Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1765–1787
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 1765–1787
Franklin’s Discovery of the Positive and Negative States of Electricity
By Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
[From the Letter to Peter Collinson, July 11, 1747.]

WE suppose, as aforesaid, that electrical fire is a common element, of which every one of the three persons above mentioned has his equal share before any operation is begun with the tube. A, who stands on wax and rubs the tube, collects the electrical fire from himself into the glass; and, his communication with the common stock being cut off by the wax, his body is not again immediately supplied. B, (who stands on wax likewise) passing his knuckle along near the tube, receives the fire which was collected by the glass from A; and his communication with the common stock being likewise cut off, he retains the additional quantity received. To C, standing on the floor, both appear to be electrized; for he, having only the middle quantity of electrical fire, receives a spark upon approaching B, who has an over quantity; but gives one to A, who has an under quantity. If A and B approach to touch each other, the spark is stronger, because the difference between them is greater. After such touch there is no spark between either of them and C, because the electrical fire in all is reduced to the original equality. If they touch while electrizing, the equality is never destroyed, the fire only circulating. Hence have arisen some new terms among us; we say B (and bodies like circumstanced) is electrized positively; A, negatively. Or rather, B is electrized plus; A, minus. And we daily in our experiments electrize bodies plus or minus, as we think proper. To electrize plus or minus, no more needs to be known than this, that the parts of the tube or sphere that are rubbed, do, in the instant of the friction, attract the electrical fire, and therefore take it from the thing rubbing; the same parts immediately, as the friction upon them ceases, are disposed to give the fire they have received to any body that has less.

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