Sir Humphry Davy (1778 – 1829): His Life, Letters and Notebooks – Zoom – 22nd February 2023

This presentation, from a literary viewpoint, was given by Dr Andrew Lacey, PhD, Senior Research Associate in the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing, Lancaster University, UK.

Dr Lacey is currently working on the Davy Notebooks project, transcribing their contents with the help of many volunteers. As previous Senior Research Associate on the Davy Letters Project, Dr Lacey successfully navigated his way through the many of Sir Humphry Davy’s letters that had been sent to many places around the world. This latter significant effort culminated in the magnificent 4-volume publication by Oxford University Press of ‘The Collected Letters of Sir Humphrey Davy’ in 2020.

Sir Humphry Davy is a significant figure in both the history of science and literary history. One of the foremost chemists of the early nineteenth century, he was the first person to inhale nitrous oxide. He pioneered electrochemistry, using the Voltaic pile to isolate more chemical elements than any other scientist; and he invented the miners’ safety lamp that came to be known as the ‘Davy lamp’. His lectures and papers played a key part in the professionalisation of science, in the growth of scientific institutions, and in the emergence of scientific disciplines. He was the protégé of Thomas Beddoes and Joseph Banks, and the mentor of Michael Faraday. He was also a poet, and a friend of poets, including Wordsworth, Southey, Scott, and Byron. He corresponded with many members of the original Lunar Society including James Watt and Erasmus Darwin. Despite his obvious literary and scientific brilliance, and experimental prowess, he became very disliked because of his attitude to many of his charges and his contemporaries. He died at a relatively early age of 50. The presentation itself, though detailed and exhaustive, was followed by a significant number of questions.