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BOOK REVIEWS Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875. By Adrian Desmond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Pp. 287. $22.50. (¿uot homines tot sententiae. (Terence, Phormio, 11,4) Although the jacket sports a drawing of the skeleton of Brontosaurus excelsas, this book (reprinted from the London publication of 1982) deals not so much with fossils per se as with the intellectual ferment, intrigue, and back-stabbing among paleontologists in mid-Victorian London. Darwin's The Origin of Species having been published in 1859, the expectant reader may anticipate an emphasis on Darwin, but, instead, the author deals with those who took up the cudgels for and against evolution and specifically natural selection and mutation. Desmond leads us down his critical path of history, focusing on the lives of two protagonists of the period—the hero-worshipped Thomas H. Huxley and the unpopular romantic Richard Owen—and deftly weaves their life-styles, thoughts, beliefs , influence, and scientific endeavors around their supporters and critics into the complex web of the philosophical, social, and political issues of the time. Yet, the author is unwittingly teasing the reader to look beyond the immediate pattern of his theme and to stare into one's own crystal to perceive, define, and compare the events and controversies of the present; there is a repeated feeling of déjà vu as one pages through the book, for me at least. I opine that a reader from almost any field of biology, even from science in general, would reach the end of the book, close it, and ponder over his own field (if he has not already done so throughout) and say, "So what's new?" The book's fascination lies not just in the exposition of the acrimony and manipulations (of minds and key university chairs and institutional posts) of the principal figures but in the excellent portrayal of the shaping of ideas and concepts by the historic events and Weltanschauung of the time. London was the throbbing heart of the British Empire, sending forth its civil servants, missionaries , warriors, and grabbing colonists and receiving, inter alia, the treasures , including invaluable fossils, retrieved by its far-flung minions. London, "the frenetic Western metropolis [that had] become the nerve centre of an industrial empire," also centripetally attracted the innovative, young, and great scientific minds of Britain. Being effected there was "... a more profound social transformation, with the rise of suffrage, democracy, the middle-classes and organised labour, all of which affected . . . the passage from a George Paleyite world deliberating on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, to one with a professionally-organised bourgeoisie probing the genetic basis of life. . . ." FurPermission to reprint a book review printed in this section may be obtained only from the author. 168 Book Reviews ther extracts from the author's introduction demonstrate the substance of his broad historical approach; his effective, strident, and attractive style; as well as the excitement of the period. ... the Great Exhibition of 1851 . . . symbolised the culmination of the romantic age as much as the ascendancy of the utilitarian, commercial middle-classes. So it is no coincidence that the transcendental anatomy of the great Richard Owen . . . was ceremoniously jettisoned in the fifties by the "young guard," Herbert Spencer, T. H. Huxley, and their circle, whose "proletarian science" prepared the ground for Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). Owen's Platonic and other-worldly Archetype, the ideal invocation of vertebrate life, was ignominiously traded for a common-or-garden ancestor. And the tenacious middle -class popularisers made sure it was seen to be so by the masses. . . . These immense changes in the social foundation of science were reflected in the quick capitulation of key posts within universities and learned societies to the new man. Their working assumption was nature's uniformity and they argued persuasively for unbroken physical causation, and like a number of their Christian colleagues supported Darwin. . . . At that time there was little money and less prestige in "pure" research and no centrally funded scientific body except for the Royal Society and British Association . "With individualism the dominant creed (and vigorously supported by Spencer), scientists found Treasury funding notoriously difficult to obtain. . . . The "professionalisers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 168-170
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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