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Edward Delaval

Edward Delaval (1729–1814) was a classical scholar and linguist, and made a European reputation for himself as well as a scientist, chiefly in chemistry and experimental philosophy. He matters a great deal for our story of the glass armonica, because Delaval also performed on the musical glasses, having—as he claimed—the largest set in England at the time.; and it was Delaval whom Franklin heard and was inspired to invent the glass armonica.

Delaval was a Fellow of Pembroke Hall. Franklin helped his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1759.1 In 1769 Delaval was also on the committee—along with Franklin—appointed by the Royal Society to make recommendations on how to protect St. Paul's Cathedral from lightning strikes.2 His other scientific contributions included: studying the effects of lightning; advocating the use of blunt lightning rods (instead of pointed, contradicting what Franklin advocated); he studied the specific gravities of several metals and their colors when bonded with glass; and the manufacture of artificial gems.3 He was a candidate in 1762, and again in 1768, for the Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge—both times unsuccessfully. He was also known as 'Delaval the Loud' for his loud voice.4, or sometimes just called 'Delly' by his friends5, who considered him 'an honest gentleman'.6

About March 28th, 1760, Thomas Gray described one of Delaval's concerts to his friend James Brown, the Master of Pembroke:

We heard Delaval the other night play upon the water glasses, & I was astonished. No instrument that I know has so celestial a tone. I thought it was a cherubim in a box.7

On Dec. 8, Gray wrote to Mason:

Of all loves come to Cambridge out of hand, for here is Mr. Dillaval [sic] & a charming set of glasses that sing like nightingales, & we have concerts every other night, & shall stay here this month or two...8

But before long Gray took a dislike to Delaval and wrote in Jan. 1762

I am still here: so are the glasses & their master: the first still delight me: I wish I could say as much for the second.9

1 Papers of Benjamin Franklin 8:359–60

2 Papers of Benjamin Franklin 16:145ff.

3 Debus (1968), 437

4 Gray (1935), letters 461, 494

5e.g. Gray (1935), letters 394, 395, 399, 414, 430

6 Gray (1935), letter 482

7 Gray (1935), letter 309

8 Gray (1935), letter 351

9 Gray (1935), letter 352