Steam, scandal and the six shilling sciences: Dionysius Lardner was an expert in all three. The most famous savant of his day, he rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, commissioning Sir Walter Scott, Mary Shelley and Robert Southey to write for his encyclopaedia, and supporting Rowland Hill in the campaign for a cheap postal service. Satirised in cartoons by William Makepeace Thackeray and Daniel Maclise, he moved from his native Dublin first to London, and then to Philadelphia and Paris, promoting the Stephenson’s railways, helping Charles Babbage to publicise the calculating engine and producing books that inspired Charles Darwin and others to take up science. After he claimed that ‘a successful steam passage across the Atlantic was as likely as a man walking on the moon’ his career was left in tatters. The crisis became worse when he fell disasterously in love with a married woman and found himself battling society in a downward spiral of scandal, disgrace and exile.
In this first ever biography of the man Brunel fans love to hate, A. L. Martin draws together original material from many sources to rebuild Lardner’s astonishing, triumphant and surprisingly hilarious story.
Villain of Steam: a life of Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859) ,
by A L Martin First Published by Tyndall Scientific (Ireland)
ISBN 9780993242007 pbk,
456 pages, 47 b&w illustrations, 127 cm, rrp £13.99.