The New Science and the Virtuoso Reader in Thomas Creech’s Lucretius

Modern Philology 120.3 (2023): 356–377

Thomas Creech’s 1682 translation of Lucretius, the first complete English version printed, earned its author praise from the likes of Aphra Behn, John Evelyn, and Nahum Tate. Creech’s work has recently attracted renewed attention from scholars of Lucretius’s reception, who have situated his translation within the context of Restoration intellectual culture. This article argues that Creech’s Lucretius cannot be understood without reference to the new science of the seventeenth century, particularly the experimentalism of Robert Boyle, which forms a more important context to the conception and reception of the translation than has previously been supposed. The first section following the introduction assembles information about Creech’s institutional context in the late 1670s and early 1680s, with a focus on the scientific interests that preoccupied his contemporaries at Wadham College, Oxford, and the Oxford Philosophical Society. The next section examines the Lucretius translation itself and the appended notes, demonstrating Creech’s close engagement with the Boyle-Hobbes controversy on the existence of vacua. The final section concludes that Creech addressed his translation especially to readers among the “virtuosi,” the fellows and fellow travelers of the Royal Society, and perhaps even more specifically to Boyle himself. Creech’s Lucretius is thus shown to offer an illuminating case study of the intersections of literature, classical scholarship, and science in Restoration England.