Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life

Synopsis

'There are a number of excellent essays here. Nicholas Roe's introduction gives a vivid sense of the close connections between science and politics during the Revolutionary decade' -Gregory Dart, Times Literary SupplementBringing together an exciting variety of approaches, these fifteen chapters illuminate Coleridge's relation to the 'sciences of life' - a term much broader than modern 'science'. Along with optics, chemistry, geology, anatomy, and medicine the studies embrace politics, racial theories, literary relations, and much more. This is a vital and exciting development in Coleridge criticism.

Excerpt

On the evening of 26 January 1793 members of the Physical Society squeezed onto the benches in the Theatre at Guy’s Hospital, London, to listen to a lecture which brought advanced science into explosive contact with revolutionary politics. John Thelwall, who was the most notorious ‘Jacobin’ reformist in the country, a leader of the London Corresponding Society, a poet and orator, addressed the audience on the theme of ‘Vitality’. His lecture was a tour de force, an up-to-the-minute exposition of what was—and still is—the most controversial area of scientific in; vestigation: life. What Thelwall said excited such keen interest that discussion continued on ‘six successive nights to a theatre particularly thronged’, and on 2 March 1793 a ‘Letter of Thanks’ was sent to the lecturer—‘the first’, as Thelwall’s wife proudly recalled, ‘the first that was ever voted to any member on such an occasion’.

Thelwall’s lecture was published as An Essay, Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality… in which Several of the Opin; ions of the Celebrated John Hunter are Examined and Contro; verted, a title that reveals why Thelwall had provoked so much debate at Guy’s. Eighteenth-century anatomical science was the focus of fierce contention about the ‘vital principle’—that is, about how otherwise inert physical matter might be stimulated

For the letter of ‘most sincere Thanks’ see Thelwall, An Essay, Towards a Defini;
tion of Animal Vitality
, iv; ‘Prefatory Memoir’ to Thelwall, Poems, Chiefly Written in
Retirement
, xxii; and The Life of John Thelwall by his Widow, 104. Thelwall’s essay
is reproduced in my Politics of Nature (2nd edn.).

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