Poems and quotes for the microscopist?

A browse through many of the older books show not only a desire to inform people of microscopy and microscopic life, but the authors also try to pass on their own sense of wonder of life on the miniature scale. Many of these books had thought provoking poems or quotes in the frontispiece, so here are a few .....

While we're on a literary theme also included is a link to a delightful supernatural story written in the nineteenth century where microscopy is the key element.

If you have a favourite quote, poem or stories with a strong microscopical theme, why not let us know, we'll be delighted to mention them in a future article.

'In commendation of ye microscope''

Henry Power 1664 (in the original old English). Extract from poem below as cited from the preliminary page of Savile Bradbury's splendid 'The Evolution of  the Microscope', 1967, Pergamon Press. For the full poem see 'Dr. Henry Power's poem on the Microscope' by Thomas Cowles, Isis, 1934, vol.21 (1), April, 71-80.

'Of all the Inventions none there is Surpasses
the Noble Florentine's Dioptrick Glasses
For what a better, fitter guift Could bee
in this World's Aged Luciosity.
To help our Blindnesse so as to devize
a paire of new & Artificial eyes
By whose augmenting power wee now see more
than all the world Has ever dounn before'


Possibly by the astronomer Sir J F W Herschel, who also said 'To the Natural Philosopher there is no natural object that is unimportant or trifling; from the least of Nature's works he may learn the greatest lessons.'

'Oh, there are curious things of which men know
As yet but little! Secrets lying hid
Within all natural objects. Be they shells,
Which ocean flingeth off her billows,
Or the low sand or flowers, or trees, or grasses,
Covering the earth; rich metals or bright ores
Beneath the surface. He who findeth out
Those secret things hath a fair right to gladness;
For he hath well performed, and doth awake
Another note of praise on Nature's harp
To hymn her Great Creator.'


William Blake from 'Auguries of Innocence'

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.


Ellis in the 'Natural History of the Corallines'

'If Creatures of so low an Order in the great Scale of Nature are endued with Faculties to enable them to fill up their Sphere of Action with such Proprietry, we likewise, who are advanced so many Gradations above them, owe to ourselves, and to Him who made us and all things, a constant Application to acquire that degree of Rectitude and Perfection to which we also are endued with Faculties of attaining.'


Prof. L. C. Miall in 'The Natural History of Aquatic Insects' 1895

'When we have to tell what we have seen and found, it is our business to give a true account, disguising nothing, and keeping nothing back. But let us be careful not to speak as if our little plummets had sounded the depths of the universe. Those who have surpassed their fellows in the improvement of natural knowledge have always been the first to admit that what they have come to know is lost in the infinitude of the unknown.


Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in a letter dated July 25th, 1707, introducing a report on an observation:

'I generally notice that we come closer to the truth the more often we concentrate our investigations on one and the same thing at different moments.'


Charles Kingsley.

'I have seen the cultivated man craving for travel, and for success in life, pent up in the drudgery of London work, and yet keeping his spirit calm, and perhaps his morals all the more righteous, by spending over his microscope evenings which would probably have been gradually wasted at the theatre.'


.... and finally. If you like reading science fiction, try Fitz-James O'Brien's short story 'The Diamond Lens' which weaves microscopy into a fascinating story. This is downloadable from Harry Brown's neat 'Microscopy a la Mauve' web site - a celebration of Victorian microscopy. Harry has also written an interesting assessment of the microscopy described in the story as well as a short biography on O'Brien (1828 - 1862) who was described as a 'Poe in the minor mode' and 'the pre-eminent writer of supernatural stories of his time'.



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