This statue of Maxwell (1831 to 1879) is dominated by the Melville Monument at the centre of St Andrew Square east George Street in Edinburgh.
It depresses me that Henry Dundas Melville, 1st Viscount (1742 to 1811) even if he was known as the Uncrowned King of Scotland, should warrant 140 feet and 1500 tons of monument when Maxwell, who is arguably the most influential physicist and mathematician, has a smallish statue dwarfed by the privileged class! Dundas was a lawyer and politician, first Secretary of State for War and both the first and last person to be impeached in the UK.
Maxwell, on the other hand, was a theoretical physicist and mathematician. An immensely important figure – his synthesis of electromagnetic theory into his four famous equations makes him arguably the greatest influential 19th century scientist for 20th century physics. We benefit more than can be told from computer to telecommunications from his understanding of the electromagnetic field. Einstein thought he was pretty good too, considering his work continued on from Maxwell’s. Apparently Einstein had a photo of Maxwell on his desk!!
Ah! a monumental juxtaposition that highlights what impresses humanity. Power and privilege over intelligence and creativity.
I get to see Maxwell each Saturday when I take the bus to Edinburgh. I do this because I am a supporter of the Edinburgh Women in Black and we stand in Princes Street opposite the magnificent Balmoral Hotel for an hour holding anti war placards.
Back to Maxwell (I will talk about WIB in a later post). I contemplate the circular object in his left hand. Well, of course!! Maxwell is holding his colour top that he used for investigation of colour vision and additive colour.
From his wikipedia article:
Maxwell is credited as being the father of additive colour. He had the photographer Thomas Sutton photograph a tartan ribbon on black-and-white film three times, first with a red, then green, then blue colour filter over the lens. The three black-and-white images were developed and then projected onto a screen with three different projectors, each equipped with the corresponding red, green, or blue colour filter used to take its image. When brought into alignment, the three images (a black-and-red image, a black-and-green image and a black-and-blue image) formed a full colour image, thus demonstrating the principles of additive colour.
This first colour photograph of that tartan ribbon was composed by Maxwell in 1861 when he was thirty years old.
I visited Maxwell’s house at 14 India Street in Edinburgh and signed the visitor’s book when I first arrived in Scotland in 2008. It gave me a delicious shiver of moment and history.
I wonder how many people scurrying past his statue even know who he was. And do we remember to marvel at his ability, the amazing wellspring of his mind? I doubt it. What an immense sadness that brings to me.