‘Nature, Power, and the Light of Suns: The Poetry of Humphry Davy,’

in The Charles Lamb Bulletin Spring 2013, New Series No. 157, 38-54

This essay on the poetry of Humphry Davy, Romantic poet and chemist, had earlier incarnations in the form of a lecture commissioned by and delivered at the Royal Institution on 27 November 2001, and then at the Blackheath Poetry Society, London, on 11 February 2002. I remember both occasions very well, since my son Matthew was the technical assistant at the RI event in Piccadilly, and I gave the lecture to a (literally) packed house in Blackheath for the latter, a house that had been the home of utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill in the mid-nineteenth century. The aim of the essay is to introduce those new to Davy as a poet, to his poetic work. In the nineteenth century Davy was by 1812 chiefly known as a brilliantly innovative English chemist, becoming known as the discoverer of seven new chemical elements, among them potassium and sodium, before he invented a safe lamp for coalminers – what he is remembered for in Britain today, if he is known for anything. I have mentioned him as an English chemist, because he was as  famous in Europe as a scientist in his time as Byron was to become famous as a poet. Davy as a poet was not really in the class of Wordsworth or Byron, but Coleridge admired him, as did another famous writer friend, Walter Scott. Davy’s work both in science and literature have inspired me, so I hope that reading this introduction to his poetry will spark some interest in you  too.

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