Shelley and science

Posted on: Wed, 08/04/2010 - 20:16 By: Tom Swiss

In honor of the birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley, here's a fascinating article I just stumbled upon about his attitude toward science:

From the days at Eton however when the embryo poet set trees on fire with gunpowder and a burning glass, or "raised the devil" -- and his tutor -- with electric batteries; even from earlier days, when he brought stained hands and singed clothing to the nursery at Field Place and tried to "shock" his little sisters into a cure for chilblains; Shelley's great interest lay in chemical and physical experiments that gave free scope to fancy and were too primitive to call for the exactness alien to the romantic nature of the experimenter.

During his short stint at Oxford, Shelley wrote:

"What a mighty instrument would electricity be in the hands of him who knew how to wield it? What will not an extraordinary combination of troughs of colossal magnitude, a well arranged system of hundreds of metallic plates, effect? The balloon has not yet received the perfection of which it is surely capable; the art of navigating the air is in its first and most helpless infancy. It promises prodigious facilities for locomotion, and will enable us to traverse vast tracts with ease and rapidity, and to explore unknown countries without difficulty. Why are we still so ignorant of the interior of Africa ? -- why do we not despatch intrepid aeronauts to cross it in every direction, and to survey the whole peninsula in a few weeks?"

Ah, Shelley: nonviolent anarchist, atheist, vegetarian, poet, worshiper of Pan and fan of the Goddess, and now lover of technology when applied for humane ends. Is there anything you did that I don't love?