“The burden of the past” invoked by any discussion of eclecticism is a familiar aspect of modernity, particularly in the history of literature. The Age of Eclecticism: Literature and Culture in Britain, 1815–1885 by Christine Bolus-Reichert aims to reframe that dynamic and to place it in a much broader context by examining the rise of a manifold eclecticism in the nineteenth century. Bolus-Reichert focuses on two broad understandings of eclecticism in the period—one understood as an unreflective embrace of either conflicting beliefs or divergent historical styles, the other a mode of critical engagement that ultimately could lead to a rethinking of the contrast between creation and criticism and of the very idea of the original. She also contributes to the emerging field of transnational Victorian studies and, in doing so, finds a way to talk about a broader, post-Romantic nineteenth-century culture.
By reviving eclecticism as a critical term, Bolus-Reichert historicizes the theoretical language available to us for describing how Victorian culture functioned—in order to make the terrain of Victorian scholarship international and comparative and create a place for the Victorians in the genealogy of postmodernism. The Age of Eclecticism gives Victorianists—and other students of nineteenth-century literature and culture—a new perspective on familiar debates that intersect in crucial ways with issues still relevant to literature in an age of multiculturalism and postmodernism.
Founded around 1700 by a group of German Lutherans known as Pietists, the Halle Orphanage became the institutional headquarters of a universal seminar that still stands largely intact today. It was the base of an educational, charitable, and scientific community and consisted of an elite school for the sons of noblemen; schools for the sons of artisans, soldiers, and preachers; a hospital; an apothecary; a bookshop; a botanical garden; and a cabinet of curiosity containing architectural models, naturalia, and scientific instruments. Yet, its reputation as a Pietist enclave inhabited largely by young people has prevented the organization from being taken seriously as a kind of scientific academy—even though, Kelly Joan Whitmer shows, this is precisely what it was.
The Halle Orphanage as Scientific Community calls into question a long-standing tendency to view German Pietists as anti-science and anti-Enlightenment, arguing that these tendencies have drawn attention away from what was actually going on inside the orphanage. Whitmer shows how the orphanage’s identity as a scientific community hinged on its promotion of philosophical eclecticism as a tool for assimilating perspectives and observations and working to perfect one’s abilities to observe methodically. Because of the link between eclecticism and observation, Whitmer reveals, those teaching and training in Halle’s Orphanage contributed to the transformation of scientific observation and its related activities in this period.