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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Henry Moseley -- The Lost Genius Part I



The decade before the First World War has come to be known as the Golden Age. Of course it was no such thing, but compared to what was to follow, it must have seemed that way. Despite widespread poverty and inequality, the pre-war years were a time of great optimism. Art, literature and science were exploring new horizons, new countries were being built, and new industries were transforming lives. From this optimism grew idealism, and the desire to create a better world for everyone. All that ended in the summer of 1914.

Through death, injury and mental trauma, the horrors of the First World War devastated an entire generation in Europe and beyond. That generation – the optimists and the idealists who had grown up in the Golden Age – is now known as the Lost Generation.


Perhaps the best known of the Lost Generation who died during the fighting is the British poet Rupert Brooke. His poems were written at the very beginning of the war, when the war was itself a part of the Golden Age. For patriotism and for glory, is what the waving crowds shouted as the optimistic, idealistic young men joyously marched off in 1914.    

Perhaps the best known of the Lost Generation who survived the fighting is the American writer Ernest Hemingway. His stark novels were written after the war, in the dark shadow that followed him around for the remainder of his days. The wound to his leg healed, but the mud and the blood and the stench had scarred Hemingway inside. He committed suicide in 1961.

*   *   *

One of the Lost Generation few people have heard of is a remarkable British scientist called Henry Moseley. Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley possessed one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. In a brief outpouring of creativity between 1912 and 1914, Harry, as he was known throughout his life, confirmed the quantum theory of the atom, demonstrated how the properties of elements are determined by their atomic number, and predicted the existence of four unknown elements. Carried by the recently introduced medium of radio, news of Harry’s work flashed through the international scientific community at the speed of light. There was talk of a glittering future ahead for Harry Moseley, and even of him being awarded a Nobel Prize. But there would be neither a glittering future nor a Nobel Prize. On 10th August 1915, Second Lieutenant H.G.J. Moseley of the Royal Engineers was killed in action, shot in the head by a sniper during the forlorn Allied attack at Gallipoli. He was twenty-seven years old.

Henry Moseley: The Lost Genius describes the life and death of an optimistic and idealistic young man. Harry was a scientist, so this book is also an introduction to the science that was the passion of his short life. But above all, this book is a modest tribute to the entire Lost Generation of the First World War.



If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed:
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave once her flowers to love, her days to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air,
Would by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

 
The Soldier, Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)


I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had
no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if
nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.


A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)


“In view of what he might still have accomplished, his death might
well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally.”

 


Isaac Azimov writing about Harry Moseley in 1972

Continue on Part II
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At midday on Friday 5 February, 2016 Julian Assange, John Jones QC, Melinda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson and Baltasar Garzon will be speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club on the decision made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the Assange case.

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