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A second look at Alexander Pope and Newtonian science

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  • "This Long Disease, My Life": Alexander Pope and the Sciences by Marjorie Nicolson and G.S. Rousseau has been the standard work on Alexander Pope and Newtonian science ever since it was published in 1968. Literary scholars and biographers continue to be swayed by its influence. Unfortunately, the work they so often rely upon is in need of some revision. The literary evidence offered by Nicolson and Rousseau suggests that Pope was a staunch Newtonian. However, this is an exaggeration. They also claim that his scientific references were almost exclusively Newtonian. Once again, this is not entirely correct. The evidence contained in this thesis attempts to amend the inaccuracies in their work. It suggests that Pope was not as staunch a Newtonian as was formerly believed. Other philosophies influenced Pope's work almost as much as Newtonian science. Pope also participated in scientific satire and voiced some reservations against the new science. This evidence suggests that Pope was a transitional figure. He lived in a world where Newton and his science were beginning to be appreciated; however, many other philosophies continued to be influential and Newton had not yet become the cultural icon that he would later become in the late-eighteenth century. A second look at Alexander Pope and the sciences reveals the actual nature of the period in which he lived. In order to prove this thesis, the first chapter begins by defining the problem. The next two chapters then create a solid foundation upon which the rest of this work is based. Chapter Two discusses the enigmatic nature of Newton's philosophy and the different versions of Newtonian science that emerged as a result. Chapter Three attempts to define a consistent version of Newtonian science. Once defined, this version will be used as the standard throughout the work. Chapter Four will present the evidence that suggests that the literary works of Alexander Pope were influenced by this version of Newtonian science. Chapter Five will exhibit evidence that suggests that other philosophies in general and the work of Bernard Fontenelle in particular also influenced the work of Alexander Pope. Chapter Six will give a short history of the Scriblerus Club and explain how Pope sanctioned the scientific satire of its members. This approach will reveal a man who was influenced by many different ideas and had many different facets to his complex personality.
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