Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/834

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Cornwall; in the fullness of his fame he was passionately fond of traveling, and his latest book was "Consolations of Travel"—the work of a dying Plato, as it was called by Cuvier.

On the death of his father, Davy, who was then just entering on his sixteenth year, was apprenticed to Mr. Borlase, apothecary and surgeon of Penzance. He now resolved to begin a systematic course of study, literary and scientific. In his boyish ardor, the task he set himself was nothing less than the acquisition of universal knowledge. His MSS. of this period contain the germs of many of the thoughts which found more perfect expression in his maturer writings. In his notebooks, a voluminous collection of which he left behind him, he was accustomed to make a record of every chance observation, and of every more important thought which occurred to his mind. Says a writer in the "Chemical News," to whom we are indebted for many of the particulars of Davy's career contained in the present sketch: "Observations of every kind and sort are included in these pages. At one time he notes down a peculiarity of flight in a swallow, at another a philosophical or theological puzzle, at another the anomalous behavior of certain reagents, with a view to further investigation; whatever, in fact, he observes, down it goes for future reference or consideration."

In 1796 he read Lavoisier's "Elements of Chemistry," and so was led to the experimental study of that science, in which later he attained the highest eminence. The following year he began to write his "Researches on Light and Heat," published in 1799. One of his first chemical researches had for its object to determine the nature of the air which fills the vesicles of common sea-weed; and he demonstrated that the marine plants act upon the air precisely in the same way as the terrestrial, by decomposing carbonic acid under the influence of the sun's rays. These physical and chemical researches won for him in 1798 an invitation from Dr. Beddoes, director of the "Pneumatic Institution" at Clifton—a sort of hospital for the treatment of pulmonary diseases by the inhalation of different gases—to become his assistant. Having removed to Cifton, Davy made use of the facilities which the Pneumatic Institution afforded for studying the physiological effects of various gases—as nitrous oxide (laughing-gas), carbonic acid, nitrogen, etc. These experiments more than once came very near being fatal to the venturesome young chemist, and indeed his health was seriously impaired, so that he was forced for a time to intermit his researches. While at Clifton he also took up the subject of galvanism, and thus laid the foundations for bis brilliant discoveries in electro-chemistry.

In 1801 Count Rumford offered him the position of lecturer on chemistry in the London Royal Institution, which he had recently founded. This post he held for one year, and then was formally appointed Professor of Chemistry in the same institution. Davy was a remarkably handsome man, of good stature, gifted with great eloquence, and above all an enthusiast. His lectures at once became the