Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An excellent book, well-written, even eloquent. Walls is clearly the first scholar to read Thoreau thoroughly in the context both of the science of his own day and of the theory and philosophy of science in our day, in such a way as profoundly to call into question all previous work in this area and to open up questions about the very nature of science and scientific truth.”—Robert Sattelmeyer, Georgia State University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299147440
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1995
  • Series: Science & Literature Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Facts and Truth: Transcendental Science from Cambridge to Concord 15
Nominalists, Realists, Idealists: Harvard and After, 1837 16
Romantic Theologies 24
Natural History before Walden 35
2 The Empire of Thought and the Republic of Particulars 53
Law as Logos 54
Rational Holism 60
The Organic Machine: Making Matter Mind 70
Emergent Laws 76
Empirical Holism 84
3 Seeing New Worlds: Thoreau and Humboldtian Science 94
Alexander von Humboldt, the "Napoleon of Science" 95
Fronting Nature at Walden, 1845-1847 108
After Walden: Old Worlds and New 116
4 Cosmos: Knowing as Worlding 131
Thoreau as Humboldtian 134
Relational Knowing: Thoreau's Epistemology of Contact 147
Writing the Cosmos: Walden 157
5 A Plurality of Worlds 167
Intentions of the Eye 170
Worlds without End: The Dispersion of Seeds 179
The Transcendentalist at the Cattle Show: Thoreau's Ironic Science 199
6 Walking the Holy Land 212
Contingent Wholes: A Few Herbs and Apples 213
Chance and Necessity: The Laughter of the Loon 223
"Walking, or the Wild" 232
Conclusion: Disciplining Thoreau 246
Notes 255
Bibliography 280
Index 294
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