When the brilliant twenty-year-old chemist

25 01 2010

Humphry Davy discovered the potency of nitrous oxide, “laughing gas,” at the recently founded Pneumatic Institution in Bristol in April 1799, he inhaled the new mind-altering substance himself, and shared it with his friends. These included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, already, in his mid-twenties, hiding a growing opium addiction, who noted that he felt “more unmingled pleasure than I had ever before experienced.” The poet Robert Southey, a youthful radical who would later become a conservative-minded poet laureate, also experienced “a sensation perfectly new and delightful,” adding that “the atmosphere of the highest of all possible heavens must be composed of this gas.”

~ Jenny Uglow, “Romantic Scientists” (review of The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr. Beddoes and His Sons of Genius by Mike Jay in the NYRB)

The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr. Beddoes and His Sons of Genius
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