Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Sympathetic Attractions

Sympathetic Attractions: Magnetic Practices, Beliefs, and Symbolism in Eighteenth-Century England

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 342
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Sympathetic Attractions
    Book Description:

    In this interdisciplinary study of eighteenth-century England, Patricia Fara explores how natural philosophers constructed magnetism as a science, appropriating the skills and knowledge of experienced navigators. For people of this period, magnetic phenomena reverberated with the symbolism of occult mystery, sexual attraction, and universal sympathies; in this maritime nation, magnetic instruments such as navigational compasses heralded imperial expansion, commercial gain, and scientific progress. By analyzing such multiple associations, Fara reconstructs cultural interactions in the days just prior to the creation of disciplinary science. Not only does this illustrated book provide a kaleidoscopic view of a changing society, but it also portrays the emergence of public science.

    Linking this rise in interest to the utility and mysteriousness of magnetism, Fara organizes her discussion into themes, including commercialization, imperialism, instruments and invention, the role of language, attitudes toward the past, and the relationship between religion and natural philosophy. Fara shows that natural philosophers, proclaiming themselves as the only true experts on magnetism, actively participated in massive transformations of English life. In their bids for public recognition as elite specialists, they engaged in controversies that resonated with religious, economic, moral, gender, and political implications. These struggles for social and scientific authority in the eighteenth century provide the background for better understanding the cultural topography of modern society.

    Originally published in 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6436-2
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    In 1783, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce welcomed Samuel Johnson and other distinguished visitors to admire the six large murals which it had commissioned from James Barry for its new meeting rooms near the Strand. Barry, who intended these paintings to restore the flagging reputation of British art, had designed a series portraying the progressive stages of human culture. He called his fourth illustration, reproduced as the Frontispiece,Commerce, or the Triumph of the Thames, choosing the imagery of classical allegory to celebrate London’s central role in Britain’s expanding trading empire. Barry explained that famous...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Mapping Enlightenment England: Practitioners and Philosophers
    (pp. 11-30)

    Ephraim Chambers has won renown as the English initiator of Enlightenment projects to systematize rational learning in comprehensive encyclopedias. He followed earlier classifiers by visualizing the organizational scheme of hisCyclopcediaas a map of knowledge. Employing geographical metaphors, he claimed to guide his readers through the wilderness of knowledge, indicating the flourishing growth of well-tilled areas of expertise and marking where the limits of theterra cognitacould be extended. Like the French encyclopedists who imitated his enterprise, Chambers expressly articulated the arbitrariness with which he had divided his two largest territories, the arts and the sciences, into their...

  8. CHAPTER TWO “A Treasure of Hidden Vertues”: Marketing Natural Philosophy
    (pp. 31-65)

    When customers like Samuel Pepys visited the shop of Thomas Tuttell, instrument maker to the king, they could purchase a pack of mathematical playing cards. The seven of spades, shown as Figure 2.1, depicted the diverse connotations of magnets, or loadstones. At a shilling a pack, these cards were too expensive for many of the surveyors, navigators, and other practitioners shown using Tuttell’s instruments. But for historians, they are valuable both for what they are and for what they show.

    As marketable commodities, they provide an early example of the products promising both diversion and improvement which were increasingly attractive...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Direction of Invention: Setting a New Course for Compasses
    (pp. 66-90)

    England’s naval strength was vital for protection against rival European powers, for increasing her trade, and for defending and acquiring overseas territory. But seafaring still seemed extremely dangerous. Johnson quipped that “being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned,” and shipwrecks featured prominently in contemporary art and literature. One particularly popular poem was the sailor William Falconer’s epicThe Shipwreck,in which he dramatically narrated his own narrow escape from death. In a work resembling Darwin’sEconomy of Vegetation,Falconer transposed his personal experiences to classical Greece, including such copious notes on nautical...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR An Attractive Empire: Mapping Terrestrial Magnetism
    (pp. 91-117)

    As London’s economy boomed, enterprising managers fostered public enthusiasm for marvels by opening museums displaying automata, freaks, and natural objects brought back by international travellers. When James Cox’s celebrated collection was sold off in a controversial private lottery, the advertisers hymned British commercial expansion:

    Thus Britain’s white sails shall be kept unfuri’d,

    And our commerce extend, as our thunders are hurl’d,

    Till the Empress of Science is Queen of the World¹

    This flamboyant declaration of British supremacy articulates one of the major themes of this chapter, the symbiotic alliance amongst commerce, natural philosophy, and imperial expansion. After the loss of...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Measuring Power: Patterns in Experimental Natural Philosophy
    (pp. 118-145)

    Eighteenth-century magnetic experts based their knowledge on everyday experiences. At sea, navigators had acquired their skills not from books but from their daily familiarity with using compasses to guide them round the magnetic globe. On land, natural philosophers also perceived that they inhabited a magnetic world. Examining their built environment, they reported that iron window bars and the crosses on church steeples became magnetic, as did pokers leaning against the fireplace. Visiting workshops, they collected information from craftsmen who found their tools becoming magnetized. Their personal possessions acted as magnetic measuring devices—keys and swords, and also portable compass dials,...

  12. CHAPTER SIX God’s Mysterious Creation: The Divine Attraction of Natural Knowledge
    (pp. 146-170)

    In 1795, Coleridge gave a lecture in a Bristol coffeehouse on the historical evidence for the life of Christ. He remarked that the Stoics discoursed on the “properties of God, with the same wisdom, with which we might suppose a Mole after turning up a few Inches of Soil might describe [the] central fires, or magnetic Nucleus of this Planet.”¹ For discussing a theological problem, Coleridge selected a magnetic image, framing it in a confident affirmation of progress since the age of Greek philosophy. Such pronouncements display how intimately religious, historical, and magnetic investigations of the terraqueous globe were intertwined....

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN A Powerful Language: Images of Nature and the Nature of Science
    (pp. 171-207)

    As Johnson embarked on his ambitious project to compile a definitive version of English usage, he intended “to embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay.” When he eventually published his famousDictionaryin 1755, he acknowledged the impossibility of this task. Magnetic vocabulary illustrates how the meanings of words are constantly shifting. To exemplify the words “magnetical” and “magnetick,” Johnson selected a quotation from one of the period’s favorite authors, John Milton, describing how the constellations obey the sun’s power:

    Turn swift their various motions, or are turned

    By his magnetic beam

    For Milton, immersed in Gilbertian...

    (pp. 208-214)

    As British people forged a commercial nation, moral philosophers described the virtues appropriate for this polite society characterized by an expanding public sphere Many agreed with the arguments of Alexander Gerard, a Scottish associationist who attributed a key role to the power of abstract reasoning For portraying the genius of imagination, Gerard turned to the physical world, forcefully articulating how magnetic interests extended sympathetically throughout eighteenth-century life

    As the magnet selects from a quantity of matter the ferruginous particles, which happen to be scattered through it, without making an impression on other substances, so imagination, by a similar sympathy, equally...

    (pp. 215-218)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 219-268)
    (pp. 269-318)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 319-326)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-327)