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7 Insightful Quotes About Henry Cavendish

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Henry Cavendish, (born October 10, 1731, Nice, France—died February 24, 1810, London, England), natural philosopher, the greatest experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age. Cavendish was distinguished for great accuracy and precision in research into the composition of atmospheric air, the properties of different gases, the synthesis of water, the law governing electrical attraction and repulsion, a mechanical theory of heat, and calculations of the density (and hence the weight) of Earth. His experiment to weigh Earth has come to be known as the Cavendish experiment. [1]

1. "Cavendish did not stand aloof from other men in a proud or supercilious spirit, refusing to count them his fellows. He felt separated from them by a great gulf, which neither they nor he could bridge over, and across which it was vain to stretch hands or exchange greetings. A sense of isolation from his brethren, made him shrink from their society and avoid their presence, but he did so as one conscious of an infirmity, not boasting of excellence."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]

2. "All that needed for its apprehension, more than the pure intellect, or required the exercise of fancy, imagination, affection, or faith, was distasteful to Cavendish. An intellectual head thinking, a pair of wonderfully acute eyes observing, and a pair of very skilful hands experimenting or recording, are all that I realise in reading his memorials. His brain seems to have been but a calculating engine; his eyes inlets of vision, not fountains of tears; his hands' instruments of manipulation which never trembled with emotion, or were clasped together in adoration thanksgiving, or despair; his heart only an anatomical organ, necessary for of the circulation of the blood."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]

3. "He was the wealthiest of all scholars (savants) and probably also the most scholarly of all the wealthy."

John Maxson Stillman, The Story of Early Chemistry [3]

4. "He could not sing for them a sweet song, or create a "thing of beauty" which should be "a joy forever," or touch their hearts, or fire their spirits, or deepen their reverence or their fervour. He was not a Poet, a Priest, or a Prophet, but only a cold, clear, Intelligence, raying down pure white light, which brightened everything on which it fell, but warmed nothing—a Star of at least the second, if not of the first magnitude, in the Intellectual Firmament."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]

5. "He was like a deaf-mute sitting apart from a circle, whose looks and gestures show that they are uttering and listening to music and eloquence, in producing or welcoming which he can be no sharer. Wisely, therefore, he dwelt apart, and bidding the world farewell, took the self-imposed vows of a Scientific Anchorite, and, like the Monks of old, shut himself up within his cell. It was a kingdom sufficient for him, and from its narrow window, he saw as much of the Universe as he cared to see. It had a throne also, and from it, he dispensed royal gifts to his brethren. He was one of the unthanked benefactors of his race, who was patiently teaching and serving mankind, whilst they were shrinking from his coldness, or mocking his peculiarities."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]

6. "Yet, if such a being, who reversed the maxim nihil humani me alienum puto [nothing human is foreign to me], cannot be loved, as little can he be abhorred or despised. He was, in spite of the atrophy or non-development of many of the faculties which are found in those in whom the "elements are kindly mixed," as truly a genius as the mere poets, painters, and musicians, with small intellects and hearts and large imaginations, to whom the world is so willing to bend the knee. He is more to be wondered at than blamed."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]

7. "It only remains that I offer very briefly my own estimate of the character of the Philosopher. Morally it was a blank, and can be described only by a series of negations. He did not love; he did not hate; he did not hope; he did not fear; he did not worship as others do. He separated himself from his fellow-men, and apparently from God. There was nothing earnest, enthusiastic, heroic, or chivalrous in his nature, and as little was there anything mean, grovelling, or ignoble. He was almost passionless."

George Wilson, The Life of the Honble Henry Cavendish [2]


We did find one quote from the man himself and had to put it into the article as we found it quite amusing as it was following Cavendish hearing that one of his valuable instruments was broken by a young man:

"Young people must break machines to learn how to use them; get another made!"


Here is a video about Henry Cavendish and his unusual inventions.


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