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

§ 25. Faraday

To Michael Faraday, we owe the fundamental terms of electrochemistry. The separation of a salt into two parts by the electric current, he called electrolysis; the surfaces from which the current passes into, and out of, an electrolysable compound, he named electrodes; the substances liberated at the electrodes, he called ions. Faraday measured “the chemical power of a current” by the quantities of the ions set free during a determinate period of electrolysis. Taking as his unit the quantity of electricity which liberates one gram of hydrogen from an electrolysable compound of that element, he showed that the weights of different ions liberated from compounds by unit quantity of electricity are in the proportion of their chemical equivalents. Using the language of the atomic theory, Faraday declared that “the atoms of bodies which are equivalent to each other in their ordinary chemical action have equal quantities of electricity mutually associated with them.”

In 1834, Faraday said—“The forces called electricity and chemical affinity are one and the same.” Faraday distinguished the intensity of electricity from the quantity of it, and indicated the meaning of each of these factors. One would not greatly exaggerate if one said that the notable advances made in the last quarter of a century in the elucidation of chemical affinity are but developments and applications of Faraday’s pregnant work on the two factors of electrical energy.

The results established by Faraday have led to the conception of atoms of electricity, a conception which has been of great service in advancing the study of radioactivity. Faraday’s results have also been the incentives and guides in researches which go to the root of many problems of the physical sciences, and of not a few of the biological sciences also.

At the time of the foundation of the Royal Society, chemistry was a conglomeration of more or less useful recipes, and a dream of the elixir. To-day, chemistry is becoming an almost universal science. Happily, chemists still dream.