William Godwin's Diary


Humphry Davy (1778-1829), a chemist and inventor, was elected to a post at the Royal Institution in January 1801 and in May of the following year was made professor of chemistry. The Royal Institution had been established at 21 Albemarle Street in 1799 with the aim of bringing scientific research to a wider audience and adapting it to practical purposes. Davy’s lectures, which often included spectacular scientific demonstrations, contributed greatly to this purpose in the Institution’s early years, proving so popular that Albemarle Street had to be closed one-way to traffic on the nights when he was lecturing. Davy had moved in literary circles from the 1790s, seeing Lyrical Ballads (1798) through the press and trying out his invention of laughing gas on Wordsworth and Coleridge. Godwin thought it ‘a pity such a man should degrade his vast talents to Chemistry’, but Davy went on to have a hugely significant scientific career. He did some of the early work on electricity, isolated potassium, sodium, chlorine and several of the alkaline earth metals, invented the miner’s safety lamp and became president of the Royal Society.

See DNB and Locke, p. 181.