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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.

Using the Davy Letters Database

Over the years 1815-17, a public controversy ensued over who should be given the credit for the invention of the safety lamp.

The controversy involved Davy, George Stephenson, and William Reid Clanny – all of whom had invented safety lamps around this time – and their various advocates and allies.

Davy and Stephenson never met. The controversy between them was conducted primarily by letters, both public and private. Just as Davy and Stephenson never met, neither did they ever correspond directly.

Davy Letters Project

Texts of the letters Davy wrote on the safety lamp controversy are available to view online.

We would like you to go to the Davy Letters Project website and click the Advanced search function (at the bottom of the page/or in the left hand menu) to search for key phrases in the letters stored in the database from the years 1815-17, when the controversy took place.

On the Advanced search page, select Letter Body Text from the drop down menu. Some ideas for search terms, to get you started, are ‘controversy’, ‘piracy’, and ‘thief’.

  • Share some of the most illuminating quotations that you have found.

  • Does Davy use particular phrases or adopt a particular tone when referring to particular people?

  • What might we read into the fact that Davy and Stephenson never corresponded directly?

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.

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This article is from the free online course:

Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp

Lancaster University