The first of March 2013 marks the bicentenary of the appointment of Michael Faraday to the Royal Institution.
During the previous year Faraday, whilst still an apprentice bookbinder, had attended Humphry Davy's last four lectures to be delivered in the Royal Institution. Later in the year Faraday had worked as Davy's amanuensis for a while, but Davy had no permanent position for him then.
However, on Friday 19 February 1813, William Harris, the Superintendent of the Royal Institution, heard a ‘great noise' in the lecture theatre. On investigation he found that the laboratory assistant William Payne and John Newman, instrument maker to the Royal Institution, ‘at high words'. Newman charged Payne with neglecting his duty in not attending on the new Professor of Chemistry, William Brande, and complained to Harris that Payne had struck him. This charge was considered by the Managers of the Royal Institution at their next meeting three days later and they promptly sacked Payne; there was no mention of finding a replacement. However, at their following meeting, on 1 March 1813, it was recorded that:
Sir Humphry Davy has the honor to inform the Managers that he has found a person who is desirous to occupy the situation in the Institution lately filled by Wm. Payne. His name is Michael Faraday. He is a youth of 22 years of age; As far as Sir H. Davy has been able to observe or ascertain he appears well fitted for the situation. His habits seem good, his disposition active and cheerful and his manner intelligent. He is willing to engage himself on the same terms as those given to Wm. Payne at the time of his quitting the Institution.
Whether Davy was asked to find a replacement is not clear, but nevertheless his contact with Faraday the previous year must have prompted him to see if Faraday was still interested in scientific employment. According to a friend, Faraday was undressing for bed when Davy's footman arrived with a note requesting Faraday to call the following morning. This Faraday did and it was probably on this occasion that Davy told him that ‘Science was a harsh mistress', poorly paid, and smiled at his ‘notion of the superior moral feelings of philosophic men, and said that he would leave me to the experience of a few years to set me right on that matter'. Despite these warnings Faraday accepted the offer and commenced his new career in science that he had so actively sought, and would remain with the Royal Institution for the rest of his life.
Find out more about Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution.
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