Introduction: “Faln Systemes” and “Dead Chimæras”

  • Judy A. Hayden
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


In his extensive study, The Copernican Question (2011), Robert Westman seeks to discover “why and how Copernicus changed his own thinking about the organization of the heavens” and then to extend that question to ask “what made his discovery persuasive to others after its publication in 1543.”2 But Westman asks a further question that is for many scholars of literature and astronomy a paramount one—and the focus of this collection: “Under what conditions do people change or give up beliefs to which they are most deeply committed?” The reconfiguration—and certainly the relinquishing—of one’s conviction in a world system long held to be finite required for many in the sixteenth, seventeenth and even into the eighteenth centuries a compromise in one’s beliefs and the biblical authority on which he or she had relied—and this did not come without serious and complex challenges.


Eighteenth Century World System Paradise Lost Literary Discourse Collective Vision 
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  1. 2.
    Robert Westman, The Copernican Question: Prognostication, Skepticism and Celestial Order (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2011), xv.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Henry Wotton in a letter to the Earl of Salisbury, as quoted by Westman, Copernican Question, 458. Galileo was not the first to observe the Moon telescopically, but he was the first to make methodical records of his observations. See Westman, Copernican Question, 458; see also Toby E. Huff, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution. A Global Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), particularly 39–40; Albert Van Helden, “Galileo and the Telescope,” in The Origins of the Telescope, ed. Albert Van Helden et al. (Amsterdam: Knaw Press, 2010), 183; and Huib J. Zuidervaart, “The ‘True Inventor’ of the Telescope. A Survey of 400 Years of Debate,” in The Origins of the Telescope, ed. Albert Van Helden et al. (Amsterdam: Knaw Press, 2010), 17–18; Richard Dunn, The Telescope. A Short History (Greenwich: National Maritime Museum, 2009), 25; William P. Sheehan and Thomas A. Dobbins, Epic Moon. A History of Lunar Exploration in the Age of the Telescope (Richmond, VA: Willman-Bell, Inc, 2001), 3–5; and Ewen A. Whitaker, “Selenography in the Seventeenth Century,” in The General History of Astronomy, Vol. 2, Planetary Astronomy from the Renaissance to the Rise of Astrophysics. Part A: Tycho Brahe to Newton, ed. René Taton and Curtis Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 119–143.Google Scholar
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    Marjorie Nicolson, A World in the Moon. A Study of the Changing Attitude toward the Moon in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Smith College Studies in Modern Languages, VXII.2 (January 1936), 47. Nicolson wrote considerably on this topic. See, for example, her Voyages to the Moon (1948. New York: Macmillan, 1960); “The Telescope and Imagination,” in Modern Philology XXXII (1935), 233–260; and “The ‘New Astronomy’ and English Literary Imagination,” in Studies in Philology XXXII (1935), 428–462. Those looking for examples of moon voyages and/or early flight would do well to consult Nicolson’s Voyages to the Moon and particularly her extensive bibliography on the subject (258–284).Google Scholar
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© Judy A. Hayden 2016

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