Monthly Archives: March 2014

Essays from the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews

Essays from the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews by John F.W. Herschel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historians of Victorian science often speak about a common intellectual context that fragmented in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The growth of scientific disciplines, the specialization of fields, and the proliferation of specialized journals made it difficult to stay abreast of all developments in science or maintain a synthetic view of the entire field. What’s more, as science became professionalized, science writing moved to periodicals and publications written specifically for scientists. There arose a divide between science and popular writings or cultural criticism that largely remains to this day.

The Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews represented what popular, high-brow literature looked like before these changes took place. In their glory days at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Reviews were a place to discuss politics and culture– including science. This collection of essays and poems by John Herschel illustrates the place that science held in popular culture. Though largely forgotten today, Herschel was arguably the leading popular figure in science in the generation before Einstein. In these essays he discusses everything from Laplace’s celestial mechanics to Whewell’s philosophy of science to Quetelet’s statistics. What’s fascinating is the detailed (though largely non-mathematical) treatment he goes into for a “popular” audience. These essays, important for historians of Victorian society in general and astronomy in particular, are recommended reading (or, more likely, skimming) for anyone who is interested in the sort of treatment science was given in the Victorian period for the general, educated reader.

The Place of the Lion

The Place of the LionThe Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Williams is an author in whose work the plot itself (at times obscure and even tedious) is second to the style in which it is written, which is in turn second to the ideas he wants to communicate. It’s the ideas that are rich. This is appropriate for a book about Platonic ideals breaking into the physical world. I read Williams for the first time years ago, after a return from Oxford and the realization that there was an Inkling of whom I had never heard. If you’ve read Lewis’s THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, you’ve some idea of what to expect. Philosophical fantasy in 1930s England. Returning to Williams now, after having some proper grounding in philosophical studies, I’m enjoying him much more. He is admittedly more dense and verbose than a Lewis or Tolkien. I still found myself rolling my eyes a bit as the novel reached its conclusion. But throughout there is also that bright strangeness one finds in the other Inklings, Gene Wolfe, sometimes in Borges, more boisterously in Chesterton, and more hilariously in Lafferty– the idea that the world is a terrifyingly good place. That is a world these writers live in, and they believe it to be the true world. I’d like to believe it too– or at least, act and write as though it were.

Read this quickly, for you will only have a moment . . .

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Marching Off

I’m left-handed. My father was left-handed. I have four kids (two of whom are twins), and none of them are left-handed.

I’m a little disappointed.

Being left-handed, I am also slightly ambidextrous almost by default. I have on occasion kept myself occupied during particularly long presentations or lectures by attempting to take notes in my right hand. This often devolves into mirror-writing, where I write a word backward with my right hand while writing it forward with my left.

Then sometimes I just get distracted by how words look backward. There’s something fascinating about seeing a familiar word reversed.

This is what was happening when the germ for this story, “Read this quickly, for you will only have a moment . . .,” was planted. It was my second sale to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, back in November of 2011, and the first (and so far only) of my stories that has been made into a podcast.

It’s about words and names. It’s also about a woman who can kill with them, a castle drenched in rain and silence, crows, and a love letter.

You can read it (quickly) here.