Perception and analogy explores ways of seeing scientifically in the eighteenth century. It discusses literary, theological, and didactic texts alongside popular works on astronomy, optics, ophthalmology, and the body to demonstrate how readers are prompted to take on a range of perspectives in their acquisition of scientific knowledge. With reference to topics from colour perception to cataract surgery, the book examines how sensory experience was conceptualised during the eighteenth century. It argues that by paying attention to the period’s documentation of perception as an embodied phenomenon we can better understand the creative methods employed by disseminators of diverse natural philosophical ideas. This book argues for the central role of analogy in conceptualising and explaining new scientific ideas. It centres on religious and topographical poetry by writers including James Thomson, Richard Blackmore, Mark Akenside, Henry Brooke, David Mallet, Elizabeth Carter, and Christopher Smart. Together with its readings of popular educational dialogues on scientific topics, the book also addresses how this analogical approach is reflected in material culture through objects – such as orreries, camera obscuras, and Aeolian harps – that facilitate acts of perception and tactile engagement within polite spaces. The book shows how scientific concepts become intertwined with Christian discourse through reinterpretations of origins and signs, the scope of the created universe, and the limits of embodied knowledge.
The introductory chapter outlines the concept of seeing scientifically in eighteenth-century Newtonianism. It introduces the significance of topographical poetry, the imagination, and physico-theology for the book’s argument and outlines a definition of analogy and its critical treatment in literature and science. The introduction ends with an overview of subsequent chapters.
This chapter demonstrates how analogies and models are used in literature about Newtonian astronomy to communicate a cognitive experience of outer space. The argument centres on a series of educational dialogues on astronomy – John Harris’s Astronomical Dialogues, James Ferguson’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Astronomy, and Benjamin Martin’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Philosophy – and astronomical poems by John Hughes, David Mallet, Elizabeth Carter, Richard Blackmore, and Mark Akenside. The chapter surveys a series of analogical techniques for transmitting knowledge about space: conversation, the use of models such as orreries and globes as physical analogies that permit a range of cognitive and somatic experiences, explanatory domestic analogies that make comprehensible the vast scales and unseen forces of space, the Newtonian concept of an infinite universe as physico-theological trope, and the possibilities and restrictions of imaginative journeys into space. These examples demonstrate how the use of analogy transforms astronomy from an abstract and solitary philosophy into a polite, communal activity. From domestic familiarity to imaginative journey amongst the stars, the analogies surveyed in this chapter are shown to facilitate connections between the known and the unknown.
This chapter focuses on responses to Newton’s Opticks. It considers the endurance of analogical associations between light and the divine, and the ways in which this analogy is used to explain both sensory and extra-sensory knowledge in the context of empiricist approaches to light. Drawing on light analogies in Richard Blackmore’s Creation, David Mallet’s Excursion, Henry Baker’s The Universe, Thomas Hobson’s Christianity the Light of the Moral World, Lady Mary Chudleigh’s Song of the Three Children Paraphras’d, and James Thomson’s Seasons, the chapter demonstrates how these works refer to both light’s physical properties and its analogical associations with the acquisition of knowledge and the divine. The first section considers the relationship between light and perception in poetry and physico-theology after Newton by looking at the Neoplatonic concept of signs and tokens in the natural world. The second section investigates the ways in which light’s properties are incorporated into novel accounts of the creation of the world in rewritings of Genesis by William Whiston, John Hutchinson, and Thomas Hobson. The concluding section explores how light analogies are frequently employed to negotiate the tension between empiricist perception and divine revelation.
Looking to the presentation of colour in Thomson’s Seasons, Blackmore’s Creation, Akenside’s The Pleasures of Imagination, Mallet’s Excursion and several other topographical poems, this chapter demonstrates how explanatory descriptions of their occurrence and perception in the natural environment become for writers a way to stimulate the reader’s empirical perception and knowledge. The relationship between natural philosophy, subjectivity, and experience is established in the first section through an investigation of Newton’s optical experiments. The second section considers challenges to the analogical significance of colour categories by looking at representations of the rainbow and individual colours in a range of religious, natural philosophical, and literary examples. Alternatives to Newton’s account of colour production and perception are also explored: Louis-Bertrand Castel’s materialist theory, George Berkeley’s equation of both colours and physical phenomena as non-material in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and Christopher Smart’s religious poetry, which provides an anti-Newtonian spectrum. The chapter closes by presenting three analogical tropes that poets use to describe the effect and experience of perceiving colour in the natural world: colour as painting or dye, colour as tapestry or weaving, and colour as clothing or covering.
This chapter investigates how the eye was understood medically, philosophically, and analogically in the first half of the eighteenth century. It outlines how figures of sight, blindness, and recovery of sight were employed both before and after significant ophthalmological developments in the middle of the period. Drawing on anatomical treatments of the eye and vision by William Chesselden and William Porterfield, the chapter begins by investigating analogies for eyesight in poetry by Henry Brooke and Richard Blackmore that figure the eye as a perfect, designed instrument that is akin to a camera obscura. It explores how descriptions and models for the processes of vision are largely distanced from the individual’s experience of sight as well as the implications this has for the valuation of sighted and non-sighted experience. The chapter then focuses on eighteenth-century engagements with Molyneux’s Question by considering its implications for thinking about individualised sensory experience as the source of knowledge, the relationship between the senses, and competing philosophical accounts of interactions between the perceiving individual and the lived environment. The final section considers surgical interventions by William Chesselden and John Taylor of Hatton Garden. The chapter closes with a reading of Richard Jago’s fictionalised explorations of blindness and recovered sight in Edge-Hill.
Chapter 5 addresses poetic representations of embodied perception including disturbed or inhibited sight, compensatory sensibility, and the interplay between the nerves and the senses in the construction of knowledge and experience. The models of embodied perception offered here correspond with a preoccupation with the limits of knowledge in contrast to the camera obscura model explored in Chapter 4. The first section of the chapter outlines a mid-century emphasis on the body’s role in individual perception by exploring descriptions of sight in topographical poetry by Thomas Gray, James Thomson, and Mark Akenside, together with accounts of sensory description in the work of the blind poet Thomas Blacklock. The subsequent section addresses models of spiritual perception and embodiment in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts and the religious poetry of William Blake. The second half of the chapter introduces the impact of Hartleian associationism and eighteenth-century accounts of the nerves and sensation. Finally, poetic examples from Akenside to Coleridge demonstrate the emergence of the Aeolian harp as an analogy for imaginative creation and sensory engagement.