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This article is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

Newton's Sleep (1): Poets, Scientists and Rainbows Raymond Tallis
 
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
'Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah's night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep!


William Blake, letter to Thomas Butts, 22 November 1802

EVEN AMONGST tenured academics in university departments of English few would claim to be blessed with four-fold vision, but many still seem to derive a good deal of self-approval from being kept by God from Single Vision & Newton's sleep. The jibe 'Newton's sleep' has long been a rallying cry for those who are opposed to science and all its works. For it is still fashionable amongst educated - or partially educated - non-scientists to adopt an attitude of contempt towards the science and technology that had its spectacular dawn in the 17th Century and of which Newton is the emblematic figure. This is a long-standing fashion, that goes back at least to Romanticism. It has outlived pretty well every other aspect of Romanticism and it shows no sign of waning. Indeed, Blake's claim that 'Art is the Tree of Life, Science is the Tree of Death', draws added sustenance from Green thinking, both sound and unsound.

This essay and the two that follow in future issues of P·N·R will examine the reasons, avowed and implicit, for hostility to science, hazard a guess at some of the motives behind it, ...


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