Talk:Humphry Davy

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High traffic

On 15 March 2008, Humphry Davy was linked from BBC News, a high-traffic website. (See visitor traffic)

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Since most chemists would award credit for aluminum's (aluminium's) discovery to someone other than Davy, I'm editing the article accordingly. I love Cornwall, but I don't think that will influence professional opinion. -- Astrochemist 20:51, 29 April 2007 (UTC)


I went Googling and I can safely say I've never seen a name incorrectly spelled so often in my life. Well, except Edmund-Edmond Halley, but that was because Halley spelled it both ways. The definitive sources all gow with Humphry-no-E, though. Good eyes. -- Paul Drye

I went to the Humphry (without an 'e') Davy (without an 'e') Grammar (without and 'e') School so I don't usually make the 'Humphrey' mistake. I will try and get a nice picture of his statue when I am next down at Penzance in a few weeks.ChrisAngove 22:06, 17 May 2006 (UTC)


The section called Biography seems to jump in on the middle of Davy's life. Just a comment. -- 02:32, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

I agree that much more work on the content is needed. Today I added some names of books as well as some external links, but I'm afraid I don't have much time to develop the content. The references would make a good start for anyone who does. - Astrochemist 21:50, 24 June 2007 (UTC)
No kidding. I count about two hundred words for his entire life before before his retirement. No mention at all of his involvement in literature as an editor, either. Mind you, there used to be a lot more, but someone seems to have considered that superfluous and edited it out of the article. I'll insert it from the old copy of the article that had in my reference notes. HollyI 15:31, 12 September 2007 (UTC)


"Davy became known due to his experiences with the physiological action of some gases." --do you mean experiments with? --Koyaanis Qatsi

Davy had his friends over to do the experiments with them. They were under the influence.

"Davy became well known owing to his experiences with the physiological action of some gases" What is that supposed to say? --Floog

  • Sorry, didn't bother reading above, fixed what it said on the actual page.--Floog


Is anyone interested in inserting the E.C. Bentley clerihew regarding Davy into the text? It reads;

  • Sir Humphry Davy,
  • Detested gravy.
  • He lived on the odium
  • Of discovering Sodium

Obviously, the gravy comment will need researching.LessHeard vanU 23:19, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

The old version of the page had it

Sir Humphry Davy Abominated gravy. He lived in the odium Of discovering sodium.� which is more likely correct, since it has better meter and uses the proper preposition for "odium". I haven't been able to hunt down his dining preferences, though. HollyI 15:40, 12 September 2007 (UTC)

The first sentence[edit]

I've reverted this article to something like what has been in it for the past year, pending discussion. (There has been none so far.) I would hate to see this article turn into the sort of thing that Nicholas Copernicus's page has become, with near-constant arguing over the person's nationality as opposed to the hard work of contributing material on the individual's life, work, and influence. I don't see a nationality debate with the articles on Cornishmen John Couch Adams, Richard Trevithick, John Davy (chemist), Edmund Davy, or Robert Were Fox the Younger (the last was a geologist contemporary and countryman of Davy). I'm not biased toward using English, British, or whatever, but "Cornish" alone might not be understood by some readers outside the UK, and would not be in line with current Wikipedia practice. Feel free to correct me (with verification please) if I'm wrong. Can some of the regular contributor's to this Davy article weigh in on this subject, one way or the other? - Astrochemist (talk) 18:33, 3 March 2008 (UTC)

Oh brother was I wrong about Richard Trevithick. His talk page is loaded with nationality debates. I hope those can be avoided here. - Astrochemist (talk) 18:50, 3 March 2008 (UTC)
I quite agree that there are usually more interesting things to know than a person's country of birth. But such facts are often not inconsequential, even if history has re-drawn the national boundaries many times over. If I were Cornish, however, and I suspected that this term of origin "might not be understood by some readers outside the UK" I'd certainly want to keep it in as way of educating those very readers! One beauty of Wikipedia is that one can click on as many or as few links as one likes or needs. Martinevans123 (talk) 13:56, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

Punctuation query[edit]

Should the opening read "... Davy, FRS" or " ... Davy FRS" or something different? Several variations now exist in Wikipedia articles on British scientists. Anyone have the definitive answer? It would be nice to have uniformity. - I'm leaving a similar comment on the James Joule talk page. Astrochemist (talk) 13:27, 13 March 2008 (UTC)

From a swift perusal of the RS website, it appears that they do not use a comma (e.g. Sir Richard Attenborough FRS). DuncanHill (talk) 15:39, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
In my own experince I have never seen any punctuation between a surname and additional letters denoting award(s), or even between letters. What does Debrett's say?Martinevans123 (talk) 18:18, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
Is that Debrett's or Debretts? LessHeard vanU (talk) 20:56, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
Debrett's, of course :) DuncanHill (talk) 21:18, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
and how about Gowers' Fowler's? (that's Gowers GCB GBE, of course) haha Martinevans123 (talk) 21:35, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
In my files I have one article titled "William Prout, M.D., F.R.S. Physician and Chemist" from Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London (1970) and an article titled "Professor John Norman Collie, F.R.S." from The Geographical Journal (1942, Royal Geographical Society). Wikipedia's page for Winston Churchill has "Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, FRS, PC ...", but his brother is simply "Churchill DSO TD". -- My personal preference is what has already been expressed by others, no punctuation before or within "FRS". Wikipedia's feature article on Isaac Newton avoids commas as, from what I can gather, do most other Wikipedia articles on scientists. -- Thanks for the responses! -- Astrochemist (talk) 14:37, 14 March 2008 (UTC)

Two sentences[edit]

I changed the opening sentence slightly. I don't recall seeing Davy described as a physicist, and certainly his work would (today) be much more closely identified with chemistry than physics. Of course, this is largely for the modern reader as these scientific distinctions were much less defined in Davy's time. -- I considered changing, but did not alter, the third sentence, because I wonder if the Davy lamp "proved a boon to miners" in Davy's own time. My recollection is that more miners died after Davy's invention because the lamp encouraged them to go deeper and so forth. However, I have no verification at hand. -- Astrochemist (talk) 13:12, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

The ODNB calls him a chemist and inventor, I think it's fair enough not to call him a phycisist here. The article needs quite a lot of expansion IMO, will try to do something on it presently. DuncanHill (talk) 14:05, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Checking the Davy Lamp article, I discovered that the Christopher Lawrence reference wasn't visible, so few of us had verification to hand! The lamp (along with the Geordie lamp provided some protection from asphyxiation as well as from explosion. So it was also good news for canaries. But it meant that starving miners could now feel safe in still unsafe seams. The popularity of tje Davy lamp suggests it was more of a boon to mine owners. While gas could kill one miner quickly and quiety, an explosion could easily bring a costly halt to production for days or weeks. Martinevans123 (talk) 14:18, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
You guys are putting me to shame with your speed! Page 120 of Hartley's short biography of Davy has a passage from a parliamentary committee in 1835 concerning the lamp. The passage gives numbers showing a 20% increase in deaths, but claims that the quantity of coal mined also increased during the same time period. Unfortunately, Hartley doesn't give specific references. -- By the way, I agree with the above comments about "chemist and inventor" and about mine owners. Should changes be made to the opening paragraph? - Astrochemist (talk) 16:13, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
I've made the change to "chemist and inventor". DuncanHill (talk) 17:15, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Knight (1992) suggests that the two main reasons why "the number of disasters did not decline in the years after the lamp was invented", were lamp unreliability (mainly caused by breaks in the gauze and coal dust clogging) and the intransigence of the mine owners, who publicly lauded Davy's invention but who were reluctant to translate their enthuiasm into saftey investment. Deaths compared to amount of coal mined did fall, perhaps because mine employment rates were still increasing and improved mining technology also allowed an increase in per capita production rate.Martinevans123 (talk) 17:05, 6 April 2008 (UTC)


I've hugely expanded the "Early life" section, with public domain text from the old DNB. It could do with editing for style etc, so please do feel free to get stuck in! DuncanHill (talk) 16:43, 6 April 2008 (UTC)


I have edited the article to bring some order into his career, and also mention his work in rather more detail. The article seems to have been written by an historian with no chemical knowledge whatsoever. Peterlewis (talk) 21:46, 8 May 2008 (UTC)

Many thanks - a lot of the text did come from the old DNB, which as a chemical text leaves a lot to be desired! DuncanHill (talk) 21:52, 8 May 2008 (UTC)


I have removed his ethnicity as “Cornish”-This frankly sickens me that Cornish nationalists are allowed without question to implement there ideas here by stealing English people just because they were born in Cornwall. (WHICH IS PART OF ENGLAND) I can accept Richard Trevithick, but Davy isn’t even a Cornish surname, it’s English/Irish. --Frank Fontaine (talk) 17:16, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

It is fairly simple, Davy was born just outside of Penzance and was apprenticed to an apothacary in Penzance in the period 1778 - 1792, a place and period when the Cornish language was still spoken by some of the inhabitants; thus he was born into a culture that was as much Cornish as English. Therefore his ethnicity may be described as Cornish, while his nationality remains English. The origin of the name is spurious, since two of the most common names of the period (and nowadays) are Jose (pronounced Joe's or Jowes) and Jago (pronounced Jay'go - derived from Diago) and variations which are Spanish. Welsh names like Williams also abound.
I would also comment that English nationalists (of the current era) are as much tedious arseholes as are the Cornish nationalists, and neither of them are particularly inclined to use reason and debate to establish or change consensus and it is my practice to, after an attempt to explain how things are supposed work around here, block them if they cause any more disruption. I may be a shithead abusive admin, but I try to be a neutral shithead abusive admin. Please try and find consensus before making such edits and comments in the future. LessHeard vanU (talk) 19:53, 29 September 2009 (UTC)
Jeez! Glad I'm not an English/Cornish nationalist! I'm another type of nationalist but I won't tell you what type. You may not like them either. (:0 Jack forbes (talk) 20:44, 29 September 2009 (UTC)
If a person's "ethnicity" is to be defined as based on language, there are an awful lot of English people in the world. I thought it was based on shared identity, but I'm probably just a tedious arsehole. Ghmyrtle (talk) 21:44, 1 October 2009 (UTC)
Ethnicity is rather a nebulous concept - certainly our article on it is a bit crap. Ethnicity can be based on language, culture, shared identity, or a combination of some or all of these, or other factors. Some organizations will adopt particular definitions for their own purposes, but I do not think it is possible to make a general definition that works (or rather, the more specific the definition, the less likely it is to fit any given usage of the word). DuncanHill (talk) 06:26, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
So on what basis do you describe Davy as Cornish here? Ghmyrtle (talk) 07:07, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
By birth and ancestry. And the fact that until I started using Wikipedia I had never heard him described as English by anyone. DuncanHill (talk) 07:14, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
Hmmm... [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]... I could go on. Ghmyrtle (talk) 18:04, 3 October 2009 (UTC)
I'm sure you could - any non-American texts though? DuncanHill (talk) 18:08, 3 October 2009 (UTC)
How on earth is that relevant? FWIW, the nearest encyclopedia on my bookshelf (The Modern Cyclopedia, Gresham, pub. London, 1901), states: "Davy, Sir Humphry, Bart., distinguished English chemist......" Ghmyrtle (talk) 18:32, 3 October 2009 (UTC)
Sorry Duncan, but English is a nationality. And Wikipedia uses reliable sources, and no such source describes Humphrey Davy as "Cornish"-He's all English baby! Humphrey Davy-ENGLISH inventor-Retarded Celtic whannabe- NO HEZ CONRISH FUK SAKE ENGLISH IMPERIALIST!!11!WHITE CELTIC POWA!!!-Prove it. Cornwall is a part of England. Barely any of it has distinct culture (FLAWED CONCEPT-ALL PARTS OF ENGLAND HAVE DISTINCT CULTURE, COMPARE SHROPSHIRE TO OXFORDSHIRE WHY DON'T YOU?) Unless we do a DNA test on Humphrey Davy’s skeleton linking him back to the Celts…Then He’s English. Oh but it’s relating to his culture!!! Are you denying that Cornish culture doesn’t exist in Cornwall- IT DOES!!! I have seen MORE St. Georges flags flown in Cornwall than England, seen groups of England football supporters IN Cornwall. So don’t you DARE try and deny that. Language? HE NEVER SPOKE CORNISH! Get real. Seriously. --Frank Fontaine (talk) 18:38, 3 October 2009 (UTC)

Hmmm. Anyway, as I noted on the Cornwall talk page (before the thread deteriorated somewhat - as this one is threatening to do), even if there are plenty of - perfectly accurate - descriptions of him as being in some way "Cornish" out there, it's still a leap from that to asserting that his "ethnicity" is definitively and exclusively "Cornish". I have no interest in reclaiming him as being "ethnically" English or British or whatever - I think the ethnicity category should simply be removed altogether. I don't see how that kind of simplistic but definitive categorisation of an individual is ever going to be a reliable description one way or the other, and most Wikipedia biogs I've seen don't include one. --Nickhh (talk) 09:39, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

I've raised at Template talk:Infobox person#Ethnicity the question of whether the "ethnicity" field in infoboxes should be discouraged, at least in contentious cases such as this, or even abandoned altogether. Ghmyrtle (talk) 10:28, 4 October 2009 (UTC)
Oh well, we seem to be mostly talking to each other there! Anyway, it's not the most important thing about Mr Davy, but I do think this is worth clarifying once and for all on this page at least. It is in the infobox at the top of his page, after all. I genuinely think that unless someone can bring up several reliable sources that, without fear of contradiction, assert not merely that he is in some sense "Cornish" (which he undoubtedly was), but that his "ethnicity" is definitively and exclusively "Cornish", that field needs to go. I'll give it a couple of days and then remove it, unless someone can do that. The box will of course still state that he was born in Cornwall. --Nickhh (talk) 17:41, 10 October 2009 (UTC)

OK, I'm removing the "ethnicity" field. Could anyone who thinks they can justify its inclusion please try to do so here, rather than simply reverting it back in without comment, or alleging "POV", as has happened in the past? A description as explicit as this really needs some decent and explicit sources to back it up. Stating that he has a definite and exclusive ethnicity, and arriving at the conclusion that that ethnicity is Cornish, appears currently to be a rather blatant piece of original research, on two levels. Yes it may well have been here for a long time, but all sorts of dubious material has loitered in Wikipedia for ages without anyone noticing or trying to change it. That should be seen as a general problem, not as a reason for keeping all that content. --Nickhh (talk) 07:08, 15 October 2009 (UTC)

I agree. Ghmyrtle (talk) 07:59, 15 October 2009 (UTC)
And so it goes on, five years later. Yes, I fully agree with User:Jowaninpensans that "the Cornish are now allowed to call themselves Cornish". But was that really the case in 1778? Martinevans123 (talk) 18:35, 17 August 2014 (UTC)

Confusion between different oxides of nitrogen[edit]

"His respiration of nitrous oxide may have led, by its union with common air in the mouth, to the formation of nitrous acid (HNO2), which severely injured the mucous membrane". Not possible - nitrous oxide is stable in air at ordinary temperatures. Writer is most likely thinking of nitric oxide which is unstable and combines with water and oxygen to form nitrous acid. Moletrouser (talk) 08:39, 22 June 2010 (UTC)

Pneumatic Institute[edit]

This might be a good place to start: Stansfield, A, and Stansfield, R. (1986), "DR THOMAS BEDDOES AND JAMES WATT: PREPARATORY WORK 1794-96 FOR THE BRISTOL PNEUMATIC INSTITUTE", Medical History, 30: 276-302.. Martinevans123 (talk) 20:28, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Oh, I was just going to add that link myself, in response to the revert. [6] -- Nczempin (talk) 20:45, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
I guess we'll need both, with one as a redirect to the other, but for now I think creating the page is more important. -- Nczempin (talk) 20:47, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Andy D - can you provide any supporting refs for Institution? I would have thought the Stansfields ought to know what they were talking about? Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 20:51, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
[7] Trevor Harvey Levere, 1977: Dr. Thomas Beddoes and the establishment of his Pneumatic Institution: a tale of three presidents. Google Scholar is about even on "pneumatic institute" vs. "pneumatic institution" -- Nczempin (talk) 20:57, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Well, I see that Google gives "Pneumatic Institution" 7,240 hits but Pneumatic Institute only 3,040. But I am no fan of Google hits as a measure of anything. Martinevans123 (talk) 21:00, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
That's why I used Google scholar, which gives about 300 to each. -- Nczempin (talk) 21:02, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
The Beddoes page links to Institute, and there is an additional one from some user collecting "medical topics for which articles should be created". Institution only links from here. -- Nczempin (talk) 21:05, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Good idea. I am wondering if Institution was what it called itself, and Institute what it became known as by others? i.e. the former somewhat archaic but contemporary? It must have published something? Had articles of incorporation, records, etc etc? Perhaps the archive at Bristol Library has something? Martinevans123 (talk) 21:10, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Well, you both have a shorter way to Bristol, so BeBold :-). And from what I've read so far, I'm not sure it publicized all that much. It seems to have been fairly short-lived. From the first reference it is not even entirely clear when it was established; in 1799? Then how did Davy join in 1798? Questions, questions. -- Nczempin (talk) 21:22, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Yes, Stansfield and Stansfield tell us: ".. the years when the Institute was active, 1798-1801.. ".

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Alas the museum(s) in Bristol seems to be in some kind of transitional state at the moment? I have posted a note at Andy Dingley's chat page. I see from Knight (1992) that Davy himself referred to it in his letters as "The Pneumatical Institution" and "The Medical Pneumatical Institution". Martinevans123 (talk) 21:27, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

[8] seems to be a citation of the original announcement: Beddoes T. The Pneumatic Institution for gas therapy. Bristol Gazette and Public Advertiser, 21 March 1799. So Institution is the primary name I guess. We still have WP:COMMONNAME, but for now the main article should be -ion. And perhaps it was already established but only announced publically in 1799. I really don't want to start the article based on a vague establishment date. -- Nczempin (talk) 22:03, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

arc lamp?[edit]

The main reason I came here was that Davy is mentioned in a book about the history of electronics (obviously with a bit of non-electronic background thrown in) as first having demonstrated electrical light "two years after Volta's battery" (which would make it 1802). The platinum wire burnt through though. In 1809 he experimented further, and in 1813 he presented his arc lamp before the Royal Institution. I couldn't find this information in the article, but I may have missed it because the chronology isn't entirely clear (or for other reasons more to do with my mental health). Unfortunately the book is in German, translated from Dutch. -- Nczempin (talk) 21:48, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

There is some interesting information in the Incandescent light bulb article, including a citation to a book. This article might benefit from including some of that information. (Also, there is a sentence that I just removed from that article that may be worth studying. I removed it because it did not seem relevant to incandescent light bulbs, but it may be useful to include here.) It would also be desirable to find a way to reconcile statements about Davy with those about Vasily Vladimirovich Petrov. —BarrelProof (talk) 17:34, 19 April 2014 (UTC)

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey[edit]

Seeing that Davy was featured in the episode The Electric Boy, should this be included under Legacy? (talk) 03:39, 18 May 2014 (UTC)

No. He was mentioned on tv because of his legacy, but that mention is not part of his legacy. Richard75 (talk) 17:56, 24 June 2014 (UTC)

Inherited heart disease[edit]

The section titled Last years and death claims that he inherited heart disease, "from his patheral line," which is not possible because there is no such thing as a patheral line. This needs to be edited. Cottonshirtτ 18:03, 11 September 2014 (UTC) (*Yes check.svg Done. Feel free to edit yourself? Martinevans123 (talk) 18:10, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

  • The only mention of Davy's father in the article is that he died in 1794. On what basis are you claiming that Davy inherited heart disease from his father, do you have a source or are you simply guessing that, "patheral," was a mis-spelling of paternal? Cottonshirtτ 19:12, 11 September 2014 (UTC)
  • What do you think "patheral" means? I did not add the fact that he had heart disease, it was here before I made that edit, and it's still unsourced. Do you think it should be removed or tagged? Martinevans123 (talk) 19:19, 11 September 2014 (UTC)
  • As far as I am aware, "patheral," is not a word in any language. If there is no source for the claim that Davy had heart disease, or that he died of heart disease, the claim should, in my opinion, be removed from the article. If there is no source for the claim that he inherited this disease from some known relative, then that should be removed too. I note your point about you not being the original author; this is not about blame, it's about improving the article. We are all human and make mistakes, it doesn't hurt to correct a few of them. Thank you. Cottonshirtτ 06:44, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
  • The ODNB article says that Davy's father suffered from heart disease, and that Davy had a stroke in December 1826, and another on 20th February 1829. DuncanHill (talk) 09:05, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
    • Ah-ha. A good source for his father, but still a leap to say he inherited that condition? As far as I know (in line with his own wishes) there was no post-mortem? Martinevans123 (talk) 10:40, 12 September 2014 (UTC)