Nitrous Oxide – The Gaseous Muse

Posted: January 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

In a recent article for The Public Domain Review, Mike Jay explores the summer of 1799, when the newly discovered “laughing gas” became a surprise hit among a group of adventurous London aristocrats that included Sir Humphry Davy and Coleridge.

Sir Humphry Davy was the drug’s most ardent proponent. During full moons in the summer of 1799, Jay writes, Davy took to “inhaling the gas under the stars and scribbling snatches of poetry and philosophical insight.” By winter, Davy had progressed to building “an air-tight breathing-box,” which he entered “with a curved thermometer inserted under the arm, and a stop-watch,” and proceeded to pump full of nitrous oxide. Davy proceeded to get ever-more intoxicated: first he felt a warm sensation in his chest, then points of light in his eyes and “a sense of tangible extension highly pleasureable [sic] in every limb.” At length, “as the pleasurable sensations increased,” Davy “lost all connection with external things” and fell into a fugue state. “I existed in a world of newly connected and newly modified ideas,” he remembered. “I theorized; I imagined I made discoveries.”

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