Dallas perhaps surprises us with the vehemence with which he attacks Charles Kingsley’s attempt to find God in nature. He does so, it turns out, because he believes that beginning with the romantic poets, especially William Wordsworth, England's dominant thinkers turned away from adequately studying human nature, something crucial to Dallas because in the second volume of his book about aesthetics, he emphasizes that the key questions about art and aesthetics can only be answered by a serious investigation of the way we think both consciously and unconsciously. At first glance it might seem strange that he attacks Wordsworth and the romantics who M. H. Abrams has taught us create a poetry in opposition to that of Alexander Pope, a poetry whose fundamental aim and strategies involve inwardness, in particular the personal reactions to external nature which the poet then expresses. Dallas is less interested in subjective poetry than a deeper investigation into what happens inside the mind, especially when it is producing art and literature. Thus, he can praise Pope, who would seem seem to be the most unlikely object of his praise. — George P. Landow
r. Kingsley, who has written one book to show that a science of history is impossible, has written another to show the great and religious advantage at watering-places of studying science in the works of God—that is, in sea-jellies and cockle-shells. The popular science of the day makes an antithesis between God and man. History, politics, language, art, literature—these are the works of man. Animals, vegetables, and minerals—these are the works of God. When the student of natural history discovers a new species, he seems to be rescuing, says Mr. Kingsley, “one more thought of the divine mind from Hela and the realms of the unknown.” When a man goes to the sea-side, and, taking the advice of the same author, begins to study natural history, can tell the number of legs on a crab, the number of joints on a lobster’s tail, names one kind of shell a helix, another kind of shell a pecten—that is called studying the works of God. Or if he goes to some quiet inland village, plucks flowers, dries them in blotting-paper, and writes a name of twenty syllables under each—that is studying the works of God. Or if he analyzes a quantity of earth, can tell what are its ingredients, whether it is better for turnips or for wheat, and whether it should be manured with lime or with guano— that is studying the works of God. And especially is it so if these students set upon the Deity, like a tribe, of Mohawks, to hunt out his trail, to pounce upon his footprints, to fathom his designs, to see everywhere the hand, and to acknowledge the finger of God. As though He, whose glory it is to conceal a thing, left finger-marks on his work, the exponents of popular science are always finding the finger of God, and by so doing extol their favourite pursuit, while they tacitly rebut the maxim of Pope, that the proper study of mankind is man.
We who have been in the habit of regarding man as the noblest work of God, language as his gift, history as his providence, and genius as heaven-born, are startled to hear the inanimate and irrational creation described as peculiarly the work and the care of the Deity, and seem to listen to an echo of the old heathen dogma—Deus est anima brutorum. Amid all this cant of finding God in the material and not in the moral world, and of thence lauding the sciences of matter to the neglect of the science of mind, who but must remember a sermon in which the speaker, it is true, invited his audience to consider the lilies of the field and to behold the fowls of the air, but only that he might drive home the question —Are ye not much better than they? [I, 48-50]
Links to Related Material
- “Wordsworthian Misanthropy” and the Opposition between Nature and Humanity
- Dallas on the Meaning of Nature and Natural
Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. NY: Oxford UP, 1953.
Dallas, Eneas Sweetland. The Gay Science. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1866. A HathiTrust online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Web. 12 May 2022.
Last modified 12 May 2022