Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Nancy Moore Goslee
David Goslee, Misty Anderson, Jonathan Kaplan
The reaction of the first wave of English Romantic poets to the Enlightenment scientific establishment is by this point well understood. As Blake once noted, "All that is Valuable in Knowledge is / Superior to Demonstrative Science such as is Weighed or Measured," a view subsequently echoed by Wordsworth: "How insecure, how baseless in itself, / Is the Philosophy whose sway depends / On mere material instruments." Not quite so clear, however, is the relation between these pre-eminent Romantic poets and the Romantic scientific paradigm emerging at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Both in its mainstream version, which would become modern scientific praxis, and in its most extreme variant, the Naturphilosophie of Schelling, Oken, et al., Romantic science differed from its Enlightenment predecessor by positing organic metaphors over mechanical ones, a conception of nature as process rather than product, and a historicist rather than ahistorical view of the universe. Given this orientation, a question emerges: Why did the first wave of English Romantic poets, Blake and Wordsworth particularly, fail to embrace the new Romantic science as an alternative to Enlightenment science when so many of its aspects seemed to harmonize with their personal politics and sense of aesthetics-at least, as these beliefs are articulated in their works? Why, in fact, does it appear that they pointedly rejected it?
Romantic science resonated with the "Spirit of the Age," but within its view of a dynamic, evolving, and boundless universe-and the redefinition of materialism that this view engendered-were philosophical propositions even more dangerous to these poets than those within its Enlightenment counterpart. What is more, there is reason to believe that these poets had a clear sense, arrived at by the differing philosophic approaches that defined them, where this particular scientific revolution might be headed in the century to come-toward the production of a culture wherein science would be irrevocably dominant, spiritual endeavors discredited, and poetry marginalized.
Call, Thomas C., "Science and the Spirit of the Age: Blake, Wordsworth, and the Romantic Scientific Paradigm. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2005.