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Conversations on chemistry

Marcet Chemistry title page

Conversations on chemistry; in which the elements of that science are familiarly explained and illustrated by experiments

The tenth edition, considerably enlarged and corrected
London : Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825
STORE 92:18-19



This work was first published anonymously in 1806 and its author Jane Haldimand Marcet (1769-1858) continued to update it throughout her life with the latest information and discoveries. Marcet had gained her knowledge of chemistry through interactions with leading scientists of the day, and from attending Sir Humphry Davy’s lectures at the Royal Institution, and she wanted to communicate what she had learnt to other women. This knowledge is presented in the form of conversations between 2 students and their teacher Mrs B. (who has been identified with Margaret Bryan).

The Preface is particularly revealing as Marcet apologises for her undertaking and only recent knowledge. Yet the Conversations was in fact hugely successful and influential. Michael Faraday credited this book with introducing him to the study of chemistry when he was working as a bookbinder’s apprentice. This anecdote, as told in a letter from Faraday to Auguste de la Rive, has been written into the front of this copy. Marcet’s work was also widely plagiarised in America, where it was often attributed to its male editors whose names were on the title pages. Her name did not appear until around the 13th London edition of 1837. This copy came to the Whipple from the Cavendish Laboratory and was once owned by James Clerk Maxwell.



Marcet Chemistry Faraday cropped      Marcet Chemistry Maxwell bookplate  

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