The “Celebrated Mineralogist” from Hemans’ Poem

Burning Mountain Nature Reserve, from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/burning-mountain-nature-reserve).

Sadly, I had to unexpectedly miss class Thursday and even more sadly missed out on the rip-roaring discussions on the first set of Felicia Hemans poems, so I thought I would make a small contribution to the blog (and if this was already discussed in class, I apologize!). For some reason, I was particularly interested in the mineralogist that she describes in her poem “Epitaph on Mr. W-, a Celebrated Mineralogist.” As both our book and Megan in her key passage analysis states, the mineralogist Hemans described was Charles P.N. Wilton. The footnote also states that he became an assistant chaplain in New South Wales, Australia, while conducting geological research there as well. As it happens, he made some really interesting observations while there. One of his most well-known topics is the “Burning Mountain” in New South Wales. In 1828, before Wilton had arrived, a newspaper in Australia had published an article claiming that an active volcano had been discovered in the area. People who visited the area reported seeing smoke rising and even flames coming out from the ground. Naturally this caused a huge amount of interest, especially in Wilton, who traveled to the region in 1829. However, he had observed that there was no presence of volcanic rock or lava in the area. After further research, it was determined that the land was actually not a volcano, but was sitting above a coal seam fire, or an underground deposit of coal that continuously burns (Mayer 200-202). Even more interesting, the Burning Mountain is the world’s oldest known coal seam fire, at 6,000 years old (Krajick). Now, coal seams are actually quite common in the world (there are a few even in the US), but it’s important to consider not only the time period in which this observation was made, but also the fact that Wilton had disproved a story that had gained national, and even international, attention.

Another thing that interested me about Wilton was that he was both a mineralogist and an assistant chaplain. Wilton was very much a fundamentalist in terms of his religious views and was known to attempt to correlate his scientific observations with religion. He believed that his observations and investigations lead to “a greater understanding of God’s work” (Mayer 205). This interested me particularly because how similar Wilton’s views were to some of the themes we’ve seen in Romantic literature. Some Romantic works at times associate nature with a higher being or power, so to me it was interesting to see this association outside of literature as well.

Works Cited

Krajick, Kevin. “Fire in the Hole.” Smithsonian Magazine May 2005: n. pag. Web. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/fire-in-the-hole-77895126/>.

Mayer, W. “Geological Observations by the Reverend Charles P.N. Wilton (1795-1859) in New South Wales and His Views on His Relationship Between Religion and Science.” Geology and Religion: A History of Harmony and Hostility. Ed. Martina Kolbl-Ebert. London: Geological Society of London, 2009. 200-202, 205. Print.

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