The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).

Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

**VIII. The Literature of Science**

# § 13. Sir George Stokes

(Sir) George Gabriel Stokes spent his life at Cambridge, where he held the Lucasian chair for over half a century. Through his long tenure of the secretaryship of the Royal society, he acted as the friend and guide of innumerable young authors, for, by virtue of his office, he saw the manuscripts of all papers on mathematics and physics, and freely placed at the disposal of the writers his unrivalled knowledge of physics and mathematics: thus, a considerable proportion of his work appears under the names of other writers. He began his scientific career under the influence of Green’s writings. It is difficult to describe his researches in general terms. The most important of them are concerned with optics, hydrodynamics and geodesy. In optics, he was mainly responsible for the explanation of fluorescence, and only just missed being the first to propound the true explanation of Fraunhofer’s lines; he subjected diffraction to mathematical analysis; in hydrodynamics, we owe to him the modern theory of viscous fluids, and he wrote on the properties and constitution of the ether. His work in pure mathematics, expecially on the convergence of series, was also of importance. Stokes was an excellent man of affairs—he sat for a time in the house of commons—but his gift of silence prevented his exercising among strangers the full influence which his abilities deserved. He was the intimate friend of Kelvin and Maxwell, and to his deliberate judgment on scientific matters Kelvin always yielded.