Humphry Davy’s Notebooks
by Sharon Ruston
Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was the foremost chemist of the early nineteenth century. He isolated more elements than any other individual has before or since, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. He was the first person to inhale nitrous oxide, and his popular lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain brought him public fame. The miners’ safety lamp he invented, which became known as the ‘Davy lamp’, was used widely in mines in Britain and abroad and in 1820 he became President of the Royal Society. It is less well known that he wrote poetry throughout his life. He was a friend of Lord Byron and wrote at least two poems about Byron. In this talk, Sharon Ruston will explore these poems and examine some of the poetry Davy wrote in his notebooks while in the laboratory conducting chemical experiments.
Bio: Professor Sharon Ruston is Chair in Romanticism and current Head of the English Literature and Creative Writing department at Lancaster University. She has published The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein (2021), Creating Romanticism (2013), Romanticism: An Introduction(2010), and Shelley and Vitality (2005). She co-edited The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy for Oxford University Press (2020) and currently leads an AHRC-funded project to transcribe all of the Davy’s notebooks (https://wp.lancs.ac.uk/davynotebooks/).
Sir Humphry Davy, Bt, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas (1821), NPG 2546. Reproduced under the terms of CC BY-NC-ND 3.0