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The Story of Nature: Victorian Popularizers and Scientific Narrative1 Bernard Lightman At the end ofthe nineteenth century, the Reverend Henry Hutchinson (1856-1927), apopularizer ofgeology, commented on the explosion of popularscienceworks produced byjournalists andwriters rather than by professionalscientists. "Neverbeforewas theresuch aprofusion ofbooks describing thevarious forms oflife inhabiting the different countries of the globe, or the rivers, lakes, and seas that diversify its scenery," he declared in the preface ofhisExtinctMonsters. "Popularwriters have done good service in making the way plain for those who wish to acquaint themselves with the structure, habits, and histories of living animals." But he complained thatin their admiration for theliving, popular science authors had neglected the "innumerable host ofcreatures that once trod this earth" (ix). This is where Hutchinson made his contribution, publishing a series ofpopular works during the nineties on dinosaurs and other forms of ancient life, including T^i? Autobiography ofthe Earth (1890), ExtinctMonsters (1892), Creatures ofOtherDays (1 894), Prehistoric Man andBeast (1896), and Primeval Scenes (1899). Since the "ordinarypubliccannot learn much by merely gazing at skeletons set up in museums," Hutchinson aimed to "clothe their dry bones with flesh andsuggest for them backgrounds such as are indicated by the discoveries ofgeology; in other words, to endeavour, by means of pen and pencil, to bring them back to life" (xi). Hutchinson revived these ancient monsters by reading for his audience the story to be found in the fossil record. "Every bone has its meaning," Hutchinson asserted, "and everyskeleton can be made (in the hands ofcompetent anatomists) volume !'¡number 2 (1999) The Story of Nature to tell its story" (Hutchinson 1894, 23). In his TheAutobiography ofthe Earth, Hutchinson also emphasized that he had a stoiy to tell his readers. He begins his introduction to the bookbydeclaring that "thestorywhich we are about to read has not been written by man, but, ... by the Creator himself," or, as the tide implies, the earth itself (1). And the stories which Hutchinson relates in his books are all tales ofwonder since the antiqueworld he is discussing is "as strange as the fairy-land ofGrimm or Lewis Carroll." Though not inhabited by "jabber-wocks," this world is populated by "real beasts" and "impossible dragons." "Truth is stranger than fiction," Hutchinson remarked, "and perhaps we shall enjoy our visit to this fairy-land all the more for that reason" (Hutchinson 1892, 1). Hutchinson was not the only popularizer of science to rely on narrative techniques to entice a reading public increasingly attracted to fiction in the second halfofthe nineteenth century (Eliot 37). The titles of many popular science books are telling. Robert Ball (1840-1913), Lowndean professorat Cambridge University, titled his popular astronomy work The Story oftheHeavens (1885), while novelist andjournalist Grant Allen (1848-1899) named one ofhis books The Story of'thePlants(1895). Allen's book was part of a series, "The Library ofUseful Stories," published by George Newnes Limited, which included a number of volumes on sciencewith titles like The StoryofEclipses, The Story ofthe SoUr System, and The Story ofthe Stars (all by G. F. Chambers), The Story of Wild Flowers (by G. Henslow), The Story ofa Piece ofCoal (by E. A. Martin), The Story ofFish Life (by WP. Pycraft), and The Story ofthe Wanderings ofAtoms (by M. M. Pattison Muir). All ofthe other books in the series also began with "The Stoiy of," whether they dealtwith germs, chemical elements, bird life, or electricity. Some popularizers ofscience, like Margaret Gatty in her tremendously successful TheParables oíNature (1855), and Arabella Buckley in her Fairyland ofScience (1879), used fictional formats as vehicles for disseminating knowledge ofnature. Popularizers ofscience, then, seemed to acknowledge that they were storytellers and that there was a narrative structure to their work. In this respect, and in many others, the narratives they presented differed substantially from those which framed the theories ofprofessional scientists bent on secularizing nature and shoring up their own authority. V \ct ot\ ??\ Rev ¡ew B. Lightman During the latter halfofthe nineteenth century, a number offundamental questions remained unresolved concerning the dissemination ofknowledge to diverse audiences, the nature ofscience, and the composition ofthe scientific community. Should scientific facts be communicated with the aid of fictional devices or even in the form of stories? Should...


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