100 YEARS AGO
Mr. Hovenden has set himself the modest task of overthrowing, in the space of about 300 pages, all existing physical tenets, and substituting in their place a remarkable theory of his own. In this effort he has not succeeded, except, apparently, to his own complete satisfaction. In the first part of the book the author quotes freely from Maxwell and others, and endeavours to prove that their reasoning is fallacious. His arguments only show that he does not understand what he quotes, and that he has not appreciated the most elementary principles of the subject, such, for example, as the difference between mass and weight. Having, as he considers, sufficiently disposed of the views held by modern men of science, Mr. Hovenden proceeds to the elucidation of his own theory. It is impossible to regard this part of the book seriously, Mr. Hovenden's deductions from experiments being altogether too extravagantly absurd. It is interesting to note that his treatment of the subject is throughout entirely qualitative; we venture to think that in no single instance would Mr. Hovenden's explanations stand the test of quantitative examination.
From Nature 17 January 1901.
50 YEARS AGO
In a recent review of Prof. Soddy's book, “The Story of Atomic Energy” (London, 1949), Prof. Paneth directs attention to a part of the book in which “credit is given not to John Dalton but to William Higgins for being the first to proclaim the modern atomic theory, a statement supported by detailed references to two books of this 'almost forgotten investigator'”. Prof. Paneth adds that “Dalton's astonishing limitations as a scientific thinker — as revealed in his notes about the constitution of gases and his stubborn fight against Gay-Lussac's results which was the consequence — seem to justify the more modest position allotted to him here. In any event, writers of chemical text-books will now have to re-examine this question.” Prof. Soddy had “hoped that future historians of the atomic theory may give more attention to these two books of William Higgins. They certainly serve to establish the writer's view that, once Lavoisier's Theory of Combustion was accepted, the next natural step was the modern atomic theory, and that Higgins definitely took this step 15 years before Dalton.”
From Nature 20 January 1951.