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In 2001, a seventeenth century manuscript was published, identified as the larger part of a 20-canto cosmological poem Order and Disorder, and its author identified as Lucy Hutchinson, a vigorously Republican defender of the Parliamentary cause in the civil war. The poem was, in the manner of Milton’s almost contemporary Paradise Lost, a vast amplification of the biblical creation narratives, the shaping of chaos into the cosmos and its dissolution in the Fall. More remarkably still, this was Lucy Hutchinson’s second such venture in chaos and creation, previously having made the first full English translation of Lucretius’ On the Nature of the Universe (c. 50 AD), an atheist, atomic epic.
Cosmologies have, since Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 BC) speculated on both the aesthetics and implicit politics of the universe in embryonic form. This lecture will explore the history of such cosmologies, from Lucretius through to Blake, via Milton and a seventeenth-century theory, by a correspondent of Isaac Newton, of the pristine world as an egg, tragically and irredeemably broken.