Poem: ‘In Dialog with Elizabeth Fulhame’

Science in meter and verse

Illustration of a woman in a long dress near various chemical beakers.

Edited by Dava Sobel

She has a map unfold at her toes, a lit carpet of gold cities

and silver rivers, every tributary wire-drawn with the tip

of a squirrel’s tail. Every thing could be very damp.

It looks as if a dream, even within the dream. Saucers of silk

line the sills like a grand banquet for garments moths.

The spherical desk (pocked with scorch marks) throngs

with china cups of phosphorus in ether, tin dissolved

in muriatic acid, white oxide of arsenic in—

She tongs sugar lumps, pours the pot. Rainbow bull’s-eyes

float in our cups like latte ferns. The ceiling drips.

On the studying stand, a well-thumbed ebook on phlogiston

is flapping its mildewed wings. The room is strewn

with glittering retorts, cylinders, phials. She needs to know

her identify as a result of, for therefore lengthy, she’s been vanishing

by levels. “The details of me escape me,” she says.

She lifts the lantern of Dr. Nooth’s machine. Iron nails

and diluted sulfuric acid at glass backside. Within the center,

a ghostly snip of lead-dipped silk dangles over water.

Spangled silver by spindrift, it is the sail of an invisible craft.

There is a puff of white smoke, a endless string

of silk swatches from her sleeve. Just a little goes a great distance

and this present would possibly simply go till daybreak. Now the clouds

are lifting, the wallpaper is rolling again in waves.

It is much less drawing room, extra Marie Antoinette’s bed room.

Within the golden aquatic, our chairs, napkins and garments blaze

ablaze with shiny, shiny. She says it all the time consumes her

with marvel, but her marvel isn’t consumed.

I imagined to start with,

that just a few experiments

would decide the issue

they develop sullen and silent,

and are chilled with horror

on the sight of any factor

that bears the illusion

of studying, in no matter form

it could seem; and will

the specter seem within the form

of girl, the pangs which

they undergo are actually dismal

Flamable our bodies, as

hydrogen, phosphorus,

sulfur, charcoal, mild, &c.

are able to lowering

the metals within the bizarre

temperature of the environment

so {that a} thimble full

of water can be enough

to scale back any amount of steel

for this little bark of mine

has weathered out full

many a storm

repeated instances unnumbered

so brilliant and dazzling

as to misery the attention

Editor’s Be aware: Within the 18th century chemist Elizabeth Fulhame described the processes that later grew to become often called catalysis and photoreduction. Extracts in italics are from her 1794 work: “An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Artwork of Dying and Portray, Whereby the Phlogistic and Antiphlogistic Hypotheses are Proved Inaccurate.” This essay was reprinted in 1810 in Philadelphia. It isn’t identified the place or when she was born. In response to a notice by Charles Watt, Fulhame “died in abject poverty in a imply condominium within the neighborhood of Soho Sq..”

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