In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
The Victorian Scientist: The Growth of a Profession, by Jack Meadows; pp. vi + 202. London: The British Library, 2004, £16.95, $35.00.
John Phillips and the Business of Victorian Science, by Jack Morrell; pp. xx + 437. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2005, £57.50, $109.95.

Here are two books about scientific careers in Victorian Britain, one focusing on a single individual, the other offering a collective portrait. The subtitles indicate a focus on professional aspects of science—in particular, career-making, which is, for Jack Morrell, "the business of Victorian science." Jack Meadows portrays an ideal or idealized type of the scientific career, and the inevitably diverse backgrounds of this or almost any professional group surface mainly in the anecdotes rather than as a basic element of the story. [End Page 576] Interestingly, the geologist John Phillips of Morrell's book is not once mentioned by Meadows; Phillips's lack of much schooling would make him unusual but not quite unique within the population of Victorian scientists described by Meadows.

As Meadows points out, the word "scientist" was coined only in the 1830s, and it was not commonly used in Britain as the name of an occupational category before the 1890s. The end of the century is also when the career in science was assuming its contemporary form, with university degrees as the gateway to a profession, and a university post as the exemplary and often preferred location for scientists. During the Victorian period, universities were not so privileged. Although Phillips spent the last decades of his life, from 1853 to 1874, at Oxford, he earlier turned down a professorship at University College, London, where, since there was no real salary, he would have had to survive on student fees. Even at Cambridge, where George Airy become professor of astronomy, the University offered little in the way of material support, beyond the observatory. Meadows passes on the local joke that this professorship gave "to Airy nothing, a local habitation, and a name" (117). For Phillips, the Geological Survey provided a better financial situation and more opportunity to pursue his scientific work. A series of public lectures might pay better than university teaching, and many Victorian "men of science" earned their keep wholly or partly in this way. The Royal Institution—where Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, and many others lectured to mostly fashionable audiences, sometimes including Prince Albert—was the preeminent site of the public scientific lecture, but successful lectures were also sponsored by mechanics institutes, provincial literary and philosophical societies, Sunday lecture groups, and university extension programs. Public outreach and career-making in Victorian science were allied endeavors.

Meadows's chapter on lecturing and writing illustrates this point nicely, and his book shows quite generally what heterogeneous events and activities still belonged to science in the nineteenth century. The Victorian Scientist is not so much an academic study as a guidebook and photo album, a collection of engaging anecdotes joined into chapters. His endnotes point intermittently to modern scholarship, but chiefly to the classic Victorian biographical form, the "Life and Letters," which, in a way, is also the genre of his book. Yet the movement of historical time is defined not mainly by a cycle of life, but by the working out of the forces of professionalization. These he defines rather loosely: a professional scientist in the Victorian era, he explains, "would be a man who devoted much of his time to science and scientific research" (169). Some scientists, including Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, lived from inherited money, and gentlemanly status gave a decided advantage to aspiring men of science until at least mid-century. Others, including Faraday, William Whewell, and T. H. Huxley, worked their way up from humble backgrounds. Whewell, who made his way to Cambridge as an undergraduate and never left, became the consummate insider, while Alfred Russel Wallace remained to his last breath an odd bird, on account of his endorsement of Henry George's socialism and of psychical phenomena.

The occupational category "scientist" is not really consistent with this heterogeneity. Although Whewell introduced the term in part so that scientific women, or at least Mary...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 576-578
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.