Adrian Desmond

Adrian Desmond is the author of Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875. He is working on a new book, Politics of Evolution: Social Change and the Structure of Comparative Anatomy in the 1830s.

The Kentish Hog

Adrian Desmond, 15 October 1987

David Kohn opens his monumental Darwinian Heritage with a deftly-delivered kick, observing that a study of the wider institutional culture of Darwin’s day seems to be ‘beyond the present ken of historians of 19th-century biology’. It’s a well-aimed blow. Little of the Darwin industry’s capital has been spent on exploring evolution in its social context. It isn’t that the subject is taboo (as it was a generation ago), just that the pioneering work of the textual analysts scrutinising Darwin’s notebooks has dominated the scene of late – and rightly so, given their immense contribution to our understanding of the route Darwin took to natural selection.’

Darwin among the Gentry

Adrian Desmond, 23 May 1985

In a world where dockers vote Tory and Cambridge graduates become KGB colonels, predicting class behaviour is a chancy business. Let me conjure up a still more incongruous example. Conceive a manor-born gentleman, with a private fortune exceeding £30,000 in the 1840s, respectably Whig and with a family dislike of fierce radicalism. He is Cambridge-educated and until recently a prospective parson. Now consider the times. The pauper presses are screaming for democratic concessions. Owenite unions are threatening the Church Establishment and gentrified privileges, using a levelling Lamarckism to make their point. In 1839 the century’s most serious working-class insurrection breaks out. On any social-interest theory, how could the gentleman, recently returned from a privately-financed circumnavigation, as companion to Castlereagh’s nephew, sit down in 1837-9 and devise a mechanistic theory of organic transmutation?

Did Lady Brewster faint?

Eric Korn, 24 April 1997

In 1883, a Mr Wendell Phillips Garrison of New York published a travel narrative called What Mr Darwin Saw on his Voyage around the World, a narrative that follows pretty closely Darwin’s...

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John Sutherland, 23 March 1995

The problem T.H. Huxley presents for the would-be popular biographer is evident in his entry in the Concise DNB: Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825-1895), man of science; studied at Charing Cross...

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The Whole Orang

Paul Smith, 12 March 1992

How pleasant to be Mr Darwin, who wrote such volumes of stuff without the necessity of gainful employment or institutional backing, or the need to budge very often from the old parsonage at Downe...

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Before Darwin

Harriet Ritvo, 24 May 1990

Like 1066, 1688 and 1492, 1859 is an iconic date, indissolubly connected in the minds of schoolchildren and former schoolchildren to a single, conveniently packaged occurrence: the invention of...

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Middle Positions

John Hedley Brooke, 21 July 1983

The Darwin scholar, John Greene, once summarised the Darwinian revolution as the triumph of a dynamic and non-teleological structuring of nature over static, teological systems: the triumph of...

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