Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tulkinghorn on The Age of Wonder

I have read and reread Richard Holmes's biography of Coleridge (Link is to volume 1) with delight and something like awe of his skill at creating character and plot. And his short book about the relationship between Dr. Johnson and the rakehell poet Richard Savage is touching -- especially for a cranky guy with a fondness for bohemia. (Amazon browsers beware: There is a military historian named Richard Holmes who is prolific and who is not the same guy.)

There's a new book "The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science", which is not published here yet but which is available here. Joseph Banks, William Herschel, Mary Shelley, Keats: vistas of an intelligentsia capable of integrating philosophy, experimental science, and poetry.

Lots of quotable quotes. One of my favorites so far comes from Coleridge, the perfect Romantic, describing a walk he took with his father when he was eight:

He told me the names of the stars - and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world -- and that the other twinkling stars were Suns that had worlds rolling around them -- & when I came home, he showed me how they rolled round. I heard him with profound delight & admiration: but without the least mixture of Wonder or incredulity. For from my early reading of Faery Tales, & Genii etc etc -- my mind had been habituated to the vast.

Habituated to the vast..... Reading that phrase has made me happy all week.

1 comment:

daniel said...

I could not agree more with you. That book is so fascinating. I have had to keep grabbing my MP3 player whilst reading in the bath to record little quotes. The poor thing is getting soaked! It's one of those books that slightly but significantly changes the way one thinks of the whole world. I guess it might not if you were already super-wise and well-read, but I don't claim either... I'm working on it though. Give me 100 years or so. Have you read "The Drunkard's Walk"? It is quite heavy on the Maths, but a brilliant look at how randomness affects our lives. Oh boy, I really loved this one too. Loads of accessible, but deceptively challenging and very quotable little probability conundrums! Enjoy.

Dan