With the eyes of a child
You must come out and see
That your world’s spinning ’round
Moody Blues

She wrote it in plain and clear language, so, even a child understand.

However, I doubt many adults could understand it, even now: most adults are too stupid to understand.

No, not ignorant, just stupid.  Adults:  too naturally not interestedtoo busy, too lazy, too “know it all,” too impatient to really see  — and to learn.

Danger lies not in what we don’t know,
but in what we think we know that just ain’t so
– Mark Twain


If you don’t understand something said,
don’t assume it’s your fault.
(David Keirsey)2

Thomas Jefferson had been known to say “Read Mrs Marcet book.”  Conversations in Chemistry.

“Jane Marcet wrote technical books for young people. After chemistry she wrote about economics and philosophy. She wrote about Africa. She knew how to weave the grand fabric of science without math.”  John Lienhard

Marcet’s Conversations was just what Michael Faraday needed at 15 years old.

Michael Faraday, a bookbinder’s poor apprentice, went on to discover many of the properties of “electricity,” which James Clerk Maxwell used to formulate his equations electro-magnetism, the basis of much of the physical world.  The young Michael Faraday, who was the third of four children, having only the most basic school education, had to educate himself. At fourteen he became the apprentice to George Riebau, a local bookbinder and bookseller in Blandford Street. During his seven-year apprenticeship he read many books, including Isaac Watts’ The Improvement of the Mind, and he enthusiastically implemented the principles and suggestions contained therein. At this time he also developed an interest in science, especially in electricity. Faraday was particularly inspired by the book Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet. [Wikipedia, revised]

Jane: “it is obvious that we derive but an imperfect idea about bodies from the study of general laws by which they are governed, if we remain totally ignorant of their intimate nature.

Jane Marcet, born in London, one of twelve children of the merchant and banker Anthony Francis Haldimand (1740/41–1817) and his wife Jane (died 1785). Her brother William Haldimand became a director of the Bank of England and a member of Parliament. She took over the running of the family after her mother’s death. She paid a visit to Italy with her father in 1796. After her marriage in 1799 to Alexander John Gaspard Marcet (1770–1822), a Swiss exile and physician, she continued to live in London where, through her husband, she had contact with many leading scientists. Of their four children, François Marcet (1803–1883) became a well-known physicist. She died in the house of a daughter in Piccadilly, London in 1858. [Wikipedia]

A Rational, Jane Marcet’s written works have had a large influence on the world.  That influence has been mostly forgotten today.  Jane Marcet is clearly an almost forgotten giant whose shoulders that Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, and hence the world has stood on.

Humphry Davy began his famous and popular lectures in 1802 at the Royal Institution, which women were allowed to attend. Jane and Alex would go to these lectures and afterwards they would discuss them at length. For the most part women attended the lectures as a form of Gothic theatrical entertainment. Jane wasn’t content with this and felt the need to understand them more closely and so together with her husband she would carry out some of the experiments at home and Alex would explain them to Jane in simple language.

Jane Marcet felt that other women would benefit from having the experiments explained in the same simple language and the same format in order to understand and be more confident at gatherings they attended with their husbands. So she began writing her first book: Conversations on Chemistry, in which Mrs B taught her two pupils, Emily who was thoughtful and Caroline who was lively. It was expressed in straightforward language using examples taken from every day life. Most importantly the conversations were between a woman and two young girls, which went some way into validating science as appropriate for women to understand and discuss. The diagrams she drew herself.

Initially written anonymously because of the prejudice against women, the book is lively and went into many editions over her lifetime, with Jane updating the material as the discipline developed. By the age of 84 the book had sold 20,000 copies and an adapted edition of it sold 140,000 in America.

Jane not only wrote on chemistry, she also  became one of the first popularisers of political economy and along with Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus, where she rationalized the actions and aspirations of the new capitalist class, validating them by scientific laws. In 1816 Longman published her Conversations on Political Economy for adults and young people. Leading economists at home and abroad recognized its value and again the book went on to be updated in later editions. Jane Marcet, in stating the similarities between domestic and political economy, preceded Margaret Thatcher by some considerable time.

All Rationals share the following core characteristics:

  • Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
  • Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
  • Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
  • Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

In working with problems, Rationals try to find solutions that have application in the real world, but they are even more interested in the abstract concepts involved, the fundamental principles or natural laws that underlie the particular case. And they are completely pragmatic about their ways and means of achieving their ends. [Please Understand Me II]

… Besides, my dear, chemistry is by no means confined to works of art.  Nature also has her laboratory, which is the universe, and there she is incessantly employed in chemical operations. You are surprised, Caroline; but I assure you that the most wonderful and the most interesting phenomena of nature are almost all of them produced by chemical powers.  Mrs B. [Jane Marcet]

2 thoughts on “Conversations

  1. goodrumo August 15, 2012 / 4:21 pm

    “Nature has her lab, which is her universe”-oh yes. Yes indeed. Jane Marcet is an absolute S-hero. Love this blog, temperament matters. “Best that we do, what we do Best.”


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