Humphry Davy: Poetry, Science and the Love of Light

  • Alice Jenkins
Part of the Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories book series (ROPER)


Shortly after the death of Humphry Davy in Geneva in 1829, his younger brother John wrote a biography of the eminent chemist. Both volumes of John Davy’s biography begin with two epigraphs. John Davy evidently felt strongly about the choice of epigraphs: these two quotations appear again for the single-volume reworking of the biography, published as the opening volume of his brother’s Collected Works. The first quotation is from Cicero’s Philippics, but the second is from Wordsworth’s first ‘Essay upon Epitaphs’:

The affections are their own justification. The Light of Love in our Hearts is a satisfactory evidence that there is a body of worth in the minds of our friends or kindred, whence that Light has proceeded.1


Nitrous Oxide Great Mind Satisfactory Evidence Fragmentary Remains Living Fire 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    William Wordsworth, ‘Essays upon Epitaphs’, I, in William Wordsworth: Selected Prose, ed. John O. Hayden (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988), pp. 322–37Google Scholar
  2. John Davy, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart. [...] 2 vols (London: Longman, 1836)Google Scholar
  3. The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, ed. John Davy, 9 vols (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1839–40), I.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London: Houlston & Stoneman, 1847; repr. Highgate: Lime Tree Bower Press, 1970), p. 263.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Apologetic Preface to “Fire, Famine, and Slaughter”’, in Poetical Works, ed. E. H. Coleridge (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 595–606 (p. 595). See p. 595, footnote 3 for Scott’s confirmation of Coleridge’s judgement.Google Scholar
  6. John Ayrton Paris, The Life of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart., LLD., 2 vols (London: Colburn & Bentley, 1831), I, p. 137.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Molly Lefebure, ‘Consolations in Opium: The Expanding Universe of Coleridge, Humphrey [sic] Davy and “The Recluse”’, The Wordsworth Circle, XVIII, no. 2 (Spring 1986), pp. 51–60 (p. 51).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    See, for instance, David Knight, Humphry Davy: Science and Power (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 29.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    Southey to Davy, 3 August 1799, quoted in John Davy (ed.), Fragmentary Remains, Literary and Scientific, of Sir Humphry Davy, [...] (London: John Churchill, 1858), pp. 38–9Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Anthony John Harding, in Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), for example, only mentions Davy twice (p. 7 and p. 35)Google Scholar
  11. Sara Hutchinson. Rosemary Ashton, however, sees Davy and Coleridge as ‘in many ways kindred spirits’ (The Life of Samel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 167).Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Anne Treneer, The Mercurial Chemist: A Life of Sir Humphry Davy (London: Methuen, 1963), p. 65.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Coleridge to Davy, 25 July 1800, in Earl Leslie Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), I, pp. 611–2 (p. 611)Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Coleridge to Davy, 4 May 1801, in Collected Letters, II, pp. 726–7 (p. 726).Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Coleridge to Davy, 20 May 1801, in Collected Letters, II, pp. 733–5 (p. 735).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Stephen Prickett, Coleridge and Wordsworth: The Poetry of Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 12.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Trevor H. Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 149–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Like Faraday, his protege in a later part of his career, Davy was very much interested in questions of nomenclature, and refers several times in this Essay to his reasons for developing new terminology. Coleridge also seems to have been interested in the terminology of chemistry, finding it easier to master the vocabulary than the subject itself: ‘As far as words go, I have become a formidable chemist — having got by heart a prodigious quantity of terms &c to which I attach some ideas — very scanty in number, I assure you, & right meagre in their individual persons.’ Coleridge to Davy, 4 May 1801, in Collected Letters, II, pp. 726–7 (p. 727).Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Coleridge to Davy, 1 January 1800, in Collected Letters, I, pp. 556–7 (p. 557).Google Scholar
  20. 27.
    Coleridge to Davy, 1 January 1800, in Collected Letters, I, pp. 556–7 (p. 556).Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    Southey, ‘Preface’, Thalaba the destroyer (Oxford: Woodstock, 1991), pp. [vii]–ix (pp. viii-ix).Google Scholar
  22. 32.
    Roger Sharrock, ‘The Chemist and the Poet: Sir Humphry Davy and the Preface to Lyrical Ballads’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 17 (1962), pp. [57]–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 37.
    Kerrow Hill, The Bronte Sisters and Sir Humphry Davy: A Sharing of Visions, (Penzance: Jamieson Library, 1994), p. 28.Google Scholar
  24. 43.
    J. Z. Fullmer, The Poetry of Sir Humphry Davy’, Chymia: Annual Studies in the History of Chemistry, 6 (1960), pp. 102–26 (p. 108).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 46.
    Marilyn Butler, Literature as a Heritage: or, Reading Other Ways, Inaugural Lecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alice Jenkins

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations