A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Davy, Sir Humphrey

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Davy, Sir Humphrey (1778-1829). -- Chemist and man of letters, s. of a wood-carver, was b. at Penzance. He early showed an enthusiasm for natural science, and continued to pursue his studies when apprenticed in 1795 to a surgeon. He became specially interested in chemistry, to which in 1797 he began more exclusively to devote himself. Thereafter he assisted Dr. Beddoes in his laboratory at Bristol, and entered upon his brilliant course of chemical discovery. His Researches, Chemical, and Philosophical (1799), led to his appointment as Director of the Chemical Laboratory at the Royal Institution, where he also delivered courses of scientific lectures with extraordinary popularity. Thereafter his life was a succession of scientific triumphs and honours. His great discovery was that of the metallic bases of the earths and alkalis. He also discovered various metals, including sodium, calcium, and magnesium. In 1812 he was knighted, and m. a wealthy widow. Thereafter he investigated volcanic action and fire-damp, and invented the safety lamp. In 1818 he was cr. a baronet, and in 1820 became Pres. of the Royal Society, to which he communicated his discoveries in electro-magnetism. In addition to his scientific writings, which include Elements of Agricultural Chemistry (1813), and Chemical Agencies of Electricity, he wrote Salmonia, or Days of Fly Fishing (1828), somewhat modelled upon Walton, and Consolations in Travel (1830), dialogues on ethical and religious questions. D. sustained an apoplectic seizure in 1826, after which his health was much impaired, and after twice wintering in Italy, he d. at Geneva, where he received a public funeral. Though not attached to any Church, D. was a sincerely religious man, strongly opposed to materialism and scepticism. He holds a foremost place among scientific discovererspage 110.