Tennyson and the geologists part 2: saurians and the Isle of Wight - NMS Research Repository
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Tennyson and the geologists part 2: saurians and the Isle of Wight

11 November 2016

Abstract

It is often observed that Tennyson’s poetry was profoundly influenced by his reading in astronomy, geology and science in general, and evolutionary thought before and after Darwin. This reflected the period’s intense crossover between science and what would today be called literature. The scientific paper was approaching its modern format, asserting specialist authority through formality of description and analysis (Secord, 2009). But men, and some women, of science also wrote in other and very different veins, especially when aiming at a wider audience than their specialist colleagues. They selected literary concepts and strategies from novels and poems, amongst other genres, to disseminate their work, and they drew on the moral and spiritual resources of literature (for example, A. Buckland, 2013; Purton, 2013b, 2013c). Thus geological books by, for instance, Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and Hugh Miller (1802-1856) may, and indeed should, be read as works of literature as much as of science (O’Connor, 2007; Secord, 2014, 138-172). Conversely, novelists and poets seized on new scientific concepts and their implications for the origin and meaning of the world in which they lived. They were stimulated to develop innovatory approaches, and explored the new ideas in their works, helping to disseminate these ideas more widely. Geology, the most romantic and exciting of the new sciences, drew much of this attention (Rudwick, 2005, 2007, 2014, reviews the then state of the science, and O’Connor, 2007, its literary and popular deployment). In the first part of this paper we examined Tennyson’s relationship with geology during his earlier years (Anderson and Taylor, 2015; also Taylor and Anderson, 2015). In this second part, we consider his later engagement with the science, and particularly his interest in animals of the past. We also clarify some hitherto puzzling allusions in the literature.

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