The nature of all fiery things: Richard Holmes & John Gray play Twister with Humphry Davy & György Faludy


Humphry Davy, the Victorian inventor of the safety lamp for miners and, in his later, knighted life, President of the Royal Society, was also, for most of his extremely busy existence, a dedicated amateur poet.

Why you should care about that?

For no particular reason, to be honest but yesterday I was talking about science, and about poetry, singing the less than coherent praises of John Gray’s latest work, The Immortalization Commission.

Even while I was writing that post, something in the back of my ridiculously cluttered and ill-lit mind kept telling me I had read another book, not that long ago, that had been full of science and poetry as well…

… and, a bit earlier today, I remembered what that had been. I even quoted from it on this blog, some time ago, by the way.

Yes, it’s Richard Holmes’s magnus opus, ‘The Age of Wonder’, with the equally magnificent subtitle ‘How the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science’.

A truly wonderful book – but let’s get back to one of the book’s many entertaining characters, the chemist and inventor Humphry Davy. (Here’s a helpful Wiki article, if you want a quick fix introduction.)

So, yesterday, I ended with a poem by György Faludy – and yes, indeed, today’s post is no more than an addendum to that earlier one – and we will close the curtain on this current instalment with a poem by Sir Humphry Davy.

Not because it’s a great poem. It isn’t. Yet it hits upon something John Gray talks about in his own book: the way people seek out signs and theories that confirm their anthropocentric delusions:


‘We trace analogies; as if it were

A joy to blend all contrarieties,

And to discover

In things the most unlike some qualities

Having relationship and family ties.


Thus life we term a spark, a fire, a flame;

And then we call that fire, that flame, immortal,

Although the nature of all fiery things

Belonging to the earth is perishable.’


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8 Responses to “The nature of all fiery things: Richard Holmes & John Gray play Twister with Humphry Davy & György Faludy”

  1. Glob-a-log » Blog Archive » Edmund Waller goes cottaging with Leonard Cohen: Yes, there is a (cheap) crack in everything… Says:

    […] this post is, in effect, an addendum to yesterday’s column or, if you like, a PPS to the one from the day before […]

  2. Daniel Squire Says:

    I’ve been trying to find the complete György Faludy poem after reading Gray’s book. An internet search took me to your blog. Do you by any chance know in which book it is published (in English), if at all? —Thanks in advance for your help. —Daniel

  3. Jantar Says:

    I’m afraid my luck wasn’t much better than yours. At Amazon (both UK & USA) there are poetry collections on sale but I couldn’t find an index of the poems involved. The copies aren’t that expensive, so you might just take a gamble on one or more of them.
    Happy hunting!

  4. Daniel Squire Says:

    Thank you — happy hunting to you, too…

  5. Daniel Squire Says:

    The notes in the back of my copy of The Immortalization Commission state that the source is this book…

    I just ordered it and will let you know what I find when it arrives…

  6. Jantar Says:

    Meh! I should have started my search there. I did find that selected poems book at Amazon but it didn’t have an index. If I’d checked the Gray book, I could have stopped the rest of my futile Google searches.

  7. Daniel Squire Says:

    I have the book and the entire poem. E-mail me and I’ll type it up for you…

  8. Jantar Says:

    Ah, good. Thanks for returning and reporting. No need to type it out for me: I’d like to have that bbok myself, so I’ll just order it through Amazon.

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