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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Tyndall (1820–1893)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JOHN TYNDALL was one of the many Irishmen who have contributed substantially to English thought. He was born at Leighlin Bridge, near Carlow, Ireland, on August 21st, 1820. His early education was got at home, and at the school in his native town; his grounding in English and mathematics being especially sound. In 1839 he became civil assistant to a division of the ordnance survey, and from 1844 to 1847 was a railway engineer at Manchester. He then became a teacher of physics at Queenwood College, Hampshire; and in 1848, desirous of further scientific study and culture, he went to Germany and heard the Marburg lectures of Bunsen and Knoblauch, working in the laboratory and making original investigations in magnetism. He secured his doctorate in 1857; and after more study in Berlin returned to England, where the publication of his scientific discoveries brought him a fellowship in the Royal Society. In 1853 he was, on the proposal of Faraday, elected to the chair of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution, with which he remained connected for more than thirty years, becoming its superintendent in 1867 and not retiring until 1887.  1
  Professor Tyndall’s long career, from its inception as a teacher and investigator, was one of fruitful discovery in the realm of physics and of brilliant exposition of scientific tenets. He began as a young man the study of radiant heat; and the problems of electricity, magnetism, and acoustics also engaged his attention, valuable books upon these subjects resulting. Such volumes as ‘Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion’ (1863), ‘On Radiation’ (1865), and ‘Dust and Disease,’ are among the more familiar. The scientific phenomena of glaciers interested him for many years, and from 1856 to his death he visited the Alps every season,—the initial journey was in company with Huxley,—and made studies, the deductions from which were embodied in a series of books very enjoyable in point of literary value. ‘Mountaineering in 1861’ (1862), and ‘Hours of Exercise in the Alps’ (1871), are typical of this class. The publications of Tyndall also include a large number of more technical treatises, adding substantially to his reputation as a physicist, and to the advancement of modern science in the field of his election. In 1872 he made a successful lecture tour in the United States; and devoted the proceeds to the establishment of scholarships for the benefit of students doing original research in sciences. Degrees were conferred upon him by the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Oxford, the latter in spite of a protest that he taught materialism.  2
  Tyndall was a man of marked force of character, unswerving in his loyalty to truth as he saw it, and gifted in the synthetic presentation of principles with lucidity, vigor, and eloquence. His literary quality is of the high order also to be found in the English Huxley or the German Haeckel. His Belfast Address in 1874, as president of the British Association,—which made a sensation as a bold, clear, uncompromising statement of the position of the present-day scientists,—is a masterly survey and summary of scientific progress, and very noble in its spirit and expression. The fine closing portion is one extract chosen to show Tyndall as a writer. A careful reading of the whole address is sufficient to relieve the speaker from the charge of being a materialist in any strict sense, for he distinctly disclaims that creed; confessing the mystery of the source of all life to be insoluble for the man of science, and giving full credit to the intuitional and creative faculties as authoritative within their province. The fairness of mind and breadth of vision, together with the literary merit, displayed in this address, make it one of the most remarkable deliverances upon science by a scholar of the time.  3
  Professor Tyndall died at Haslemere, Surrey, England, on December 4th, 1893, from an overdose of chloral accidentally administered by his wife.  4
 
 
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