This experiment affords a very strong confirmation of the theory. It is impossible to deduce any explanation of it from any hypothesis hitherto advanced; and I believe it would be difficult to invent any other that would account for it. There is a striking analogy between this separation of colors and the production of a musical note by successive echoes from equidistant iron palisades, which I have found to correspond pretty accurately with the known velocity of sound and the distances of the surfaces.

"It is not improbable that the colors of the integuments of some insects, and of some other natural bodies, exhibiting in different lights the most beautiful versatility, may be found to be of this description, and not to be derived from thin plates. In some cases a single scratch or furrow may produce similar effects, by the reflection of its opposite edges."[3]

This doctrine of interference of undulations was the absolutely novel part of Young's theory. The all- compassing genius of Robert Hooke had, indeed, very nearly apprehended it more than a century before, as Young himself points out, but no one else bad so much as vaguely conceived it; and even with the sagacious Hooke it was only a happy guess, never distinctly outlined in his own mind, and utterly ignored by all others. Young did not know of Hooke's guess until he himself had fully formulated the theory, but he hastened then to give his predecessor all the credit that could possibly be adjudged his due by the most disinterested observer. To Hooke's contemporary, Huygens, who was the originator of the general doctrine of undulation as the explanation of light, Young renders full justice also. For himself he claims only the merit of having demonstrated the theory which these and a few others of his predecessors had advocated without full proof.

The following year Dr. Young detailed before the Royal Society other experiments, which threw additional light on the doctrine of interference; and in 1803 he cited still others, which, he affirmed, brought the doctrine to complete demonstration. In applying this demonstration to the general theory of light, he made the striking suggestion that "the luminiferous ether pervades the substance of all material bodies with little or no resistance, as freely, perhaps, as the wind passes through a grove of trees." He asserted his belief also that the chemical rays which Ritter had discovered beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum are but still more rapid undulations of the same character as those which produce light. In his earlier lecture he had affirmed a like affinity between the light rays and the rays of radiant heat which Herschel detected below the red end of the spectrum, suggesting that "light differs from heat only in the frequency of its undulations or vibrations—those undulations which are within certain limits with respect to frequency affecting the optic nerve and constituting light, and those which are slower and probably stronger constituting heat only." From the very outset he had recognized the affinity between sound and light; indeed, it had been this affinity that led him on to an appreciation of the undulatory theory of light.

But while all these affinities seemed so clear to the great co-ordinating brain of Young, they made no such impression on the minds of his contemporaries. The immateriality of light had been substantially demonstrated, but practically no one save its author accepted the demonstration. Newton's doctrine of the emission of corpuscles was too firmly rooted to be readily dislodged, and Dr. Young had too many other interests to continue the assault unceasingly. He occasionally wrote something touching on his theory, mostly papers contributed to the Quarterly Review and similar periodicals, anonymously or under pseudonym, for he had conceived the notion that too great conspicuousness in fields outside of medicine would injure his practice as a physician. His views regarding light (including the original papers from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society) were again given publicity in full in his celebrated volume on natural philosophy, consisting in part of his lectures before the Royal Institution, published in 1807; but even then they failed to bring conviction to the philosophic world. Indeed, they did not even arouse a controversial spirit, as his first papers had done.


So it chanced that when, in 1815, a young French military engineer, named Augustin Jean Fresnel, returning from the Napoleonic wars, became interested in the phenomena of light, and made some experiments concerning diffraction which seemed to him to controvert the accepted notions of the materiality of light, he was quite unaware that his experiments had been anticipated by a philosopher across the Channel. He communicated his experiments and results to the French Institute, supposing them to be absolutely novel. That body referred them to a committee, of which, as good fortune would have it, the dominating member was Dominique Francois Arago, a man as versatile as Young himself, and hardly less profound, if perhaps not quite so original. Arago at once recognized the merit of Fresnel's work, and soon became a convert to the theory. He told Fresnel that Young had anticipated him as regards the general theory, but that much remained to be done, and he offered to associate himself with Fresnel in prosecuting the investigation. Fresnel was not a little dashed to learn that his original ideas had been worked out by another while he was a lad, but he bowed gracefully to the situation and went ahead with unabated zeal.