From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

Professor Eckstrom, a colleague of mine in the English department at Rio Hondo College, passed along a couple of poems.  They were written by Anna Laeticia Barbauld (née Aikin).  The first, reprinted below, is An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study; the second is The Mouse's Petition (To Dr. Priestly) that Prof. Eckstrom tells me is about a mouse that inhabited Priestley's study.

Portrait by Ellen Sharples, 1794,
National Portrait Galleery, London.
Joseph Priestly is usually credited with the discover of oxygen - what he called dephlogisticated air.  In his study of gases, he also discovered nitric oxide (nitrous air), hydrochloric acid (vapor of the spirit of salt), ammonia (alkaline air), and nitrous oxide (diminished air).  Priestley also wrote The History and Present State of Electricity, the authoritative text that was widely used for over hundred years.  In this text is the first demonstration of the inverse square nature of the electrostatic force and a detailed description of Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment.

In 1761, Priestley moved to Warrington, not far from Liverpool and Manchester.  He became a tutor at an academy where Barbauld's father also taught.  She became good friends with Priestley and his wife.  

Now to the poetry.

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

A map of every country known, 
With not a foot of land his own. 
A list of folks that kicked a dust 
On this poor globe, from Ptol. the First; 
He hopes,indeed it is but fair, 
Some day to get a corner there. 
A group of all the British kings, 
Fair emblem! on a packthread swings. 
The Fathers, ranged in goodly row, 
A decent, venerable show, 
Writ a great while ago, they tell us, 
And many an inch o'ertop their fellows. 
A Juvenal to hunt for mottos; 
And Ovid's tales of nymphs and grottos. 
The meek-robed lawyers, all in white; 
Pure as the lamb,at least, to sight. 
A shelf of bottles, jar and phial, 
By which the rogues he can defy all, 
All filled with lightning keen and genuine, 
And many a little imp he'll pen you in; 
Which, like Le Sage's sprite, let out, 
Among the neighbors makes a rout; 
Brings down the lightning on their houses, 
And kills their geese, and frights their spouses. 
A rare thermometer, by which 
He settles, to the nicest pitch, 
The just degrees of heat, to raise 
Sermons, or politics, or plays. 
Papers and books, a strange mixed olio, 
From shilling touch to pompous folio; 
Answer, remark, reply, rejoinder, 
Fresh from the mint, all stamped and coined here; 
Like new-made glass, set by to cool, 
Before it bears the workman's tool. 
A blotted proof-sheet, wet from Bowling. 
"How can a man his anger hold in?" 
Forgotten rimes, and college themes, 
Worm-eaten plans, and embryo schemes; 
A mass of heterogenous matter, 
A chaos dark, nor land nor water; 
New books, like new-born infants, stand, 
Waiting the printer's clothing hand; 
Others, a motley ragged brood, 
Their limbs unfashioned all, and rude, 
Like Cadmus' half-formed men appear; 
One rears a helm, one lifts a spear, 
And feet were lopped and fingers torn 
Before their fellow limbs were born; 
A leg began to kick and sprawl 
Before the head was seen at all, 
Which quiet as a mushroom lay 
Till crumbling hillocks gave it way; 
And all, like controversial writing, 
Were born with teeth, and sprung up fighting.
"But what is this," I hear you cry, 
"Which saucily provokes my eye?" 
A thing unknown, without a name, 
Born of the air, and doomed to flame.

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