A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism


A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism is a two-volume treatise on electromagnetism written by James Clerk Maxwell in 1873. Maxwell was revising the Treatise for a second edition when he died in 1879. The revision was completed by William Davidson Niven for publication in 1881. A third edition was prepared by J. J. Thomson for publication in 1892. According to one historian, The Treatise was notoriously hard to read; it teemed with ideas but lacked the clear focus and orderly presentation that might have enabled it to win converts more readily. Rather than simply expounding his own system, Maxwell had set out to write a comprehensive treatise on electrical science, and so he had allowed his own new distinctive ideas, notably that of the displacement current, to be almost buried under long accounts of miscellaneous phenomena discussed from several points of view. Except for a fuller treatment of the Faraday effect (in which he again invoked the molecular vortices), Maxwell added little to his earlier work on the electromagnetic theory of light; he said nothing, for example, about how electromagnetic waves might be generated, nor did he attempt to derive laws governing reflection and refraction.Maxwell introduced the use of vector fields, and his labels have been perpetuated: A (vector potential), B (magnetic induction), C (electric current), D (displacement), E (electric field – Maxwell's electromotive intensity), F (mechanical force), H (magnetic field – Maxwell's magnetic force).Maxwell's work is considered an exemplar of rhetoric of science: Lagrange's equations appear in the Treatise as the culmination of a long series of rhetorical moves, including (among others) Green's theorem, Gauss's potential theory and Faraday's lines of force – all of which have prepared the reader for the Lagrangian vision of a natural world that is whole and connected: a veritable sea change from Newton's vision.
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