towards the bottom, where the ignition is not so perfect as in the part above.

Fig. 3.Fig. 3.

I have a drawing here, sketched many years ago by Hooker, when he made his investigations. It is the drawing of the flame of a lamp, but it will apply to the flame of a candle. The cup of the candle is the vessel or lamp, the melted spermaceti is the oil, and the wick is common to both. Upon that he sets this little flame, and then he represents what is true — a certain quantity of matter rising about it which you do not see, and which, if you have not been here before, or are not familiar with the subject, you will not know of. He has here represented the parts of the surrounding atmosphere that are very essential to the flame, and that are always present with it. There is a current formed, which draws the flame out — for the flame which you see is really drawn out by the current, and drawn upward to a great height — just as Hooker has here shewn you by that prolongation of the current in the diagram. You may see this by taking a lighted candle, and putting it in the sun so as to get its shadow thrown on a piece of paper. How remarkable it is that that thing which is light enough to produce shadows of other objects, can be made to throw its own shadow on a piece of white paper or card, so that you can actually see streaming round the flame something which is not part of the flame, but is ascending and drawing the flame upwards. Now, I am going to imitate the sunlight, by applying the voltaic battery to the electric lamp. You now see our sun, and its great luminosity; and by placing a candle between it and the screen, we get the shadow of the flame.

Fig. 4.Fig. 4.

You observe the shadow of the candle and of the wick; then there is a darkish part, as represented in the diagram, and then a part which is more distinct. Curiously enough, however, what we see in the shadow as the darkest part of the flame is, in reality, the brightest part; and here you see streaming upwards the ascending current of hot air, as shewn by Hooker, which draws out the flame, supplies it with air, and cools the sides of the cup of melted fuel.

I can give you here a little further illustration, for the purpose of shewing you how flame goes up or down; according to the current. I have here a flame — it is not a candle flame — but you can, no doubt, by this time, generalise enough to be able to compare one thing with another. What I am about to do is to change the ascending current that takes the flame upwards into a descending current. This I can easily do by the little apparatus you see before me. The flame, as I have said, is not a candle flame, but it is produced by alcohol, so that it shall not smoke too much. I will also colour the flame with another substance, so that you may trace its course; for with the spirit alone you could hardly see well enough to have the opportunity of tracing its direction. By lighting this spirit-of-wine, we have then a flame produced; and you observe that when held in the air, it naturally goes upwards.

Fig. 5.Fig. 5.

You understand now easily enough why flames go up under ordinary circumstances — it is because of the draught of air by which the combustion is formed. But now, by blowing the flame down, you see I am enabled to make it go downwards into this little chimney — the direction of the current being changed. Before we have concluded this course of lectures, we shall shew you a lamp in which the flame goes up and the smoke goes down, or the flame goes down and the smoke goes up. You see, then, that we have the power in this way of varying the flame in different directions.

There are now some other points that I must bring before you. Many of the flames you see here vary very much in their shape by the currents of air blowing around them in different directions; but we can, if we like, make flames so that they will look like fixtures, and we can photograph them — indeed, we have to photograph them — so that they become fixed to us, if we wish to find out everything concerning them. That, however, is not the only thing I wish to mention. If I take a flame sufficiently large, it does not keep that homogeneous, that uniform condition of shape, but it breaks out with a power of life which is quite wonderful. I am about to use another kind of fuel, but one which is truly and fairly a representative of the wax or tallow of a candle. I have here a large ball of cotton, which will serve as a wick. And, now that I have immersed it in spirit and applied a light to it, in what way does it differ from an ordinary candle? Why, it differs very much in one respect, that we have a vivacity and power about it, a beauty and a life entirely different from the light presented by a candle. You see those fine tongues of flame rising up. You have the same general disposition of the mass of the flame from below upwards; but, in addition to that, you have this remarkable breaking out into tongues which you do not perceive in the case of a candle. Now, why is this? I must explain it to you, because when you understand that perfectly, you will be able to follow me better in what I have to say hereafter. I suppose some here will have made for themselves the experiment I am going to shew you. Am I right in supposing that anybody here has played at snapdragon? I do not know a more beautiful illustration of the philosophy of flame, as to a certain part of its history, than the game of snapdragon. First, here is the dish; and let me say, that when you play snapdragon properly, you ought to have the dish well-warmed; you ought also to have warm plums and warm brandy, which, however, I have not got. When you have put the spirit into the dish, you have the cup and the fuel; and are not the raisins acting like the wicks? I now throw the plums into the dish, and light the spirit, and you see those beautiful tongues of flame that I refer to. You have the air creeping in over the edge of the dish forming these tongues. Why? Because, through the force of the current and the irregularity of the action of the flame, it cannot flow in one uniform stream. The air flows in so irregularly that you have what would otherwise be a single image, broken up into a variety of forms, and each of these little tongues has an independent existence of its own. Indeed, I might say, you have here a multitude of independent candles. You must not imagine, because you see these tongues all at once, that the flame is of this particular shape. A flame of that shape is never so at any one time. Never is a body of flame, like that which you just saw rising from the ball, of the shape it appears to you. It consists of a multitude of different shapes, succeeding each other so fast that the eye is only able to take cognisance of them all at once. In former times, I purposely analysed a flame of that general character, and the diagram shews you the different parts of which it is composed. They do not occur all at once: it is only because we see these shapes in such rapid succession, that they seem to us to exist all at one time.

Fig. 6.Fig. 6.

It is too bad that we have not got further than my game of snapdragon; but we must not, under any circumstances, keep you beyond your time. It will be a lesson to me in future to hold you more strictly to the philosophy of the thing, than to take up your time so much with these illustrations.

Lecture II.
A Candle: Brightness of the Flame — Air Necessary for Combustion — Production of Water.

We were occupied the last time we met in considering the general character and arrangement as regards the fluid portion of a candle, and the way in which that fluid got into the place of combustion. You see, when we have a candle burning fairly in a regular, steady atmosphere, it will have a shape something like the one shewn in the diagram, and will look pretty uniform, although very curious in its character. And now, I have to ask your attention to the means by which we are enabled to ascertain what happens in any particular part of the flame — why it happens, what it does in happening, and where, after all, the whole candle goes to: because, as you know very well, a candle being brought before us and burned, disappears, if burned properly, without the least trace of dirt in the candlestick — and this is a very curious circumstance. In order, then, to examine this candle carefully, I have arranged certain apparatus, the use of which you will see as I go on. Here is a candle: I am about to put the end of this glass tube into the middle of the flame — into that part which old Hooker has represented in the diagram as being rather dark, and which you can see at any time, if you will look at a candle carefully, without blowing it about. We will examine this dark part first.

Fig. 7.Fig. 7.

Now, I take this bent glass tube, and introduce one end into that part of the flame, and you see at once that something is coming from the flame, out at the other end of the tube; and if I put a flask there, and leave it for a little while, you will see that something from the middle part of the flame is gradually drawn out, and goes through the tube and into that flask, and there behaves very differently from what it does in the open air. It not only escapes from the end of the tube, but falls down to the bottom of the flask like a heavy substance, as indeed it is. We find that this is the wax of the candle made into a vaporous fluid — not a gas. (You must learn the difference between a gas and a vapour: a gas remains permanent, a vapour is something that will condense.) If you blow out a candle, you perceive a very nasty smell, resulting from the condensation of this vapour. That is very different from what you have outside the flame; and, in order to make that more clear to you, I am about to produce and set fire to a larger portion of this vapour — for what we have in the small way in a candle, to understand thoroughly, we must, as philosophers, produce in a larger way, if needful, that we may examine the different parts. And now Mr. Anderson will give me a source of heat, and I am about to shew you what that vapour is. Here is some wax in a glass flask, and I am going to make it hot, as the inside of that candle-flame is hot, and the matter about the wick is hot. [The Lecturer placed some wax in a glass flask, and heated it over a lamp.] Now, I dare say that is hot enough for me. You see that the wax I put in it has become fluid, and there is a little smoke coming from it. We shall very soon have the vapour rising up. I will make it still hotter, and now we get more of it, so that I can actually pour the vapour out of the flask into that basin, and set it on fire there. This, then, is exactly the same kind of vapour as we have in the middle of the candle; and that you may be sure this is the case, let us try whether we have not got here, in this flask, a real combustible vapour out of the middle of the candle. [Taking the flask into which the tube from the candle proceeded, and introducing a lighted taper.] See how it burns. Now, this is the vapour from the middle of the candle, produced by its own heat; and that is one of the first things you have to consider with respect to the progress of the wax in the course of its combustion, and as regards the changes it undergoes. I will arrange another tube carefully in the flame, and I should not wonder if we were able, by a little care, to get that vapour to pass through the tube to the other extremity, where we will light it, and obtain absolutely the flame of the candle at a place distant from it. Now, look at that. Is not that a very pretty experiment? Talk about laying on gas — why, we can actually lay on a candle! And you see from this that there are clearly two different kinds of action — one the production of the vapour, and the other the combustion of it — both of which take place in particular parts of the candle.

Fig. 8.Fig. 8.

I shall get no vapour from that part which is already burnt. If I raise the tube (fig. 7) to the upper part of the flame, so soon as the vapour has been swept out, what comes away will be no longer combustible: It is already burned. How burned? Why, burned thus: — In the middle of the flame, where the wick is, there is this combustible vapour; on the outside of the flame is the air which we shall find necessary for the burning of the candle; between the two, intense chemical action takes place, whereby the air and the fuel act upon each other, and at the very same time that we obtain light the vapour inside is destroyed. If you examine where the heat of a candle is, you will find it very curiously arranged. Suppose I take this candle, and hold a piece of paper close upon the flame, where is the heat of that flame? Do you not see that it is not in the inside? It is in a ring, exactly in the place where I told you the chemical action was; and even in my irregular mode of making the experiment, if there is not too much disturbance, there will always be a ring. This is a good experiment for you to make at home. Take a strip of paper, have the air in the room quiet, and put the piece of paper right across the middle of the flame (I must not talk while I make the experiment), and you will find that it is burnt in two places, and that it is not burnt, or very little so, in the middle; and when you have tried the experiment once or twice, so as to make it nicely, you will be very interested to see where the heat is, and to find that it is where the air and the fuel come together.

This is most important for us as we proceed with our subject. Air is absolutely necessary for combustion; and, what is more, I must have you understand that fresh air is necessary, or else we should be imperfect in our reasoning and our experiments. Here is a jar of air. I place it over a candle, and it burns very nicely in it at first, shewing that what I have said about it is true; but there will soon be a change. See how the flame is drawing upwards, presently fading, and at last going out. And going out, why? Not because it wants air merely, for the jar is as full now as it was before; but it wants pure, fresh air. The jar is full of air, partly changed, partly not changed; but it does not contain sufficient of the fresh air which is necessary for the combustion of a candle. These are all points which we, as young chemists, have to gather up; and if we look a little more closely into this kind of action, we shall find certain steps of reasoning extremely interesting. For instance, here is the oil-lamp I shewed you — an excellent lamp for our experiments — the old Argand lamp. I now make it like a candle [obstructing the passage of air into the centre of the flame]; there is the cotton; there is the oil rising up it; and there is the conical flame. It burns poorly, because there is a partial restraint of air. I have allowed no air to get to it, save round the outside of the flame, and it does not burn well. I cannot admit more air from the outside, because the wick is large; but if, as Argand did so cleverly, I open a passage to the middle of the flame, and so let air come in there, you will see how much more beautifully it burns. If I shut the air off, look how it smokes; and why? We have now some very interesting points to study. We have the case of the combustion of a candle; we have the case of a candle being put out by the want of air; and we have now the case of imperfect combustion; and this is to us so interesting, that I want you to understand it as thoroughly as you do the case of a candle burning in its best possible manner. I will now make a great flame, because we need the largest possible illustrations. Here is a larger wick [burning turpentine on a ball of cotton]. All these things are the same as candles, after all. If we have larger wicks, we must have a larger supply of air, or we shall have less perfect combustion. Look now at this black substance going up into the atmosphere; there is a regular stream of it. I have provided means to carry off the imperfectly burned part, lest it should annoy you. Look at the soots that fly off from the flame: see what an imperfect combustion it is, because it cannot get enough air. What, then, is happening? Why, certain things which are necessary to the combustion of a candle are absent, and very bad results are accordingly produced; but we see what happens to a candle when it is burnt in a pure and proper state of air. At the time when I shewed you this charring by the ring of flame on the one side of the paper, I might have also shewn you, by turning to the other side, that the burning of a candle produces the same kind of soot — charcoal or carbon.

But, before I shew that, let me explain to you — as it is quite necessary for our purpose — that, though I take a candle and give you, as the general result, its combustion in the form of a flame, we must see whether combustion is always in this condition, or whether there are other conditions of flame; and we shall soon discover that there are, and that they are most important to us. I think, perhaps, the best illustration of such a point to us, as juveniles, is to shew the result of strong contrast. Here is a little gunpowder. You know that gunpowder burns with flame — we may fairly call it flame. It contains carbon and other materials, which altogether cause it to burn with a flame. And here is some pulverised iron, or iron filings. Now, I purpose burning these two things together. I have a little mortar in which I will mix them. (Before I go into these experiments, let me hope that none of you, by trying to repeat them, for fun's sake, will do any harm. These things may all be very properly used if you take care; but without that, much mischief will be done.) Well, then, here is a little gunpowder, which I put at the bottom of that little wooden vessel, and mix the iron filings up with it, my object being to make the gunpowder set fire to the filings and burn them in the air, and thereby shew the difference between substances burning with flame and not with flame. Here is the mixture; and when I set fire to it, you must watch the combustion, and you will see that it is of two kinds. You will see the gunpowder burning with a flame, and the filings thrown up. You will see them burning too, but without the production of flame. They will each burn separately. [The Lecturer then ignited the mixture.] There is the gunpowder, which burns with a flame; and there are the filings — they burn with a different kind of combustion. You see, then, these two great distinctions; and upon these differences depend all the utility and all the beauty of flame which we use for the purpose of giving out light. When we use oil, or gas, or candle, for the purpose of illumination, their fitness all depends upon these different kinds of combustion.

There are such curious conditions of flame, that it requires some cleverness and nicety of discrimination to distinguish the kinds of combustion one from another. For instance, here is a powder which is very combustible, consisting, as you see, of separate little particles. It is called lycopodium, and each of these particles can produce a vapour, and produce its own flame; but, to see them burning, you would imagine it was all one flame. I will now set fire to a quantity, and you will see the effect. We saw a cloud of flame, apparently in one body; but that rushing noise [referring to the sound produced by the burning] was a proof that the combustion was not a continuous or regular one. This is the lightning of the pantomimes, and a very good imitation. [The experiment was twice repeated by blowing lycopodium from a glass tube through a spirit-flame.] This is not an example of combustion like that of the filings I have been speaking of, to which we must now return.

Suppose I take a candle, and examine that part of it which appears brightest to our eyes. Why, there I get these black particles, which already you have seen many times evolved from the flame, and which I am now about to evolve in a different way. I will take this candle and clear away the gutterage, which occurs by reason of the currents of air; and if I now arrange a glass tube so as just to dip into this luminous part, as in our first experiment, only higher, you see the result. In place of having the same white vapour that you had before, you will now have a black vapour. There it goes, as black as ink. It is certainly very different from the white vapour; and when we put a light to it, we shall find that it does not burn, but that it puts the light out. Well, these particles, as I said before, are just the smoke of the candle; and this brings to mind that old employment which Dean Swift recommended to servants for their amusement, namely, writing on the ceiling of a room with a candle. But what is that black substance? Why, it is the same carbon which exists in the candle. How comes it out of the candle? It evidently existed in the candle, or else we should not have had it here. And now I want you to follow me in this explanation. You would hardly think that all those substances which fly about London, in the form of soots and blacks, are the very beauty and life of the flame, and which are burned in it as those iron filings were burned here. Here is a piece of wire gauze, which will not let the flame go through it; and I think you will see, almost immediately, that when I bring it low enough to touch that part of the flame which is otherwise so bright, that it quells and quenches it at once, and allows a volume of smoke to rise up.

I want you now to follow me in this point, — that whenever a substance burns, as the iron filings burnt in the flame of gunpowder, without assuming the vaporous state (whether it becomes liquid or remains solid), it becomes exceedingly luminous. I have here taken three or four examples apart from the candle, on purpose to illustrate this point to you; because what I have to say is applicable to all substances, whether they burn or whether they do not burn, — that they are exceedingly bright if they retain their solid state, and that it is to this presence of solid particles in the candle-flame that it owes its brilliancy.

Here is a platinum-wire, a body which does not change by heat. If I heat it in this flame, see how exceedingly luminous it becomes. I will make the flame dim, for the purpose of giving a little light only, and yet you will see that the heat which it can give to that platinum-wire, though far less than the heat it has itself, is able to raise the platinum-wire to a far higher state of effulgence. This flame has carbon in it; but I will take one that has no carbon in it. There is a material, a kind of fuel — a vapour, or gas, whichever you like to call it — in that vessel, and it has no solid particles in it; so I take that because it is an example of flame itself burning without any solid matter whatever; and if I now put this solid substance in it, you see what an intense heat it has, and how brightly it causes the solid body to glow. This is the pipe through which we convey this particular gas, which we call hydrogen, and which you shall know all about next time we meet. And here is a substance called oxygen, by means of which this hydrogen can burn; and although we produce, by their mixture, far greater heat than you can obtain from the candle, yet there is very little light. If, however, I take a solid substance, and put that into it, we produce an intense light If I take a piece of lime, a substance which will not burn, and which will not vaporise by the heat (and because it does not vaporise, remains solid, and remains heated), you will soon observe what happens as to its glowing. I have here a most intense heat, produced by the burning of hydrogen in contact with the oxygen; but there is as yet very little light — not for want of heat, but for want of particles which can retain their solid state; but when I hold this piece of lime in the flame of the hydrogen as it burns in the oxygen, see how it glows! This is the glorious lime-light, which rivals the voltaic-light, and which is almost equal to sunlight. I have here a piece of carbon or charcoal, which will burn and give us light exactly in the same manner as if it were burnt as part of a candle. The heat that is in the flame of a candle decomposes the vapour of the wax, and sets free the carbon particles — they rise up heated and glowing as this now glows, and then enter into the air. But the particles when burnt never pass off from a candle in the form of carbon. They go off into the air as a perfectly invisible substance, about which we shall know hereafter.

Is it not beautiful to think that such a process is going on, and that such a dirty thing as charcoal can become so incandescent? You see it comes to this — that all bright flames contain these solid particles; all things that burn and produce solid particles, either during the time they are burning, as in the candle, or immediately after being burnt, as in the case of the gunpowder and iron-filings, — all these things give us this glorious and beautiful light.

I will give you a few illustrations. Here is a piece of phosphorus, which burns with a bright flame. Very well; we may now conclude that phosphorus will produce, either at the moment that it is burning or afterwards, these solid particles. Here is the phosphorus lighted, and I cover it over with this glass for the purpose of keeping in what is produced. What is all that smoke? That smoke consists of those very particles which are produced by the combustion of the phosphorus. Here, again, are two substances. This is chlorate of potassa, and this other sulphuret of antimony. I shall mix these together a little, and then they may be burnt in many ways. I shall touch them with a drop of sulphuric acid, for the purpose of giving you an illustration of chemical action, and they will instantly burn. [The Lecturer then ignited the mixture by means of sulphuric acid.] Now, from the appearance of things, you can judge for yourselves whether they produce solid matter in burning. I have given you the train of reasoning which will enable you to say whether they do or do not; for what is this bright flame but the solid particles passing off?

Fig. 9.Fig. 9.

Mr. Anderson has in the furnace a very hot crucible, — I am about to throw into it some zinc filings, and they will burn with a flame like gunpowder. I make this experiment because you can make it well at home. Now, I want you to see what will be the result of the combustion of this zinc. Here it is burning — burning beautifully like a candle, I may say. But what is all that smoke, and what are those little clouds of wool which will come to you if you cannot come to them, and make themselves sensible to you in the form of the old philosophic wool, as it was called? We shall have left in that crucible, also, a quantity of this woolly matter. But I will take a piece of this same zinc and make an experiment a little more closely at home, as it were. You will have here the same thing happening. Here is the piece of zinc, there [pointing to a jet of hydrogen] is the furnace, and we will set to work and try and burn the metal. It glows, you see: there is the combustion, and there is the white substance into which it burns. And so, if I take that flame of hydrogen as the representative of a candle, and shew you a substance like zinc burning in the flame, you will see that it was merely during the action of combustion that this substance glowed — while it was kept hot; and if I take a flame of hydrogen, and put this white substance from the zinc into it, look how beautifully it glows, and just because it is a solid substance.

WholeReader. Empty coverWholeReader. Book is closedWholeReader. FilterWholeReader. Compilation cover