Politics

If science was politicized in the eighteenth century, it was in a complex manner. The debate between the ancients and the moderns saw science as a phenomenon of modernity, and defenders of the ancients such as Swift considered certain types of scientific endeavor to be ludicrous, as he makes plain in his satire on the Royal Society's apparently bizarre experiments in the third book of Gulliver's Travels. Yet members of the largely Tory, anti-modern Scriblerus Club such as Pope, Dr. Arbuthnot, Gay, and Parnell, were far from opposed to scientific enterprise: they merely had their doubts about its limits, as most religious people did in the period. Arbuthnot himself, as noted above, was a member of the Royal Society, and was easily capable of satirizing scientific folly while writing such influential tomes as An Essay Concerning the Nature of the Aliments (1731) and the Essay Concerning the Effects of Air (1733).

True, there was a sense in which science could be seen as a primarily Whiggish vogue, with its bold sense of progress and embrace of the modern. Newton and Locke (the father of the sciences of the mind) were Whig icons; Addison's Spectator blended science well with its Whig politics; and James Thomson praised the Whig Prime

Minister Walpole in his elegy to Newton. Indeed, Thomson's dynamic Nature seems Whiggish in its entrepreneurial energies. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society had practical application in mind; poems like John Dyer's The Fleece (Fairer and Gerrard 1999: 241) reflected the use of science for national improvement. Science was seen in Europe as a way of freeing oneself from the imposed ignorance of despotic monarchies and religions, although in England science remained largely, at least in poetry, the servant of religion. Sir Richard Blackmore, a Whig, medic, and poet now famed for his place in Pope's Dunciad, used the subtle mechanism of the human body as well as the Newtonian universe to illustrate God's power as artificer in his epic poem The Creation (1712). Christine Gerrard (1994) and Abigail Williams (2005) have shown that Whig poetry has been unfairly characterized as dunce-like by the powerful representations of poets like Pope: Blackmore's scientific poem is certainly more enjoyable than some of his long-winded historical epics.

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