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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Michael Faraday
(22 Sep 1791 - 25 Aug 1867)

English physicist and chemist who was a great experimentalist. His major contributions included the early understanding of electromagnetism.


Michael Faraday - You will soon be able to tax it!

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

“Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!”
— Michael Faraday
As quoted in W.E.H. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty (1899).

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This is how the quote in given by W.E.H. Lecky in the Introduction to the 1899 edition of his book, Democracy and Liberty. Lecky gives much biographical material about Sir William Gladstone (1809-1898), who became the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, responsible for the national budget. He presented his first budget in Apr 1853, with its expenditures and taxes. Later, because of the increasing cost of fighting the Crimean  War, Gladstone increased the income tax rate from 7% to 10½%.

Although Gladstone was diligent in matters concerned with his work, Lecky contrasts that, “There were, it is true, wide tracts of knowledge with which he had no sympathy. The whole great field of modern scientific discovery seemed out of his range.” To illustrate this, Lecky continues:

An intimate friend of Faraday once described to me how, when Faraday was endeavouring to explain to Gladstone and several others an important new discovery in science Gladstone’s only commentary was ‘but, after all, what use is it?” ‘Why, sir,’ replied Faraday, ‘there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!’”

Thus, one should note that although Lecky used quotation marks, the words are given as a recollection, written third-hand, some time after the original conversation between Gladstone and Faraday.

Also, Lecky did not specify which “new discovery.” Yet in later retellings it is given as electricity. So note this was not specified in the original text, and, unless there is another source of which Webmaster is not aware, it would be an assumption when recent quote collections refer to electricity. Of course, Faraday's major investigations involved electricity and electromagnetism, so the implication is not unreasonable.

There are no extant writings of Faraday himself, nor his contemporaries, on this matter, so the authenticity of the quote can only be judged from the context given above, a third-hand account. For this reason, it could be labelled as possibly apocryphal.1

Among the various wordings and citations of the quote in recent publications, Faraday is asked by the “Prime Minister.” It is true that Gladstone held that office four times, the first in 1868, the year after Faraday's death. Some writers take that conflict of timing as evidence that the conversation could not have been taken place.2 However Lecky’s account does not refer to Gladstone as being Prime Minister at the time. Which leaves Lecky’s statement of the quote as being possible, since Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer during Faraday’s lifetime.

1 For example, 'Long Ago and Faraway' on Snopes.com.
2 For example, David Bodanis, E=mc²: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation (2000), 240. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
Quotations by: • Albert Einstein • Isaac Newton • Lord Kelvin • Charles Darwin • Srinivasa Ramanujan • Carl Sagan • Florence Nightingale • Thomas Edison • Aristotle • Marie Curie • Benjamin Franklin • Winston Churchill • Galileo Galilei • Sigmund Freud • Robert Bunsen • Louis Pasteur • Theodore Roosevelt • Abraham Lincoln • Ronald Reagan • Leonardo DaVinci • Michio Kaku • Karl Popper • Johann Goethe • Robert Oppenheimer • Charles Kettering  ... (more people)

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