Well, I say ‘1820 done’ but actually those letters and my notes have just gone off to my co-editor, Prof Tim Fulford, and will come back to me with things to check and change and add, but still I have now sent it off to him and it’s already been seen by Prof Frank James. It was a great year to annotate. There’s some really brilliant (and scurrilous) stuff in Davy’s 1820 letters. In May, Davy hears that Joseph Banks has resigned from the Presidency of the Royal Society, comes rushing back to Britain from his leisurely holidaying abroad and begins campaigning in earnest for himself. There are some great letters written by Davy where we don’t have the originals but only printed versions (printed much later) and all of the names have been replaced by asterisks. I’ve been trying to work out whether the number of asterisks used is significant (they do vary) and work out who Davy is referring to. He seems to be really very rude about Davies Gilbert (formerly Giddy) who was his first mentor and the primary reason that Davy managed to get out of his apprenticeship as an apothecary and begin his illustrious career in chemistry. There’s gratitude for you. I love this kind of work where to identify people you need to work out other allusions (eg. a ‘rotten borough’ in Cornwall) and piece together the bits of information you have on them (eg. he hasn’t even published in the Phil Trans!).
I’m into 1822 now and he’s firmly President of the RS; lots of the letters are written in the third person (even in his own handwriting) and they tend to be official, thanking people for the gift of their publications etc etc. As the year of the fellowship where I’m working on this for 100% of my time draws to a close I’ve done a tally of the work that I’ve done. I’ve written 51k words of notes so far and when you add in the letter texts themselves that comes to 132k. And there’s still a few more months to go.
I’m off to Sheffield for the ‘Summer of 1816’ conference on Friday which has an really strong programme. It’s going to be tough to decide which papers to go to actually. I’m putting on a panel on ‘Romantic Science’ though to be honest it’s really about Davy, and why not…?