Space and the 'March of Mind': Literature and the Physical Sciences in Britain 1815-1850

Space and the 'March of Mind': Literature and the Physical Sciences in Britain 1815-1850

Alice Jenkins

Language: English

Pages: 268

ISBN: 0199209928

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This book is about the idea of space in the first half of the nineteenth century. It uses contemporary poetry, essays, and fiction as well as scientific papers, textbooks, and journalism to give a new account of nineteenth-century literature's relationship with science. In particular it brings the physical sciences--physics and chemistry--more accessibly and fully into the arena of literary criticism than has been the case until now.

Writers whose work is discussed in this book include many who will be familiar to a literary audience (including Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Hazlitt), some well-known in the history of science (including Faraday, Herschel, and Whewell), and a raft of lesser-known figures. Alice Jenkins draws a new map of the interactions between literature and science in the first half of the nineteenth century, showing how both disciplines were wrestling with the same central political and intellectual concerns--regulating access to knowledge, organizing knowledge in productive ways, and formulating the relationships of old and new knowledges.

Space has become a subject of enormous critical interest in literary and cultural studies. Space and the 'March of Mind' gives a wide-ranging account of how early nineteenth-century writers thought about--and thought with--space. Burgeoning mass access to print culture combined with rapid scientific development to create a crisis in managing knowledge. Contemporary writers tried to solve this crisis by rethinking the nature of space. Writers in all genres and disciplines, from all points on the political spectrum, returned again and again to ideas and images of space when they needed to set up or dismantle boundaries in the intellectual realm, and when they wanted to talk about what kinds of knowledge certain groups of readers wanted, needed, or deserved. This book provides a rich new picture of the early nineteenth century's understanding of its own culture.

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professionalizing, putting themselves on a better footing ³⁴ Edward Craig, A Lecture on the Formation of a Habit of Scientific Enquiry, delivered at the Staines Literary Institution (Staines: Smith, 1836), p. 32. 18 Introduction in university curricula, developing specialisms each with its own practitioners, dialect, and organization, and establishing powerful institutional frameworks for the validation of scientific research and careers. By mid-century, the culture of science had changed

include some ‘waste’ space between those worlds. That space would have to be void, since filled space belongs to a world; and the possibility of void space was denied because it seemed to imply limitations to the power and presence of God. Since there could be no void space in the interstices between worlds, there could be no more than one world.²⁴ In both the case of the circular panopticon and that of the spherical world, unorganized space between the non-tessellating shapes represents a threat

The hub-and-ray model, incorporated in both the panopticon and the ‘central perspective point’ of Coleridge’s image, represents in itself an oddly powerful coming together of ideas about vision and the visionary. This emphasis on spectatorship and modes of vision means that the hub-and-ray model could be used for commenting on accessibility—in the context of epistemological writing, accessibility of knowledge—i.e. for asking who can see what kinds of information. Again in Biographia Literaria,

‘science’ still carried its ancient meaning of knowledge or learning, so that definitions of ‘science’ often included disciplines which we would now consider to be in the humanities. For instance, Charles Babbage, the inventor of the difference engine and a great polemicist on scientific education, counted modern history, English law, and political economy as ‘sciences’ alongside chemistry, mineralogy, geology, and zoology.⁶ Thomas Malthus saw ‘science’ as a spectrum in which his own area of

tract, published by the Steam Intellect Society, and written by a learned friend who is for doing all the world’s business as well as his own, and is equally well qualified to handle every branch of human knowledge. [ … ] My cook must read his rubbish in bed; and as might naturally be expected, she dropped suddenly fast asleep, overturned the candle, and set the curtains in a blaze.¹⁷ Peacock ridicules both parties in the march of mind: the uneducated who seek to improve their knowledge, and the

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