Hopkins in the Age of Maxwell1
Lorsque l’on veut situer l’œuvre de Hopkins dans son contexte scientifique, on a l’habitude de le faire uniquement par rapport au débat évolutionniste, ou même darwinien, comme dans l’ouvrage de référence de T. Zaniello, Hopkins in the Age of Darwin. Ceci présuppose une vision sélective de ce contexte où figure notamment une autre grande révolution scientifique, dans le domaine de la physique fondamentale. Le représentant le plus éminent en est J. C. Maxwell, chaînon essentiel entre Newton et Einstein. Dans ses textes, Hopkins lui-même s’est intéressé surtout à cette autre révolution scientifique, allant jusqu’à commencer un livre critique envers Light, ouvrage de Tait, physicien de renom et ami de Maxwell. Hopkins s’en prend plus à l’épistémologie idéaliste illustrée, selon le poète, par Tait, qu’à la pensée davantage matérialiste d’un Tyndall. La raison en est sans doute son attachement à un réalisme philosophique dont dépend la notion d’ « inscape ».
Notes de la rédaction
This article was first published in La Revue LISA / LISA e-journal in 2005.
- 2 Tom Zaniello, Hopkins in the Age of Darwin, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988; D. Brown, H (...)
1The purpose of the present study is to try to add a few elements to the scientific and philosophical context of Hopkins’s achievement. It is heavily indebted to Tom Zaniello’s and Daniel Brown’s books on the subject2. As will be perceived, the title echoes Hopkins in the age of Darwin. Before trying to explain what is meant by the “age of Maxwell”, a few remarks are necessary concerning “the age of Darwin”. If no limitations were involved in the otherwise undisputed validity of the notion, there would be little or no need for “an age of Maxwell”. In Tom Zaniello’s extremely valuable study, the phrase “the age of Darwin” is given a very extensive meaning. Chapter 5, for instance, dealing with astronomy, implicitly becomes an aspect of the “age of Darwin”. Elsewhere this age tends to be identified with science, atomism and materialism, i.e., a particular brand of metaphysics. Such assumptions about the nature and extent of “Darwinism” have almost irresistible consequences for the interpretation of the period and of Hopkins’s work.
- 3 Ernst Mayr, L’Histoire de la biologie, Paris : Fayard, 1989, 387.
2Some discriminations seem to be called for. “The age of Darwin” is often taken to refer to “the age of evolution”. From a historical point of view, this is a simplification or a distortion of the facts. Lamarck’s doctrine of evolution, in his Philosophie zoologique (1809), predates that of Darwin by half a century and had been made widely known in England as early as 1844 through Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Though Darwin addresses different types of problems — scientific, philosophical and theological ones — in The Origin of Species, what he repeatedly terms “my theory” refers more specifically to “natural selection”, the new hypothesis trying to account for the phenomenon of “evolution”, or rather “descent” as he preferred to call it initially. The phrase “my theory” could also have been used legitimately by Wallace who had arrived at a similar theory independently of Darwin. The reason for this seems to be that they had applied the same intellectual model, borrowed from Malthus, to a similar set of phenomena. Though this was given little attention at the time, another fact which makes the conventional phrase “the age of Darwin” an oversimplification is that “my theory”, as Darwin calls it, actually contains two theories if chapter 4 of The Origin of Species is read closely. The first, the only one held by Darwin until 1857, is derived from the idea of “the war of nature” and is allegorized through the fiction of two wolves competing for food. The one with a slight advantage in speed is said to “survive” or be “selected” while its less fortunate competitor becomes “extinct”. At this very late stage Darwin realized that his model, in which one species simply replaces a previous one, failed to account for the appearance of new species in the full sense of the term. This ass when the importance of “divergence” occurred to him. The new idea enabled species to branch out as in the famous tree-like model concluding chapter 4. But the two models were never clearly reconciled3. So “the age of Darwin” can refer to the model of “the war of nature” or to that of “the tree of life”, or to the strangely ambivalent model of a tree of life at war with itself.
- 4 Peter J. Bowler, The Non-Darwinian Revolution. Reinterpreting a Historical Myth, Baltimore & Londo (...)
- 5 Fleeming Jenkin, “The Origin of Species”, The North British Review, June 1867, reprinted in D. L. H (...)
- 6 Ibid., 119.
3One final difficulty with the conventional phrase is that it is, to some extent at least, a retrospective fallacy, as P. J. Bowler has emphasized in his Non-Darwinian Revolution.4While evolution became ever more widely accepted, “natural selection”, or one form of it, was often challenged as its main explanatory factor. Some of its critics were naturalists, like Mivart, whose ideas were known to Hopkins — before appearing in book form, The Genesis of Species (1871), they had been published in The Month. Others were an important group of physicists often linked to J. C. Maxwell. A severe blow to the idea of “natural selection” was dealt in particular by Fleeming Jenkin5. He pointed out that, on the basis of the then prevalent theories of heredity, a small favourable variation emerging in one individual would be reduced by half in the next generation since two individuals are then involved. Darwin was not the only one to perceive the force of the argument. And the feeling that the idea of natural selection went into decline as a result of such criticism was not an uncommon one6. Darwin’s theory was able to recover only at the very end of the century thanks to Weismann and the rediscovery of the laws previously established by the Augustinian monk, G. Mendel. The recovery occurred several years after Hopkins’s death.
- 7 Jean Largeault, Principes classiques d’interprétation de la nature, Paris : Vrin, 1988, 284
4Other critics from the same circle of physicists as Fleeming Jenkin were Maxwell himself and his friend Tait, who also worked with William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin. Maxwell was a key figure in another major scientific revolution of the century, concerning physics and leading to a redefinition of matter, or to what is sometimes known as “the dematerialization of matter”7. Materialistic philosophy had long relied on a simple view of atoms as small, hard, impenetrable balls. It was, in a sense, wrong-footed by the recent advance in fundamental physics. The alternative image for atoms or “vortex atoms” suggested by Tait or Thomson, was that of “smoke rings”. There are indications that the impact of such a revolution was felt well beyond the more specialized circles of physicists or philosophers. Tait’s book, The Unseen Universe (1875), written with a fellow physicist, Stewart, became something of a best-seller. Its aim was to show that the recent developments in fundamental physics proved compatible with the basic tenets of Christianity.
- 8 Vittorio Hösle, Die Philosophie und die Wissenschaften, Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1999, 49.
5This second major scientific revolution is even more fundamental than the first in its philosophical implications. It affects not just the living world, but the primitive constituents of the whole physical universe8. It is also part of Hopkins’s intellectual context and should not be overlooked, nor its philosophical consequences minimized. Darwin’s view of man was a decidedly materialistic one, though he refrained from being too explicit at first. However, a form of deism remained, if not a distinct possibility, at least an unsolved question for him as can be seen in the conclusion of The Descent of Man. This was, of course, a philosophical position, not a scientific one. An acceptance of evolution, or indeed “natural selection”, was often combined at the time with different philosophical doctrines. The co-inventor of “natural selection”, Wallace, became a spiritualist. And Mivart, also an evolutionist though not a Darwinian, was philosophically a theist. Others were agnostics.
- 9 Daniel Brown, Hopkins’ Idealism. Philosophy, Physics, Poetry, op. cit., 207.
6Hopkins’s relationship to the revolution in physics has already been given considerable attention in Daniel Brown’s book, Hopkins’ Idealism, Philosophy, Physics, Poetry. And some of the ground is also covered in Tom Zaniello’s previous work. D. Brown’s book is also an important contribution as far as Hopkins’s philosophical training is concerned, though the impact of German idealism on the poet’s mature vision may be somewhat overstated. He shows, convincingly in my view, that Hopkins’s work should be envisaged in the context of the revolution in physics. But he makes more specific claims. He argues that Hopkins actually derived as central a notion as that of “stress” from the new research being conducted in contemporary physics. Concerning “stress” he writes: “the mature statement of Hopkins’ metaphysic is predicated upon a simple word drawn from physics which he is able to invest with an abstract conceptual meaning”9.
7The suggestion is certainly a stimulating one, but it must be assessed carefully. The general importance of dynamics for Hopkins’s view of nature is not in doubt, but whether central notions of his, like “stress” or “instress”, can be said to be derived from recent developments in physics is a different matter. And we may remember that dynamics, the interaction of forces and counter-forces, already played a major part in De Quincey’s philosophy with no particular reference to physics. Ricardo’s political economy as well as Leibniz, with his new notion of force, loom much larger in his intellectual horizon.
- 10 I have been unable to consult them. But it may be assumed that if the impact of physical theories (...)
8The question, of course, is whether D. Brown’s claim can be substantiated. Various references or allusions in Hopkins’s work reveal his awareness of some of the issues explored by physicists at the time. But, leaving aside the question of the unpublished essays discussed by D. Brown10, these do not seem to be very specific or extensive.
- 11 G. M. Hopkins, The Journals and Papers, London: OUP, 1959, 127.
9Concentrating on the unquestionably central notion of “stress”, there is no denying that it had begun to play a part in physics. But two difficulties at least seem to arise before this can be viewed as a direct source of Hopkins’s inspiration. First, there is little direct evidence of this in Hopkins’s writings. D. Brown does quote a few passages suggesting that Hopkins was indeed aware of the term as used by physicists, but there is no clear indication that he adopted a notion playing a well-defined part in a particular branch of physics and transferred it to the vast field of metaphysics. With his philosophical expertise, he would probably have realized that the new status given to the notion would also make it more than a little shaky. The validity of a specific term in physics does not guarantee its validity when it is given a much broader application in a different context. And the metaphysical and epistemological context seems to be the only explicit one in the notes on Parmenides where the term first occurs11, a little after that of “instress”.
- 12 And as Adrian Grafe has pointed out to me, Hopkins’s context is also that of prosody (“instress, t (...)
10Another difference is that “stress” was far less central, when used in physics, than it is in Hopkins’s metaphysics. My remark is based mostly on Maxwell’s handbook, Matter and Motion published in 1876 by The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Its being a handbook also makes it a synthesis of recent advances in the field, and it is easy to perceive the particular place ascribed to the notion in the overall picture of contemporary physics. Maxwell confirms that the notion had been put forward initially by Rankine. “Stress” appears at a rather late stage in his handbook, as a matter of fact only in chapter III (“On Force”) and very briefly, though the subject is taken up at greater length later (article LV). The author now states that, according to the third law of motion “all force is of the nature of stress […]” This gives some support to D. Brown’s suggestion. But the more common application is to the interaction between “two portions of matter” or between “two bodies”. D. Brown records other uses of the word, but accepts that its basic meaning remains linked to the idea of interaction between two bodies. This central meaning seems to be at variance with Hopkins’s perspective where “stress”, and even more so “instress”, consists of an inner force, ultimately defining a self12. So the differences in status, emphasis or meaning do not seem to confirm the idea of a direct or central impact of contemporary physics on Hopkins’s metaphysics on this particular point.
- 13 P. G. Tait, Light, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900, xi.
11If a direct action of contemporary physics on Hopkins’s metaphysics is uncertain, there is evidence, however, of a reaction on his part to recent epistemological developments in this field. This is found in one of his letters to Canon Dixon written in June 1886, which mentions his writing a “sort of popular account of Light and the Ether”. He also comments at some length on Tait’s recently published book, Light (1884). Tait may have been Maxwell’s closest friend and was the co-author with W. Thomson of a renowned Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867). So when Hopkins says “No such account exists and scientific books, especially in English, are very unsatisfactory”, he seems implicitly to define Tait’s work as one of these “scientific books”. It is actually meant as a modern synthesis aimed not at fellow specialists, but at “ordinary students who wish to acquire familiarity with the subject”13. And it does contain a few mathematical formulas, unlike the volume considered and actually begun by Hopkins.
- 14 Claude Colleer Abbott (ed.),The Correspondence of G. M. Hopkins and R. W. Dixon, London: OUP, 1935 (...)
12Apart from providing information for a non-specialist audience, the book also seems to have been intended as a corrective to philosophical views commonly derived from physics. This may even have been its primary function in its author’s mind. And Hopkins’s comments bear more on issues of epistemology than of physics proper. More specifically, his criticism is levelled at what he takes to be the philosophical idealism of various physicists. In their approach, external reality counts for too little in Hopkins’s eyes. The only role left to it seems to be to permit the creation of “a world of formulas”: “Its being properly speaking [is] in thought”14.
- 15 T. Zaniello mentions Hopkins’s plan at a rather late stage in his book (Hopkins in the Age of Darw (...)
- 16 Reviewed by R. Adamson in Mind, IV, 1879, 570.
- 17 In his idealist monism, matter is defined as “a mental picture in which mind-stuff is the thing re (...)
13It is interesting to compare this with Tait’s book itself. The quotation given in the letter is taken from the “introductory and historical” chapter and does not reflect its essential character, which is more a vindication of the undulatory theory of light in line with Maxwell’s discovery concerning electro-magnetism, thus challenging the rival corpuscular theory held by Newton. The book makes none of the philosophical claims under attack in the letter. And Tait may be singled out as a fairly innocent example of what Hopkins regarded as a widespread failing. But the real target remains somewhat elusive. It is referred to merely as “people” (“one would think it might materialise people”) and “they” (“and they go so far as to think that the rest of mankind are in the same state of mind as themselves”). These “people” are not just ordinary readers. They are fairly sophisticated intellectually, being able to “conceive” reality as “a world of formulas”, apparently the type of mathematical formulas Hopkins wants to avoid in his own planned account of the subject. “They”, the advocates of a philosophical idealism in connection with modern physics, cannot refer to the supporters of Tyndall’s professed materialism15 (though his materialism is a more complex affair than it sounds at first — it is difficult to be a rational materialist while simultaneously holding the view that our knowledge of reality is limited). More likely candidates for “they” are some of the physicists linked to the Maxwell circle or intellectuals adopting similarly idealist views as far as scientific knowledge is concerned. Hopkins must have got acquainted with some of their ideas through articles, and possibly books or conversations with fellow Jesuits more directly involved in this field of reflection. T. Zaniello quotes various articles published in The Month in the late 70’s. One of these articles by Herbert Lucas (“Free Will and Modern Science”, June 1878) focuses on the recent challenge posed to determinism by such physicists as Stewart, Maxwell, Thomson and the authors of The Unseen Universe (published anonymously) in which Maxwell’s theories are mentioned repeatedly. A form of idealist epistemology and philosophy, in the tradition of Kant, is still commonly ascribed to Maxwell. This may be a misrepresentation, but it is apparently the kind of perspective from which Hopkins perceived some of the recent philosophical developments in connection with “the age of Maxwell”. The actual phrasing of his letter (“with its being [the being of the world] properly speaking in thought”) makes it clear, however, that this extreme form of idealist philosophy is not specifically that of Kant (with his “transcendental realism” in the terminology then in use), and reference may be made to Berkeley’s tradition (“empirical idealism”) whose relevance to the epistemology of the time is easily confirmed (Maxwell had read him closely). Similar issues had been raised by T. M. Herbert in The Realistic Assumptions of Modern Science Examined (1879)16, or the better known mathematician, Clifford17.
- 18 The dimension of natural (or philosophical) theology in Hopkins’s reflexion is occasionally overlo (...)
14If these tentative suggestions have any validity, it may come as a surprise at first that philosophical idealism, not materialism, should be the target of Hopkins’s planned book on Light and Ether. This criticism on Hopkins’s part is even more surprising since a major aspect of Maxwell’s philosophical reflection, and of that of his associates like Tait, was intended as a rebuttal of materialism and even of some of Darwin’s views (as in Maxwell’s article “Atom” for The Encyclopaedia Britannica). Maxwell went so far as to conceive elements of a new type of natural theology18 at a time when Paley’s own version of it had just been severely shaken, if not destroyed, by Darwin himself.
15The unstated reason for Hopkins’s dissatisfaction with the recent idealist developments in connection with physics can only be deduced or assumed. One point is fairly clear: his acceptance of philosophical realism, on which “inscapes” were dependent, was hardly compatible with the idealist epistemology being put forward (and, in spite of Hopkins’s presumably very limited access to the relevant sources, Maxwell’s reflections on epistemology, strongly influenced by Sir William Hamilton’s philosophy as they were, leave little or no room for “inscapes” in their view of nature).
- 19 Mivart’s philosophy has been examined fully only recently in Christophe Duvey’s PhD thesis, “L’hom (...)
- 20 J.-Y. Lacoste (ed.), Dictionnaire critique de théologie, Paris : PUF, 1998, 1201.
- 21 C. C. Abbott (ed.),Further Letters of G. M. Hopkins, London: OUP, 1956, 128.
16Hopkins’s position was not an isolated one in Catholic intellectual circles. Mivart, himself a modern exponent of Aristotle’s and Aquinas’ philosophy, levelled similar criticisms at the empiricist school of Mill, of course, but also at the latter’s target, Hamilton (Maxwell’s mentor), whom Mivart suspected of harbouring sceptical views concerning the knowledge of the outer world19. Though the charge is not entirely justified, such scepticism would have made the idea of a natural theology less easily tenable. It must be remembered that, if the first Vatican Council had, predictably, denounced materialism, pantheism or rationalism, it had also reasserted the role of reason in the natural knowledge of God20. In such a context, Hopkins’s opposition to the idealist views of contemporary physicists or intellectuals is more easily understood, even if such physicists were just as bitterly opposed to materialism as Hopkins must have been. Though various other factors should be taken into consideration, it is worth pondering on the fact that, in 1886, Hopkins apparently thought it more urgent or important to write against idealist physicists than against the materialism of Tyndall (as Maxwell or H. Lucas, in his article, did). And the references to Tyndall in the letters are few and fairly innocuous. The 1874 letter mentioning Tyndall’s recent Belfast Address21 expresses Hopkins’s strong disapproval and describes Tyndall as an “atheist”, but also grants him little philosophical credibility. Though certainly offensive to Hopkins, the term did not necessarily imply a rational threat to him. For a scholastic rationalist, “atheism” was easily refuted. And for an empiricist like Huxley, atheism, being a metaphysical statement, was felt to go beyond the limits of rational assertion. Pater also thought it not demonstrable, thus deserving no obvious place in the spectrum of philosophical and religious attitudes, concerning the present as much as the past, considered in Marius (the novel was published only a year before the letter discussing Tait).
17Even if Maxwell’s and Hopkins’s epistemologies are at variance or were felt to be, their respective theologies are still worth considering. Maxwell’s powerful reflections on the subject and his own deep spiritual experience are not unlike those of Hopkins, though there is no indication that the physicist’s views in this field could have become known to the Jesuit. The only way left to us of relating their respective views is through comparison. A comparison is indeed helpful for the perception of a period which can prove more complex and contrasted than is sometimes assumed. It is not always realized that two of its outstanding geniuses, in poetry and physics (Maxwell being commonly seen as the essential creative link between Newton and Einstein), should also have been religious thinkers with a deep personal sense of spiritual life.
18Maxwell’s religious philosophy is characterized by the importance given to the divine Logos, though not exactly in the same way as in Hopkins’s vision. For the physicist, scientific knowledge is possible ultimately because the “laws of matter” and the “laws of mind” are analogous. And their analogy (instead of univocity for a Scotist, though Hopkins’s interest in this aspect of Scotism appears to be muted) is due to their having the same origin, the divine Logos. In this respect, Maxwell can refer to the Letter to the Colossians (1: 16-7), which also underlies “Hurrahing in Harvest”. But the physicist sees the laws of the universe as being analogous to the divine Logos, whereas the poet considers its inscapes (and selves) as being inherent in this Logos.
- 22 P. M. Harman, The Natural Philosophy of J. C. Maxwell, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998, 206-7.
- 23 R. Gallet, Romantisme et postromantisme, op. cit., 138-9.
19Turning to man, a similarity between them can also be found. They both reasserted human freedom against determinism or necessitarianism. Maxwell’s achievement in this respect may deserve to be better known. It uses the analogy of “singular points” in physics which can determine the course of subsequent events22 with unpredictable results (the emphasis on “singularity” in Maxwell’s and Hopkins’s approaches again reveals less an influence than a common preoccupation). A more concrete image is that of a “pointsman” responsible for the orientation of a far greater mechanical system than the one used. In all probability Hopkins had become aware of this new development, if only through articles like those of H. Lucas in The Month. Even if influence seems to be out of the question, comparison is possible with his confident assertion of human freedom in “On the Portrait of Two Beautiful Young People” (“[…] that leaning in the will / No wisdom can forecast by gauge or guess” l. 25-6)). This parallels Maxwell’s rebuttal of the deterministic vision illustrated by Laplace’s demon23. Human freedom also served as a foundation for moral philosophy, and Maxwell was interested in the latter in addition to “natural philosophy”. Going further, moral philosophy opened the possibility of a union with Christ by freely exerting one’s will, another central concern in Maxwell’s view of human destiny. He was, besides, a keen reader of poetry and an amateur poet himself. Leaving aside the question of aesthetic appreciation, he might have approved of the views expressed in the sestet of “As kingfishers catch fire […]” while possibly keeping aloof from the more Scotist metaphysics of the quatrains. Just before his death in 1879, at the age of 48 as the Anglican priest was making ready to give him Communion, he repeated G. Herbert’s poem “Aaron’s rod”, conveying a sense of union with Christ similar to that of the sestet. Hopkins shared Maxwell’s admiration for Herbert’s poetry and spirituality. Perhaps the sonnet the Jesuit had completed only a few months before would have appealed to the physicist similarly in his dying moments. In this field of religion and poetry, a convergence between Hopkins and the physicist exists. And Maxwell, who was no believer in scientism, felt the scope of science to be severely limited, thus leaving room for different types of truth attainable through philosophy, religion or even literature.
1 This paper was read at the Hopkins Conference held at Oriel College, Oxford, September 24-26, 2004.
2 Tom Zaniello, Hopkins in the Age of Darwin, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988; D. Brown, Hopkins’Idealism. Philosophy, Physics, Poetry, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1997. The paper is also based on ch. 5 (“L’origine des espèces : la guerre et l’arbre”) and ch. 6 (« ’La dématérialisation de la matière’ : science, philosophie et religion dans la pensée de J. C. Maxwell ») of Romantisme et postromantisme de Wordsworth à Pater, Paris : L’Harmattan, 2004.
3 Ernst Mayr, L’Histoire de la biologie, Paris : Fayard, 1989, 387.
4 Peter J. Bowler, The Non-Darwinian Revolution. Reinterpreting a Historical Myth, Baltimore & London:The Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.
5 Fleeming Jenkin, “The Origin of Species”, The North British Review, June 1867, reprinted in D. L. Hull, Darwin and his Critics. The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973, 303-44. Mention could also be made of W. Thomson’s objections, which “severely restricted the geological time scale” required by Darwin’s hypothesis, R. M. Young, Darwin’s Metaphor. Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985, 114.
6 Ibid., 119.
7 Jean Largeault, Principes classiques d’interprétation de la nature, Paris : Vrin, 1988, 284
8 Vittorio Hösle, Die Philosophie und die Wissenschaften, Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1999, 49.
9 Daniel Brown, Hopkins’ Idealism. Philosophy, Physics, Poetry, op. cit., 207.
10 I have been unable to consult them. But it may be assumed that if the impact of physical theories on Hopkins’s thought at this stage had been significant, traces of it would me more noticeable in the subsequent writings.
11 G. M. Hopkins, The Journals and Papers, London: OUP, 1959, 127.
12 And as Adrian Grafe has pointed out to me, Hopkins’s context is also that of prosody (“instress, throw a stress on a syllable”, The Journals, op. cit., 271).
13 P. G. Tait, Light, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900, xi.
14 Claude Colleer Abbott (ed.),The Correspondence of G. M. Hopkins and R. W. Dixon, London: OUP, 1935, 139.
15 T. Zaniello mentions Hopkins’s plan at a rather late stage in his book (Hopkins in the Age of Darwin, op. cit., 117), without pointing out that his target is the philosophical idealism of some physicists rather than the materialistic evolutionism supported by Tyndall.
16 Reviewed by R. Adamson in Mind, IV, 1879, 570.
17 In his idealist monism, matter is defined as “a mental picture in which mind-stuff is the thing represented”, “On the nature of Things-in-themselves. Meaning of the individual object”, Mind, III (1878), 78. But no direct mention of physics is made in the article.
18 The dimension of natural (or philosophical) theology in Hopkins’s reflexion is occasionally overlooked. The comparison with one of Maxwell’s arguments is somewhat striking: Hopkins’s view is that selves (with which comparison is impossible – cf. Cary Plotkin “Ametaphoricity and Presence in Hopkins’s Poetics”, The Hopkins Quarterly, XXXI (2004), 1-4, 43-68) cannot be accounted for by matter or chance but only by a superior and even infinite self. On the contrary, Maxwell’s natural theology is based partly on the fact that the elementary components of physical reality, atoms, reflect a principle of uniformity like manufactured objects (Romantisme et postromantisme, op. cit., 135). Of course, both authors consider different aspects or levels of (macroscopic vs. microscopic) reality (and Maxwell has transferred Paley’s macrocosmic analogy of nature with a watch to the level of microcosmic observation).
19 Mivart’s philosophy has been examined fully only recently in Christophe Duvey’s PhD thesis, “L’homme et la nature dans la pensée du naturaliste et philosophe St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900). Contribution à l’histoire des idées et des controverses philosophiques à l’époque victorienne”, Université de Caen, 2003.
20 J.-Y. Lacoste (ed.), Dictionnaire critique de théologie, Paris : PUF, 1998, 1201.
21 C. C. Abbott (ed.),Further Letters of G. M. Hopkins, London: OUP, 1956, 128.
22 P. M. Harman, The Natural Philosophy of J. C. Maxwell, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998, 206-7.
23 R. Gallet, Romantisme et postromantisme, op. cit., 138-9.Haut de page
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