One of the most entertaining books that I’ve read recently is Richard Holmes’ Age of Wonder. It’s a relay race of scientific achievement contained in the period between Cook’s first trip to Tahiti and Darwin’s famous voyage to the Galapagos, a little more than 60 years later.
This was the enlightenment, an age of progress and discovery. Richard Holmes wades through this era, in beautifully written series of mini biographies of Joseph Banks, William Herschel, Humphrey Davy and others. Their discoveries were received with wonder. And the zeitgeist was reflected in the poetry of the day.
Here’s Wordsworth, beginning his poem Peter Bell (1798) with ‘a playful image of flying in a sort of dirigible airship, or balloon boat.’ The poem was inspired by the recent craze for hot air ballooning.
There’s something in a flying horse,
There’s something in a huge balloon:
But through the Clouds I’ll never float
Until I have a little Boat
Shaped like the crescent-Moon…
Away we go! – and what care we
For treason, tumults, and for wars?
We are as calm in our Delight
As is the crescent-Moon so bright
Among the scattered stars
Of course, William Wordsworth could never have known that we’d end up with Ryan Air.
Image credit: Marlon Malabanan