Letters from Alessandro Volta to 3rd Earl Cowper
Letters from Alessandro Volta to George 3 rd Earl CowperFrom the Panshanger Papers at HALS: D/EP/F312/164(The Hertfordshire County Record Office U.K.)Information from Cowper's letters to Volta are taken from “Volta Epistolario” cited by Brian Maloney in his pamphlet Box C. 929.2(Hertfordshire Family History and Local Studies Library)
George, 3rd Earl Cowper, of Cole Green Hertfordshire (1738-1789) lived in Florence in Tuscany from 1760 until his death. He was an extremely wealthy man and a patron of the arts and sciences. He had rooms in a palazzo in the Via Ghibellina in Florence which he equipped for the study of Natural Philosophy. In 1784, Mary Berry, a visitor from England, described these rooms, which collectively were called “il gabinetto” or “the cabinet.”“Breakfasted at Lord Cowper's , in the cabinet, an apartment of five small rooms elegantly fitted up with the finest instruments for experiments in all the different branches of natural philosophy: one is dedicated to electricity, a second a laboratory,* a third for optics, a fourth for hydraulic experiments, a fifth for air.^”
Alessandro Volta, (1745-1827) was born and died at Como, which for much of his life, was part of the Hapsburg Empire. At the time of the correspondence, the ruler in Vienna was the Emperor Joseph II. Joseph was strongly influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. He curbed the immense power of the Catholic Church and founded schools and colleges that taught a reformed curriculum. Volta was a self taught scientist. He became government inspector of education in Como: he was later appointed to work at the University of Pavia.
* C18th use of the word laboratory was a place for the study of chemistry.^ Mary Berry, Extracts from the Journals and the Correspondence, London 1865.N.B. Editor's note:explanatory information is given at the beginning of some of the original letters. This information is based on Cowper's letters to Volta which were researched and printed in the publication by Brian Maloney (see above); footnotes to the letters are given at the end of the English versions.