Lately I've noted several times when things seem to come synchronistically. I've experienced this often and I think it's not some magical attraction but a matter of paying attention and sometimes of a partially subconscious accumulation of reading, ideas, thoughts around certain subjects. Today's example is that I have just finished two books that are complimentary. One is Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. This is a fat, extremely well written book with fascinating biographical detail about a handful of Englishmen who began what became "the sciences" in England, in the 1700s, the pre-Victorian era.
It begins with a wonderful description of Sir Joseph Banks in Tahiti and then goes on to show his important role in the whole movement of scientific discovery. This includes an equally fascinating biography of Sir. William Herschel and his sister Caroline who, together, expanded astronomy enormously. The description of Caroline is especially welcome as she's too often been a footnote to William's discoveries. He was a remarkable brother, more by default, it seems than intention. But he was honest and generous in giving her credit for her discoveries which were mainly comets - several hundred! The book describes many other in the sciences in England at the time and also in France, especially when it came to balloon flight. It's a big book and only got a bit ponderous toward the end where people and event piled up so Holemes didn't have time or space for further fascinating biographies.
What's synchronous? The very next book I picked up from my shelf was a novel which I finished last night. This was not happenstance, really, for I was aware it was about the same period of history. Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, clearly included William Blake as a character and I knew he was contemporaneous with all the scientists Herschel was writing about. So I moved from the factual events in an intellectually rarified London of the 1700s, the an intimate family story set approximately 1770-5 which showed what working class and lower class London was like. Chevalier writes historical novels which are very well researched. I felt I could rely on her descriptions of both Dorsetshire and Lambeth on the south side of London. She is very adept at characterization and plot. William Blake and wife live next door to the protagonists; they are secondary characters. I admire Chevalier's craft, but I can't help seeing the craft and wishing for the intensity and unexpected depths of literary work.
So I think I am done with this period for the time being. I have a great many other books to read, including poetry that are very different. And of course the holidays are upon us ... as is a snow storm of a fairly gentle sort here today.
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