The Polymath

Dmitri Levitin at Literary Review:

Burke’s story is ultimately one of decline, from the ‘monsters of erudition’ of the 17th century to the present era of specialisation. Early modernists may feel that he is slightly cheating in his description of their period by setting up as separate disciplines subjects that were always studied together. For example, optics, astronomy and geometry were all part of ‘mathematics’, and it was effectively impossible to specialise in only one of them; in these terms, anyone who practised the subject was a polymath. This being admitted, some figures omitted here seem more worthy of inclusion than others who do appear: for example, the Flemish Simon Stevin made seminal contributions to pure and applied mathematics, as well as engineering, music theory and bookkeeping, while also practising chemistry, among many other disciplines.

more here.