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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