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than one-half of F, the particles of light will still be in their disposition to be transmitted, and consequently the light will be all transmitted, and none reflected at the curve surface at E. When the plate becomes thicker towards a, so that its thickness exceeds half of F, the light will not reach the surface CE till it has come under its fit of reflection, and consequently at a the light will be all reflected, and none transmitted. As the thickness increases towards m, the light will have come under its fit of transmission, and so on, the light being reflected at a, l, and transmitted at E, m. This will perhaps be still more easily understood from fig. 9, where we

Fig. 9.


may suppose AEC to be a thin wedge of glass or any other transparent body. When light is incident on the first surface AE, all the particles of it that are in a fit of easy reflection will be reflected, and all those in a fit of easy transmission will be transmitted. As the fits of transmission all commence at AE, let the first fit of transmission end when the particles of light have reached ab, and the second when they have reached ef; and let the fits of reflection commence at cd and gh. Then, as the fit of transmission continues from AE to ab, all the light that falls upon the portion mЕ of the second surface will be transmitted and none reflected, so that to an eye above E the space mE will appear black. As the fit of reflection commences at ab, and

continues to cd, all the light which falls upon the portion nm will be reflected, and none transmitted; and so on, the light being transmitted at mE and pn, and reflected at nm and qp. Hence to an eye above E the wedge-shaped film of which AEC is a section will be covered with parallel bands or fringes of light separated by dark fringes of the same breadth, and they will be all parallel to the thin edge of the plate, a dark fringe corresponding to the thinnest edge. To an eye placed below CE, similar fringes will be seen, but the one corresponding to the thinnest edge mE will be luminous.

If the thickness of the plate does not vary according to a regular law as in fig. 9, but if, like a film of blown glass, it has numerous inequalities, then the alternate fringes of light and darkness will vary with the thickness of the film, and throughout the whole length of each fringe the thickness of the film will be the same.

We have supposed in the preceding illustration that the light employed is homogeneous. If it is white, then the differently coloured fringes will form by their superposition a system of fringes analogous to those seen between two object-glasses, as already explained.

The same periodical colours which we have now described as exhibited by thin plates were discovered by Newton in thick plates, and he has explained them by means of the theory of fits; but it would lead us beyond the limits of a popular work like this to enter into any details of his observations, or to give an account of the numerous and important additions which this branch of optics has received from the discoveries of succeeding authors.


Newton's Theory of the Colours of Natural Bodies explained-Objec

tions to it stated - New Classification of Colours-Outline of a New Theory proposed.

If the objects of the material world had been illuminated with white light, all the particles of which possessed the same degree of refrangibility, and were equally acted upon by the bodies on which they fall, all nature would have shone with a leaden hue, and all the combinations of external objects, and all the features of the human countenance, would have exhibited no other variety but that which they possess in a pencil sketch or a China-ink drawing. The rainbow itself would have dwindled into a narrow arch of white light,—the stars would have shone through a gray sky,—and the mantle of a wintry twilight would have replaced the golden vesture of the rising and the setting sun. But He who has exhibited such matchless skill in the organization of material bodies, and such exquisite taste in the forms upon which they are modelled, has superadded that ethereal beauty which enhances their more permanent qualities, and presents them to us in the ever-varying colours of the spectrum. Without this the foliage of vegetable life might have filled the eye and fostered the fruit which it veils,—but the youthful green of its spring would have been blended with the dying yellow of its autumn. Without this the diamond might have displayed to science the beauty of its forms, and yielded to the arts its adamantine virtues ;-but it would have ceased to shine in the chaplet of beauty, and to sparkle in the diadem of princes. Without this the human countenance might have expressed all the sympathies of the heart, but the “ purple light of love” would not have risen on the cheek, nor the hectic flush been the herald of its decay.

The gay colouring with which the Almighty has decked the pale marble of nature is not the result of any quality inherent in the coloured body, or in the particles by which it may be tinged, but is merely a property of the light in which they happen to be placed. Newton was the first person who placed this great truth in the clearest evidence. He found that all bodies, whatever were their peculiar colours, exhibited these colours only in white light. When they were illuminated by homogeneous red light they appeared red, by homogeneous yellow light, yellow, and so on, “ their colours being most brisk and vivid under the influence of their own daylight colours." The leaf of a plant, for example, appeared green in the white light of day, because it had the property of reflecting that light in greater abundance than any other. When it was placed in homogeneous red light, it could no longer appear green, because there was no green light to reflect ; but it reflected a portion of red light, because there was some red in the compound green which it had the property of reflecting. Had the leaf originally reflected a pure homogeneous green, unmixed with red, and reflected no white light from its outer surface, it would have appeared quite black in pure homogeneous red light, as this light does not contain a single ray which the leaf was capable of reflecting. Hence the colours of material bodies are owing to the property which they possess of stopping certain rays of white light, while they reflect or transmit to the eye the rest of the rays of which white light is composed.

So far the Newtonian doctrine of colours is capable of rigid demonstration; but its author was not content with carrying it thus far: he sought to determine the manner in which particular rays are stopped, while others are reflected or transmitted ; and the result of this profound inquiry was his theory of the colours of natural bodies, which was communicated to the Royal Society on the 10th February, 1675. This theory is perhaps the loftiest of all his speculations; and though, as a physical generalization, it stands on a perishable basis, and must soon be swept away in the progress of science, it yet bears the deepest impress of the grasp of his powerful intellect.

The principles upon which this theory is founded are the following :

1. Bodies that have the greatest refractive powers reflect the greatest quantity of light; and at the confines of equally refracting media there is no reflection.

2. The least particles of almost all natural bodies are in some measure transparent.

3. Between the particles of bodies are many pores or spaces, either empty or filled with media of less density than the particles.

4. The particles of bodies and their pores, or the spaces between the particles, have some definite size.

Upon these principles Newton explains the origin of transparency, opacity, and colour.

Transparency he considers as arising from the particles and their intervals or pores being too small to cause reflection at their common surfaces,* so that all the light which enters transparent bodies passes through them without any portion of it being turned from its path by reflection. If we could obtain, for example, a film of mica whose thickness does not exceed two-thirds of the millionth part of an inch, all the light which fell upon it would pass through it, and none would be reflected. If this film was then

* Optics, Book ii. Prop. iv.

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