Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

It's a myth that the Romantic poets were fundamentally anti-scientific; they were more usually inspired by the scientific discoveries of their day, argues Richard Holmes in this magnificent group biography. It makes no sense to talk of romantic subjectivity versus scientific objectivity in an age when scientists were poets, and poets were well-versed in science. Wordsworth might have accused scientists of murdering to dissect, but he also envisaged Newton as "a Mind for ever / Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone", thereby contributing to the romantic image of the scientific genius. Keats might have grumbled about Newton reducing the rainbow to a prism, but he also celebrated William Herschel's discovery of Uranus in "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer". An accomplished biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, Holmes is the perfect guide to the "second scientific revolution" (the phrase is Coleridge's) at the end of the 18th century, when artists and scientists were united by their capacity to wonder.

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