chapter  IV
58 Pages

WILLIAM THOMSON, 1824-1907

WILLIAM THOMSON was one of the great British personalities of the nineteenth century. His greatness is certain, but like Mr. Glad-stone's, its exact nature is not obvious to the twentieth century. As with Davy his purely scientific achievements were extraordinary, but not commensurate with his prodigious reputation. His contemporary fame was due to several factors, of which his work in pure science was one only. His contributions to the theory of electricity, to the theory of energy, to electrical engineering, to geophysics, to the mathematics of physics, to meteorology, to navigation were very important, but in no case commanding. In those instances where he produced germinal ideas he did not develop them and he did not endow those branches of science, to which he contributed large bodies of research, with the intellectual attitudes that have proved to be the most fruitful. \Vorld opinion to-day almost unanimously considers Maxwell's contribution to science to be superior to Thomson's. Why is the judgment of the twentieth century different from that of the nineteenth?