Thesis ID: CBB946145704

Vegetal Life From Bacon to Milton: Incarnate Science (2017)


This dissertation brings to light a range of seventeenth-century British writers who energetically take up some of the least perceptible natural phenomena in order to establish a fresh conception of what we call the biological. When Thomas Browne, Henry Vaughan, and John Milton set out to represent a hawthorn’s growth in space or the distribution of nutrients in a human, they do so in order to challenge long-standing ideas of vegetative life as deficient in nature because lacking in sensation and reason. They do so, moreover, at a moment in which life was conceptually up for grabs, in a century crowded with competing physical and metaphysical systems. What they develop is not another rival system for describing life but, rather, a new means for rendering that radically mundane object appreciable. At the same time, they produce a wholly original impression of the domain of natural science—of who and what can be said to practice science and to possess it; and of where, in the world of natural bodies, knowledge of nature can hail from. At the heart of the rise of objectivity, this dissertation unearths a model of inquiry grounded on an idea of embodied knowledge that, counterintuitively for modern thought, vegetal life exemplifies. Contrary to prevailing accounts of the new science, it further suggests that such inquiry takes shape not in spite of but because of the legacy of Francis Bacon. The project is in four chapters and draws from an archive of literary, scientific, philosophical, theological, and technical materials. Focusing on Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum, Browne’s The Garden of Cyrus, Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans and medical translations, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, it tracks the intertwining arcs and arts of vegetal life and a Baconian intimate science, showing how the former demands the latter just as the latter makes the former visible as an object.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Thesis Buttery, Amy V.; (1996)
Revisions of the Book of Nature in 17th-century England (/isis/citation/CBB001565866/)

Book Lipking, Lawrence; (2014)
What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution (/isis/citation/CBB001510101/)

Thesis Daniel D. Lee; (2019)
Making Experience Literate: Poetry and New Science in Early Modern England (/isis/citation/CBB322645098/)

Thesis Dye, Amy; (2005)
Writing Creation in England, 1580--1680 (/isis/citation/CBB001560880/)

Article Sarah E. Parker; (2016)
The Reader as Authorial Figure in Scientific Debate (/isis/citation/CBB342643342/)

Book Benedino Gemelli; (1996)
Aspetti dell'atomismo classico nella filosofia di Francis Bacon e nel Seicento (/isis/citation/CBB689205138/)

Chapter Vickers, Brian; (2007)
Francis Bacon, Mirror of Each Age (/isis/citation/CBB000775024/)

Article Perry Guevara; (2020)
Milton's Plant Eyes: Minimal Cognition, Similitude, and Sexuality in the Garden (/isis/citation/CBB113300543/)

Book David Carroll Simon; (2018)
Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (/isis/citation/CBB010485781/)

Book Cummins, Juliet; Burchell, David; (2007)
Science, Literature, and Rhetoric in Early Modern England (/isis/citation/CBB000774600/)

Chapter Swann, Marjorie; (2008)
“Procreate Like Trees”: Generation and Society in Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (/isis/citation/CBB000950493/)

Article Luo, Xingbo; (2011)
The Development of the Research Methods of British Science in Late 17th Century (/isis/citation/CBB001221314/)

Article Antonio Clericuzio; (2018)
Plant and Soil Chemistry in Seventeenth-Century England: Worsley, Boyle and Coxe (/isis/citation/CBB365909346/)

Thesis Jacqueline L. Cowan; (2015)
No "Idle Fancy:" The Imagination's Work in Poetry and Natural Philosophy from Sidney to Sprat (/isis/citation/CBB947007104/)

Article Lukas M. Verburgt; (2021)
The Works of Francis Bacon: A Victorian Classic in the History of Science (/isis/citation/CBB801042380/)

Article Doina-Cristina Rusu; (2018)
Same Spirit, Different Structure: Francis Bacon on Inanimate and Animate Matter (/isis/citation/CBB723943257/)

Authors & Contributors
Robinson, Benedict
Lee, Daniel D.
Jacqueline L. Cowan
Simon, David Carroll
Kazuhiro Shibata
Guevara, Perry
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
History of European Ideas
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
Chinese Journal for the History of Science and Technology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cornell University Press
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Ohio University
Emory University
Science and literature
Development; growth; life; death
Natural philosophy
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Milton, John
Browne, Thomas
Shakespeare, William
Boyle, Robert
Harvey, William
Time Periods
17th century
16th century
Early modern
19th century
18th century
British Isles
Great Britain
Royal Society of London

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment