- Museum number
- Object: Scientific researches! - New discoveries in pneumaticks! - or - an Experimental lecture on the powers of air. -
A satire on the fashionable lectures at the Royal Institution. The audience are in a semicircle facing the lecturer's table, which is covered with apparatus. The lecturer, probably not Garnett but Thomas Young who succeeded him as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Institute in July 1801, and who delivered thirty lectures there between January and May 1802, is experimenting on Sir J. C. Hippisley (left). Holding him by the nose, he applies to his mouth a tube from a series of retorts in which a gas has been made. The result is a violent explosion of flame and smoke from the victim's breeches. Next Young stands Humphry Davy, assistant lecturer to the Institute since July 1801. Holding a pair of bellows with vapour and gas spouting from its nozzle, he watches the experiment with a sardonic smile. Facing the table from the right, Count Rumford (see BMSat 9565) stands a little apart from the audience, looking on with a complacent and proprietary smile; he wears an order. On the extreme right the audience are Isaac D 'Israeli, wearing spectacles over half-closed eyes, Lord Gower, watching impassively, and Lord Stanhope, looking intently through an eyeglass. Beside him on the padded green bench is an open book: 'Hints on the nature of Air requir'd for the new French Diving Boat.' (Fulton's submarine was tried in Brest harbour in 1801, and a small vessel was blown up by a torpedo; Stanhope's experiments with steam navigation had been unsucces-ful, cf. BMSat 8640.) Two unidentified ladies watch open-eyed. Immediately in front of Stanhope sits Lord Pomfret, enormously stout, his eyes almost shut. These watch from the right. Facing the lecturer sit (right to left) Sir H. Englefield, holding note-book and pencil, and a thin and elderly lady turned in profile, taking notes earnestly, but not watching the experiment.
According to 'London und Paris' she is Mrs. Locke, one of the best-known bluestockings in England, that is, Frederica Augusta (1750-1832), the wife of William Locke of Norbury and a friend of Mme d'Arblay. She has been identified as her daughter Amelia (b. 1777) who married John Angerstein in 1799. Next is a florid lady in back view, both hands held up. On her left is a very little girl with note-book and (?) pencil. The remaining figures face the lecturer from the left. Next the child sits William Sotheby (1757-1833), a dilettante poet (alternatively identified as Southey, but quite unlike him). Holding a dark-skinned little boy between his knees sits Peter Denys, wearing spectacles. From his coat pocket projects a broken palette; the cane which rests against his hat is a mahlstick. In front of him sits his wife, Lady Charlotte, sister of Lord Pomfret. Next is Tholdal, a German attaché, taking snuff, and spilling the contents of his snuff-box; next him is his wife, an excited lady. The other figures, five men, standing together immediately behind the displeasing explosion, are unidentified.
On the table, besides the set of retorts used by Young, are bottles of 'Oxygen' and 'Hydrogen', a smoking tobacco-pipe, a smouldering candle, a small mechanical windmill, a complicated instrument opposite Davy (? a galvanometer) on the base of which stands a bell-glass containing a frog emitting bubbles. There are also a clyster-pipe and the figure of a cock on a (?) stand. A half-open door (right), probably that of the 'repository of models', shows a globe and a large electrical machine connected with bells; smaller objects include a winged cannon, two little figures on a see-saw, a retort, a skull and cross-bones. The lecture-room is lit by two standard lamps, standing one on each side of the table with wide shades or reflectors, of very modern appearance. On the wall behind the table, above a recess or open fireplace, are the words 'Royal Institution' in large letters. 23 May 1802
- Production date
Height: 252 millimetres
Width: 353 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Description and comment from M.Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', VIII, 1947)
Much realism appears to be mingled with Gillray's satire. In 1801 Davy gave lectures on 'pneumatical chemistry' and had administered nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to several gentlemen. Another course was on galvanism. Thomas Garnett, the first professor, resigned; his lectures were not sufficiently popular and he is supposed to have incurred the dislike of Rumford, the founder of the Institution. Sir J. C. Hippisley took a leading part in its establishment. In May 1802 the Institution was in a state of decline after its great success in 1800. Rumford left England for Munich in May 1801. The very popular Institution was ridiculed by Peter Pindar in 'A Poetical Epistle to Count Rumford', 1801, as an exhibition of quackery, where 'Babes are pleased their alphabet to bite!' The original object was to combine the dissemination of useful knowledge with the amusement and instruction of 'the higher ranks'. Bence Jones, 'The Royal Institution', 1871, p. 142. Horner says (31 Mar. 1802): the audience is assembled by the influence of fashion merely', 'Memoirs', 1843, 181 f.; and in 1804 Brougham ridiculed Young's lectures in the 'Edinburgh Review' as fit only for ladies of fashion. Gillray satirizes Denys who had been a fellow art student of his, but having become drawing-master in Lord Pomfret's family married his daughter and thereafter abjured his art, passing as a fine gentleman ('London und Paris'). For the Locke family see Duchess of Sermoneta, 'The Lockes of Norbury', 1940. The identifications are those of 'London und Paris' which agree with Wright and Evans with two exceptions, Young instead of Garnett, [Miss Banks gives Young and Garnett, and Southey for Sotheby, but the former seems excluded by the age and frontal baldness of the man depicted.] Mrs. Locke instead of Miss Locke. For the Institution see Bence Jones, op. cit., and satirical verses by Canning and
Frere: 'Prospectus for the Royal Institution, March, 1800', printed Bagot, 'Canning and his Friends', 1909, i. 162-4. Tholdal appears in BMSat 8885. For Davy see BMSat 11605.
The print is probably that sent to Rumford in Paris by Sir J. Banks, see letter of 19 July 1802, Bence Jones, op. cit., p. 71.
Grego, 'Gillray' (reproduction), p. 289 f. Wright and Evans, No. 520. Reprinted, 'G.W.G.', 1830. Reproduced (in part), S. C. Roberts, 'A Picture Book of English History', iii. 61.
Handwritten note on verso with number J,3.128.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1991/2 Sep-Jan, London, NPG, Michael Faraday Bicentenary
1992 Jun-Nov, Essen, Villa Hugel, 'London 1800-1838'
2001 Jun-Sep, London, Tate Britain, 'Gillray and the Art of Caricature'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number