[Footnote 22: That is to say, he reflected the beam of polarized light by a mirror placed at that angle. See Turpain, Lecons elementaires de Physique, t. ii. p. 311, for details of the experiment.—ED.]
M.H. Poincare has pointed out, however, that we know nothing as to the mechanism of the photographic impression. We cannot consider it evident that it is the kinetic energy of the ether which produces the decomposition of the sensitive salt; and if, on the contrary, we suppose it to be due to the potential energy, all the conclusions are reversed, and Neumann’s idea triumphs.
Recently a very clever physicist, M. Cotton, especially known for his skilful researches in the domain of optics, has taken up anew the study of stationary waves. He has made very precise quantitative experiments, and has demonstrated, in his turn, that it is impossible, even with spherical waves, to succeed in determining on which of the two vectors which have to be regarded in all theories of light on the subject of polarization phenomena the luminous intensity and the chemical action really depend. This question, therefore, no longer exists for those physicists who admit that luminous vibrations are electrical oscillations. Whatever, then, the hypothesis formed, whether it be electric force or, on the contrary, magnetic force which we place in the plane of polarization, the mode of propagation foreseen will always be in accord with the facts observed.
The idea of attributing the phenomena of electricity to perturbations produced in the medium which transmits the light is already of old standing; and the physicists who witnessed the triumph of Fresnel’s theories could not fail to conceive that this fluid, which fills the whole of space and penetrates into all bodies, might also play a preponderant part in electrical actions. Some even formed too hasty hypotheses on this point; for the hour had not arrived when it was possible to place them on a sufficiently sound basis, and the known facts were not numerous enough to give the necessary precision.
The founders of modern electricity also thought it wiser to adopt, with regard to this science, the attitude taken by Newton in connection with gravitation: “In the first place to observe facts, to vary the circumstances of these as much as possible, to accompany this first work by precise measurements in order to deduce from them general laws founded solely on experiment, and to deduce from these laws, independently of all hypotheses on the nature of the forces producing the phenomena, the mathematical value of these forces—that is to say, the formula representing them. Such was the system pursued by Newton. It has, in general, been adopted in France by the scholars to whom physics owe the great progress made of late years, and it has served as my guide in all my researches on electrodynamic phenomena.... It is for this reason that I have avoided speaking of the ideas I may have on the nature of the cause of the force emanating from voltaic conductors.”