Faraday the lecturer

An online exhibition looking at the life and work of Michael Faraday with particular emphasis on his work as a lecturer, his travels in Europe, his correspondence with artists and his interest in photography.

As a self-educated man, Faraday felt very strongly about informing the general public of new scientific discoveries. An important part of his early education were the lectures given by the City Philosophical Society, which he had attended while still a bookbinder's apprentice. Faraday delivered his first lecture to the Society, on electricity, in 1810. 

He was not only interested in the content of lectures: in 1813 he made careful notes on the qualities of a good lecturer and attended a series of lectures on oratory five years later. Faraday wrote on the subject in his letters and notebooks offering would-be lecturers guidance on the delivery, diction, duration, use of diagrams and demonstrations in lectures. The Royal Institution published an anthology of these writings in Advice to a Lecturer in 1960.     

Detail of Charles Dickens' signature in a letter to Faraday

Faraday was well regarded for his own lecturing skills and this can be found in comments in letters he received in praise of his lectures. Sir James Clark referred to the attendance of Prince Albert at one of Faraday's lectures and his pleasure at the 'manner as well as the substance of your lecture.' (Ref. SCMSS 2/2/44). 

Charles Dickens also wrote to Faraday informing him of his plans to publish his lectures on 'The Chemical History of a Candle.' He adds 'I think I might be able to do something with the candle; but I will not touch it, or have it touched, unless it can be re-lighted with the something of the same beauty and clearness of which I saw traces in your notes.' (Ref. SCMSS 2/2/62).

Frontispiece from Faraday's Chemical History of a Candle published in 1920

Faraday was also strongly influenced by the popular style of Sir Humphry Davy, whose lectures at the Royal Institution he first attended in 1812. When Faraday became Director of the Laboratories at the RI he founded a series of evening lectures where the public could hear about new scientific discoveries. This series became the Royal Institution Friday Evening Discourses, which are still being held today.

The IET Archives holds Faraday's first lecture notes for his lecture to the City Philosophical Society. As he grew in confidence he relied on brief notes rather than writing his lecture out verbatim.  

Next page → Faraday's travels in Europe

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