More on vitalism and romantic science, by way of another review of Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder, this one in City Journal magazine. I’ve mentioned Holmes on science and romanticism here and here. This reviewer remarks on the double-edged sword of the Romantic and its unbridled literary and cultural manifestations:
“The organic vitalism of the Romantics did something to correct what Cardinal Newman called the ‘dry and superficial’ thinking of the eighteenth century. But the Romantic approach held its own dangers. It is one thing to seek the secret of life, another to dabble in diablerie. Romantic wonder is closely connected to Romantic nightmare. The literary monsters of Byron, Beckford, and Mary Shelley find a political counterpart in the monstrous qualities of Bismarck’s German Reich, and perhaps a scientific one in the temptations of today’s genetic technology. It’s easy to play God, but difficult to keep hold of one’s beast.”
This idea of science as not just wonder but a darker incarnation of the psyche is a warning worthy of somber reflection in our hyper-technological age.