The Death Knell of an Atom

In those pre-television days, people made their own entertainment, and we have many songs and poems in the archives about the affairs of chemistry and of the department of those days. Most of these were performed at the Lab Dinner. I will offer you only two, both by Ramsay.

The first is dated 1902, when radioactivity, discovered by Becquerel and the Curies between 1885 and 1900 was the hot topic of the day.

The Death Knell of the Atom

Old time is a-flying; the atoms are dying; 
Come, list to their parting oration:- 
"We'll soon disappear to a heavenly sphere 
"On account of our disintegration,

"Our action's spontaneous in atoms uranious 
"Or radious, actinious , or thorious; 
"While for others the gleam of a heaven-sent beam 
"Must encourage our efforts laborious.

"For many a day we've been slipping away 
"While the savants still dozed in their slumbers; 
"Till at last came a man with gold-leaf and tin can, 
"And detected our infinite numbers."

So the atoms, in turn, we now clearly discern, 
Fly to bits with the utmost facility; 
They wend on their way, and in splitting, display 
An absolute lack of stability.

'Tis clear they should halt on the grave of old Dalton 
On their way to celestial spheres; 
And a few thousand million - let's say a quadrillion - 
Should bedew it with reverent tears.

There's nothing facetious in the way that Lucretius 
Imagined the chaos to quiver; 
And electrons to blunder, together, asunder, 
In building up atoms for ever.

William Ramsay, 1902