« FöregåendeFortsätt »
ness, until their arrival. At the same time he expressed a wish to obtain several other objects, especially an antient teapot, endeared to him by early associations.'-pp. 184, 185.
We return with pleasure from the sick bed on which Davy lay, to contemplate him in a character which, at all events, implies that he was in possession of complete health.
Hitherto his passion for angling has only been noticed in connection with his conversation and letters; I shall now present to the reader a sketch of the philosopher in his fishing costume. His whole suit consisted of green cloth, the coat having sundry pockets for holding the necessary tackle his boots were made of caoutchouc, and, for the convenience of wading through the water, reached above the knees. His hat, originally intended for a coal-heaver, had been purchased from the manufacturer in its raw state, and dyed green by some pigment of his own composition; it was, moreover, studded with every variety of artificial fly which he could require for diversion. Thus equipped, he thought, from the colour of his dress, that he was more likely to elude the observation of the fish. He 'looked not like an inhabitant o' the earth, and yet was on't;' nor can I find any object in the regions of invention with which I could justly compare him, except, perhaps, with one of those grotesque personages who, in the farce of the Critic, attend Father Thames on the stage, as his two banks.
I shall take this opportunity of stating, that his shooting attire was equally whimsical: if, as an angler, he adopted a dress for concealing his person, as a sportsman in woods and plantations, it was his object to devise means for exposing it; for he always entertained a singular dread lest he might be accidentally shot upon those occasions. When upon a visit to Mr. Dillwyn, of Swansea, he accompanied his friend on a shooting excursion, in a broad-brimmed hat, the whole of which, with the exception of the brim, was covered with scarlet cloth.
Notwithstanding, however, the refinement which he displayed in his dress, and the scrupulous attention with which he observed all the minute details of the art; if the truth must be told, he was not more successful than his brother anglers; and here again, the temperament of Wollaston presented a characteristic contrast to that of Davy: the former evinced the same patience and reserve-the same cautious observation and unwearied vigilance in this pursuit, as so eminently distinguished his chemical labours; the temperament of the latter was far too mercurial; the fish never seized the fly with sufficient avidity to fulfil his expectations, or to support that degree of excitement which was essential to his happiness, and he became either listless or angry, and consequently careless and unsuccessful.'-pp. 189, 190.
In 1812, Davy received the honour of knighthood from the Prince Regent,-the first distinction of the kind which his Royal Highness had conferred. In the same year the philosopher retired from the Royal Institution, being on the eve of his marriage with Mrs. Apreece, a widow, the heiress of Charles Kerr, of Kelso, and possessing a considerable fortune. "How far such a measure (as Davy's union with this lady) "was calculated to increase his
happiness," says Dr. Paris, "I shall not enquire." We beg to say that it was the duty of the biographer to" enquire" and to state the result. As it is, every reader is justified in entertaining some strong suspicions, that Davy was not as fortunate in the matrimonial lottery as he deserved. It was in this year also that Davy produced his "Elements of Chemical Philosophy," which was followed in the subsequent one by his ingenious and most useful production, entitled "Elements of Agricultural Chemistry." Dr. Paris has the hardihood to occupy a considerable number of pages in the analysis of this work, which is so well known to, and so justly appreciated by, practical farmers. With infinitely more propriety has he brought before us the strange history of Mr. Faraday's adoption of scientific pursuits. The circumstances that led this able, though modest and very unobtrusive philosopher, to study chemistry, were, with a simplicity and candour which highminded men are alone capable of, communicated by the gentleman himself to Dr. Paris, in the following letter.
"To J. A. Paris, M.D.
"My dear Sir,
Royal Institution, December 23, 1829. "You asked me to give you an account of my first introduction to Sir H. Davy, which I am very happy to do, as I think the circumstances will bear testimony to his goodness of heart.
"When I was a bookseller's apprentice, I was very fond of experiment, and very averse to trade. It happened that a gentleman, a member of the Royal Institution, took me to hear some of Sir H. Davy's last lectures in Albemarle street. I took notes, and afterwards wrote them out more fairly in a quarto volume.
"My desire to escape from trade, which I thought vicious and selfish, and to enter into the service of science, which I imagined made its pursuers amiable and liberal, induced me at last to take the bold and simple step of writing to Sir H. Davy, expressing my wishes, and a hope that, if an opportunity came in the way, he would favor my views; at the same time, I sent the notes I had taken at his lectures.
"The answer, which makes all the point of my communication, I send you in the original, requesting you to take great care of it, and to let me have it back, for you may imagine how much I value it.
"You will observe that this took place at the end of the year 1812, and early in 1813 he requested to see me, and told me of the situation of assistant in the Laboratory of the Royal Institution, then vacant.
"At the same time that he thus gratified my desires as to scientific employment, he still advised me not to give up the prospects I had before me, telling me that science was a harsh Mistress; and, in a pecuniary point of view, but poorly rewarding those who devoted themselves to her service. He smiled at my notion of the superior moral feelings of philosophic men, and said he would leave me to the experience of a few years, to set me right on that matter.
Finally, through his good efforts I went to the Royal Institution early in March, 1813, as assistant in the laboratory; and in October of
the same year, went with him abroad as his assistant in experiments and in writing. I returned with him in April, 1815, resumed my station in the Royal Institution, and have, as you know, ever since remained there. "I am, dear Sir, very truly, your's, "M. FARADAY.""
The following is the note of Sir H. Davy, alluded to in Mr. Faraday's letter. "To Mr. Faraday.
Dec. 24, 1812.
"I am far from displeased with the proof you have given me of your confidence, and which displays great zeal, power of memory, and attention. I am obliged to go out of town, and shall not be settled in town till the end of January: I will then see you at any time you wish. It would gratify me to be of any service to you. I wish it may be in my power. "I am, Sir, your obedient humble Servant, "H. DAVY."'
It is a fact most honourable to the late Emperor of France, that notwithstanding his strong animosity to this country, and his determination to deny admission into his territories of any subject of Great Britain, he cheerfully sacrificed his national antipathy in the case of such a claimant as Davy on his indulgence. He granted a passport to the English philosopher, as he had previously done in the instance of Mrs. Perry, to enter France, and the permission was quite unconditional. In October, 1813, Sir Humphry, his lady, and servant, accompanied by Mr. Faraday, proceeded in a cartel from Plymouth to Morlaix, in Brittany. We quote an account of the subsequent events from Dr. Paris.
'On landing in France, they were instantly arrested by the local authorities of the town, who very reasonably questioned the authenticity of their passports, believing it impossible that a party of English should, under any circumstances, have obtained permission to travel over the continent, at a time when the only English in France were detained as prisoners. They were accordingly compelled to remain during a period of six or seven days at the town of Morlaix, until necessary instructions. could be received from Paris. As soon, however, as a satisfactory answer was returned, they were set at liberty; and they reached the French capital on the evening of the 27th of the same month.
Shortly after his arrival, Davy called upon his old friend and associate, Mr. Underwood, who, although one of the detenus, had during the whole war enjoyed the indulgence of residing in the capital.
The expected arrival of Davy had been a subject of conversation with the French Savans for more than a month. Amongst those who were loudest in his praises, was M. Ampére, who had for several years frequently expressed his opinion that Davy was the greatest chemist that had ever appeared. Whether this flattering circumstance had been communicated to the English philosopher I have no means of ascertaining; but Mr. Underwood informs me that the very first wish that Davy expressed, was to be introduced to this gentleman, whom he considered as the only chemist in Paris who had duly appreciated the value of his discoveries; an opinion
which he afterwards took no care to conceal, and which occasioned amongst the Savans much surprise, and some dissatisfaction. M. Ampére, at the time of Davy's arrival, was spending the summer at a place a few miles from Paris, in consequence of which the introduction so much desired was necessarily delayed.
On the 30th he was conducted to the Louvre by Mr. Underwood. The English philosopher walked with a rapid step along the gallery, and, to the great astonishment and mortification of his friend and Cicerone, did not direct his attention to a single painting; the only exclamation of surprise that escaped him was-"What an extraordinary collection of fine frames!"
'On arriving opposite to Raphael's picture of the Transfiguration, Mr. Underwood could no longer suppress his surprise, and in a tone of enthusiasm he directed the attention of the philosopher to that most sublime production of art, and the chef-d'œuvre of the collection. Davy's reply was as laconic as it was chilling" Indeed, I am glad I have seen it;" and then hurried forward, as if he were desirous of escaping from any critical remark upon its excellencies.
⚫ They afterwards descended to a view of the Statues in the lower apartments: here Davy displayed the same frigid indifference towards the higher works of art. A spectator of the scene might have well imagined that some mighty spell was in operation, by which the order of nature had been reversed: --while the marble glowed with more than human passion, the living man was colder than stone! The apathy, the total want of feeling he betrayed on having his attention directed to the Apollo Belvidere, the Laocoon, and the Venus de Medicis, was as inexplicable as it was provoking; but an exclamation of the most vivid surprise escaped him at the sight of an Antinous, treated in the Egyptian style, and sculptured in Alabaster.*—“ Gracious powers," said he, "what a beautiful stalactyte!"
'What a strange, what a discordant anomaly in the construction of the human mind do these anecdotes unfold! We have here presented to us a philosopher, who, with the glowing fancy of a poet, is insensible to the divine beauties of the sister arts! Let the metaphysician, if he can, unravel the mystery, the biographer has only to observe, that the Muses could never have danced in chorus at his birth.
'On the following morning, Mr. Underwood accompanied him to the Jardin des Plantes, and presented him to the venerable Vanquelin, who was the first scientific man he had seen in Paris. On their return they inspected the Colossal Elephant, which was intended to form a part of the fountain then erecting on the site of the Bastile. Davy appeared to be more delighted with this stupendous work than with any object he saw in Paris to its architect, M. Alavair, he formed an immediate attachment. It has been observed, that during his residence in this city, his likes and dislikes to particular persons were violent, and that they were, apparently, not directed by any principle, but were the effects of sudden impulse.
In the course of removing the foundations, and digging the canal, the subterranean dungeons of the Bastile were discovered: they were eight in number, and were called Les Oubliettes. As they were under the level of the ditch of the fortress, any attempt to escape from them by piercing the
* The celebrated Italian antiquary, Visconti, has so denominated it.
wall, must have inevitably drowned the unhappy prisoner, together with all those who inhabited the contiguous cells; one of which was discovered with the entrance walled up. Upon demolishing this wall, there appeared the skeleton of the last wretched person who had been thus entombed. In all these discoveries Davy took the warmest interest.'—pp. 267-269.
The Chemists and Men of Science showed every attention to Davy that his vanity could require; and so far was their courtesy towards him carried, that the health of the Emperor was omitted in the toasts which were given at a grand entertainment, held to compliment the English philosopher. Dr. Paris relates the following anecdote connected with Davy's visit to Paris.
During his visit to Paris, Davy was not introduced to the Emperor. Lady Davy observed to me, that although Sir Humphry felt justly grateful for the indulgence granted to him as philosopher, he never for a moment forgot the duty he owed his country as a Patriot; and that he objected to attend the levee of her bitterest enemy. On the other hand, it is said, that Napoleon never expressed any wish to receive the English chemist; and those who seek in the depths for that which floats upon the surface, have racked their imaginations in order to discover the source of this mysterious indifference; but I apprehend that we have only to revert to the political state of Europe in the year 1813, and the problem will be solved.
Amongst the reasons for supposing that the Emperor must have felt ill disposed towards the English philosopher, the following story has been told; which, as an anecdote, is sufficiently amusing; and I can state upon the highest authority, that it is moreover perfectly true.
It is well known that Bonaparte, during his whole career, was in the habit of personal intercourse with the Savans of Paris, and that he not unfrequently attended the sitting of the Institute. Upon being informed of the decomposition of the alkalies, he asked with some impetuosity, how it happened that the discovery had not been made in France?" We have never constructed a voltaic battery of sufficient power," was the answer— "Then," exclaimed Bonaparte, "let one be instantly formed without any regard to cost or labour."
The command of the Emperor was of course obeyed; and on being informed that it was in full action, he repaired to the laboratory to witness its powers; on his alluding to the taste produced by the contact of two metals, with that rapidity which characterised all his motions, and before the attendants could interpose any precaution, he thrust the extreme wires of the battery under his tongue, and received a shock which nearly deprived him of sensation. After recovering from its effects, he quitted the laboratory without making any remark, and was never afterwards heard to refer to the subject.
It is only an act of justice to state that Davy, during his residence in the French Capital, so far from truckling to French politics, never lost an opportunity of vindicating with temper the cause of his own country. At the Théatre de la Porte Saint Martin, a Melodrame was got up, with the avowed intention of exposing the English character to the execration of the audience. Lord Cornwallis was represented as the merciless assassin of the children of Tippoo Saib. Davy was highly incensed at the injustice of the representation, and abruptly quitted the Theatre in a state of great indignation.'-pp. 275, 276.