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The Romance of Natural History: The Imaginative Project of Philip Henry Gosse
The natural history writings of Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888), caught the imagination of the Victorian reading public. A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast (1853) brought the middle class to the shore; The Aquarium (1854) took the shore back to the middle class home, and The Romance of Natural History (1860) taught the ‘Poet’s Way’ of nature studies. But, as Lynn Merrill puts it, ‘Of Philip Gosse, two legacies remain—both of them unfortunate’. Today Gosse is remembered principally as a symbol, rather than a writer: as the withholding, Calvinist bully of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907), or as the supposedly feeble casuist of the Omphalos model (1857), who sought to run Genesis and geology in parallel, through a model of implied history. In each, he remains the defeated party in the battle of ideas that marked the latter half of the Victorian era. This thesis seeks not to redeem Gosse from these interpretations, as such, but to trace his own imaginative project: to read a model of natural history which animates his writings, and which is peculiar to him among the wealth of nineteenth-century popularisers of science.
My thesis offers a reconsideration of Gosse’s legacies and seeks to renegotiate the boundaries between science and culture in the Victorian era.