J.W. Burrow

J.W. Burrow is a professor of intellectual history at the University of Sussex. His Whigs and Liberals: Continuity and Change in English Political Thought will be published by Oxford this spring.

In the Iguanodon Diner

J.W. Burrow, 6 October 1994

At the famous dinner held in the Crystal Palace in 1853, with 22 gentlemen seated inside a reconstructed iguanodon, the head of both the table and the beast was held – as of right – by Richard Owen, universally acknowledged as Britain’s premier anatomist, ‘the English Cuvier’, and arguably the foremost British ‘man of science’ of his generation. It is true that he was not, even then, entirely without detractors. Gideon Mantell, his rival in the kingdom of the ‘dinosaurs’ (Owen’s coinage), was a constant and acid critic, and competitive reconstructionist, while T.H. Huxley, soon to be Owen’s junior colleague as lecturer at the School of Mines, was about to begin, long before the Darwinian controversy, what looks suspiciously like a systematic campaign of detraction, designed to establish his own reputation on the ruin of Owen’s, which was to reach its celebrated climax a decade later.’

House of Frazer

J.W. Burrow, 31 March 1988

‘Among the Bechuanas it is a rule … The Borero Indians of Brazil think … The Huichol Indians admire … In some parts of Melanesia …’ And in Bangkok at 12 o’clock? It needs an effort of imagination to think of Noel Coward reading The Golden Bough (popular abridged edition, 1922), but he catches perfectly the scatter-effect of Late Victorian and Edwardian anthopology practised according to the comparative method, above all by Frazer, from whose legendary notebooks the examples rattled in promiscuous handfuls onto the page: Melanesians and Eskimos, Breton peasants, Astarte and Cybele, corn dollies and Balder the Beautiful, the absurd beliefs of the Wawamba, the atrocious behaviour of the Mura-muras. With a sense of recognition we find that in Amboyna and Uliase, ‘two islands near the equator, where necessarily there is little or no shadow cast at noon, the people make it a rule not to go out of the house at mid-day, because they fancy that by doing so a man may lose the shadow of his soul.’ That at least we might have guessed, and how did the Master miss it? (Gassy? Chassis? Ecstacy? Or racy?)


J.H. Burns, 2 March 1989

It is doubly appropriate that Professor Burrow’s 1985 Carlyle Lectures were published in 1988, for the year that marked the tercentenary of the revolution whose principles became the...

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Whig History

Sheldon Rothblatt, 21 January 1982

Whig historiography stood four-square to its age; there was no suggestion that it was addressed to the happy few, or that it appealed to the justice of posterity against the spirit of the times....

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