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Title: 'The language of the heavens' : Wordsworth, Coleridge and astronomy
Author: Owens, Thomas A. R.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis proposes that astronomical ideas and forces structured the poetic, religious and philosophical imaginings of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Despite the widespread scholarly predilection for interdisciplinary enquiry in the field of literature and science, no study has been undertaken to assess the impact and imaginative value of mathematics and astronomy upon Wordsworth and Coleridge. Indeed, it is assumed they had neither the resources available to access this knowledge, nor the capacity to grasp it fully. This is not the case. I update the paradigm that limits their familiarity with the physical sciences to the education they received at school and at Cambridge, centred principally on Euclid and Newton, by revealing their attentiveness to the new world views promulgated by William Herschel, William Rowan Hamilton, Pierre-Simon Laplace, and the mathematicians of Trinity College, Cambridge, including John Herschel, George Peacock, and George Biddell Airy, amongst others. The language of astronomy wielded a vital, analogical power for Wordsworth and Coleridge; it conditioned the diurnal rhythms of their thought as its governing dynamic. Critical processes were activated, at the level of form and content, with a mixture of cosmic metaphors and nineteenth-century discoveries (such as infra-red). Central models of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s literary and metaphysical inventions were indissociable from scientific counterparts upon which they mutually relied. These serve as touchstones for creative endeavour through which the mechanisms of their minds can be traced at work. Exploring the cosmological charge contained in the composition of their poems, and intricately patterned and pressed into their philosophical and spiritual creeds, stakes a return to the evidence of the Romantic imagination. The incorporation of astrophysical concepts into the moulds of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s constructions manifests an intelligent plurality and generosity which reveals the scientific valency of their convictions about, variously, the circumvolutions of memory and the idea of psychic return; textual revision, specifically the ways in which language risks becoming outmoded; prosody, balance, and the minute strictures modifying metrical weight; volubility as an axis of conversation and cognition; polarity as the reconciling tool of the imagination; and the perichoretic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The ultimate purpose is to show that astronomy provided Wordsworth and Coleridge with a scaffold for thinking, an intellectual orrery which ordered artistic consciousness and which they never abandoned.
Supervisor: Gill, Stephen C. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; Wordsworth ; Coleridge ; English Romanticism ; Astronomy ; Imagination ; Milton ; William Rowan Hamilton ; William Herschel ; Trinitarianism ; Geometry