'Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be'
Charles Darwin may have displaced Michael Faraday as the contemporary icon of Victorian science – whether permanently or temporarily remains to be seen (though the metric of Twitter followers suggests that Darwin remains ahead by a country mile). But Faraday was the handsome, masculine face of nineteenth-century British public science, and his Friday Evening Discourses at the Royal Institution became a metropolitan must-see – a kind of Bang Goes The Theory in top hats. A three-decade project to edit and publish Faraday’s voluminous correspondence, overseen by Professor Frank James of the RI, came to an end in 2012 with the publication of the sixth and final volume.
James’ distinctive achievement in editing these letters is to reconnect the circuits of Faraday’s social and professional life in what Iwan Rhys Morus called ‘the electrical century’. They reveal Faraday at work, moving between the worlds in which his private experimentation and his public science were embedded. I discussed Faraday’s letters, and his intriguing position in Victorian science and culture, in my first essay for the London Review of Books, published in March 2013.