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his antithesis between the works of God and the works of man, which we find in the science of our time, seems to have begun in a misanthropical vein of thought belonging to a considerable portion of the poetry of the nineteenth century. Byron, of all our recent poets, would be most easily accused of this misanthropy; but it is not of Byron that we have to complain: it is of Wordsworth and his incessant harping on the opposition between nature and humanity. It was from Wordsworth’s region of thought that the petty controversy arose, many years ago, as to the materials of poetry. Bowles contended that poetry is more immediately indebted for its interest to the works of nature than to those of art; that a ship of the line derives its poetry not from anything contributed by man—the sails, masts, and so forth; but from the wind that fills the sails, from the sunshine that touches them with light, from the waves on which the vessel rides—in a word, from nature. The essence of this criticism is misanthropy; it is such misanthropy as abounds in Wordsworth; it is misanthropy which Byron fought against manfully, and with which he was incapable of sympathising. We can trace this misanthropy downwards to Mr. Ruskin, at least so long as he was under the influence of Wordsworth. In his earlier criticism he was always quoting that poet; his whole mind seemed to be given to landscape painting, and he conceived of art as the expression of man’s delight in the works of God. He has long outgrown the Wordsworthian misanthropy, and has learned to widen his definition of the theme of art; but still in his eloquent pages, as in the strains of Wordsworth, and as in the tendency to landscape of much of our poetry and painting, the men of science will find some sanction for the hollow antithesis which sets the works of God against those of man.

It would be unjust not to remember in behalf of this one-sided devotion to physical science — a devotion to it that confines the very name of science almost entirely to the knowledge of matter and material laws, and denies it to the knowledge of man and mental laws—that among all the intellectual pursuits of the present century, the science of things material can point to by far the most splendid results. What more dazzling in speculation than the discovery of Neptune? What more stimulating to curiosity than the researches of Goethe, Cuvier, and Owen? What more enticing to the adventurer than the geological prediction of the gold fields of Australia? [I, 50-51]

Links to Related Material


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