Hand-colored etching
James Gillray (1757—1815).
"Scientific Researches! New Discoveries in Pneumatics! — or — an Experimental Lecture on the Power of Air."
London: Hannah Humphrey, May 23, 1802
Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library

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The "original object of the Royal Institution was to combine the dissemination of useful knowledge with amusement and instruction of the higher ranks." Gillray chose that venue to present this satire on fashionable society figures and their penchant for scientific lectures. The lecturer depicted here is Thomas Young, professor of natural philosophy at the Institute from 1801 to 1803. His lectures were not well received as they were rather dense and quite dull, and the Edinburgh Review ridiculed them as fit only for ladies of fashion.

Young is shown experimenting on Sir John Coxe Hippisly on the left. To the right is Sir Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday's mentor, shown holding a pair of bellows with gas spouting from its nozzle. In 1801, Davy had given a more successful series of lectures at the Institute on "pneumatical chemistry" and had administered nitrous oxide to several gentlemen. Facing the table from the right is Count Rumford; on the extreme right is Isaac Disraeli (wearing glasses), the father of the statesman Benjamin Disraeli. In the center of the image is Frederica Augusta Locke, turned in profile taking copious notes. A well-known bluestocking, Mrs. Locke is not watching the experiment at all.


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