In Praise of Dr Katterfelto

Dr Katterfelto is one of the most fascinating characters from late 18th/early 19th century England. He was called the King of Puff, and his claims to have cured Londoners of the flu epidemic helped sell his remedies. He demonstrated solar microscopes, and danced either side of the divide between science and magic with a big dollop of BS just for fun. He was arrested for setting fire to hay ricks when he demonstrated balloons. He demonstrated magnetism by elevating his daughter who was wearing a metal helmet. Child Protection? Bah! this was survival. Here’s a poem praising his travelling show from January 1790, The Cumberland Pacquet, & Wares Whitehaven Advertiser:

On seeing Dr K’s various Experiments at the Assembly Room last week

To please mankind has been the varied art

of those who strive for an immortal Name;

All, all, with anxious effort, bear a part,

To stand encircled in the list of fame

For this the martial hero quits his case,

and clad in hostile arms undaunted bleeds;

For this the thrifty merchant ploughs the seas,

The poet writes, and ardent lawyer pleads:

For this e’n Katterfelto  quits his home;

Pursuit of fame his hazardous design;

For this from clime to clime we see him roam,

to teach, the unlearn’d philosophy divine.

Philosophy, the all-enchanting gift,

Of pow’rs supreme, to unlighten’d man!

Philosophy th’ enraptured foul will lift

High o’er itself the works of Heav’n to lean,

Ye then, who pant for learning’s ample sphere,

Who wish philosophy sublime to know,

Th’ occasion seize, while Katterfelto here

Ardent attends, its mystic pow’rs to show.

See him thro’ all the fields of Science stray,

and show how rolling orbs with each agree!

With candour his experiments survey,

Then hail him master of philosophy.

Master of all the wonder-working art,

of separate elements, with varied force,

How fire electric, swiftly thro’ each part,

with healing aid pursues its subtil course.

But ah! In vain the unexperienc’d muse,

The depths of your researches must pursue;

Yet this poor tribute she can ne’er refuse

To justice, ingenuity and you.

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