"The Chemical History of a Candle: Lecture One" Faraday, Michael (1827)

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"The Chemical History of a Candle: Lecture One"
Michael Faraday (1827)


SITE SUMMARY: This lecture, one of six referred to as the famous Christmas Lectures, was presented by Faraday to children at the Royal Institute of Great Britain during the 1827 Christmas season. It is provided online at the Modern History Source Book Web site with the five other "Chemical History of a Candle" lectures; all published as a group in 1860. These lectures have been referred to as "a classic of clear and fascinating scientific exposition." The reproduction of Lecture One, featured here, has nineteen paragraphs and six footnotes, and is accompanied, with the other lectures, by an Introductory Note on the work and life of Faraday, who lived from 1791 until 1867, was chemical assistant, then superintendent, at the Royal Institute; and professor of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy. He was also the scientific adviser to Trinity House, which was responsible for safe navigation around the shores of England and Wales especially by making sure that the lights in lighthouses stayed lit. While on this job he also took the initiative to make the lighthouse lights more efficient, which caused him to show how "scientific expertise can be used for practical purposes." Today he is considered to be, as he was during his lifetime, an "outstanding science lecturer of his time" who was gifted at explaining scientific concepts to popular audiences.


  1. See paragraph three. What, according to Faraday, does a natural candle do? Give an example of a natural candle. See paragraphs four through six, plus notes. Describe "candles … in commerce," tell what were they commonly called, then identify four types of manufactured candles, and reveal how wax candles were made.
  2. See paragraphs eight through ten. What are three wonderful things about a burning candle? How does something natural "help" or "tease"? Explain each answer.
  3. See paragraphs twelve and thirteen, plus footnotes no. 4 and no. 5. Explain "capillary attraction." Give examples. What do candles have to do with it?
  4. See paragraph fourteen. What happens to a candle if it is turned upside down? Why?
  5. See paragraph fifteen. What is another "condition" that should be learned about a candle? Why? What is a "pretty experiment" demonstrating it? What else is true about this experiment?
  6. See paragraph sixteen. What are a candle flame's features? What are three things that cause them? Which two things don't rival a flame's brilliance? Why not? Why does a flame vary? (Hint: Hooker.) What happens when a candle is placed in sunlight or in bright electric lamp light, and what is curious about what happens?
  7. See paragraph one. Complete Faraday's statement: "There is …, than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle." Why did he say this? Answer with quotes by Faraday.
  8. See paragraph seven. What are luxuries in candles? What is nice about them, and what is not OK about them?
  9. See paragraph ten. What did Faraday hope his young audience would see, what did he say "we come here to be …," and what did he hope they would remember?
  10. See paragraph nineteen. What did Faraday say about "the philosophy of the thing" and illustrations? Do you agree, or disagree, and why? Identify Faraday's concluding thought with reference to a candle and his young audience at the end of Lecture Six in the online Modern History Source Book's Faraday page, or at bottom of his On the Art of the Lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in Chemistry site featuring A Project on Faraday's 1827 Christmas Lectures. (See the Related Internet Sites section below for the Wilson Program's url.) Apply to something you know around you, or in today's world, and science-related, each of Faraday's thoughts, which you stated to answer these questions.


Faraday at the Royal Institute of Great Britain Online


This page features details on Faraday's life and work. The Lecture page (found via a link) includes brief data about the annual science-related lectures for young people inspired by Faraday's lectures for young audiences, and annual discourses he also inspired. It includes, via a link, a list of Christmas Lectures from 1825, in PDF format. It also briefly describes other programs, including some especially for young scientists.

Michael Faraday Awards at the Royal Society Online

http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk (choose awards from pull-down menu)

Click search link, do search for Faraday, then see links to pages with information about Faraday awards which were set up and are still given in honor of the scientist, winners of the awards, and some lectures by award winners.

Faraday Project


This site includes quotes from an 1870 biography about Faraday, plus links to data on his contributions to chemistry and physics. There is also a links page leading to sites with biographies featuring his perspectives on technology, chemistry and physics, and aspects of science arising from his work, e.g., the Faraday Effect.

The 1827 Christmas Lectures of Michael Faraday—A Project


This site (part of a project of the 1992 Summer Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in Chemistry), features links to Faraday's lecture On the Art of the Lecture, his lecture notes, and an introduction by Purdue University's Rita Biederstedt and Derek Davenport to a transcription of his notes for the lectures. This introduction features excerpts of letters by author-lecturer Charles Dickens urging Faraday to publish his scientific lectures for young audiences.

Life of Michael Faraday


Click Faraday's portrait, then see a page on Faraday at a Glance. Note also the links to Faraday's life, works, and contribution, plus quotations, and a chronology.

Faraday Christmas Lectures

http://www.xrefer.com (do subject search)

See two links. Click the link that leads to data on Faraday and the lectures. Click also the link leading to information on the lectures being continued today.

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"The Chemical History of a Candle: Lecture One" Faraday, Michael (1827)

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"The Chemical History of a Candle: Lecture One" Faraday, Michael (1827)