Doctor Dionysius Lardner

Dionysius Lardner was born in Ireland in 1793, became Professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at University College, London in 1828.

He was a great populariser of science through lecture tours and books. I am pleased to have a Lardner book although I find much of it hard to read. These early Victorians were obviously made of sterner stuff.

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The book is called ‘Steam and its Uses’ and the reader is taken through the use of steam in stationary engines, railway locomotives and ships.

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There is no publication date in the book but Lardner is described as a former professor which dates the book to after 1840. A railway illustration might help date as well.

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That looks a fairly early loco and train to me. The people have an 1840s style to them.

Lardner led a controversial life. His private life (which actually seemed to be fairly public) was racy and well laced with scandal. But he is well known for disagreements with Isambard Brunel. Amongst Lardner’s rather foolish claims were:

Regarding Box Tunnel: If a train’s brakes were to fail in the tunnel, it would accelerate to over 120 mph (190 km/h), at which speed the train would breakup and kill the passengers.

Brunel was able to point out that Lardner had forgotten friction and air resistance.

Regarding Brunel’s Great Western Steamship: As the project of making the voyage directly from New York to Liverpool, it was perfectly chimerical, and they might as well talk of making the voyage from New York to the moon… 2,080 mi (3,350 km) miles is the longest run that a steamer could encounter – at the end of that distance she would require a relay of coals.

Great Western made the Atlantic crossing with 200 tons of coal to spare.

Sadly, it seems that an oft repeated quote attributed to Lardner is apocryphal.

Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.

It seems this famous quote first saw the light of day in about 1980.

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