“Science, gentlemen, is of infinitely more importance to a state than may at first sight appear possible”. While few scientists would disagree with this today, it was the 19th-century chemist Humphry Davy who made the observation. In a recent Lunch Hour Lecture Professor Frank James (UCL Science & Technology Studies) took us on a whistle stop tour of Davy’s colourful life, his science and his relationship with the state.
A poet of Penzance
Born in Penzance on December 17, 1778, Davy initially showed a passion for poetry. This was largely descriptive poetry, such as this extract about St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall: “Beat by the storms of ages, stands unmov’d, Amidst the wreck of things—the change of time.”
However after his schooling, his godfather apprenticed him to a surgeon and it was in the apothecary there where he discovered what would become a life-long interest in chemistry.
While living in Penzance he met distinguished natural philosophers including the engineer Davies Giddy who encouraged Davy and offered him the use of his library.