Definitions

How exactly did the eighteenth-century person define "science"? In the broadest sense, "science" simply meant organized knowledge. As late as 1799 Anna Laetitia Barbauld began her poem "To Mr Coleridge" by talking about the difficulties of ascending "the hill of science" (Fairer and Gerrard 1999: 484). This was not, as we might nowadays assume, a complaint about her problems in understanding Newtonian mathematics and gravitational theory, but a warning about obstacles, such as a Thomsonian "Indolence," to a broader education that would assist both moral and poetic development. In this definition Barbauld, a former student of the great chemist Joseph Priestley at the Warrington Academy, echoed Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. Nevertheless, it was clear that the Aristotelian categories of "natural philosophy" (the scientific study of nature, as we would term it) and "natural history" (the mere observation of natural phenomena; a collection of facts rather than a deeper study of causes of those natural phenomena) were together a "ferment of knowledge" that was becoming more recognizable as modern, experimental science.

Similarly, the meaning of the word "literature" was much broader in this period of polymorphously perverse knowledge production. In a recent eight-volume anthology of eighteenth-century literary and scientific texts, several of the editors have questioned whether eighteenth-century writers saw any difference between works of literature and of science: all were "literature" to them. Michael Newton contends — radically — that "distinctions between the 'literary' and the scientific are not tenable" (Kramer et al. 2003: 372), while Richard Hamblyn notes "the fruitful interdependence of the scientific and the literary in this period" and shows that it is often difficult to identify writing as literature or natural philosophy (Hamblyn 2003: xxiv).

0 0

Post a comment