Report on Tait's Lecture on Force

James Clerk Maxwell 1831 (Edinburgh, Scotland) – 1879 (Cambridge, England)

Ye British Asses, who expect to hear
Ever some new thing,
I’ve nothing new to tell, but what, I fear,
May be a true thing.
For Taft comes with his plummet and his line,
Quick to detect your
Old bosh new dressed in what you call a fine
Popular lecture.

Whence comes that most peculiar smattering,
Heard in our section?
Pure nonsense, to a scientific swing
Drilled to perfection?
That small word "Force," they make a barber’s block,
Ready to put on
Meanings most strange and various, fit to shock
Pupils of Newton.

Ancient and foreign ignoranee they throw
Into the bargain;
The shade of Leitnitz mutters from below
Horrible jargon.
The phrases of last century in this
Linger to play tricks-—
Vis Viva and Vis Mortua and Vis
Acceleratrix:—

Those long-nabbed words that to our text books still
Cling by their titles,
And from them creep, as entozoa will,
Into our vitals.
But see! Tait writes in lucid symbols clear
One small equation;
And Force becomes of Energy a mere
Space-variation.

Force, then, is Force, but mark you! not a thing,
Only a Vector;
Thy barbèd arrows now have lost their sting,
Impotent speetre!
Thy reign, O Force! is over. Now no more
Heed we thine action;
Repulsion leaves us where we were before,
So does attraction.

Both Action and Reaction now are gone.
Just ere they vanished,
Stress joined their hands in peace, and made them one;
Then they were banished.
The Universe is free frown pole to pole,
Free front all forces.
Rejoice I ye stars—like blessed gods ye roll
On in your courses.

No more the arrows of the Wrangler race,
Piercing shall wound you.
Forces no more, those symbols of disgrace,
Dare to surround you:
But those whose statements baffle all attacks,
Safe by evasion,—
Whose definition, like a nose of wax,
Suit each occassion,-—

Whose unreflected rainbow far surpassed
All our inventions,
Whose very energy appears at last
Scant of dimensions:-—
Are these the gods in whom ye put your trust,
Lordlings and ladies?
The hidden potency of cosmic dust
Drives them to Hades.

While you, brave Tait! who know so well the way
Forces to scatter,
Calmly await the slow but sure decay,
Even of Matter.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics.  more…

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