Revolutions in Science: Their Meaning and Relevance

Revolutions in Science: Their Meaning and Relevance

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Shea, William R., ed., 1989

From the preface

"Alarmed at 'the world's condition now," John Donne wrote in 1611,

And new philosophy calls all in doubt,

the element of fire is quite put out;

The sun is lost, and the'earth, and no man's wit

Can well direct him where to look for it.

And freely men confess that this world's spent…

An anatomy of the world


A year earlier, in ignatius his conclave, Donne singled out Copernicus and Paracelsus as the scientific revolutionaries who were mainly responsible for the state of affairs that made him so anxious. His contemporaries, however, were generally of a less sombre cast of mind, and the scientific revolution became more glorious as it went along until it was epitomized and celebrated in the person of newton, for whom pope wrote the resounding epitaph,


Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;

Good said, 'let Newton be!' and all was light.


Donne has long been recognized as right in identifying Copernicus as the fountainhead of a radical charge in astronomy, but his claim that Paracelsus was the source of an equally important revolution has received less attention. Several authors in this volume set out to correct this oversight and show that chemistry, albeit in its proto-form of alchemy, is an essential feature of what has come to be known as the scientific revolution . . ."