On 'Theory of the Earth'
by Guusje Groote
James Hutton and Robert Burns both lived in the Age of Reason, the
eighteenth century. This era saw many philsophical and scientific developments.
There is no historic data which shows that Hutton and Burns ever met,
but both men were well-known figures in Edinburgh society towards the
end of the century.
We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is: But we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system, and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for any thing higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, - no prospect of an end.(1)
The first line of the sonnet refers to Hutton as "that true son
of fire". The devil is often called "son of fire" as
fire is associated with destruction, but also creation; the beginning
of everything. However, in the Age of Reason, when reason was seen as
the most precious virtue of men, a character that would live up to his
reason and will was also called "son of fire". Besides these
meanings of "son of fire", the words also appear in Blake's
poem 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'(2). William Blake (1757-1827)
was a contemporary of Hutton and Burns. 'The Marriage of Heaven and
Hell' shows Blake's great interest in mysticism, a popular topic in
the Age of Reason. In the 1790s, Blake wrote a number of poems in which
a spirit of energy appeared, called "Orc". "Orc"
is also called "son of fire".
In 'A Red, Red Rose' Burns expresses his love by comparing it to the
beauty of nature. In Morgan's sonnet, the lines lose their value of
conveying eternal love. Morgan only used those lines that are connected
with nature, and in the sonnet the lines come to carry a completely
different meaning. Morgan changes Burns' romantic lines into Hutton's
scientific thoughts: "'Aye, man, the rocks melt wi the sun'"
(1) Passage from: Hutton, J., The Theory of the Earth, 1795.
(2) Blake, W., The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790.
(3) Passage from: Burns, R., My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose, 1796.
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