This past Friday and Saturday, I spent my time on campus getting started with transcribing letters. Tyndall’s writing is horrid (but what Victorian’s wasn’t?). There is a noticeable difference, however, between the writing in the letters written in the mountains (Alps) and those written in a city (Paris, London, etc.). Either he has better handwriting while penning his thoughts in a more suitable environment (in a city) than he does atop a mountain summit, or, as my advisor suggested, Tyndall had a transcriber for some of his letters. The first day I had much trouble making out certain words (I took WAY too long to decipher “Switzerland,” see image), but even by the second day I began recognizing certain ways that Tyndall wrote words or particular letters. Common in Victorian handwriting is the double S, and I have seen this throughout so far. Like the other graduate student who is working on this project at MSU, I started a “guide” to Tyndall particulars – how he writes his uppercase Ts, remember that he often connects multiple words, etc. (some “Tyndallisms” were given in the transcription directions). I will meet with Robin (said other student) this coming week to compare our blanks. After I am done with letters, I give them to my advisor for another check before being sent back to the powers that be.
While searching online for Tyndall information, I came across an archive for a radio program called Engines of our Ingenuity, which “tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity.” The program has featured John Tyndall several times: No. 192: Tyndall and Sound, No. 531: Tyndall and unruly Nature, No. 624: Tyndall, Science, and Religion, No. 642: Tyndall and Germs, No. 857: Tyndall on Parallel Roads, and No. 1067: Science, Religion, and John Tyndall, No. 1959: Tyndall, Mayer & Forebearance (each program is but a few minutes in length).
In his chapter on “Radiation” (1865) in Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses, and Reviews, Tyndall described a diagram drawn by a Professor Müller, which showed the distribution of heat in the spectrum of electric light, as follows:
In the region of the dark rays, beyond the red, the curve shoots up to B, in a steep and massive peak – a kind of Matterhorn of heat, which dwarfs the portion of the diagram CDE, representing the luminous radiation. Indeed the idea forced upon the mind by this diagram is that the light rays are a mere insignificant appendage to the heat-rays represented by the area ABCD, thrown in as it were by nature for the purpose of vision.(1)
Tyndall further refers to the “summit of the peak representing the sun’s invisible radiation” and the “mountain of invisible heat.” As I have mentioned before, the Tyndall letters I will be transcribing concern his time mountaineering in the Alps in the mid-nineteenth century. So I enjoyed seeing his use of “Matterhorn,” “peak,” “mountain,” and “summit” when describing the diagram, a reflection of his two passions: physics and mountaineering.
I have my first disc of letters to transcribe, but I will begin working on those next week. In the meantime, more reading for background on Tyndall.
(1) Tyndall, John. Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses, and Reviews. Vol. 1. New York: Appleton and Company, 1897, p. 44.
Three times back in June 2008 Adrian Thysse shared quotes from John Tyndall on his blogs:
Natural Reckonings: Tyndall Speaks: On Religion and Science
Natural Reckonings: Sunday Sermon: Tyndall on Teleology
Mystery of Mysteries: Tyndall Speaks of Darwin and Agassiz
Tomorrow I start working on the John Tyndall Correspondence Project, as well as my first class as a graduate student. For the first couple of weeks all I will be doing is reading up on Tyndall to gain some background on his life and work, then I will begin working with my advisor on learning how to transcribe letters.