Faraday to Lambert-Adolphe-Jacques Quetelet   25 February 1850

Royal Institution | 25 Feby 1850

My dear friend

I must write you a letter that I may say in it how great pleasure I have had in reading and studying the third part of your Essays on the climate of Belgium; i.e. your results in atmospheric electricity1. They are, I think, very admirable; and I admire the truly philosophic spirit in which you have been content to give them, without any addition of imagination or hypothesis. They are facts and ought not too hastily to be confounded with opinion; for the facts are for all time whilst opinion may change as a cloud in the air. I think, you know, that I cannot adopt Peltiers views of the relation of the Earth & space2; and I was encouraged, therefore, to hold more confidently to my own conclusions in that respect, when I saw how carefully you abstained from any phrase that might commit you to the expression of such an opinion. I took the liberty of giving our Members here an account of your results, and they appeared to be most highly interested in them3. In doing so I pointed out your philosophic caution, and expressed my opinion that such was the true method by which advances in science in this very difficult part could be really made.

I have just received from you a few leaves in which I find a letter to you from young M. Peltier4. It is quite natural that he should hold to his fathers views, but he must remove the fundamental objection before he can make any impression, at least on my mind. That objection is, that it is absolutely impossible to charge any body with one electricity independent of direct relationship with the other electricity. Or in other words that it is absolutely impossible that the earth as a whole, or any other single body, as a globe, should have negative electricity appearing on its surface or be driven into its interior merely by variation in the electric intensity of the whole surrounding space. If an insulated ball of metal or earth be suspended within a much larger sphere of metal, or wire gauze or any thing else (to represent the space action) which can be charged simultaneously in all parts, no amount of charge which can be given to the sphere representing space, can induce any charge on the ball; nor would the discharge of that space electricity induce any charge on the ball:- and further; that representative of space could not exert any inducing action inwards;- nor could it receive charge, unless it could induce equivalently to something external & outside of itself;- and even in so doing would shew no sign of action inwards.

I have carefully considered all the reasonings and views which Peltier has put forth that seem to bear upon or touch this point; but with the best judgment I could exercise have come to the conclusion that none of them do really touch it.

Ever My dear Sir | Your Very obliged & faithful | M. Faraday

A Monsieur | Monsieur Quetelet | &c &c &c

Address: Professor Quetelet | &c &c &c | Royal Observatory | Bruxelles

Quetelet (1849).
See also Faraday to Schoenbein, 18 February 1843, letter 1471, volume 3.
See Athenaeum,9 February 1850, pp.161-2 for an account of Faraday’s Friday Evening Discourse of 1 February 1850 “On the Electricity of the Air”.
This is in Quetelet (1850), 5-13. Ferdinand Athanase Peltier, who seems to have been a physician, wrote Peltier, F.A. (1847), an account of his father.


QUETELET, Lambert-Adolphe-Jacques (1849): Sur le Climat de la Belgique. Troisème Partie. De l’Electricité de l’air, Brussels.

QUETELET, Lambert-Adolphe-Jacques (1850): “Sur l’électricité atmosphérique”, Bull. Acad. Sci. Bruxelles, 17: 3-13.

Please cite as “Faraday2263,” in Ɛpsilon: The Michael Faraday Collection accessed on 22 September 2021, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/faraday/letters/Faraday2263