Two eighteenth-century novels, Tobias Smollett’s Launcelot Greaves (1760–61) and The Philosophical Quixote (1782), anonymous, drew on the figures of two contemporary scientists. Smollett represented John Shebbeare in the figure of a quack whose manipulative strategies metaphorise the cynicism and prolixity of contemporary politicians. The Philosophical Quixote gives in turn the portrait of an apothecary who dabbles in electricity, with dire results: explosion, shock or conflagration. The “explosive” scenes serve both as an equivalent of irresponsible experimentation among the scientists of the day and of the political explosiveness or radicalism, such as Joseph Priestley practised.

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