The Material Question

‘Of course I explained to the clerks what had to be done when the springs ran down, but what my “repairing” had consisted of, they apparently never understood.

‘The same kind of thing was repeated many times in the town of Merv, where I transferred my workshop and went on with the same sort of work for two more months.

‘One day, the inspector of the local preparatory school there—I do not remember the name of the school—came to ask me to repair an electric machine for making experiments in physics.

‘This was an ordinary electrostatic machine which, on the turning of discs, emits sparks, and which, for some reason or other, every school then—and it seems also even now—considered it its duty to possess. With this machine, in their famous so-called physics lessons, the teachers would pompously and as though performing a sacred ritual make instructive experiments, which consisted merely in turning the discs of the machine and compelling the children, one by one, to touch the little metal knobs of the Leyden jars. The grimaces of pain appearing on the faces of the children on touching these knobs always provoked uproarious laughter, which these pedagogues considered as “greatly assisting the digestion of food”, and this was the usual finale of such a physics lesson.

‘This inspector had ordered one of these machines and had received it unassembled from the German firm of Siemens & Halske in St. Petersburg. Although he and the other teachers, his colleagues, had assembled it according to the instructions, yet, try as they might, they could not obtain any sparks from it, and finally the inspector was compelled to apply to my workshop.

‘I at once saw that everything was in good order except that the two discs composing the principal part of the machine were not quite correctly placed in relation to each other. It was simply necessary to loosen the nut on the axle and slightly shift one of the discs, and this I could have done in a minute. But I obliged this esteemed pedagogue, who taught others what he himself did not know, to come back to the workshop four times while I was, as it were, repairing his machine, and to pay me ten roubles seventy-five kopeks for supposedly charging the Leyden jars which needed no charging.