By foregoing a career in politics, Henry Cavendish deprived his family of a reliable vote in Parliament for a number of years, but by then his vote was dispensable. What was enduring in the family tradition was a commitment to public service
With his way of life, Cavendish brought together the two main reference points of his identity, his rank and his work: in the organizations where he performed his duty of service, he was welcomed as a natural philosopher bringing useful knowledge, skill, and intelligence. The English aristocracy was in ascendancy
In the summer of 1753, soon after leaving Cambridge, Henry together with his brother Frederick accompanied their father to William Heberden’s
Fellows of the Royal Society
On 31 January 1760, Henry Cavendish was proposed for fellowship in the Royal Society
Just as at the Royal Society, at the Royal Society Club
Candidates for membership in the Club were not always elected. For example, at an annual anniversary meeting of the Club, there were seven candidates, two of whom were chosen unanimously, one of them the astronomer William Herschel. The others had various numbers of “black balls” against them, as reported in a letter from the president of the Club.11 Henry would face no opposition, but he had to wait until there was a vacancy before he could be balloted. The wait, it turned out was considerable, two and a half years, though it was a formality readily circumvented. He was invited to dinners as a guest of his father’s four times in 1758 and two times the following year, treated as if he were a member from the time of his proposal. As it happened, the timing was right, for he was elected member of the Club on 31 July 1760, just two months after he was elected to the Royal Society.12 Henry was then twenty-eight; his father did not attend dinners at the Club regularly anymore, so Henry came mostly on his own.
We join Henry at his first dinner as a member, on 14 August 1760, at the Mitre Tavern on Fleet Street. He paid his admission fee of one pound one shilling together with three shillings for the dinner that day. He sat down at four o’clock before the following choices: nine dishes of meat, poultry, and fish, two fruit pies, plum pudding, butter and cheese, and wine, Porter, or lemonade.13 A foreign guest left the one detailed description of a dinner of the Club in the eighteenth century, held on 12 August 1784, at which Cavendish was present. The members sat down to dinner at 5 PM, breaking off at 7:30 PM in time for the Royal Society meeting at 8 PM. The president of the Royal Society Joseph Banks presided over the dinner, and the astronomer royal the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne gave a short prayer. The guest noticed the quantity of alcohol that was drunk during and after the dinner, selected from a wide menu: beer, port, madeira, claret, champagne, brandy, rum, and other strong liquors. It was the prince of Wales’s birthday, and the Elector Palatine was admitted that day to the Royal Society, and they and each member and each guest received a toast, each calling for wine. According to the guest, by the time they left, they “were all pretty much enlivened,” though their “gaiety was decorous.”14 At meetings of the Club, between eating well and drinking, members and guests talked about scientific news and sometimes performed experiments.15
The Club met every Thursday throughout the year. In his first year, Cavendish came to sixteen dinners, the next year twenty-eight, and eventually he came to nearly all of them. From 1770 on, he attended no fewer than forty-four dinners in a year, and usually around fifty. A dozen or so members and guests made up a typical dinner party, but there was considerable fluctuation. Cavendish’s regularity is indicated by the following events. In 1767, on a day in which the meeting room of the Club was appropriated by the Society of Antiquaries, another arrangement was made, and only one member of the Club turned up for it: he was Cavendish, who brought with him as a guest Nevil Maskelyne
Wilson learned from his sources that Cavendish was interested only in science. That would seem to be largely borne out, though it is incomplete. Geikie in his history of the Club recognized that Cavendish had wider interests than the laboratory, as shown by his guests, who included physicians, surgeons, politicians, manufactures, engineers, explorers, seamen, and still other types.18 Examples are John Belchier, surgeon of Guy’s Hospital, Paul Joddrell, who became a physician in India, William Ogilvie, professor of humanity at the University of Aberdeen, and Henry Penruddock, former mayor of Salisbury and sheriff of Wiltshire who was interested in antiquities and topography. Some persons he brought as guests were candidates for membership in the Club, in which event he may have been performing a duty, but usually this was not the reason. He did more than attend dinners: in addition to bringing guests, he presided over an annual general meeting in the absence of the president at least once,19 and he made gifts of fish and venison.20
In 1780 the meetings of the Club were moved to the Crown & Anchor Tavern on the Strand, closer to the new location of the Royal Society in Somerset House. If Cavendish had an interest in music, he might have been familiar with the Crown & Anchor: this tavern with its great ballroom had long been the site of the fortnightly concerts of the Academy of Ancient Music, as it would continue to be until 1784, combining excellent music with food and drink
In 1760, the same year that he was elected to the Royal Society and the Royal Society Club, Cavendish was elected to the Society of Arts
Cavendish held no office in the Society of Arts
The idea of the Society of Arts at its inception was that industry would be stimulated by prizes donated by interested parties. To this end, six main committees were set up, at least two of which were of interest to Cavendish, those for chemistry and mechanics. Historians of the Society find that the competitions stimulated the early stages of the industrial and agricultural revolutions, especially the latter. In industry the Society’s main concern was mechanical inventions, having to do with, for example, water and steam power, measuring instruments, and standards of measurements; it was also concerned with chemicals used in industry, including the chemical processes of smelting and refining iron ore. These industrial subjects interested Cavendish, as we learn from the journeys he made, which come up later in this book. As an example, the Society awarded a gold medal to Abraham Darby III
In Cavendish’s time, scientific books were written for a variety of purposes and readers; for example, to educate students, to present the state of a field for researchers, to simplify a field for lay readers, to serve as practical manuals, to bring out new research or interpretations, to bring together previously published papers, and to make money. For example, Robert Smith
As it turned out, like a few of his colleagues, notably William Herschel
At Cambridge, Cavendish
With one exception, the important papers Cavendish wrote for the Philosophical Transactions were experimental. In the previous century, when the journal began, the meaning of “experiment”
In reporting the results of scientific work, the Royal Society’s
Most papers in the Philosophical Transactions
Authors in the Philosophical Transactions were identified. At the head of his papers in the journal, Cavendishs name appeared together with his rank and affiliation, “Hon. Henry Cavendish, F.R.S.” As the later president of the Society Joseph Banks explained to a contributor, by the “name” of an author the Society did not mean a “bare signature but such additions local and professional as may lead any one of us at once to a knowledge of the person intended by it.”32 The “additions” did not include terms like “botanist.” Readers of a botanical paper would draw their own conclusion about the author’s scientific field. In the body of their papers, authors sometimes referred to one another by specialized terms such as “botanist,” “chemist,” and “electrician,” at other times by broad terms. A person who studied minerals might be called a “natural historian” or “naturalist,” terms which also applied to a person interested in, say, stones from a rhinoceros’s stomach. Someone who studied nature scientifically was a “philosopher,” a term which was often qualified: Cavendish was called a “natural philosopher
If foreigners pointed out Newton’s
Euler did, however, pick a quarrel with Newton on the subject of aberration in refracting telescopes. The imperfection of the image was understood to arise from two sources, the different refrangibility of different colors, and the shape of the eye-glass. The latter was a matter of craft; the former was believed to have no remedy. Newton was cited as the authority for this discouraging conclusion, and though in principle he had not ruled out the possibility of an achromatic lens, he had not succeeded in constructing one and had come to doubt its practicability.40 Euler believed that Newton was wrong, and he corrected him in letters to the Philosophical Transactions containing his prescription for making achromatic refracting telescopes. The English optical instrument maker John Dolland
Scientific conclusions had to be supported by facts, but on the question of whether greater trust was to be placed in observation or in theory, the answer was not always observation. James Short
For a fact to be established by experiment, the experiment had to be repeatable
To establish a fact by observation instead of by experiment, independent observations
Observers sometimes came together to examine instruments
The Philosophical Transactions regularly contained papers about instruments usually submitted by the persons who made them. They were invariably illustrated by detailed, scaled drawings, without which descriptions of instruments were hard to follow; Smeaton said that the construction and use of his pyrometer were clearer from the drawing than “from many words.”62 The importance of instruments was obvious—almost; from Norwich, a keeper of records of the weather complained that many people in his neighborhood judged the weather only by their “outward senses,” without resorting to the thermometer, and accordingly they made mistakes, such as putting the hottest day in June when it was in July.63 In astronomy
In the middle of the eighteenth century, observations with measuring instruments appeared in reports on a wide variety of subjects in the Philosophical Transactions: a measured draft given to, and blood taken from, a patient;66 the path of a stroke of lightning;67 the heat of a cave.68 Henry Miles
The quantitative direction in scientific work is seen in various forms in the Philosophical Transactions. Chemistry suffered from the unrepeatability of its experiments, according to Cromwell Mortimer
Electricity was the most active experimental field
Electricity had begun to be studied in the laboratory of nature. In the Philosophical Transactions, Franklin proposed investigating lightning
Lightning was new insofar as it was explained by electricity but otherwise it belonged to the general class of violent events, which were a staple of the Philosophical Transactions, as they were of life in the eighteenth century. Incidents of thunder and lightning with their attendant “melancholy accidents” were regularly reported, minutely described, and occasionally measured. Lightning struck a ship in a “violent manner, disabling most of the crew in eye and limb.”82 The mainmast of another ship was shattered when a “large ball of blue fire” rolled over the water and exploded, “as if hundreds of cannon had been fired at one time.”83 In a valley, in the “violence of the storm,” a cloudburst and flash flood threw up “monstrous stones,” which were “larger than a team of ten horses could move.”84 A meteor that looked like a “black smoky cloud” split an oak, and its “whirling, breaks, roar, and smoke, frightened both man and beast.”85 Clouds and auroras were seen to turn “blood-red.”86 Plagues of locusts “hid the sun,” and undeterred by “balls & shot,” they “miserably wasted” the land.87 Victims of the Black vomit” experienced delirium “so violent” that they had to be tied down so that they did “not tear themselves in pieces.”88 Bitten by a mad dog, a horse in its agony gave off breath “like smoke from a chimney-top,” with “much blood scatter’d up and down the stable.”89 An experimental dog was held in a poisonous vapor on the floor of a grotto, “tortured for three minutes,” then revived. After being given a South American poison, a “great number of living animals” were “seized with a sudden and almost universal palsy” before they died.90 Many of the medical papers in the Philosophical Transactions described extreme pathologies and monstrocities in more or less ordinary language, unsparing of the reader. Medical procedures could be as terrible as the illness or trauma that called for them. A woman with a “violent pain” in her eye went to a surgeon, who cut out the eye, “bled her plentifully,” applied a blister to her neck, and purged her repeatedly.91 Children were carried away by contagion, in the course of which a five-year-old girl was observed to cough up a “large quantity of white rotten flesh” in her so “violent a death.”92 In Constantinople the plague was raging, becoming “most violent” when the weather was hottest, as if to make it worse.93 Few persons escaped the “small-pox sooner or later in life,” with its “very terrible consequences,” and those who had escaped it lived “in continual apprehensuins and fear thereof.”94 A doctor of divinity and fellow of the Royal Society reported on an extraordinary case of a young man whose tendons and muscles were turning to bone, indicating that if the poor man lived, he would become “completely ossified.”95 When limbs were amputated, agaric was plugged into the severed arteries, eliminating the usual method of needle and ligature, the most painful part of amputations and sometimes the cause of death.96 The fright and misery of the world eventually would be brought to an end because the world was going to end, according to astronomical calculation, by spiraling toward the Sun and on its way “necessarily be burnt.”97 Reading the journal could be a disquieting experience. Cavendish, who presumably read about violent events appearing in the Philosophical Transactions, was not drawn to them in his studies. He advised on the way to protect against lightning strikes, but he left no first-hand observations of them or, for that matter, of most one-of-a-kind phenomena.
In the laboratory the violence of nature was simulated, and it could be dangerous; lacking apparatus with effective safety features, investigators sometimes were “intimidated” and “deterred,” in “danger of being hurt.”98 In 1753 the German physicist Georg Wilhelm Richmann living in Russia was electrocuted in a room containing his apparatus while performing an experiment on the electrical nature of lightning.99 The discharge of a Leiden jar
The most frightening event reported in the Philosophical Transactions was an earthquake. The year 1750 “may rather be called the year of earthquakes
About half of the observers reporting firsthand on the earthquakes of 1750 in the Philosophical Transactions were fellows of the Royal Society, who also collected testimony and communicated letters from other observers who were not.104 Fellows or otherwise, observers of earthquakes rarely noted the direction, time, and duration of the shock.105 As earthquakes went, those of 1751 were not especially severe—Gowin Knight
The “secondary causes” were the scientific question, to which two answers were published in the Philosophical Transactions. Stephen Hales, a clergyman, said that both the ordinary and the extraordinary events of nature were caused by God, but that they did not lie outside natural explanation for that reason. After describing his sensations while lying in bed during a tremor, he explained with reference to an experiment from his Statical Essays that an earthquake is caused by the explosive mixing of air with sulfurous vapors rising from the the pores of the Earth.113 William Stukeley
Reports of the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake in 1755 filled the last roughly hundred pages of the volume of the Philosophical Transactions for that year and much of the next year’s. Unlike reports of the earlier earthquakes of 1750, these recounted loss of life and physical destruction. The most important single response to the earthquake was John Michell’s
Michell disagreed with Hales and Stukeley, who located the cause of earthquakes near the surface of the Earth. Volcanoes were proof that fires could exist underground without contact with the air, and by analogy (and for other reasons) Michell concluded that volcanoes and earthquakes had the same cause, the contact of underground water with underground fire, turning the water instantly and explosively into steam. The steam in turn compressed the matter of the Earth, and because the Earth was elastic, the compression was followed by dilation, generating waves that were propagated horizontally over a long distances. Michell made the scientific study of earthquakes quantitative by developing methods for determining their velocity, location, and depth, which he applied to the Lisbon earthquake, with implications for geological science. His theory of earthquakes was a beginning of an exact, dynamical science of the Earth. When Cavendish heard Michell’s paper read, he would have recognized its author as a fellow natural philosopher. In the judgment of later geologists, Michell’s
Like earthquakes, the weather
The naturalist William Arderon
Some authors appearing in the Philosophical Transactions worked in both the physical and the life sciences
Astronomy and classics
George Wilson (1851, 161).
L.B. Namier (1929, 5).
Thomas Thomson (1830–1831, 1:336). Wilson (1851, 160).
25 Aug. 1753, Thomas Birch Diary, BL Add Mss 4478C, f. 235.
Henry came with his father to dinner at Heberden’s twelve times. Our knowledge of this dinner and others like them comes from Thomas Birch’s Diary, and so we know only about those social occasions at which Birch was present.
Examples from about this time: John Canton, Jr., was a guest of John Canton, and Jonathan Watson, Jr., was a guest of Jonathan Watson. Entries for 26 Mar. and 9 July 1767, JB, Royal Society 26.
Entries in JB, Royal Society 23 (1757–60). Michael Lort was an antiquarian, who in 1759 was appointed professor of Greek at Cambridge. Since he was not yet himself a fellow of the Royal Society, he must have had the right to invite guests as a university professor. Lort was a good friend of the Cavendish in-law Philip Yorke, and he is said to have been librarian to the duke of Devonshire.
1 May 1760, JB, Royal Society 23:845.
Certificates, Royal Society 2:198 (proposed 31 Jan. 1760). Maurice Crosland (1983, 173–174).
Minute Book of the Royal Society Club, Oct. 27, 1743–June 29, 1809, Royal Society, 1.
Joseph Banks to Charles Blagden, 28 July 1785, Blagden Letters, Royal Society, B.35.
Archibald Geikie (1917, 63, 70). At the beginning of Minute Book 4, covering the years 1760–64, it says that everyone is charged for a pint of wine, and that for those who preferred lemonade and porter, their value was reckoned as equal to that of a bottle of wine.
14 Aug. 1760, Minute Book of the Royal Society Club, Royal Society, 4.
Geikie (1917, 169–171).
Joseph Banks to Charles Blagden, 28 Sep. 1782, Blagden Letters, Royal Society, B10.
Geikie (1917, 73–74, 80, 95, 97). Hector Charles Cameron (1952, 172).
As of the time of Geikie’s book, Royal Society Club, 73.
Geikie (1917, 147, 154, 202, 234).
25 July 1782, as recorded in the Minute Book of the Royal Society Club, 7.
4 Apr. 1782, 25 Aug. 1785, Minute Book of the Royal Society Club, Royal Society, 7.
Robert Elkin (1955, 51–52).
On 9 January 1760, Henry Cavendish was proposed for membership by Mr. Cosheap; at the next meeting, on 16 January, he was elected. Minutes of the Society, Society of Arts, 4.
A List of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. 6 April 1768. Printed by order of the Society.
D.G.C. Allan, personal communication, 1966, and Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 1966, 1033, n. 11.
After 14 Dec. 1757, the Society Minutes stopped recording names of members present at meetings.
The competitions were extensive; for example, in 1764 there were 380 classes, and the premium list took up 91 pages. Transactions of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, vol. 1, 1783. Derek Hudson and Kenneth W. Luckhurst (1954, 6, 15, 57–58, 101, 113–116, 119, 124–125).
Richard Sorrenson (1996, 39–40).
Charles Bazerman (1988, 66–68).
William Watson (1750, 355–356).
An exception was a letter sent to the instrument maker James Short, translated from the Latin: Joseph Steplin (1755).
20 May 1773, Minutes of Council, Royal Society, 6. In 1780, a paper in Swedish by Carl Peter Thunberg and one in Italian by Felice Fontana were printed in the body of the journal, their English translations in an appendix.
Draft letter by Joseph Banks, 28 Dec. 1791, Banks Correspondence, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Here and there; e.g., PT 46 (1750): 118, 362, 589.
Thomas Simpson (1748, 333).
Henry Cavendish to Nevil Maskelyne, 29 Dec. 1784, draft; in Jungnickel and McCormmach (1999, 600).
James Short (1753a, 14–15).
Patrick Murdoch (1751, 62–63, 74).
Alexis Claude Clairaut (1753, 82–83).
Leonhard Euler (1753).
D.T. Whiteside in Newton (1967–1969, 442–443).
Under the general heading: “Letters to a Theorem of Mr. Euler… for Correcting the Aberrations in the Object-Glasses of Refracting Telescopes,” PT 48 (1753:287–96). One letter was by James Short; other letters were Leonhard Euler, “Letters Concerning a Theorem of His, for Correcting the Aberrations in the Object-Glasses of Refracting Telescopes,” and John Dolland, “A Letter […] Concerning a Mistake in M. Euler’s Theorem for Correcting the Aberrations in the Object-Glasses of Refracting Telescopes.”
John Dolland (1758, 736).
Thomas Melvil (1753, 262).
Henry Eeles (1755, 124–125).
Short (1753a, 5–7).
Thomas Simpson (1755).
Watson (1750, 349; 1751, 237–238). Steven Shapin (1988, 399).
John Canton (1751, 32–33).
Peter Newcome (1750). James Burrow (1750a).
Shapin (1988, 398–399).
Peter Davall (1749, 195).
James Burrow (1750b, 626). Lady Cornwallis told James Burrow of her experience of an earthquake: James Burrow (1750c, 703).
William Barlow (1750, 693).
William Henry (1753, 1).
John Browning (1751, 279). This was actually an account of premature aging. The child was displayed for money in Bristol.
Abbé Nollet (1749, 377).
John Smeaton (1754a, 535, 537, 539–540).
Romé de l’Isle (1954). The subject is the parallax of Mars, determined by observations at two places on earth, in France and in England.
The other observers were John Bevis, John Pringle, and the duke of Queensbury. John Canton observed the event at his house too. John Bevis (1751). Also James Short (1751).
The other observers at different places were John Birch, Jonathan Sisson, John Bird, John Smeaton, John Canton, and Lord Macclesfield. James Short (1753b).
James Short (1748, 591).
John Smeaton (1754b, 600, 605).
William Arderon (1750, 574).
James Bradley (1748, 1–5).
Allan Chapman (1993, 209).
George Bayly (1751).
William Arderon (1748).
Henry Miles (1750b).
Henry Miles (1748, 506).
John Pringle (1750).
Cromwell Mortimer (1747/1746, 673). This paper was first read in 1735 and printed later with revisions.
Richard Davies (1748, 416–435).
Wilson (1851, 187).
Stephen Hales (1748b, 410).
Emanuel Mendes da Costa to William Stukeley, 9 Nov. 1753, in John Nichols (1817–1858, 4:503).
William Watson (1747, 709 ff).
In 1746, the Royal Society learned of the Leiden jar. Acting on a suggestion by John Bevis, Watson increased the effect of the Leiden jar by lining both sides of the glass with metal and also by making the glass thin. That same year he explained how his theory of electricity explained the action of the Leiden jar. In 1747, Charles Cavendish forwarded to Watson a letter from Franklin giving his explanation of the Leiden jar. In 1748, Watson told the Royal Society that his and Franklin’s theories of electricity were effectively the same. Simon Schaffer, “Watson, Sir William,” DNB, 2d ed. (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/28874).
John Ellicott (1748, 196, 221–222).
Benjamin Franklin (1752).
William Watson (1752a); John Canton (1753). There were many papers at this time on lightning experiments.
William Borlase (1753); John Waddell (1749, 111–112).
Chalmers (1749, 366).
John Lock (1750/1749).
Thomas Barker (1749).
Henry Miles (1750a, 348). William Stukeley (1750c, 743).
Anonym (1749, 30–37, on 30–31).
Antonio de Ullöa (1749, 46:134–39, on 135).
John Starr (1750a, 474, 478).
Abbé Nollet (1751, 53). F.D. Herrisant (1751, 90).
Edward Spry (1755).
John Starr (1750b, 439).
Mordach Mackenzie (1752).
Richard Brooke (1752, 470).
William Henry (1751, 89).
Joseph Warner (1754).
Leonhard Euler (1749, 204).
We go beyond the time when Cavendish was at the University to when he began his electrical and chemical experiments at home. CĿ’Epinasse (1767, 188); Peter Woulfe (1767).
William Watson (1754).
Henry Eeles (1752). Eeles took exception to the standard analogy between fired gunpowder and thunder, proposing in its place an up-to-date explanation based on the fire observed in electrical experiments.
Henry Cavendish (1766); in Sci. Pap. 2:77–101, on 82.
William Stukeley (1750a, 669; 1750c, 732).
Issue no. 497, Philosophical Transactions. Being an Appendix to Those for the Year 1750. Simon Schaffer (1983, 17–18).
Of the 57 papers, the first 26 were all by fellows of the Royal Society. Of the remaining 31 papers, at least 16 were by fellows of the Royal Society. They included many prominent members, but Charles and Henry Cavendish were not among them, and few of them had Cavendishes’ interests: astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy. The earthquakes did not provide an opportunity for those who used instruments and made measurements on a regular basis.
“It is no wonder, that in a shock so sudden and alarming, that very few satisfactory observations are made.” William Cowper (1750, 648).
Gowin Knight (1750b, 604).
Smart Lethieullier (1750).
Abraham Trembly (1750, 611).
Gowin Knight (1750b, 603).
Various reports: PT 46 (1750): 618, 621, 641, 651, 682.
Thomas Birch (1750, 616).
Roger Pickering (1750, 625).
Stephen Hales (1750, 676–677).
William Stukeley (1750b, 642–644; 1750a, 663).
John Michell (1760, 629).
Michell (1760, 582).
Henry Miles (1749).
Henry Miles (1750c).
John Fothergill’s extracts from Gmelin (1748, 260). William Watson (1753a).
William Arderon (1748).
Browne Langrish (1747, i–ii, 7–8).
Charles Morton (1751, 308, 314).
William Stukeley (1753, 222).
Ibid. George Costard (1753, 19).
Gaubil (1753, 309–317).
William Watson’s expression, from his abstract and review of a book that fit the Royal Society’s ideal: “An Account of a Treatise by Wm. Brownrigg …” (1748b, 372).
John Mitchell (1748, 541).
John Smeaton (1752a, 497).
John Smeaton (1752c).
John Pringle (1753, 42).
Henry Ellis (1751).
William Watson (1752b, 406).
James Dodson (1753, 333–334).
John Bond (1753). William Watson (1753b).
Gowin Knight (1750a, 505). John Smeaton (1750).
Stephen Hales (1748a).
Table of Contents
Part I: Lord Charles Cavendish
Part II: The Honorable Henry Cavendish
17 Last Years
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