The literature of an age takes up into itself the whole mental life of the time. He who would adequately interpret modern literature should know modern life, and in that life science is a marked element. A general knowledge of contemporary science is needed to interpret contemporary literature. Tennyson, for example, constantly refers to the great scientific discoveries and conceptions of his time. How shall a reader ignorant of those conceptions fully appreciate him? Prof. William H. Hudson, in a remarkable article, speaks of "Tennyson's keen interest in science; his sympathetic hold upon the vast movements in progress around him; his manly attitude toward the changes that life and thought were everywhere undergoing." Even the casual reader of Tennyson must have noted how deep is his interest in scientific study, and how fully the great conceptions of modern science find expression in his poetry. Indeed, there seems to be a prophetic element in this. As Miss Scudder notes in her recent volume, it is hard to realize in reading some parts of In Memoriam that it was published in 1850, nine years before Darwin's Origin of Species.
Great forms of thought, mighty molds which of necessity give shape to our thinking and then to our very imaginings—these come to us from the study of things, not from the study of language. Literature itself must largely find its raw material, its great metaphors and similes, its vivid pictures and mighty symbols, within the domain of natural science, and this increasingly as the years go by. The chemist's law of definite and multiple proportions; the laws of motion; the phenomena and laws of light, heat, and electricity; the strata, the glaciers, and the processes of earth-sculpture of the geologist; the winds, tides, and ocean currents; the theories of animal evolution; the struggle for existence, the survival of the fittest; the mighty phenomena, the impressive uniformities, the nebular hypothesis of astronomy—these are great forms of thought as well as facts and theories of science. A man who is unacquainted with modern science can not well understand the language of educated men, and he can not interpret sympathetically and adequately the literature of his own day. Were any writer completely ignorant of these facts and conceptions, he would be unable to make use of some of the most powerful symbols that exist for the expression of ideas. Standing in the midst of a mighty speaking universe, he would find himself, in a measure, tongue-tied because deaf.
Prof. Drummond's suggestive book, Natural Law in the Spiritual World, shows what powerful instruments science furnishes
- Poetry and Science, Popular Science Monthly, October, 1894.
- The Life of the Spirit in the Modern English Poets.