Yale £19.99 (294pp) £17.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897

The Atmosphere of Heaven, By Mike Jay

Mention Beddoes and most think of the macabre Romantic poet, Thomas. He scarcely knew his father, another Thomas Beddoes, who died, aged 48, at Christmas 1808. Beddoes was six, with scant idea of the man who had also brought into existence a Pneumatic Institute in Bristol. This not only treated the ailing with compounds which evolved into laughing gas but encouraged an apprentice, Humphry Davy.

Described by Lytton Strachey as "a remarkable man, endowed with high and varied intellectual capacities and a rare independence of character", Dr Beddoes senior could have found a place in his later, more satirical writings. Of portly physique, he had a thirst for knowledge as obsessive as it was omnivorous, but lacking that humour which could have alleviated it.

He often appears a stray from his contemporary Thomas Love Peacock's fiction; indeed, among those who filled Beddoes's house was Peacock's bete noire Coleridge. Another discovery was young Roget, he of the thesaurus.

The place was a hive of experiment and revolutionary sympathies, which Beddoes had imbibed since his 1760 birth. He was grandson of a Shropshire tanner whose scientific ways elevated the family before a fall from a horse brought emphysema.

Its hopeless treatment was watched by the nine-year-old Beddoes who, becoming friendly with the doctor, found the course of his life established. Oxford, where he taught himself languages, was followed by medical studies in London and Edinburgh. On returning as a lecturer to Oxford in 1788, he also wrote verse akin to Erasmus Darwin's botanical epics. As his revolutionary sympathies survived 1789's troubled aftermath, a move from Oxford was prudent. He settled in riot-prone Bristol and founded the Institute in 1798 with the "Lunar Men" Tom Wedgwood and Gregory Watt, who put him in touch with their Penzance landlady's teenage prodigy, Davy. Meanwhile, surprisingly, Beddoes married Anna, vivacious sister of novelist Maria Edgeworth.

As Mike Jay suggests in this measured, detailed biography, she may not have satisfied. "I would rather be mistress to the man I love than wife, but since this is contrary to all custom, and cannot be, I must be contended with being wife in the usual way." So she told another man in a letter found by Jay.

Beddoes was a prolific writer but best known for his creation of laughing gas, which made one patient declare "I feel like the sound of a harp". However, he did not deduce its being a harbinger of anaesthesia, but was distracted by another air. So convinced was he that cow's breath is beneficial that he set up a stall beside a ward whose occupants remarked more upon the animals' other end than anything from the nostrils. For all Beddoes' achievements, that image is indelible.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week