Richard King in his eponymous blog:
‘When I find myself in the company of scientists,’ wrote W. H. Auden in ‘Poet and the City’, ‘I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.’ But Auden was exceptional. In Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), Richard Dawkins swaps the costumes on this little playlet, suggesting that, more often than not, it’s the scientists who feel like shabby curates and the poets who are regarded as dukes. Of course, such timidity is entirely misplaced. Dawkins’s title refers to Lamia (1819), in which Keats accuses Isaac Newton of having destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colours. But Newton, of course, had done nothing of the kind. He had made one of the great discoveries of all time, a discovery that led on to spectroscopy, which has, in turn, immeasurably deepened our understanding of the observable cosmos, surely as proper a subject for poetry as any nightingale or Grecian urn.
Dawkins’s book began life as a lecture, delivered in 1997 in honour of the author C. P. Snow. And it so happens that last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Snow’s Rede Lecture for 1959, in which Snow identified, or claimed to identify, a division between ‘literary intellectuals’ on the one hand and scientists and engineers on the other. Delivered at Cambridge University and entitled ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’, its effect was to ignite a widespread debate – such, indeed, that the term ‘The Two Cultures’ was quickly absorbed into cultural life.