Previously undisclosed poems written by a groundbreaking British scientist have been revealed.
He is well-known for his contributions to the periodic table, inventing a lamp in 1815 that greatly improved safety for miners, and pioneering in the field of electrochemistry.
The unpublished poems of Sir Humphry Davy, a British chemist, are causing excitement among academics due to the intriguing links between his poetry and scientific advancements.
Lancaster University researchers have uncovered that Davy had been writing numerous poems in the same notebooks he used for his innovative electrochemical experiments, findings, and insights.
The majority of these poems, including the one released in the Observer on Sunday, have never been seen before. They provide intriguing glimpses into the thought processes of one of the most remarkable scientific thinkers of the 19th century.
According to Sharon Ruston, a professor of English at Lancaster University, poetry can be found everywhere. Over the past four years, Ruston and a team of nine academics and 3,500 volunteers from around the world have worked together to transcribe 11,417 pages of 200-year-old notebooks written by Davy.
“You truly experience the man himself and his thought processes as he navigates through his tasks.”
Davy, a friend of both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and poet laureate Robert Southey, was born during a time where the distinction between arts and science was not yet established. Despite this, he only released a limited number of poems during his lifetime, which received acclaim from his notable acquaintances.
However, the notebooks indicate that his dedication to his art was so powerful that verses of poetry competed for room with records of chemical breakthroughs. These are present on pages where it is evident, from the condition of the page, that he was conducting chemical experiments.
These pages, which are torn, burned or have “various stains on them from what he’s working on”, suggest that Davy even wrote poetry in his laboratory, where he pioneered the field of electrolysis.
According to Ruston, the writer is discussing both nitrous oxide and galvanism. However, there are also elements of poetry involved. These two topics are being explored simultaneously as the writer attempts to comprehend the world and its workings.
Davy’s poem, written during his continental tour from 1813 to 1815, contains intriguing observations about the ruins of Greece and Rome. Alongside his poetic musings, he also includes scientific annotations on the materials utilized in the construction of these ancient structures and sculptures.
“According to Ruston, this tour holds significant significance in Davy’s life.”
Davy’s tour of Europe with his protege, Michael Faraday, led to the discovery of the elemental nature of iodine and the realization that diamonds are composed of carbon. Faraday would later invent the first electrical generator.
According to her, it was astonishing because it made them recognize that a single substance can exist in various forms. Davy held the belief that nothing in the universe can be made or destroyed. All the material we have is present in our surroundings, but it transforms gradually into new forms. Ruston perceives a mutually beneficial connection between Davy’s scientific work and his poetry, as they complement each other.
As an illustration, he would discuss the scientific explanations for the changing of leaf colors, followed by composing a poem about the vibrant hues. According to Ruston, he approached his thoughts and writing in both a poetic and scientific manner, intertwining his knowledge from both fields. His poetry demonstrates his scientific understanding, while his scientific work incorporates poetic language, persuasive rhetoric, and his ability to effectively express himself.
According to Mark Miodownik, a professor specializing in materials and society at University College London, the unearthing of Davy’s poems holds great importance as it proves that one cannot be a successful scientist without also possessing creativity. The belief that only those in the arts and humanities are creative is a misconception of modern times.
Davy’s poetry was a personal aspect of his artistic method. Miodownik believes that he was driven by his curiosity and awe, constantly mulling over ideas in his mind until he needed to express them through poetry.
The notebooks also include drawings resembling doodles of scenery and faces, along with records of purchasing candlesticks and other ordinary topics. “We have the pages where he conducts electrolysis to isolate potassium. But in the midst of that, he makes a reference to an individual and their location,” explained Ruston.
The group found out that it pertained to a tailor. “We believe he was considering how he would reveal his remarkable revelation at the Royal Society and would require a new suit to do so,” she explained.
in 1907, was “The Lark Ascending”
In 1907, Davy’s notebooks were published for the first time and one of the poems included was “The Lark Ascending.”
Oh magnificent reminders of humanity’s destiny;
This serves as a moral lesson for us to learn from.
“The lore is not as strong and impressive as this.”
The wise ones impart knowledge and heavy volumes contain their thoughts.
To construct a place of worship and honor the deities.
The world is observing the display of imperial pride and opulence.
A million slaves were instructed to lift the pole, leading to its destruction.
Tailored for savage games, where blood is shed.
Man was sacrificed. The ruler of the world.
The image of eternal majesty
The ferocious creature’s sharp teeth tore me apart.
The shelf was obtained from Egypt.
The gods of Ancient Greece were stolen.
Her temples spoiled.
And the divinities which Phidias framed
They were enslaved to the central government.
What now remains, pillars & broken shafts
A heap of ruins. Witness those massy walls
One hundred thousand voices used to greet the sunrise.
The dying gladiator; silence reigns
Despite the loneliness, there is a presence within.
Within these ruins.