Cover image for Seeing new worlds : Henry David Thoreau and nineteenth-century natural science
Title:
Seeing new worlds : Henry David Thoreau and nineteenth-century natural science
Author:
Walls, Laura Dassow.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Madison, WI : University of Wisconsin Press, [1995]

©1995
Physical Description:
xiii, 300 pages ; 24 cm.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780299147402

9780299147440
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
PS3057.N3 D37 1995 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

Considering Thoreau as a serious, committed scientist, this book offers an alternative understanding of his accomplishment and the place of science in American literature. It shows how Thoreau's experience reveals the interaction between Romanticism and the dynamic, law-seeking science of its day.


Summary

Thoreau was a poet, a naturalist, a major American writer. Was he also a scientist? He was, Laura Dassow Walls suggests. Her book, the first to consider Thoreau as a serious and committed scientist, will change the way we understand his accomplishment and the place of science in American culture.
Walls reveals that the scientific texts of Thoreau's day deeply influenced his best work, from Walden to the Journal to the late natural history essays. Here we see how, just when literature and science were splitting into the "two cultures" we know now, Thoreau attempted to heal the growing rift. Walls shows how his commitment to Alexander von Humboldt's scientific approach resulted in not only his "marriage" of poetry and science but also his distinctively patterned nature studies. In the first critical study of his "The Dispersion of Seeds" since its publication in 1993, she exposes evidence that Thoreau was using Darwinian modes of reasoning years before the appearance of Origin of Species .
This book offers a powerful argument against the critical tradition that opposes a dry, mechanistic science to a warm, "organic" Romanticism. Instead, Thoreau's experience reveals the complex interaction between Romanticism and the dynamic, law-seeking science of its day. Drawing on recent work in the theory and philosophy of science as well as literary history and theory, Seeing New Worlds bridges today's "two cultures" in hopes of stimulating a fuller consideration of representations of nature.


Author Notes

Laura Dassow Walls is assistant professor of English at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.


Reviews 2

Choice Review

The contemporary reader of Thoreau struggles with a separation between the two cultures of science and art. But for Thoreau and his contemporaries, the educated individual did not sense such a separation. All human knowledge constituted a unified whole, and before the 1860s an individual moved easily from one discipline to another and saw the interconnectedness between them. In this book, Walls (Lafayette Univ.) tries to reconstruct the mind and work of Thoreau in such a way that his scientific explorations of the world are understood as simply another expression of his poetic and transcendental writings. She writes that her method "began with a reading of what Thoreau read and what he wrote--together, in chronological sequence." By attempting to "inhabit something of the same field of knowledge as he," she is able to see relations and interdependencies among seemingly divergent and unrelated documents. This reconstruction of Thoreau's mind and work serves to let the reader see, for the first time, Thoreau's comprehensive strategies in pursuit of truth. This tenth volume in the valuable interdisciplinary series "Science and Literature" is recommended for graduate students and researchers. P. J. Ferlazzo Northern Arizona University


Choice Review

The contemporary reader of Thoreau struggles with a separation between the two cultures of science and art. But for Thoreau and his contemporaries, the educated individual did not sense such a separation. All human knowledge constituted a unified whole, and before the 1860s an individual moved easily from one discipline to another and saw the interconnectedness between them. In this book, Walls (Lafayette Univ.) tries to reconstruct the mind and work of Thoreau in such a way that his scientific explorations of the world are understood as simply another expression of his poetic and transcendental writings. She writes that her method "began with a reading of what Thoreau read and what he wrote--together, in chronological sequence." By attempting to "inhabit something of the same field of knowledge as he," she is able to see relations and interdependencies among seemingly divergent and unrelated documents. This reconstruction of Thoreau's mind and work serves to let the reader see, for the first time, Thoreau's comprehensive strategies in pursuit of truth. This tenth volume in the valuable interdisciplinary series "Science and Literature" is recommended for graduate students and researchers. P. J. Ferlazzo Northern Arizona University