George Berg’s Experiment Book: Berg’s Experimental Activity
Berg’s habit of dating his experiments allows us to track his periods of activity; the addition of information about his other pursuits contributes to our understanding of the place of Berg’s chemistry project in his life. More than 672 experiments over a fifteen-year period suggests approximately one experiment per week. While the image of patience and diligence this rate creates may be a view of the overall reality, Berg’s work patterns were more episodic. There were a few long periods with no activity. In contrast, he completed 157 experiments (about 25 percent of the total) during the final five months for which we have records.
There are several possible reasons for the periodicity of Berg’s experiments, including other work, family, and travel. For example, Berg recorded no experiments conducted between August 1760 and March 1762. Apparently he made a journey of several months to Italy during that time. Two experiments are dated from Florence, and there are references to activities in Rome and Leghorn. Again, between early December 1762 and May 1765, Berg recorded no experiments. Inserted papers dated September and October 1763 suggest that he was reading and discussing chemistry at this time, and other notes indicate he tested formulas for mold-making, perhaps to create cameos and intaglios from his glass formulas. From May until late December 1765, Berg recorded only two experiments. This three-year hiatus (December 1762 to December 1765) could be due to either family or professional events, or perhaps both. Berg was elected organist at the church of St. Mary at Hill late in 1762, a part-time job but one with regular requirements. In February 1764 his opera Antigono was performed at Spring Gardens and lists of Berg’s published songs suggest that until 1765 he continued to compose for concerts at Spring, Ranelagh, and Marybone Gardens. Another factor may have been the death of his father, in December 1765. Whatever caused these interruptions, Berg recommenced regular chemistry and glassmaking experiments in May 1766 and for the next eight and a half years continued with only shorter breaks.