Consuming Science

Science was not only revelatory for philosophically inclined male poets; it was indicative of progress for all. Addison's influential essays on the Imagination in The Spectator were one channel through which a broad journal audience received information. Many writers were quick to use poetry as a medium to disseminate Newtonian ideas to the general public, naturally assuming that the exciting new developments in so many areas of knowledge would be of interest to more than an educated elite. Science was also in vogue by the mid-eighteenth century, a fashion to be worn on one's sleeve in polite society. Prolific authors like Benjamin Martin — who published at least forty works for ladies and children as well as gentlemen — were able to state by 1743 that science had become so fashionable that "to cultivate this study, is only to be in taste, and politeness is an inseparable consequence" (Preface to A Course of Lectures in Natural and Experimental Philosophy, Geography and Astronomy, p. 2). As Cheryce Kramer has put it in her introduction to Science as Polite Culture, "Air pumps, galvanic piles and pendulum experiments were the stuff of refined soirees amongst privileged members of society. They were to be consumed, like truffles and oranges, as the tokens of a luxurious existence" (Kramer et al. 2003: xxxiii). Martin also felt able to make the claim that great poets from the time of the ancients had taken inspiration from natural philosophy in mutually sublime interaction (1743: preface, 4—5).

Popularizers of science like John Desaguliers, whose poem "The Newtonian System of the World, the Best Model of Government" (1728) had the sanction of Newton himself, swarmed to provide the information craved by the public (Kramer et al. 2003: 63). An exciting lecturer, Desaguliers was feted by all parts of society for his willingness to dramatize science in practical demonstrations. His poem celebrated the accession of George II to the throne and contrasted the balanced, orderly, and supposedly Newtonian constitution of the British with the rule of fear in France. Des-aguliers apologized for his lack of poetic talent, while assuming that his true mission was to convey scientific ideas in a palatable manner. Eschewing tedious detail for broad sweeps of the brush, he repeated the already established idea of a feminine Nature submitting to rapacious masculine science:

Nature compell'd, his [Newton's] piercing Mind, obeys, And gladly shews him all her secret Ways; Gainst Mathematicks she has no Defence, And yields t'experimental Consequence.

(quoted in Kramer et al. 2003: 92)

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