Thursday, February 12, 2009

If at first, no wait, I mean 412th.


How many times would you attempt something to make sure it was perfect, as perfect as you really wanted it to be? Three times, perhaps four? I wouldn't try anything more than twice before giving up and either throwing it down the sink/ drain/in the bin/ out the window.Yet Josiah Wedgwood had 411 attempts, yes, it's so many I'm going to say it twice, 411 attempts at doing a glaze to produce his first batch of cream earthenware. It was on the 412th go he was able to record 'A good white glaze at last'. He was very scientific in his approach, itemising every single attempt into a notebook, outlining how many parts lead to flint to calcined copper to manganese.

The man was a trail-blazer, a pioneer in the art of ceramics and a particular hero of mine. I spent yesterday finding out quite a bit about him and the other members of the Lunar Society (so-called because they met on the Monday when the moon would be at its fullest). Belonging to this club were some really interesting people.

This OU science module is quite a mix of things really. In between the interesting bits about Wedgewood and his contemporaries, I've viewed (on an OU cd-rom) various chemistry experiments that took place during the Enlightenment-Romantic transition. I watched how a pneumatic trough worked; I followed a recreation of Lavoisier's oxygen experiment; I found out about the Voltaic pile and battery with its frictional electricity; I studied the synthesis of water according to Davy (yes, the lad of the lamp); then I went on to the principle of electrolysis developed by Anthony Carlisle in 1800; followed that with learning about the isolation of new elements and to top it all off, found out how Davy's afore-mentioned safety lamp actually worked.

Can I remember any of this today - don't be silly.

28 comments:

The Accidental Fan said...

What a shame that Wedgewood are up the spout without a strainer.

ladyfi said...

Cool - I love this kind of science!

And it took Edison thousands of attempts before he managed to get the light bulb to work...

cheshire wife said...

This sounds like grown up science. So you won't be needing a chemistry set for your birthday.

Lane said...

Gosh, Mr Wedgewood was certainly a perfectionist!

French Fancy said...

TAF - it's a real tragedy. I haven't followed the story of their demise because I find it too depressing.

Ladyfi - The patience and determination of scientists and engineers - where would we all be without them? Still in the caves I suppose.

cheshire wife - as a pharmacist I suppose you understand all these original experiments. To me it was all a bit mind-boggling.

Lane - I'm not. I'm one for the old slapdash approach - except for cake decoration when I'm very very careful.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF, that is so interesting - The colours in that palette are so beautiful - I can sense some home decor kicking off around those hues!

Good luck with the Chemistry, I think you will love it!

Lucy Fishwife said...

Is it really shallow of me to confess that the first thing I thought when I read this post was "What a lovely photo!"? I recommend you read "Colour" by Victoria Finlay!

Larry M. Brow said...

As a potter I find there are two kinds of patience needed. The first, as you point out, is finding out what works to your satisfaction. The second comes when what has been working starts producing flaws, and you have to diagnose why. I'm going through that now with some tableware for a friend, and I'm not being brilliant at it. Sometimes, patience must stand in for brilliance.

Brother Tobias said...

Remind me of the Wedgewood-Darwin connection. Did he marry a daughter or something, or am I getting terribly confused?

Carol and Chris said...

OMG those colours are just astonishingly beautiful!!! Makes me want to get my paints out :-)

Very interesting post hon...Ooohh I do love coming here...I always learn something!!

C x

lakeviewer said...

Interesting information; it goes to show that scientific progress does not come easily, or cheaply. We must invest in research and development.

Blu said...

My first talk in my French class was about two minature Davy Lamps that were presented to my FIL when he retired after 42 years down the pit.

Jennysmith said...

FF, how come you can make science and chemistry and that sound interesting ? _ And yet my teachers couldn't!!

The unfairness of life or what?!

xxxxxx

DJ Kirkby said...

Your OU course sounds very interesting!

Mama said...

FF there is no second E in wedgwood, I just discovered that after years n years of spelling it Wedgewood. (I had to check it out by looking at the bottom of my very old dinner set, before I believed it). I love that pallet and the history lesson on Josiah. Kathy.

French Fancy said...

AWONI -Love chemistry? Nah, jamais.

Lucy - not shallow at all - I'd have felt the same way

Larry - I suppose craftspeople like yourself have to have a lot of patience because art and creating beautiful things cannot be rushed.

BroTob - I think Wedgwood's daughter Emma married Darwin's son Robert (but I'm not sure if it was Charles, it might have been Erasmus)

Carol - aren't those colours lovely.

lakeviewer - R&D is always underfunded - you are right though.

Blu - even in French I bet you know more about those lamps than I do, even though I watched a 15 minute discussion on how they worked (in English)

jen - it's not me that makes it sound interesting - but thank you anyway

DJ - it's not too bad

Mama - yes, you are absolutely right and I've amende d it - ta loads.

French Fancy said...

Sorry folks to have made all my comments so short this time. If I'm honest I'm struggling a bit with all this chemistry malarkey and its being reflected in this little column here

Steve said...

Josiah Wedgwood evidently didn't have a PlayStation... ;-)

nikkicrumpet said...

Very interesting....I would have given up on the second or third try and just bough paper plates and cups lol

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Such an interesting story -- the scientific method at work, indeed! Thank you for sharing :)

French Fancy said...

Steve - Wedgwood was so ahead of his time that he probably would have beaten all my game scores - mind you, that's not very difficult.

nikki - when you read about how Josiah started and the inventions he came up with, well it's quite mind-boggling really. He was the first person who did most things in the world of ceramics.

ContemTroub - Thanks you :)

French Fancy said...

I must add - not for anyone really but just so I've recorded it - that when I was reading my text book in bed last night I suddenly got an *in* into my potential essay on this subject. There is always a bit of a moment when I suddenly start to see things really clearly, almost as if I've been taken over a bit, sounds daft but that is what it feels like. I then spent the next hour scribbling all over the inside covers of my books (didn't have any paper nearby and wanted to *catch the moment*)

Brother Tobias said...

I've looked it up now. Charles D married his cousin Emma Wedgewood. Although I'm sure your're right about his son marrying within the family too.

Deb said...

Wow! You are like a rocket scientist! I am impressed. Learning is the key to longevity! Study Hard!

French Fancy said...

BroTob - thanks for that. I spent a bit of time looking at the Wedgwood family tree yesterday and there did seem to be a Darwin here and there. I'm sure it was a Robert on one side that married someone from the other side.

Fancy Tony Benn not wanting to use his illustrious surname. The man should be proud to have a name that belongs to such a fabulous dynasty. I know his reasons but I think he was wrong.

Debs - you could never meet anyone less like a rocket scientist than me - ever in your life. If learning is indeed the key to longevity than I'm due to live for 200 years!

French Fancy said...

BroTob - there's some fascinating genealogy here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin-Wedgwood_family#Skandar_Keynes

John Wedgwood Pound said...

Hello all,

Just wanted to clear things up: Josiah Wedgwood I married his third cousin Sarah Wedgwood, they were both descended from Gilbert Wedgwood (1588-1678) and his wife (and cousin)Margaret Burslem of Burslem. Josiah & Sarah's daughter Susannah married Robert Darwin son of Erasmus Darwin. Their son the famous Charles Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood. They were a few subsequent intermarriages in the nineteenth century. The Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_—_Wedgwood_family is a good starting point. See also my Family History blog!

We are all very sad about the demise of Wedgwood.

French Fancy said...

Thank you so much for putting us all straight - me in particular. You are lucky to be part of such a superb dynasty.