The Poetry of Victorian Scientists

The Poetry of Victorian Scientists : Style, Science and Nonsense

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A surprising number of Victorian scientists wrote poetry. Many came to science as children through such games as the spinning-top, soap-bubbles and mathematical puzzles, and this playfulness carried through to both their professional work and writing of lyrical and satirical verse. This is the first study of an oddly neglected body of work that offers a unique record of the nature and cultures of Victorian science. Such figures as the physicist James Clerk Maxwell toy with ideas of nonsense, as through their poetry they strive to delineate the boundaries of the new professional science and discover the nature of scientific creativity. Also considering Edward Lear, Daniel Brown finds the Victorian renaissances in research science and nonsense literature to be curiously interrelated. Whereas science and literature studies have mostly focused upon canonical literary figures, this original and important book conversely explores the uses literature was put to by eminent Victorian scientists.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 6 b/w illus.
  • 1139603795
  • 9781139603799

Table of contents

1. Professionals and amateurs, work and play: William Rowan Hamilton, Edward Lear and James Clerk Maxwell; 2. Edinburgh natural philosophy and Cambridge mathematics; 3. Knowing more than you think: James Clerk Maxwell on puns, analogies and dreams; 4. Red Lions: Edward Forbes and James Clerk Maxwell; 5. Popular science lectures: 'A Tyndallic Ode'; 6. John Tyndall and 'The Scientific Use of the Imagination'; 7. 'Molecular Evolution': Maxwell, Tyndall and Lucretius; 8. James Joseph Sylvester: the romance of space; 9. James Joseph Sylvester: the calculus of forms; 10. Science on Parnassus; Bibliography; Index.
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Review quote

'... provides fresh perspectives on, and a thorough engagement with, the wider scientific and literary culture of the era ... it is likely to become a standard point of departure for those studying the poetry of that most remarkable and multifaceted of Victorian natural philosophers, James Clerk Maxwell.' London Mathematical Society Newsletter '... does for verse what Beer's Darwin Plots (1983) did for the novel, and reveals, often compellingly, how poetry and poetics were crucial components of the working practices and intellectual activities of many of the most influential men of science in the second half of the nineteenth century ... a stimulating and fascinating book.' Gowan Dawson, Journal of Victorian Culture 'Daniel Brown's highly original and stimulating new book shows us that poetry mattered to Victorian scientists ... Brown's scholarship is intense and impressive.' John Holmes, University of Reading 'The book argues persuasively for the importance of poetry to a number of Victorian scientific figures ... The Poetry of Victorian Scientists does valuable work in mapping and contextualizing the various poetic writings of these figures, and it represents a major contribution to scholarship on poetry by 19th-century scientists.' Gregory Tate, The Review of English Studies
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About Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is Professor of English at the University of Southampton.
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