Henry Cavendish. October 10, 1731 – February 24, 1810. British physicist and chemist, fellow of the Royal Society of London.


Life and Work:

1. The list of scientific achievements of the recognized eccentric Henry Cavendish is impressive. He managed to obtain pure hydrogen, which he called “inflammable air” and to determine the composition of the air we breathe. He burned hydrogen and thus determined the chemical composition of water. Cavendish introduced the concept of electric potential, studied the dependence of the capacitance of an electric capacitor from the environment, and studied the interaction of electric charges, anticipating Coulomb’s law. He was the first to formulate the concept of heat capacity and, also, discovered the relationship between electric potential and electric current, which was later measured by Ohm.


2. Henry Cavendish’s ancestors included ministers, military leaders, and even pirates.


3. Henry Cavendish was born on October 10, 1731 in Nice, where the family of Lord Charles Cavendish, son of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire and Lady Anne Grey, daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent, lived at that time. The Cavendish family was related to many aristocratic families of Great Britain, and its eight-hundred-year history dates back to the Norman era, that is, the 11th century.


4. Henry’s mother died three months after her second son, Frederick, was born and shortly before Henry’s second birthday. Lord Charles Cavendish raised his two sons alone.


5. Henry Cavendish received his primary education at home. His father did not send him to Eton, because he did not find him inclined to the law. Instead, the boy was sent to Hackney Academy, where he learned the basics of science.


6. Continuing the family tradition, Henry Cavendish entered the University of Cambridge and thus became the twenty-first Cavendish to study at this prominent educational institution. Like many aristocrats, he did not receive an academic degree – he did not plan an academic career.


7. Nevertheless, Cavendish devoted himself entirely to science in the quiet of a laboratory in his home. He received a huge inheritance, so did not need additional funds and could afford any equipment.


8. According to the French physicist Jean-Baptiste Biot, Cavendish was the wealthiest of all scholars and probably also the most scholarly of all the wealthy. This eccentric gentleman did not seek fame, published almost no works, and did not care about priorities. However, at the age of 29, Cavendish was accepted into the Royal Society of London for his scientific achievements.


9. Idle minds suspect him of extraterrestrial origin: nothing else explains many of his scientific discoveries, far ahead of their time.


10. Contemporaries were intimidated by Cavendish’s ability to measure the current force with his hands.


11. The scientific world still wonders how Cavendish managed to determine the average density of the Earth so accurately. Later, the so-called Cavendish experiment helped determine the gravitational constant and the mass of the Earth.


12. 200 years before Einstein, Cavendish calculated the deflection of light rays under the influence of the Sun mass, and his results almost coincide with Einstein’s.


13. He died unmarried, leaving a huge fortune, from which science did not received a pound. Not even the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge – it has nothing to do with Henry Cavendish. It was named after its founder, William Cavendish – the chancellor of Cambridge donated a large sum to establish an educational and scientific laboratory.


14. Everyone could use Henry Cavendish’s home library. When Henry Cavendish used it himself, he wrote a chit.


15. A number of modern doctors believe that Cavendish suffered from Asperger’s syndrome. This explains his passion for solitude. Even with the servants, he communicated by notes, and sometimes entered his house from the back door to avoid speaking to the housekeeper.


16. Cavendish’s vast fortune enabled him to be a generous benefactor, and he made extensive use of this. Once, he issued a poor student a check for 10,000 pounds – an exorbitant sum at that time. They claim that this case was not the only one.


17. Cavendish was not interested in anything other than science: neither the Great French Revolution nor the wars waged by Napoleon in Europe attracted his attention.


18. There is a letter from the bank where Cavendish kept a very small part of his money. In this letter, the bank offered to deposit the rest of his fortune there, promising the most favorable terms. Sir Henry’s reply was: “Manage the money I have deposited in your bank and stay away from the rest. If you don’t know what to do with it, I’ll be happy to take it away. And if you ever disturb me again, I will do it at once.”


19. Joseph Banks, who was the president of the Royal Society of London at the time, claimed that Cavendish managed to say fewer words in his life than any man who had ever lived to such an advanced age.


20. Most of Cavendish’s scientific papers were not published until 1879, when James Maxwell undertook to put the Cavendish archives in order. Even now, not all the Cavendish archives have been sorted and studied.


21. Cavendish was buried in the Derby Cathedral. According to the scientist’s will, the crypt with his coffin was sealed up immediately after the funeral, and no inscriptions were made on the outside.


22. No authentic portraits of Cavendish have survived.