Restoration Volume 43.1 Seeming as Believing: Epistemological Uncertainty and the World of Annus Mirabilis Joshua Brorby Washington University in St. Louis Early in his long poem Annus Mirabilis (1667), before the Great Fire vaporizes a quarter of the metropolis, John Dryden seems to privilege the conjunction “or,” as if contemplating the limits of possibility. Here are distant fires nearly two hundred stanzas before the “prodigious” one that engulfs London: celestial fires, of comets that act as “Tapers” to light the poem’s stage. As the comets rise, Dryden considers their origins in a series of lines that explain them away as if each possibility were equally likely. “Whether they unctuous Exhalations are, / Fir’d by the Sun,” he begins, “or seeming so alone, / Or each some more remote and slippery Star, / Which looses footing when to Mortals shown” (AM 65–68). After the repeated “or,” Dryden suggests that the comets are stars that slip away when viewed, a strangely Einsteinian effect of observation. Do they exist in one state, or does viewing them change the way they give off light in the night sky? And so he continues: “Or one that bright companion of the Sun, / Whose glorious
Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 – University of Tennessee
Published: Jul 19, 2019
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