John Cuthbertson manufactured scientific instruments, and this book is in part an attempt to encourage sales of scientific equipment (lavishly illustrated at the end of the book) for experiments at home. The experiments had already been published by Cuthbertson in Amsterdam as early as 1769, and are described in the preface as ‘easy and pleasing to the young practitioner’. Some seem more like party games than serious scientific exploration. Experiment 17, Electrical Kiss (p. 37), looks particularly entertaining, while Experiment 25 (p. 41) became a popular game at Victorian dinner parties.
Plate 8 shows the use of electrical charges on the human body, known as galvanism, which was often used both to treat mental illness and to revive people after drowning or lightning strikes. In the early 1820s it was believed that electricity could ‘perform every function of the nervous system’ except respiration (James Price, An Essay on the Medical Application of Electricity and Galvanism; with a Concise Descriptive Account of Disease, 1821). Almost all conditions, including gout, fever, hydrocephalus, blindness, deafness and genitor-urinary infections were supposed to be treatable by the application of electricity.