A Newton among Poets: Shelley's Use of Science in Prometheus Unbound


THIS valuable and interesting book is another proof of the breadth of mind with which American professors so often pursue their studies. The bulk of the book is taken up by a summary of the scientific theories of Shelley's time, and especially of the work of Humphry Davy and the poems of Erasmus Darwin which had appeared just before Shelley wrote his “Queen Mab” and “Prometheus Unbound”. The result of applying these to the elucidation of the poems, and especially of the “Prometheus”, is highly curious and instructive. It was well known before that Shelley was passionately interested in science and fond of experiments in chemistry and electricity. His father is reported to have once returned a book on chemistry which Percy had borrowed, because it was “a forbidden thing at Eton”, and Prof. Whitehead, in “Science and the Modern World”, quotes a notable example of Shelley's power of visualising an astronomical relation. But no one before Prof. Garbo has gone through the “Prometheus” thoroughly with this thought in mind, and his conclusions generally command assent. It is obvious that Shelley's mind was steeped with the science of the time, and many of the most beautiful and transcendent passages are chemical or electrical experiments transfigured by poetic genius. One might almost think that Shelley was consciously trying to carry out the ideal of the poet of the future which Wordsworth sketches in the famous preface to the second edition of the “Lyrical Ballads”(1800). “The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist or Mineralogist will be as proper objects of the poet's art as any upon which it can be employed. . . And what is now. called science, thus familiarised to men, shall put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet lending his divine spirit to aid the transformation.” We commend a consideration of this further connexion to Prof. Garbo for his second edition.

A Newton among Poets: Shelley's Use of Science in Prometheus Unbound.




By. Pp. xiv + 208. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1930.) 13s. 6d. net.

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M., F. A Newton among Poets: Shelley's Use of Science in Prometheus Unbound . Nature 127, 660 (1931). https://doi.org/10.1038/127660a0

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