Although he did sometimes venture into society—he was particularly devoted to the weekly scientific soirées of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks—it was always made clear to the other guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to "talk as it were into vacancy." If their remarks were scientifically worthy they might receive a mumbled reply, but more often than not they would hear a peeved squeak (his voice appears to have been high pitched) and turn to find an actual vacancy and the sight of Cavendish fleeing for a more peaceful corner.
His wealth and solitary inclinations allowed him to turn his house in Clapham into a large laboratory where he could range undisturbed through every corner of the physical sciences—electricity, heat, gravity, gases, anything to do with the composition of matter. The second half of the eighteenth century was a time when people of a scientific bent grew intensely interested in the physical properties of fundamental things—gases and electricity in particular—and began seeing what they could do with them, often with more enthusiasm than sense.
In America, Benjamin Franklin famously risked his life by flying a kite in an electrical storm. In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one's face. Cavendish, for his part, conducted experiments in which he subjected himself to graduated jolts of electrical current, diligently noting the increasing levels of agony until he could keep hold of his quill, and sometimes his consciousness, no longer.