Dionysius Lardner

Irish science writer

Dionysius Lardner (April 3, 1793April 29, 1859) was an Irish scientific writer who popularised science and technology, and edited the 133-volume Cabinet Cyclopedia.

The beginnings of science have often the appearance of chance.


  • In this science the illustrations and examples are not confined in their effect merely to the practice they afford in the analytical art, but [...] they also store the mind with independent geometrical and physical knowledge. Besides, it should be considered, that the only effectual method of impressing abstract formulae and rules upon the memory, and, indeed, of making them fully and clearly apprehended by the understanding, is by examples of their practical application.
  • The beginnings of science have often the appearance of chance. A felicitous accident throws a certain natural fact under the notice of an inquiring and philosophic mind. Attention is awakened and investigation provoked. Similar phenomena under varied circumstances are eagerly sought for; and if in the natural course of events they do not present themselves, circumstances are designedly arranged so as to bring about their production. The seeds of science are thus sown, and soon begin to germinate.


  • "Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia."
    • While widely quoted as an example of failed predictions about technological progress and attributed to Lardner, there are no known citations of this line prior to 1980 and it does not seem to appear in his published works. It may result from the conflation, through imperfect memory and oral transmission, of reference to three separate concepts: the real, and at the time new, danger of suffocation by engine combustion gasses in tunnels (and in particular an 1861 incident in the Blisworth Tunnel), the hypothetical (and unfounded) fear of suffocation by vacuum in a speculated system of trains propelled by pneumatic force, and Lardner's erroneous prediction of mechanical failure of trains in the Box Tunnel of the Great Western Railway from over-acceleration due to excess gradient.

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