March of Intellect, Robert Seymour, Edward Irving, Mechanisation, Book of Daniel, 1820s
One of the most celebrated March of Intellect prints from the 1820s was created by Robert Seymour: a man-machine strides across the page, sweeping away abuses with its Brougham, and saving the people by the spread of knowledge from its printing press legs. However, such a reading ignores the nuancing of the image by the caption. This article will proffer a detailed reading of the image through the caption via two different lenses: a probable source text from the Old Testament book of Daniel and the preaching of Edward Irving. Through such an exploration, this paper will argue that whilst Seymour’s print is a sharp critique on those who claimed that mechanistic philosophies would solve the abuses of the day, it is complicated by the caption being framed as Irving-esque speech. Whether this print was a critique on mechanistic philosophies or fanatical preaching, Seymour left for his viewers to decide.
About the author
Helen-Frances Dessain is an independent historian of science and technology in the nineteenth century with particular interest in steam technology, travel and astronomy. She studied History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge and has published reviews in The Glass and the BAVS Newsletter.
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