Garden of a Modern Prometheus: Fyne Court, Somerset

Stuart J Prior, Timothy W Mowl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Between 1805 and 1855 the densely wooded grounds of Fyne Court on the Quantock slopes in Somerset were transformed by their owner, a brilliant experimental physicist, Andrew Crosse, into a scientific laboratory for the investigation of atmospheric electrical charges and the potential creative power of lightning strikes. Traces of Crosse’s garden laboratory survive today, confusingly superimposed upon an amateurish mid-eighteenth-century ‘Rococo’ garden layout, the creation of Crosse’s great uncle, also Andrew. While Crosse claimed to be a Christian, his revelations of the power of electricity would automatically challenge orthodox Creation theories, offering an alternative to divine creative power. The aetheist poet Percy Byshe Shelley and his equally talented mistress-
wife, Mary, were present at one of Crosse’s London lectures in 1814. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, was published in 1818, and the connection between a ‘Modern Prometheus’, who defied the Gods by creating an electrical monster, and Crosse, who created, or claimed to have created, live beetles by passing electrical charges from his garden complex through an acid solution, is too close to be merely coincidental. Fyne Court has, therefore, a garden with Romantic literary associations and Crosse must, unwittingly, have challenged accepted notions of the divine and the human.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages13
JournalGarden History
Volume37
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Keywords

  • Garden History
  • Fyne Court
  • Andrew Crosse
  • Mary Shelly
  • Frankenstein
  • Modern Prometheus
  • Archaeology
  • Early Electricity

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