The Physics and Poetics of Analogy
Analogy was a crucial conceptual tool for Victorian natural philosophers, who regarded the physical world less in terms of material bodies than formal relationships. Thus, even as they aimed for verisimilitude in their theoretical models, James Clerk Maxwell and Michael Faraday used analogical figures freely, for they understood nature itself to be structured around analogical relations. Like Maxwell, Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote an undergraduate essay on the subject of analogy, conceiving it as fundamental to both scientific advancement and poetic production, where its logic of equivalence subsumes not only metaphor but also rhythm and rhyme. Swinburne’s poems “Before the Mirror” and “Sapphics” dramatize the replacement of the traditional notion of metaphor by the structures of formal analogy.
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