Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Oh, Those Wacky Enlightenment Types

From Richard Holmes' new book The Age of Wonder (reviewed in TIME Magazine, 3 Aug. 2009), this account of Humphrey Davy's early experiences with nitrous oxide, which he took in the company of friends Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

"I seemed to be a sublime being, newly created and superior to other mortals. I was indignant at what they said of me and stalked majestically out of the laboratory to inform Dr. Kinglake privately that nothing existed but thoughts."

I'm sure Kinglake appreciated the insight.

Davy, incidentally, was the inventor of the Davy safety lamp, which was of great use to 19th-century miners. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that his experiments with laughing gas would prove to be of more lasting utility, at least to dentists and college students.

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