Although seemingly paradoxical, Romantic science developed hugely over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Romanticism was an intellectual counter- movement to the late-18th century Enlightenment and although typically associated with arts and humanities, it greatly influenced science. Its core beliefs consisted of a belief in the self, the importance of emotion and individualism (particularly aesthetic experience) and viewing the world as made up of living beings with sentiments rather than objects with function. Thus, Romantics typically viewed psychology and life sciences as superior to sciences of matter.
According to Poggi and Bossi Romanticism in Science: Science in Europe, 1790 1840, (New York: Springer, 1993), scientists of the Romantic period believed that observing nature required an understanding of the self and man’s binding connection with nature. Mesmerism was a seminal romantic science, developing the connection between energy flows, objects and the environment but also exploring the relationship between the conscious and unconscious. The relationship between the conscious and unconscious was of interest to Romantics, particularly its prerequisite for genius. Andrew Cunningham’s Romanticism and the Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 2009) focuses on the understanding of phenomena as an important connection branching Romanticism and science, highlighting the significance of experience within science. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818 is a useful example of popular representations of Romantic science during the early nineteenth century. She explores the manipulation of nature and Romantic elements of chemistry, anatomy and philosophy in order to highlight the dangers of scientific transgression. The popularity of romantic sciences diminished with the evolving philosophical concept of positivism in the 1840s. This postulated that only that which can be scientifically verified through logical or mathematical proof can be true.