Item 1 - Letter from James Clerk Maxwell to Frederick Pollock

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Letter from James Clerk Maxwell to Frederick Pollock


  • 12 Apr. 1876 (Creation)

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1 folded sheet, 1 envelope

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Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.—Sends a contribution to the Clifford fund. Discusses Tait's criticisms of Mayer.

(With envelope.)

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Cavendish Laboratory
12 April 1876

Dear Pollock

I enclose £5 for the Clifford Fund. I hope that a slight displacement of his position on the earth’s surface may bring him into a milder air and one less stimulating than that at Gower Street, {1} so that as his oscillations between elliptic and hyperbolic space gradually subside he may find himself settling back again into that parabolic space wherein so many great and good men have been content to dwell, and may long enjoy the 3 treasures of the said great & good men as enumerated by S.T.C. {2}

The gospel according to Peter G. T. {3} although somewhat entêté {4} in the places where old controversies are fought over again is much sounder than it sounds when read aloud. The habit of lecturing generates a peculiar jargon which, when taken down by a reporter, looks strange. Tail† has always been proving that Mayer used inconclusive reasoning when he made an estimate of the dynamical equivalent of heat, whereas Joule was on firm ground all along.

Hence Mayer should not have many marks for this piece of his work. But Mayer sent up ingenious answers to a great many questions propounded by nature, many wrong some right, but all clever. The strict examiner gives him but small credit for these but the historian of science must take account of the amount of good work by others which followed on the publication of Mayers† papers.

Now one man thinks most of the credit to be assigned to each individual as his property while another thinks most of the advance of science which is often associated by the noise even of fools, which directs wiser men to good diggings.

Yours truly
J Clerk Maxwell

[Direction on envelope:] F Pollock Esqre | 12 Bryanston Street | London W.


The envelope was postmarked at Cambridge on 12 April, and has been marked in pencil ‘Clerk Maxwell’.

{1} Comma supplied, in place of a full stop.

{2} Coleridge’s poem ‘Reproof’ contains the following lines:

Hath he not always treasures, always friends,
The great good man?—three treasures, love, and light,
And calm thoughts, regular as infant’s breath

{3} Peter Guthrie Tait.

{4} i.e. obstinate.

† Sic.

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