In the mid to late 1700s, men of letters became more and more interested in the natural world. From studies in astronomy to biology, chemistry, and medicine, these "philosophers" pioneered what would become our current scientific categories. While the significance of their contributions to these fields has been widely appreciated historically, the interconnection between these men and their literary counterparts has not. A study of the "Romantic man of science" reveals how much that figure has in common with the traditional "Romantic" literary figure embodied by poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This thesis interrogates connections between Romantic literature and science by examining the figure of the "Romantic" author. In his 1969 essay "What is an Author?" Foucault called into question the way we think about authorship. Foucault states that before the late eighteenth-century, what we call "literary" texts "were accepted, put into circulation and valorized without any question about the identity of the author" (108). Simultaneously, scientific texts "were accepted in the Middle Ages, [. . .] only when marked with the name of their author" (109). Foucault argues that norms of authorship underwent a reversal in the eighteenth century. The result of this shift is that "literary discourses came to be accepted only when endowed with the author function" while in the sciences, the author function faded away (109). A case study of the scientist Humphry Davy disrupts Foucault's suggestion that a total reversal in the workings of the author function was achieved by the Romantic period. I argue that Davy is an exception to Foucault's history of authorship and that Davy's authorial identity in the sciences as "the public man of science" is equal to the author function of literary figures of the same period. Davy pioneered the "public man of science," a figure who corresponds nearly perfectly with the emerging figure of the "author" in the literary sphere. Ultimately we see Davy as a figure who embodies and reconstructs the "Romantic I" and requires us to reconsider the category of scientific authorship and the figure of the scientist as author.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Baker, Marianne Lind, "Humphry Davy: Science, Authorship, and the Changing Romantic" (2010). Theses and Dissertations. 2647.
authorship, author function, Foucault, Humphry Davy, literature, science