Monday, June 23, 2008

Science in the Regency

The Regency was at the very start of the Industrial Revolution. The great manufacturies of the north of England were slowly coming into their own, wiping out the cottage industries which had continued for centuries and gentlemen dabbled in Science. But so did others.

In 1799 Count Rumford had proposed the establishment in London of an ‘Institution for Diffusing Knowledge,’ Finally called the Royal Institution house in Albemarle Street.
The picture is a satirical cartoon by James Gillray showing a Royal Institution lecture on pneumatics with Humphrey Davy holding the bellows and Count Rumford looking on at extreme right. Dr Garnett is the lecturer holding the victim's nose.

Sir Humphry Davy was a chemist famous for inventing the Davy lamp, in 1815 which gave a measure of protection to minors working underground in detecting dangerous gases. It replaced the canary -- who died -- so the miners knew it was time to leave. He became addicted to laughing gas, which he actually administered to interested patrons at some of his lectures.

In October 1813, he and his wife, accompanied by Michael Faraday, his scientific assistant and valet, traveled to France to collect a medal Napoleon Bonaparte had awarded Davy for his electro-chemical work.

The Royal Institution provide funds and a location for people like Davy to carry out their experiments and to bring them to the general public.




Another important institution for science of the time, though its history goes back to the 17th Century, was the The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, known simply as The Royal Society, located at Somerset House, a location provided by the crown. Again, it was primarily amateurs and gentlement who were members, until the reforms of 1820.

Advances were also being made in medicine. Charles Bell published detailed studies of the nervous system and brain in 1811, in his book An Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain he described his experiments with animals and how he was the first to distinguish between sensory and motor nerves. This book is considered by many the founding stone of clinical neurology. It is he, who gives us the name of the condition Bell's palsy, since he was the first to describe it.

Of course that is only a scratch on the surface, and hopefully we will revisit this topic. Until next time. Happy Rambles.