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This content is taken from the Lancaster University & Royal Institution's online course, Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp . Join the course to learn more.

‘Written After Recovery from a Dangerous Illness’ (1807)

Listen to Professor Keith Hanley read Davy’s poem ‘Written After Recovery from a Dangerous Illness’ (1807).

This title was given to the poem by Davy’s brother, John, when he published Memoirs of Davy after his death. In fact a number of versions of this poem survive. John Davy decided upon this title because Davy was very ill in 1807; he had contracted typhus (or “gaol fever”) after visiting Newgate Prison to advise on ventilation.

For the first few months of 1808 Davy was unable to lecture or do any research at the Royal Institution and medical bulletins were posted at the front of the building to let people know how he was recovering.

  • Does this seem to be a poem of convalescence to you? If so, why?

  • Can you discern any scientific or medical topics in this poem?

Davy wrote a very different, and much longer, version of this poem years later. If you are interested and you have the time, you can read it on Google Books.

He published it anonymously in Joanna Baillie’s edited volume, A Collection of Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors (1823). In this version it is entitled ‘Life’ and runs from pages 156-62. His wife Jane Davy also contributed a poem anonymously to this collection, ‘To Count —, on the death of his wife’ (pp. 309-10).

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This video is from the free online course:

Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp

Lancaster University