Bose, Georg Matthias

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Bose, Georg Matthias

(b. Leipzig, Germany, 22 September 1710; d. Magdeburg, Germany, 17 September 1761)


Bose, a merchant’s son, was educated at the University of Leipzig, where he concentrated on philosophy, mathematics, and languages. In 1727 he received the M.A. and joined the philosophy faculty as a junior lecturer (Assessor) in mathematics and physics. In 1738 he accepted the chair of natural philosophy (Naturlehre) at the University of Wittenberg, where he remained until 1760, when the Prussians carried him off to Magdeburg as a hostage of war.

Although at Leipzig Bose had written only on eclipses, sound, and the errors of physicians, he had begun to study electricity, inspired by the weak papers of J. J. Schilling in the Miscellanea Berolinensa. Through ignorance of Du Fay’s work, however, he had not progressed far by 1738, as is apparent from his inaugural oration, which is interesting chiefly for its attack on action-at-a-distance. Probably at Wittenberg, and independently of C. A. Hausen of Leipzig, he revived Hauksbee’s electrical machine, and added a “prime conductor” that greatly enhanced its power.

From 1742 to 1745, after close reading of Du Fay, Bose vigorously and successfully promoted the study of electricity in Germany, where it had never before been cultivated extensively. To this purpose he produced wonderful displays with his electrical machine, a German poem, a French tract, and several high-flown Latin commentarius. This mixture of literary polish and striking demonstration, this “writing sublimely of wonderful things,” as a contemporary electrician put it, was Bose’s great contribution, for he thereby indirectly brought about the central event in the early history of electricity, the discovery of the condenser (1745–1746). Musschenbroek began the experiments that culminated in the Leyden jar by repeating an impressive Bosean demonstration; and J. G. von Kleist very likely hit on his form of the condenser while attempting to ignite spirits by means of sparks, a recently successful experiment first urged by Bose. In theory Bose followed the Nollet system, much of which he invented independently.

Bose promoted himself as assiduously as he did electricity, urging his work on the royal societies of France and England, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, and the Pope of Rome. His fulsome praises of Benedict XIV annoyed the Wittenberg theologians, whose rancor culminated, in 1750, in an attempt to expurgate a little tract of Bose’s on eclipses (astronomy was his other scientific subject), raising a storm that ultimately involved Frederick the Great and the Royal Society of London.


I. Original Works. Bose’s chief works on electricity are Tentamina electrica in academiis regiis Londensi et Parisina primum habita omni studio repetita quae novis aliquot accessionibus locupletavit Georg Matthias Bose (Wittenberg, 1744), a reprint of his inaugural oration and two other pamphlets, and Recherches sur la cause et sur la véritable téorie de l’électricité (Wittenberg, 1745), which contains his Nolletesque theory. Poggendorff, and Jöcher, Algemeines gelehrten Lexikon, I (Leipzig, 1784), cols. 2098–2099, give bibliographies of Bose’s printed works; his manuscripts apparently were lost in the Thirty Years’ War.

II. Secondary Literature. For a biography of Bose, see Bose’s Tentamina, especially pp. 48–53; Jöcher, loc, cit; and A. Mercati, “II fisico tedesco Giorgio Mattia Bose e Benedetto XIV,” in Acta pontificiae academiae scientiarum, 15 (1952), 57–70. For Bose’s works on electricity, see J. L. Heilbron, “G. M. Bose: The prime Mover in the Invention of the Leyden Jar?, in Isis, 57 (1966), 264–267; and Joseph priestley, The History and Present State of Electricity, 3rd ed. (London, 1775), I, 87–88, 93–94.

John L. Heilbron

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Bose, Georg Matthias

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