Audience: Animal and Vegetable Physiology

As I have discussed at length in my previous posts on Animal and Vegetable Physiology: Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, a critical component of the production and content of Peter Mark Roget’s work is its commission by the Earl of Bridgewater. The goal of the Bridgewater Series was both to educate people about and to advance the study of the natural world as created by God. Roget’s fifth Treatise specifically was intended to be accessible to a wide variety of readers so as to better achieve this goal. In my Additions post, I explored how the paratext of Animal and Vegetable Physiology aids readers’ engagement with the text. In this post, I will discuss evidence of the intended audience for this work, much of which also comes from its paratext.

My Additions post referenced Roget’s preface a great deal, as it clearly demonstrates his goal of conveying the relationship between God and the natural world in his book. This piece of paratext is critical for understanding the intended audience for his work, as well, because Roget explicitly states his attempts to make this treatise accessible, understandable, and educational. In the first sentence of the preface, Roget mentions that he “probably never should have ventured to engage in the composition and publication of a work like the present” had it not been assigned to him by the Earl of Bridgewater (Francis Henry Egerton), but he was so honored by the appointment, and he recognized “the importance of the duty which it imposed,” so he took on the project (vii). Roget, like Egerton, felt that it was his duty as a scientist and a member of society to participate in the spreading of knowledge to as many people as possible. He goes on to explain that he attempted to arrange the facts in this book in such a way that would “conduce to their more ready acquisition and retention in the memory, but tend also to enlarge our views of their mutual connexions, and of their subordination to the general plan of creation” (Roget, Preface, viii). Primarily, Roget wished that his book would not be read simply for pleasure, but that his readers would retain the information presented in it and ultimately become more knowledgeable. Additionally, his choice of wording when saying “our views” (emphasis added) demonstrates that Roget recognized Animal and Vegetable Physiology as a single work which is part of a larger conversation about both nature and theology. His intended audience was readers of all kinds, so long as they are interested in becoming educated about God’s creations and the natural world.

Roget continues to discuss readership throughout the preface, and he describes the ways that he attempted to make the “intellectual gratification” and “rich fountain of religious instruction” of his work accessible to a larger audience (ix). He explicitly states that “to render these benefits generally accessible, I have confined myself to such subjects as are adapted to every class of readers” (ix, emphasis added). Furthermore, he explains that he “wholly abstained” from wandering into the subjects of the other treatises in the Bridgewater Series (ix). This distinction indicates once again that Roget recognized his work as one part of a greater whole, and also implies that the treatises of the Bridgewater series were intended to be considered collectively.

Given the nature of the extended, highly organized paratext of Animal and Vegetable Physiology (as described in my Additions post), it is clear that this text itself is not necessarily intended to be read through as a novel, but rather to be perused for its various topics at the reader’s leisure. Even so, the paratext indicates that Roget tried to make the text as comprehensible and inclusive to a diverse audience as possible. He uses footnotes and the index to guide readers who may be less informed about science or physiology through their reading of his work. However, Roget also uses these supplemental textual elements to provide direction for readers who may be interested in exploring the subjects in even more depth.

Overall, it is clear that Peter Mark Roget, as well as the Earl of Bridgewater in his commission of the entire series, intended for Animal and Vegetable Physiology to serve as a resource for readers of all varieties, and to educate the public about the incredible workings of God in his creation of the entire natural world.


Assorted spreads from the text, including one with a very lengthy footnote