The scientific English prose of William Turner (1508-1568)

Bullock, Valerie (2002) The scientific English prose of William Turner (1508-1568). Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The sixteenth century opened the door to modern science. The printing press, together with other technological advances, gave impetus to that spirit of inquiry based on personal observation and experiment. Mediaeval thinking was questioned, mediaeval theories were tested and if disproved, discarded. On the continent and in England men became inspired to set down the results of their scientific inquiries, not only in Latin, but in their native languages. In doing this they often met with difficulties. -- This essay discusses William Turner in this context as a writer of such early English scientific prose. Although he was a physician of some eminence and a notable preacher for the Reforming cause, it is as the "Father of English Botany" that he is remembered. Much of his early writing was in Latin, but in the service of botany he attempted to make his native English a language of scientific instruction for his countrymen. -- Turner was only partially successful. He could not completely overcome the theories of mediaeval herbalism, although he vigorously dismissed much that was fanciful in plant lore and substituted what his own senses, coupled with his knowledge of the works of ancient botanists, revealed. It is interesting to trace his attempts to explain in terms of measurement the "degrees" aspect of the theory of humours, even though the very theory is too nebulous to allow such precision. -- He was more fortunate in his attempts to use the vernacular for the description and identification of plants and in this area he broke new ground in the use of the English language for scientific purposes. This essay attempts to reveal his struggles for technical precision and clarity, with all the necessary rejections and substitutions of words, phrases and images. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that Turner's gain in accuracy results in the loss of that charm associated with mediaeval herbals. -- Finally it is suggested that in his attitude to language and his persistence in the use of English prose to instruct and inform about scientific matters, Turner anticipated the Royal Society by a hundred years.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7274
Item ID: 7274
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [221]-226.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2002
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Great Britain
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Turner, William, d. 1568--Criticism and interpretation; English prose literature--Early modern, 1500-1700--History and criticism; Botany--History--16th century; Technical writing--History--16th century

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