Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Inspirations from the Armada - Part 2

Continuing with this line of thought about this amazing group of men - it is not only their scientific knowledge and curiosity that enthralls me, but their talents in writing.

Erasmus Darwin's work "The Loves of the Plants", was simultaneously a beautiful piece of original scientific thought, written in the guise of a romantic and witty poem. And this obviously wasn't his only piece. I find it mindboggling, to say the least. I have been fortunate enough to have had a tertiary education, I like to think that I am (relatively) widely read, and yet when it comes to putting my innermost thoughts in entertaining, witty and romantic prose, I am pushing the boundaries to write a simple
Roses are red
Violets are blue
These men were amazing
These words be true
I suspect I have made my point.

Possibly, the greatest testimony to this idea comes down to us through the years from Alfred Russell Wallace. On 6th August, 1852, the 'Helen', carrying Wallace home from his 4 years of travels (and hardships) in the Amazon (his first scientific voyage), full of hundreds of his precious specimens that he had collected with much blood and toil, caught fire. Whilst watching his life go up in flames, he could not help but pen the following account of the moment... He couldn't help but admire "the magnificent spectacle, for as the decks had completely burnt away, and as it heaved and rolled with the swell of the sea, it presented its interior to us, filled with liquid flame - a fiery furnace tossed restlessly upon the ocean."

Scientific writing in this day and age is sorely lacking. When preparing manuscripts for submission to a journal, write something nearing 'poetic' and your manuscript gets rejected. The trend is towards plain language, as boring and painful as possible for the reader. I am not saying that journals such as Nature should become full of poetry, but I do think there is a happy medium (which we have not reached).