Front Page Titles (by Subject) CCLXXV: TO THOMAS RONAYNE, AT CORK 1 - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. IV Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768
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CCLXXV: TO THOMAS RONAYNE, AT CORK 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. IV Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. IV (Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768).
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TO THOMAS RONAYNE, AT CORK1
London, 20 April, 1766.
I have received your very obliging and very ingenious letter by Captain Kearney. Your observations upon the electricity of fogs and the air in Ireland, and upon different circumstances of storms, appear to me very curious, and I thank you for them. There is not, in my opinion, any part of the earth whatever which is, or can be, naturally in a state of negative electricity; and, though different circumstances may occasion an inequality in the distribution of the fluid, the equilibrium is immediately restored by means of its extreme subtilty, and of the excellent conductors with which the humid earth is amply provided. I am of opinion, however, that when a cloud, well charged positively, passes near the earth, it repels and forces down into the earth that natural portion of electricity which exists near its surface and in buildings, trees, &c., so as actually to reduce them to a negative state before it strikes them. I am of opinion, too, that the negative state in which you have frequently found the balls which are suspended from your apparatus, is not always occasioned by clouds in a negative state; but more commonly by clouds positively electrified, which have passed over them, and which in their passage have repelled and driven off a part of the electrical matter which naturally existed in the apparatus; so that, what remained after the passing of the clouds diffusing itself uniformly through the apparatus, the whole became reduced to a negative state.
If you have read my experiments made in continuation of those of Mr. Canton, you will readily understand this; but you may easily make a few experiments, which will clearly demonstrate it. Let a common glass be warmed before the fire, that it may continue very dry for some time; set it upon a table, and place upon it the small box made use of by Mr. Canton, so that the balls may hang a little beyond the edge of the table. Rub another glass, which has previously been warmed in a similar manner, with a piece of black silk, or a silk handkerchief, in order to electrify it. Hold then the glass above the little box, at about the distance of three or four inches from that part which is most distant from the balls, and you will see the balls separate from each other; being positively electrified by the natural portion of electricity which was in the box, and which is driven to the farther part of it by the repulsive power of the atmosphere in the excited glass. Touch the box near the little balls (the excited glass continuing in the same state), and the balls will again unite; the quantity of electricity which had been driven to this part being drawn off by your finger. Withdraw then both your finger and the glass, at the same instant, and the quantity of electricity which had remained in the box, uniformly diffusing itself, the balls will again be separated, being now in a negative state. While things are in this situation, begin once more to excite your glass, and hold it above the box, but not too near, and you will find that, when it is brought within a certain distance, the balls will at first approach each other, being then in a natural state. In proportion as the glass is brought nearer, they will again separate, being positive. When the glass is moved beyond them, and at some little farther distance, they will unite again, being in a natural state. When it is entirely removed, they will separate again, being then negative. The excited glass in this experiment may represent a cloud positively charged, which you see is capable of producing in this manner all the different changes in the apparatus, without the least necessity for supposing any negative cloud.
I am nevertheless fully convinced, that there are negative clouds; because they sometimes absorb, through the medium of the apparatus, the positive electricity of a large jar, the hundreth part of which the apparatus itself would have not been able to receive or contain at once. In fact, it is not difficult to conceive that a large cloud, highly charged positively, may reduce smaller clouds to a negative state, when it passes above or near them, by forcing a part of their natural portion of the fluid either to their inferior surfaces, whence it may strike into the earth, or to the opposite side, whence it may strike into the adjacent clouds; so that, when the large cloud has passed off to a distance, the small clouds shall remain in a negative state, exactly like the apparatus; the former (like the latter) being frequently insulated bodies, having communication neither with the earth nor with other clouds. Upon the same principle it may easily be conceived in what manner a large negative cloud may render others positive.
The experiment which you mention, of filing your glass, is analogous to one which I made in 1751, or 1752. I had supposed in my preceding letters, that the pores of glass were smaller in the interior parts than near the surface, and that on this account they prevented the passage of the electrical fluid. To prove whether this was actually the case or not, I ground one of my phials in a part where it was extremely thin, grinding it considerably beyond the middle, and very near to the opposite superficies, as I found, upon breaking it after the experiment. It was charged nevertheless after being ground, equally well as before, which convinced me that my hypothesis on this subject was erroneous. It is difficult to conceive where the immense superfluous quantity of electricity on the charged side of a glass is deposited.
I send you my paper concerning Meteors, which was lately published here in the Philosophical Transactions, immediately after a paper by Mr. Hamilton on the same subject. I am, Sir, &c.,
[1 ]Translated from M. Dubourg’s French edition of the author’s work (Tome I., p. 265).—Sparks.