Rare Davy ALS on fishing and sex
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Davy on Fishing and Sex
DAVY, SIR HUMPHRY. (1778-1829). English chemist known for discovering the effects of nitrous oxide and for developing the Davy safety lamp; the Davy Medal is named in his honor. ALS. (“H. Davy”). 3pp. 4to. (London), N.d. (c.1804). To his friend, English chemist William Clayfield (1772?-1837) in Bristol.
I was thankful for your letter; but I should have been much gratified if you had joined me at Ramsbury. During the two days that I spent there it snowed and froze; & yet I killed some fish with the artificial fly. I hope you will contrive to meet me on the banks of some Welsh or English stream in the course of the summer. I do not intend to stir more than 200 miles from London. You shall choose our time. If I had seen you at Ramsbury I should have said something to you of the most beautiful girl I have ever seen; & chaste but for one misfortunate, you will smile; but I had no concern in it; but this opportunity is passed away. If I meet with another being that I conceive can be applied to no nobler & more excellent purpose than than [sic.] of a “solace” for a most worthy philosopher you shall hear. This would be repaying you for the share you took in my initiation into certain mysteries of which I have been a constant admirer & which I have lately passed in one Temple alone. Tobin talks of going to Ireland. I am glad you’re … process turns out so well. I mentioned the subject you wished me to mention to Davies Giddy, but I know not whether he has yet done any thing. You will receive with this my latest born & consequently my best beloved Child. Should it die in its infancy I trust it will go to the Heaven of good reputation; but I have great hopes that it will become adult & strong. I am Dear [name erased] most sincerely yours… I shall send my papers by the coach of this day from Hatchets [sic.]. Will you send Dr. Beddoes.
Although Davy is best known for inventing a safety lamp for coal miners, he also wrote poetry, improved the science of agricultural chemistry, was one of the pioneers in the study of electrochemistry, demonstrated that chlorine is an element and that diamonds are made of carbon, and discovered the effects of nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”). Davy met Clayfield while both were attached to the Pneumatic Institution for Inhalation Gas Therapy, established by Thomas Beddoes (1760-?) and funded by Josiah Wedgwood, English pottery manufacturer and grandfather of Charles Darwin. Beddoes was a radical in the medical community, a proponent of pneumatic medicine which focused on respiration and the medical properties of certain gases. He appointed Davy superintendent of the facility and while there, Davy began his research into nitrous oxide. He left the institute in 1801 to accept a post at London’s Royal Institution but maintained his relationships with Beddoes and Clayfield, as our letter illustrates. Clayfield was instrumental in Davy’s nitrous oxide research through his invention of a device that measured lung capacity. In addition to his work at the Pneumatic Institution, Clayfield discovered a vein of sulfate of stronia near Bristol and was persuaded by Beddoes and Davy to publish his findings in Contributions. Because publication of the journal was delayed until the entire volume was complete, “Dr. George Smith Gibbes, a publicity-hungry medical practitioner eventually associated with Bath Hospital, had opportune lead time to announce his discovery as his own in Nicholson’s Journal. Beddoes and Davy, infuriated by this claim-jump, set out to unravel how Gibbes had become privy to Clayfield’s discovery,” (Young Humphrey Davy: the Making of an Experimental Chemist, Fullmer). Davy produced many affidavits and other written material to support Clayfield’s claim. Incidentally, Clayfield also holds a place in aviation history for accompanying James Sadler on his pioneering balloon ascent from Bristol. Our letter also mentions Davy’s friend English playwright John Tobin (1770-1804). Tobin suffered from consumption – a lung disease and therefore of interest to Davy – and died at the beginning of a sea voyage prescribed for his health. Tobin’s desire to travel to Ireland, mentioned in our letter, is possibly the inception of what became his fatal voyage. Davy wrote the verse prologue to Tobin’s play The Honey Moon, produced posthumously at Drury Lane in 1805. Davy was godfather to Tobin’s son, John James Tobin, with whom he traveled later in life and who published an account of their journey that is of particular interest to Davy biographers. Davy’s metaphorical comment about his “latest born and best loved child” is especially interesting because, in fact, he had no biological children of his own, a detail that aroused much speculation in his day. Contemporary critics portrayed Davy as a dandy whose childless marriage proved a lack of masculinity and intimate relations with his bluestocking wife whom he married in 1812. “Speculation about the infertility of the relationship was evidently strong enough that John Davy felt he had to address it in his Fragmentary Remains of his brother in 1858. He placed the blame on Lady Davy, invoking her ‘irritable frame and ailing body,’ though he failed to explain how such a weak physique outlasted her husband’s by twenty-six years. This factor, and the couple’s acceptance that it precluded children, was, John Davy insisted, ‘explanatory of much in the married life’ of the Davys,” (“Humphrey Davy’s Sexual Chemistry,” Configurations, Golinski). Clearly our letter shows that Davy had (at some point) a keen interest in women and that he grew to consider his scientific research and writing as his legacy or “children.” The postscript likely mentions Davy’s friend, chemist Charles Hatchett (1765-1847). In 1801, while working for the British Museum, Hatchett discovered the element columbium for which he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. However, he did not pursue a career in science, but returned to the family business in London which built world-renowned coaches. Our letter also refers to English engineer, author and historian Davies Gilbert (born Davies Giddy) (1767-1839). After a chance meeting with a young Davy in Penzance, Giddy offered Davy use of his library and introduced him to a chemical lecturer in whose laboratory Davy began his chemical investigations. Gilbert was president of the Royal Society from 1827-1830 but is best remembered for his works about the history and music of Cornwall. Despite the recipient’s name being eradicated from the salutation and closing, it remains on the address panel. Folded and dust stained with the address panel intact save for a wax seal tear and paper loss along the center fold. Two words are lightly affected. In very good condition. Letters of Davy on the subject of fishing, of which he was a keen hobbyist, are rare; letters by Davy on sex are even rarer!