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I begin the history of the Royal Institution, and its professors to the time of Faraday, with the life of its founder, Count Rumford, because his career and character determined its original form. I have written short accounts of the earliest professors because the spirit that has shown itself in them has up to this time been the life of the Institution. Dr. Garnett and Dr. Thomas Young had comparatively little influence there, because the founder took the most active part in the establishment of his Institution; but when Count Rumford and Sir Joseph Banks had left and Mr. Bernard and Sir John Hippesley were the leading managers, Professor Davy gradually became the main supporter of the place, and to him chiefly it owes the form which it now retains.
During the last half-century the name of Faraday has been so blended with that of the Royal Institution that few people know what Davy made it; and fewer still have heard what Rumford at first intended it to be.
The following account will show that the Institution owes its origin entirely to Rumford, and would certainly have failed but for Davy. Moreover, it will be seen that before Faraday came there, it had been the home of Dr. Garnett and of Dr. Thomas Young; Dr. Dalton had lodged and lectured for weeks there; Sydney Smith, Coleridge, Sir James Smith, Dibden, Dr. Crotch, Campbell, Landseer, Opie, and Flaxman had also lectured there; Sir Joseph Banks and Mr. Cavendish had been managers, and Dr. Wollaston and Dr. Jenner had been members.
I have searched everywhere to find new or forgotten facts about the Institution.
For the sketch of the founder I owe much to the Rev. Dr. G. E. Ellis, of Boston, who has lately written the Life of Rumford for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I have found many despatches and letters relating to Rumford in the manuscripts of the American War now in the library of the Royal Institution, and in the unpublished correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, in the archives of the Foreign Office, and in the State Paper Office.
Not the least strange fact in the history of this original man is that during his life he received no thanks for all that he did for the Royal Institution. Moreover at the present time he is scarcely known as the finder of Davy and the founder of that place where very many of the greatest scientific discoveries of this century have been made.
For the account of the origin and progress of the Institution I have searched the minutes of the meetings of the managers, the proprietors, and the members. I am much indebted to Earl Spencer, who has lent me from the Althorp library a printed copy of the first prospectus of the Royal Institution. This was written by Count Rumford. I have found many forgotten things in the manuscript letters to and from Sir Joseph Banks, to which I have had access by permission of the Knatchbull family; also in a manuscript life of Mr. Webster, the architect of the Royal Institution theatre ; and in some letters which belonged to Mr. Savage, the clerk and first printer at the Institution, and for which I am indebted to his daughters.
For the sketch of the lives of Dr. Garnett and of Dr. Young I have been able to find very little original matter.
For the life of Sir Humphry Davy I have met with some new facts in his laboratory note-books. These books give most of his daily work at the time when he was making his great discoveries regarding chemical electricity, the alkalies, and chlorine. I have also had the use of the notes by Faraday of four of the last lectures given by Davy at the Institution. This is the manuscript volume sent to Davy by Faraday when he asked to be employed at the Institution. It consists of 386 small quarto pages. Davy at this time was thirty-three, and Faraday was twenty-one. The one was full of energy to profit by the excellence he could follow, or to shun the evil he could foresee; the other had long reached the climax of his success by his youthful popularity as a lecturer and his early renown as a discoverer; and was about to make a rich and an unsuitable marriage; and before long was to suffer from the restlessness of the failing health that ended in fatal disease.
Whenever a true comparison between these two nobles of the Institution can be made, it will probably be seen that the genius of Davy has been hid by the perfection of Faraday.
Incomparably superior as Faraday was in unselfishness, exactness, and perseverance, and in many other respects also, yet certainly in originality and in eloquence he was inferior to Davy, and in love of research he was by no means his superior.
Davy, from his earliest energy to his latest feebleness, loved research; and, notwithstanding his marriage, his temper, and his early death, he first gained for the Royal Institution that great reputation for original discovery which has been and is the foundation of its success.
H. B. J.
Royal Institution, Albemable Stbeet,