« ForrigeFortsæt »
CAVENDISH, THE CHEMIST
Cavendish gave me once some bits of platinum for my experiments, and came to see my results on the decomposition of the alkalis, and seemed to take an interest in them; but he encouraged no intimacy with any one, and received nobody at his own house. . . He was acute, sagacious, and profound, and, I think, the most accomplished British philosopher of his time.
- SIR HUMPHRY DAVY.
I DEFY any biographer to write an interesting sketch of Henry Cavendish. Some careers lack picturesque irregularities, but his was destitute of a single episode. He never sowed wild oats in the fields of life-only tame sweet-peas in the retired gardens of science. There was no dash of recklessness in his make-up. He passed his youth without committing an indiscretion. The wings of enthusiasm did not grow on his shoulders.
Even in the trivial affairs of daily existence, Cavendish had a mania for method. At the Royal Society he always hung his hat on the same peg; he would never ride in his carriage without measuring the miles; every morning not only were his boots found in a special position, but the point of his walkingstick was always standing in a particular way and in the same boot; at his mansion in Dean Street he fitted up a valuable scientific library which was at the disposal of all researchworkers, and Cavendish himself would never take a book from it without signing a formal receipt; for dinner he had invariably a leg of mutton: on an unparalleled occasion, when some scientists were to dine with him, his housekeeper asked what was to be had for dinner. A leg of mutton,' said Cavendish. 'Sir, that will not be enough for five.' 'Then get two legs,' responded the charming host.
Cavendish could have given Amos Bronson Alcott lessons in the simple life; he was as frugal as a pastoral bard, and
no sodium urate enlarged his hallux; in truth, he had not those disorders that require the services of a medicus, nor was his existence ever enlivened by a law-suit, but his pathologic fear of the primate mammal was so pronounced, that anthropophobia should be popularly known as Cavendish's Disease.
To meet a young lady one night, and to have his arm around her waist the next night,- this was a pleasing miracle which he never accomplished. Cavendish did not even desire the sex. He was the model misogynist. It is admitted he was born of a woman, but she died when he was two years of age, and he never had a sister or a female acquaintance.
Cavendish, like Erasmus, was raised by his father, and like that wise monk who poked fun at monasteries and praised only Folly, he might have written: Two parents are the rule; no parents the exception; a mother but no father is not uncommon; but I had a father and never had a mother. I was nursed by a man, and educated by monks, all of which shows that women are more or less of a superfluity in creation. God himself is man. He had one son, but no daughters. The cherubim are boys. All of the angels are masculine, and so far as Holy Writ informs, there are no women in heaven.'
But Erasmus wrote the above letter to a lady, a dissipation in which Cavendish did not indulge. Moreover, Erasmus had a sense of humor, which Cavendish was minus. Nature must have been confused when she molded a sixteenth century monk more sociable than a modern British chemist. The critical reader will here discern that it was not this Cavendish who won fame as an authority on whist.
Such was this man's aversion to women, that happening to meet one of his maid servants on the steps, with a broom and pail, he ordered a back staircase to be built. At a certain hour of the day he left a note on the hall-table for his housekeeper to take unobserved, for any female domestic whom he saw, he dismissed.