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Speaker: Matthew Bell (London)

This lecture will consider the earliest phase of Goethe’s scientific work, from 1776 to the mid-1780s. It will examine the initial impulses that led to Goethe becoming interested in natural science and what these impulses can tell us about his scientific career as a whole. It has traditionally been assumed that the first impulse to become a scientist came when Duke Carl August directed Goethe to take control of the re-opening of the silver mines at Ilmenau in spring 1776. The plan suited his highly practical cast of mind, and accordingly a consistent strand in his scientific work was practical and less interested in (or even opposed to) theory. However, a closer look at the years between 1776 and 1780 shows that Goethe’s first steps as a scientist went through two very different phases, and the second phase, which began with his reading Buffon’s The Epochs of Nature (1778) in 1780, was at least as important as the first, practical one. The remainder of the lecture will consider his reactions to Buffon and what they tell us about his scientific work more generally.

This English Goethe Society lecture will take place in Room G37 at the University of London Senate House and will be streamed via Zoom. All welcome; attendance free. Advance online booking is essential whether attending in person or online (please select appropriate ticket when registering).