Book announcement: Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy

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Oxford University Press have just published The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy, ed. Tim Fulford and Sharon Ruston with the assistance of Andrew Lacey.   Eleven years in the making, this is the first scholarly edition of the correspondence of a man many Romanticists know as the friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and Scott.  He was regarded as the greatest chemist ever, having used the Voltaic pile to decompound substances and reveal new elements—including potassium, sodium, chlorine and iodine—demonstrating the forces that hold matter together to be electrochemical.   He experimented with ntirous oxide, designed a mine safety lamp, and became the most charismatic lecturer of the era.  He knew Godwin, Byron, De Stael, Opie, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville.  His protege was Michael Faraday. He wrote a lot of poetry—mostly landscape verse influenced by his intimate knowledge of Wordsworth’s, Southey’s and Coleridge’s poems (he had helped edit the second edition of Lyrical Ballads and Thalaba the Destroyer).   

All these facets of a Romantic who was widely seen as the embodiment of genius are reflected in the edition, which comprises four volumes including an introduction, comprehensive annotations, biographies of salient people, and a glossary of chemical terms.

It’s expensive, as scholarly editions are, but we hope you’ll ask your libraries to buy it, and then enjoy the new perspectives on Romanticism that it gives you.   

An excerpt:  from Humphry Davy to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 26 November 1800       

        You will pardon my long epistolary indolence when you are acquainted with the causes of it. Often within the last three weeks has my hand directed by love begotten thoughts seized the instrument of distant communion to tell you that it was connected with with real organs living in pain & with ideal organs, only living in pleasure when contemplating you & some other ideal aggregates; & as often has that instrument been snatched away by devils in the forms of gas wonder hunters, spectre = expts & sicknesses of the stomach. – The literal meaning of this is that during the last three weeks I have been sometimes busy & oftener ailing with a complaint of the stomach. – Till the day before yesterday I was only ailing; but then I became ill & for eight and thirty hours I experienced pain in the various forms of head ache chills heats & nausea – I am now better but my head swims a little – Oh that the organiser of the universe pleasurable sensation or love would give to impressions exactly the same laws of motion as it has given to ideas, then should my torpid organs that now rest confined in a prison of civilisation ie a house, be where their ideas are, with you, wandering over majestic mountains, cooled by the breezes of health, or sleeping upon brown leaves beneath the unclouded heaven or floating on lakes coloured by the suns of evening. . . .
         I shall be anxious to hear that you have begun your treatise on the elements of poetry – you are to be the Thalaba of the Daemons existing in the world of Language, the rooter out of all the weeds & unnatural plants that the hand of civilised man has sown in the Eden of passion & of nature. – I regret that Cristobel is not to be published in the lyrical ballads; it is however a regret of self interest; arising from the wish that the first part had induced for the perusal & re-perusal of the <whole> I have made some important galvanic discoveries which seem to lead to the door of the temple of the mysterious god of Life. I shall some time within the next six months publish a work on this subject