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John Gould’s father was a gardener. A very, very good one – good enough to be head of the Royal Gardens at Windsor. John apprenticed, too, becoming a gardener in his own right at Ripley Castle, Yorkshire, in 1825. As good as he was at flowers and trees, birds became young John Gould’s true passion early in life. Like John Edmonstone, John Gould (1804–1881) adopted Charles Waterton’s preservation techniques that kept taxidermied bird feathers crisp and vibrant for decades (some still exist in museums today), and he began to employ the technique to make extra cash. He sold preserved birds and their eggs to fancy Eton schoolboys near his father’s work. His collecting side-hustle soon landed him a professional post: curator and preserver of the new Zoological Society of London. They paid him £100 a year, a respectable sum for an uneducated son of a gardener, though not enough to make him Charles Darwin’s social equal (Darwin initially received a £400 annual allowance from his father plus £10,000 as a wedding present).
Darwin claimed that On the Origin of Species, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was only an “abstract” of that much longer book he had begun to write in 1856, after his irreverent meeting with J. D. Hooker, T. H. Huxley, and T. V. Wollaston, and Lyell’s exasperated encouragement in May. But he never completed that larger book. Instead, he worked on plants and pigeons and collected information through surveys from other naturalists and professional specimen hunters like Alfred Russel Wallace for the better part of a decade.
For all their scientific prowess and public renown, there is no comparable Lyell-ism, Faraday-ism, Einstein-ism, Curie-ism, Hawking-ism, or deGrasse-Tyson-ism. So, there must be something even more powerful than scientific ideas alone caught in the net of this ism attached to Darwin. And whatever the term meant, it’s fair to say that Darwinism frightened Bryan.
Historian Everett Mendelsohn was intrigued. In the middle of writing a review of an annual survey of academic publications in the History of Science, he marveled that an article in that volume contained almost 40 pages’ worth of references to works on Darwin published in just the years between 1959 and 1963. Almost 200 works published in a handful of years – no single figure in the history of science commanded such an impressive academic following. Yet Mendelsohn noted that, paradoxically, no one had written a proper biography of Darwin by 1965. Oh sure, there was commentary. Lots of commentary. But so many of the authors were retired biologists who had a tendency toward hagiography or, the opposite, with axes to grind.
Meeting the “White Raja of Sarawak” in Singapore in 1853 had been a stroke of luck. Honestly, it could have been a major turning point in what had been an unlucky career so far for 30-year-old collector Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) (Figure 4.1). But the steep, rocky, sweaty climb up Borneo’s Mt. Serembu (also known as Bung Moan or Bukit Peninjau) in the last week of December 1855 wasn’t exactly what Wallace expected. His eyeglasses fogged in the humidity. Bamboo taller than buildings crowded the narrow path. Near the top, the rainforest finally parted. But it revealed neither a temple nor some sort of massive colonial complex with all the trappings of empire worthy of a “raja.” Instead, there leaned a modest, very un-colonial-ruler-like white cabin. When he saw it, Wallace literally called it “rude.”
Charles Darwin spent nearly the whole of his writing career attempting to convince his colleagues, the general public, and, by extension, you and me, that change occurs gradually. Tiny slivers of difference accumulate over time like grains of sand in a vast hourglass. Change happens, in other words. It’s painfully slow, but it’s inevitable. By implication, two organisms that look different enough to us to be classified as separate species share, many tens of thousands or even millions of generations back, the same ancestors. (Inbreeding means we don’t even need to go back quite that many generations to demonstrate overlap, but you get the point.) But change that gradual means, as Darwin himself well recognized, that looking for “missing links” would be a pretty silly errand. Differences between one generation and the next look to our eyes just like common variation. It’s one grain falling from the top of the hourglass to the bottom. You can’t perceive the change. You would have to go back in time to find the very first individuals who possessed a particular trait – bat-like wings, say, or human-ish hands – and then, turning to their parents, you would see something almost identical.
Transmutation. “Evolutio,” if you wanted to be fancy and Italian about it. Whatever you want to call it, the grand unrolling of one type into another, connecting all living things into a single tree of life was all the rage among the society gentlemen. James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, an influential Scottish judge in the 1700s, had said shocking things about it. Monboddo’s metaphysics separated humans from brutes by only the thinnest slice of cognition. And imagine how he scandalized the chattering classes when, according to rumor anyway, he suggested perhaps tails even lingered, dangling from the spinal cords of the underdeveloped. They called him an “eccentric,” a fusty, argumentative judge and a voracious reader. Perhaps too learned – genius and madness, you know.
The Good News finally snagged him. In late September 1881, he was near the end, bedridden, languishing in a soft purple robe, still able to read, though he always preferred to be read to. Lady Hope entered the drawing room at the top of the stairs quietly, respectfully, as the golden hour gently illuminated corn fields and English oak forests through his picturesque bay window. The faintest crown of white hair encircled his head in the late afternoon light; the rest was wizardly beard (Figure 6.1). Lady Hope, the well-known evangelist, was visiting the Darwins, and she approached the old scientist cautiously. But she needn’t have. In his wrinkled hands he held the Bible, open to the New Testament Epistle of Hebrews. “The Royal Book,” Darwin called it, serenely, mentioning a few favored passages.
The stone is still there in the garden. That’s what gets me. It’s not the house itself – houses decay slowly and can be preserved pretty easily, especially in Britain where even an eighteenth-century country house is not “old.” It’s not even the tree behind the house, alive when Charles Darwin still lived in his Down House, now propped up by guywires against inevitable collapse as a kind of totem of the great naturalist’s existence. If you leave the rear exit, the one that takes you to Darwin’s preserved greenhouse and the stunning flora on a pretty path lined in that particular English way of making the perfectly manicured seem somehow “natural,” you might glance to the left and see behind a small iron fence a one-foot-wide stone. A round mill stone or pottery wheel, it was, or appears to have been.
The legend of Charles Darwin has never been more alive or more potent, but by virtue of this, his legacy has become susceptible to myths and misunderstandings. Understanding Charles Darwin examines key questions such as what did Darwin's work change about the world? In what ways is 'Darwinism' reflective of Darwin's own views? What problems were left unsolved? In our elevation of Darwin to this iconic status, have we neglected to recognise the work of other scientists? The book also examines Darwin's struggle with his religious beliefs, considering his findings, and whether he was truly an atheist. In this engaging account, Peterson paints an intimate portrait of Darwin from his own words in private correspondence and journals. The result is the Darwin you never knew.
This chapter focuses on how the word ‘environment’ became culturally prominent in the 1930s, and suggests that Australian novels from this period show the intrusion of the environment – as a signifier – in their basic imaginary structure. The word ‘environment’, and its attendant ideas, emerged as a refinement of the bush nationalism that preceded it, still funding a national settler identity, but now inflected with the sense of crisis that arose with the collapse of the world economy and the drift into cataclysmic global conflict. The distinctive usage of the environment that emerges in the 1930s was most explicitly expressed in the Jindyworobak valorisation of ‘Environmental Values’ and in the work of poets of that school. However, the importance of the word environment and its cluster of associations is also visible in the novelists from this time, including Xavier Herbert, Vance Palmer, Katharine Susannah Prichard, M. Barnard Eldershaw, Elyne Mitchell, J. K. Ewers, Patrick White, Peter Cowan and Randolph Stow. Drawing on the works of these writers, this chapter sketches a dialectic within mid-century Australia that figured the environment as, by turns, a vitalistic substance and a Darwinian struggle.
Africans were commodities during chattel capitalism, producing that was appropriated by Whites. This was instrumental discrimination: racially differential treatment because it was profitable. Chattel capitalism was ended by government policy, during the US civil war. White control of Black citizenship was the core element of structural racism during servitude capitalism. Instrumental discrimination included convict leasing, debt peonage, sharecropping, and the chain gang: policies that held down black wages and wealth accumulation, reduced public expenditure on services to the African American community, and public infrastructure that transferred wealth from Blacks to Whites. Lynching was used to enforce racial identity norms. Labor market discrimination increased during the Nadir, even as Blacks closed the skills gap with Whites. Black self-help was also expressed in The Great Migration and Urbanization (1914–1965). African American self-help, President Roosevelt’s New Deal, World War II era changes in federal hiring and the utilization of Black troops, and President Johnson’s Great Society gave rise to racialized managerial capitalism. Thereafter, exclusion is expressed as differential socioeconomic opportunities due to racial wealth disparity and identity norms governing access to resources, especially managerial power, along with relatively greater injustice in the criminal legal system and greater exposure to hate crimes.
This review article discusses Leonard’s (2016) study of the ideas of an elite group of Progressive economists who flourished in the United States of America between 1885 and the late 1920s. Advising governments through think tanks and regulatory commissions, they advocated labour market policies that combined a racialized approach to immigration, eugenics, Taylorist labour market efficiency and a living wage. Their interest in women’s employment conditions was based on a Darwinian concern to protect mothers of the ‘white’ race. Parallels are drawn with Australia, where, from the turn of the 20th century, industrial tribunals established a male minimum wage designed to support the maternal role, based on similar racial preoccupations and a view that women’s ‘inefficiency’ as workers would protect men from low-wage competitors. United States Progressives, in rejecting laissez-faire economics, espoused instead a role for the state based on a holistic Darwinian sociology of racial contest: an economics of hate. It was not till the 1930s that Keynesianism emerged as an alternative macroeconomic project.
Tumultuous nineteenth-century political debates, fears of violent revolutions, and the rise of women’s rights campaigns in Britain, the United States, and France provide a context for considering Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and its engagement with feminism. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) identified sexual differences, male–male combat, and female choice in courtship as key elements of animal copulation, while insisting that male choice controls human sexual relations, ideas that inspired radically different reactions from feminists, who objected to what they regarded as Darwin’s sexism, and fiction writers, who highlighted women characters resisting patriarchal expectations and making independent decisions. The long history and profound consequences of the concepts of sexual difference and sexual selection call for careful consideration of the intertwining of Darwin’s scientific theories about sexual difference and choice with divergent cultural formations, ranging from social Darwinism to feminist theory, and propose a more fluid understanding of sex and gender that supersedes the earlier two-sex model.
On November 24, 1859, the English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life . In that book (Darwin 1859), he argued that all organisms, living and dead, were produced by a long, slow, natural process, from a very few original organisms. He called the process “natural selection,” later giving it the alternative name of “the survival of the fittest.” This first chapter is devoted to presenting (without critical comment) the argument of the Origin, very much with an eye to the place and role of natural selection. As a preliminary, it should be noted that the Origin, for all it is one of the landmark works in the history of science, was written in a remarkably “user-friendly” manner. It is not technical, the arguments are straightforward, the illustrative examples are relevant and easy to grasp, the mathematics is at a minimum, meaning non-existent. Do not be deceived. The Origin is also a very carefully structured piece of work (Ruse 1979a). Darwin knew exactly what he was doing when he set pen to paper.
Now we come to the elephant in the room. Darwin’s theory was incomplete. When the theory was completed, would natural selection prove to be that effective? Although he threw in a lot of assorted, presumed-relevant facts, no one, starting with Darwin, had much idea about the nature of variation – how it comes, what form it takes, how regular it is. And, without this knowledge, given that natural selection supposedly works on this variation, it is hard to make definite judgments about its effectiveness; especially since Darwin stressed that, although variation has causes, it is random in the sense of not appearing according to need. When he was not pushing the Lamarckian alternative, he was adamant that it is selection alone that is responsible for adaptation.
Turn now to those who think natural selection is vastly overrated as a cause of evolutionary change. It is at best a clean-up process after the real creative work has been done. It is little surprise that these critics come from within the organismic model, implicitly or explicitly. At the scientific level, we have encountered already the most (and properly) distinguished of them all, the American population geneticist Sewall Wright. Remember his “shifting balance theory,” where the key lay in genetic drift, as gene levels fluctuated randomly in small subpopulations, and then, when new adaptive features appeared, the subpopulations rejoined the larger group (probably the species), and through a form of group selection the new feature spread through the whole group. This is highly Spencerian – infused with a solid dose of Bergsonian vitalism – as equilibrium is disturbed and then regained at a higher level, part of an overall progressive process, presumably ending in humankind.
A little arbitrarily, but not entirely without reason, let us take 1959, the 100th anniversary of the Origin, as the date when the Darwinian paradigm finally came into its own. Natural selection and Mendelian genetics, now rapidly becoming molecular genetics, gave the explanation of the tree of life. If we continue to think in Kuhnian terms, what now of normal science? We should expect to see the subbranches of the consilience come into their own, as practitioners moved forward, theoretically, experimentally, and in nature, raising and solving their problems. And in major respects we do see exactly this.
In 1866, Thomas Hardy, raised a sincere member of the Church of England, wrote his sonnet “Hap.” It expressed the anxiety about – “fear of” is not too strong a term – the world into which natural selection has pitched us. No longer can we rely on a Good God to care for us, to suffer for us, to make possible eternal life. In the non-progressive world of Darwinian evolution, all is meaningless.
Among the many books authored by Peter Bowler, the eminent historian of evolutionary biology, three stand out: The Eclipse of Darwinism (1983); The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpreting a Historical Myth (1988); and Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin (2013). Bluntly, he says: “there is now a substantial body of literature to convince anyone that the part of Darwin’s theory now recognized as important by biologists had comparatively little impact on late nineteenth century thought” (Bowler 1988, ix). I cannot say Bowler is entirely wrong. Indeed, in The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw (1979), I contributed to this “body of literature,” and my book was quite openly a synthesis of the state of Darwinian play in the second half of the nineteenth century. But is this the end of the story, and if it is, why is it the end of the story? Today, as Bowler also recognizes, we accept the finding of natural selection as a major scientific achievement, up there with relativity theory. Let us pick up on this paradox.