Sunday, January 17, 2016

The end of Romanticism

From The Age of Wonder:

Thomas Carlyle in 1829 in the Edinburgh review "announced the demise of Romanticism and the relentless arrival of the "age of machinery".

and on the manufacture of the term scientist:

 At one meeting, chaired by William Whewell, Coleridge was drawn into a passionate discussion of semantics. It revolved around the question of what exactly someone who works 'in the real sciences' (as he had phrased it) should be called. This is how Whewell reported the British Association debate in the Quarterly Review of 1834: Formerly the 'learned' embraced in their wide grasp all the branches of the tree of knowledge, mathematicians as well as philologers, physical as well as antiquarian speculators. But these days are past ... This difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the BAAS at Cambridge last summer. There was no general term by which these gentlemen could describe themselves with reference to their pursuits. `Philosophers' was felt to be too wide and lofty a term, and was very properly forbidden them by Mr. Coleridge, both in his capacity as philologer and metaphysician. `Savans' was rather assuming and besides too French; but some ingenious gentleman [in fact Whewell himself] pro-posed that, by analogy with 'artist, they might form 'scientist' — and added that there could be no scruple to this term since we already have such words as 'economist' and 'atheist' — but this was not generally palatable.
This argument over a single word — 'scientists' — gave a clue to the much larger debate that was steadily surfacing in Britain at this crucial period of transition 1830-34. Lurking beneath the semantics lay the whole question of whether the new generation of professional 'scientists' would promote safe religious belief or a dangerous secular materialism. Hitherto, either austere intellectual Deism, held for example by William Herschel, or else the rather more picturesque Natural Theology conve-niently accepted by Davy (at least in his public lectures) had disguised this problem, whatever the revelations of astronomy or geology, or the inspired ragings of Shelley. For many Romantic scientists, with a robust intellectual belief in the `argument by Design, there was no immediate contradiction between religion and science: rather the opposite. Science was a gift of God or Providence to mankind, and its purpose was to reveal the wonders of His design. This indeed was the essence of 'natural' religion, as promoted for example by William Paley in his Natural Theology (1802), with its famous analogy with the divine watchmaker. It was the faith that brought Mungo Park back alive from his first Niger expedition. It was the faith that inspired Michael Faraday to become a Deacon in the Sandemanian Church in July 1832. But public faith often differed from private beliefs. Whatever he said in his famous lectures, Davy's poetry and his posthumous writings, such as Consolations in Travel, suggested a kind of science mysticism that cer-tainly precluded a Christian God, and possibly even any kind of Creator at all. Others, like William Herschel, had been content to rely on an instinctive, perhaps deliberately unexamined, belief in a benign Creator somewhere distantly behind the great unfolding scheme of nature. Though in Herschel's case, his own observations had shown how extremely — appallingly — distant, both in time and space, that Creator must be. Moreover, his sister Caroline never once mentioned God any-where in her journals.41 As for Joseph Banks, his sister Sophia had had no high opinion of his natural piety.
I • "I
of _ _ _ Yet with the growing public knowledge or geology and astronomy, unumy, anti the recognition of 'deep space' and 'deep time', fewer and fewer men or women of education can have believed in a literal, Biblical six days of creation. However, science itself had yet to produce its own theory (or myth) of creation, and there was no alternative Newtonian Book of Genesis — as yet. That is why Darwin's On the Origin of Species appeared so devastating when it was finally published in 1859. It was not that it reduced the six days of Biblical creation to myth: this had already been largely done by Lyell and the geologists. What it demonstrated was that there was no need for a divine creation at all. There was no divine cre-ation of species, no miraculous invention of butterflies' wings or cats' eyes or birds' song. The process of evolution by 'natural selection' replaced any need for 'intelligent design' in nature. Darwin had indeed written a new Book of Genesis.4 Over the following five years, the well-meaning 8th Earl of Bridgewater would commission a whole series of booklets by the leading men of science, intended to show how British scientific research and discovery unfailingly underpinned Christian — and specifically Anglican —belief. They were to illustrate what might have been called an unproven hypothesis: 'The Goodness of God as Manifested in the Creation'. Reading one of these Bridgewater Treatises (1830-36) on geology, Mary Somerville mournfully observed, "Facts are such stubborn things!"

There was a premonition of the evolutionary idea in an anonymous 'evolutionary' book, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which caused a sensation in 1844. But Darwin had worked by John Herschel's rules of pure induction: assembling a mass of precise data (e.g. the evolution of finches' beaks) until the simplest and most convincing hypothesis emerged. Consequently the great mainstay of so many scientists — Natural Theology and the Argument by Design — was worse than untrue: it was unnecessary. The spiritual upheavals this caused devout Victorian scientists were famously described by Edmund Gosse in Father and Son (1908). But it was the earlier, preliminary impact of geology, on ordinary thinking men and women, which was recorded by Tennyson in several sections (56 and 102) of In Memoriam (1833-50). The subject and inspiration of this poem was his Cambridge friend Arthur Hallam, who died in exactly this year of the third BAAS meeting.
`So careful of the type?' but no. From scarped cliff and quarried stone She cries, 'A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go ... '

and another age dawns:
While these public battles raged, Michael Faraday quietly continued his experiments at the Royal Institution. He was now released from Davy's oppressive shadow, yet still clearly inspired by his memory. He worked immensely hard, giving his first Bakerian Lecture to the Royal Society in 1829, and also accepting a simultaneous post as Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He expanded his work on electro-magnetism, and began the construction of the first electrical generators, by producing an 'alternating' electrical current. This would lead to electrical dynamos that would ultimately revolutionise industry as much as James Watt's steam engine. His experiment with magnetic coils and a galvanome-ter (which was made to move without physical contact), carried out at the Institution's laboratory on 29 August 1831, was said to have ended 'the Age of Steam' at a stroke, and begun the new 'Age of Electricity'.

No comments: