Gauss had shown how to reduce all the phenomena of statical electricity to mere attractions and repulsions exerted at a distance by particles of an imponderable on one another.
As far as the order to which he carried the approximations - which, however, were based on a simplifying hypothesis that the molecules influenced each other through mutual repulsions inversely as the fifth power of their distance apart--the result was that the equations of motion of the gas, considered as subject to viscous and thermal stresses, could be satisfied by a state of equilibrium under a modified internal pressure equal in all directions.
The first part of the epistle deals generally with magnetic attractions and repulsions, with the polarity of the stone, and with the supposed influence of the poles of the heavens upon the poles of the stone.
Electric attractions and repulsions were, however, regarded as differential actions in which the mutual repulsion of the particles of electricity operated, so to speak, in antagonism to the mutual attraction of particles of matter for one another and of particles of electricity for matter.
He applied this principle of surface-tension to the explanation of the apparent attractions and repulsions between bodies floating on a liquid.