Synopses & Reviews
The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary transformation in British political, literary, and intellectual life. There was widespread social unrest, and debates raged regarding education, the lives of the working class, and the new industrial, machine-governed world. At the same time, modern science emerged in Europe in more or less its current form, as new disciplines and revolutionary concepts, including evolution and the vastness of geologic time, began to take shape.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
In Visions of Science, James A. Secord offers a new way to capture this unique moment of change. He explores seven key booksand#151;among them Charles Babbageand#8217;s Reflections on the Decline of Science, Charles Lyelland#8217;s Principles ofGeology, Mary Somervilleand#8217;s Connexion of the Physical Sciences, and Thomas Carlyleand#8217;s Sartor Resartusand#151;and shows how literature that reflects on the wider meaning of science can be revelatory when granted the kind of close reading usually reserved for fiction and poetry. These books considered the meanings of science and its place in modern life, looking to the future, coordinating and connecting the sciences, and forging knowledge that would be appropriate for the new age. Their aim was often philosophical, but Secord shows it was just as often imaginative, projective, and practical: to suggest not only how to think about the natural world but also to indicate modes of action and potential consequences in an era of unparalleled change. and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
Visions of Science opens our eyes to how genteel ladies, working men, and the literary elite responded to these remarkable works. It reveals the importance of understanding the physical qualities of books and the key role of printers and publishers, from factories pouring out cheap compendia to fashionable publishing houses in Londonand#8217;s West End. Secordand#8217;s vivid account takes us to the heart of an information revolution that was to have profound consequences for the making of the modern world.
"The Romantic imagination was inspired, not alienated, by scientific advances, argues this captivating history. Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes's biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy's self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge. Their discoveries, he argues, helped establish a new paradigm of 'Romantic science' that saw the universe as vast, dynamic and full of marvels and celebrated mankind's power to not just describe but transform Nature. Holmes's treatment is sketchy on the actual science and heavy on the cultural impact, with wide-ranging discussions of the 1780s ballooning craze, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and scientific metaphors in Romantic poetry. It's an engrossing portrait of scientists as passionate adventurers, boldly laying claim to the intellectual leadership of society. Illus. (July 14)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Holmes pursues his many-chambered nautilus of a tale with energy and great rigor, unearthing many lives and assembling remnant shards of biography, history, science, and literary criticism." Christian Science Monitor
"What Holmes has given us with this account of the Romantic scientists is, curiously enough, a thrilling new way to interpret the poets of the era. To bring new light to such a widely read group — and from the angle least expected, that of rigorous scientific study — is Holmes's considerable gift." Poetry Foundation
"Gives us...a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigoration, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful." The Guardian
andquot;Portraying the extraordinary polymath Wollaston both in detail and in the round, this elegantly written work is a major contribution to understanding early nineteenth-century British science. Usselman exhibits quiet mastery of the diverse fields in which Wollaston labored, fitting his subject into the science, the technology, and the political and economic life of his day.and#160;His work says much about themes of great current historical interest, including the relationships of science to artisanal crafts, invention, and enterprise. Pure Intelligence is both an intellectual tour de force and a pleasure to read.andquot;
and#8220;Visions of Science is a wonderfully lucid account of a complex and often misunderstood era that poses important questions about the way we understand both science and history.and#8221;
and#8220;Elegantly written, Secordand#8217;s Visions of Science provides its readers with fresh insights into the turbulent decade around 1830, when science was changing from a and#8216;relatively esoteric pursuitand#8217; into one that would have a huge impact on and#8216;the everyday life of all men and women.and#8217;and#8221;
and#8220;One of the hardest things for historians is to know how books were actually read when they were first published. A book may have a clear case to make, but did contemporary readers find it credible? Perhaps the ideas that seem important to us now were not those that caught readersand#8217; imaginations, indignations or approval at the time of publication. Secord succeeds brilliantly in tackling this challenge. Through a combination of facts about the publishing industry and contemporary reviews, he demonstrates how, and to what extent, these books were influential. They did nothing less, as he writes, than and#8216;fire the imagination of a generation that believed science was on the verge of transforming the human condition.and#8217;and#8221;
"This book will appeal not only to historians, but to literary scholars keen to move beyond the familiar canon of poetry and prose. And for many other readers, the book will be a fascinating introduction to the first generation to believe that the modern disciplinary sciences could transform the human condition."
"An accomplished overview of early Victorian science and culture."
andquot;During the first thirty years of the nineteenth century William Hyde Wollastonandrsquo;s contemporaries considered him Britainandrsquo;s greatest natural philosopher, yet today he is almost a forgotten figure. After two centuries of obscurity Wollaston is vividly brought to life in Usselmanandrsquo;s long-awaited and aptly titled biography.and#160; Based upon a thirty-year study of Wollastonandrsquo;s extraordinary wide range of publications, laboratory notebooks, letters and business records, Usselman tells the story of a polymath physician who entered a secret partnership to manufacture platinum metals and organic chemicals and found himself in an embarrassing but fascinating ethical dilemma; a brilliant analytical chemist who played a crucial role in the development of crystallography and the atomic theory; a physicist whose contributions to optics and instrument-making were fundamental; and a man who was at the cultural center of British science. This is a brilliant study of a neglected genius.andquot;
andquot;Usselman has written the first major biography of William Hyde Wollaston, and it is magisterial. Wollaston was reserved in public, warm and devoted in private. Here we have Wollaston brought to life in the round, with the full range of his laboratory work incisively examined, his public service, his inventiveness, and his commercial acumen; science, society, politics, and finance are all in play, and Usselman not only teaches us about Wollaston, restoring him to the eminence that his contemporaries recognized, but also sheds new and important light on the multiple contexts in which he lived and worked. This, after two hundred years, is the definitive biography.andquot;
andquot;Somehow no biography of William Hyde Wollaston materialised during or just after his life, and over time he became little more than a name, sometimes regarded as a recluse. Now after a lifetimeandrsquo;s devotion, Usselman has magnificently filled the gap with a book that brings this great man to life and puts him in his context of Regency Britain and its andlsquo;Second Scientific Revolution,andrsquo; in which science became specialised and professional. Anyone with interests in the history of science generally as well as in chemistry specifically will want to read and enjoy this biography, and I am happy to commend it most warmly.andquot;
andquot;Weaves together strands from the history of science, literary criticism, and book history, in a work which is highly accessible but which does not compromise on academic rigour. By focusing on select but significant texts, Visions of Science achieves an expansive view of early nineteenth-century print culture through a series of acute and suggestive readings.andquot;
andquot;Secord highlights seven powerful books from the 1830s that altered their age. . . . Taken together, the books Mr. Secord features tell a fascinating story.andquot;
andquot;Both deeply enlightening and a pleasure to read. . . . A fascinating exploration of books and their readers during a moment of intense transformation in British society. Secord brings us into a period of the nineteenth century when transformations in publishing and an expanded reading public helped create a wide-ranging conversation about science and its possible futures.andquot;
andquot;A concise and engaging survey of the popular science literature that transformed the book trade during the 1930s.andquot;
andquot;He was crucial to the development of crystallography, and discovered the amino acid cystine and the elements palladium and rhodium. Yet scientific polymath William Hyde Wollaston (1766andndash;1828) is largely forgotten. This meticulous biography, the lifeand#39;s work of late chemist Melvyn Usselman, reveals a man of indefatigable curiosity and methodological genius. As we see Wollaston crafting analytical instruments for Arctic expeditions, stargazing, or showing scientific writer Mary Somerville the uses of a goniometer, we can only concur with Usselman that this was a and#39;man worth knowing.and#39;andquot;
andquot;A remarkable achievement. . . . Visions of Science shows how the history of science can profit from conversation with the history of the book. It should be read by anyone interested in science and literature, reading practices, or Victorian intellectual culture.andquot;
"As a good cookbook sends us straight to the kitchen, or a vivid travel book inspires us to get on a plane, The Age of Wonder
, by portraying so many people whose eyes were open to the horror and excitement of the world, urges us to appreciate more keenly the mysteries that surround us." Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine
(read the entire Harper's review
A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science. Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder
explores the earliest ideas and explorers of dynamic science: an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered.
Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe itself. And Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education, stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments, which led to the invention of the miners' lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. Richard Holmes's extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experiments — both successes and failures — were born of singular (and often lonely) dedication, and how science began to be viewed as one with the imagination. It is breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.
A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.
When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discoveryastronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophicalswiftly follow in Richard Holmess original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.
Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration extended to great writers and poets as well as scientists, all creators relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing and discovery.
Holmess extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experimentsboth successes and failureswere born of singular and often lonely dedication, and how religious faith and scientific truth collide. He has written a book breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.
William Hyde Wollaston made an astonishing number of discoveries in an astonishingly varied number of fields: platinum metallurgy, the existence of ultraviolet radiation, the chemical elements palladium and rhodium, the amino acid cystine, and the physiology of binocular vision, among others. Along with his colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young, he was widely recognized during his life as one of Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first part of the nineteenth century, and theand#160; deaths of all three within a six-month span, between 1828 and 1829, were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British scientific supremacy. Unlike Davy and Young, however, Wollaston was not the subject of a contemporary biography, and his many impressive achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result.
Pure Intelligence is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived. Drawing on previously-unstudied laboratory records as well as historical reconstructions of chemical experiments and discoveries, and written in a highly accessible style, Pure Intelligence will help to reinstate Wollaston in the history of science, and the pantheon of its great innovators.
William Hyde Wollaston was born into a large, religious, and scientifically informed family in 1766 and died sixty-two years later as one of the Western worldand#8217;s most highly regarded scientists. With encouragement from his well-connected father, he studied medicine at Cambridge, and began practicing as a physician in the provinces before moving his practice to London in 1797, arriving in the capital about the same time as his illustrious colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young. After a few years in London, Wollaston abandoned the vocation he had come to dislike and bravely set out to make his living as a chemical entrepreneur, while pursuing his intellectual interests in a wide range of contemporary scientific subjects. He, Davy, and Young were to become Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first third of the nineteenth century, and their deaths within a six month time span were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British supremacy in science. In contrast to his two more famous colleagues, Wollastonand#8217;s life was not recorded for posterity in a contemporary biography, and his many remarkable scientific, commercial, instrumental, and institutional achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result. This biography is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived.
About the Author
Richard Holmes is the author of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage; Shelley: The Pursuit (for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award); Coleridge: Early Visions; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections (a New York Times Book Review Editors Choice and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist). He lives in England.
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
1 Joseph Banks in Paradise
2 Herschel on the Moon
3 Balloonists in Heaven
4 Herschel Among the Stars
5 Mungo Park in Africa
6 Davy on the Gas
7 Dr Frankenstein and the Soul
8 Davy and the Lamp
9 Sorcerer and Apprentice
10 Young Scientists