Faraday's early life

I read on a website the other day that Michael Faraday invented electricity and magnetism. like many other websites on the Internet, unfortunately, the writer didn't have a clue about the subject. You could no sooner invent electricity and magnetism than you could invent gravity or the weather.

These are all part of the natural order of things, which is why Faraday put so much time and effort into studying them as well as numerous other subjects. His strong religious belief that God created everything in the universe according to a common plan gave him the enthusiasm to put intense efforts into his works of discovery, and an intense love of experimentation.

His family

He was born into a family which, although not actually starving, was hardly rich and food was sometimes hard to come by. His father was a blacksmith and after he died his mother was obliged to take in lodgers in order to help pay the bills and so Faraday's education at a church school was rudimentary to say the least. However his parents were members of a small religious sect called the Sandemanians, and their teachings influenced him strongly the rest of his life.

The Sandemanians

The Sandemanians believed that the only authority was the word of Christ. This meant that churches were unnecessary and a weekly communion and Sunday feast – at which attendance was mandatory for every member – was part of their routine. This brought them into conflict with the Anglican Church and it is a measure of Faraday's popularity that he was not only able to work alongside prominent Anglicans but also bishops amicably. It did affect him socially however - he refused to set foot in an Anglican church despite many invitations to attend services from people in high positions, including royalty.

His character

If he had a characteristic which was the most important to him however it was his inquisitiveness; he wanted to understand nature, since he was certain that all the natural laws were ordained by God. Perhaps the first sign of this was when he watched, as a child, a canal being dug; shortly afterwards there was not only an iron barge floating on it, but the barge was full of heavy goods as well! Surely iron could not float! He began to experiment with all sorts of different objects such as bottles and metal pots and he reckoned that this is where his zeal for experimentation began.

His education and first job

Since his education was so relatively meagre his first employment was as a general errand boy in a London bookshop. this was not simply a shop which sold books but they also were involved in publishing and book binding. By the time he was 14 years of age he was taken on as an apprentice.

This was quite possibly the making of him. He devoured knowledge from the books, not only on scientific subjects but also on self-improvement. He learnt about the art of letter writing and organising self help circles. These were going to prove very valuable lessons when he was to make his mark as a lecturer later on.

His first experience of lectures

Books are a good way of absorbing knowledge but a much better way is listening to a teacher who can explain matters more deeply, answer questions and show exhibits. It was not long before Faraday was regularly attending lectures on, mainly, scientific matters given by a gentleman named John Tatum and he kept copious notes on these. His employer noticed this and showed the notes to a regular customer; this gentleman, William Dance, who was proprietor of the Royal Institution, was impressed and gave Faraday tickets to four lectures to be held by the Professor of chemistry, Humphry Davy.