Saturday, 11 October 2008

jenny Uglow is magnificent in her own write, as I blogged here.
And her review of Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder in this weekend's Guardian is a wonderful thing in itself.
Holmes's telling mimics a quality he sees as central to this scientific surge, "driven by a common ideal of intense, even reckless, personal commitment to discovery". He gives us stories of individuals braving great odds, taking risks, undergoing physical and intellectual tests of endurance. This may seem dangerously like an old-fashioned narrative of "great men", but it is very different, partly because Holmes is acknowledging the vital role of collaboration, the importance of the long, unglamorous slog to get results, and the vagaries of chance and luck, but chiefly because it is a narrative of ideas. Mistakes are recorded here, as much as right judgments, because they stem from - or give rise to - imaginative leaps. The model is not Newton, but Wordsworth's idea of Newton:
"With his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone."

(link thanks to ben Smith)


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