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Home Uncategorized The Gentleman Naturalist

The Gentleman Naturalist

David Askew
Darwin: Portrait of a Genius, by Paul Johnson, Viking Books, 164 pp, £17.39, ISBN: 978-0670025718 Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin are often said to be the three figures of modern Western thought who, from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, revolutionised the way reality is perceived. Darwin’s reputation has only increased with the development of Mendelian genetics (indeed, the synthesis of his insights and genetics remains the dominant paradigm in biology). The Origin – On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life or simply (no wonder!) On the Origin of Species or as here the Origin – in particular has not only had a scientific but also a cultural impact. While Darwin’s thought had an immediate impact on biology, social Darwinism also played a role in shaping a new politics. Today he continues to exert an influence in areas such as morality, economics, and even literature. Charles Robert Darwin FRS was born in 1809 and died in 1882. Well-heeled, educated to the cloth, in many respects a member of the Establishment, and stereotypically bourgeois in his private life, Darwin makes for an unlikely revolutionary. Those interested in the life and works are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. The book for which Darwin is best known, the Origin, was published in 1859. By a happy coincidence, 2009 thus marked both 200 years since the birth and 150 years since the publication, and was celebrated with a number of works, the pick of which was perhaps Darwin’s Sacred Cause (Allen Lane, 2009) by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, if only because their earlier biography, Darwin (Michael Joseph, 1991), had attracted so much critical attention. Of the many biographical works, the great pleasure to be derived from Janet Browne’s magnificent two-volume biography, Voyaging and The Power of Place (Jonathan Cape, 1995 and 2002) must be mentioned. Exemplary editions of the letters and works are available: The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith, has been coming out from Cambridge University Press since 1985, while from 1987 to 1989 The Works of Charles Darwin, edited by Paul H Barrett and RB Freeman, were published by Pickering & Chatto in the UK and New York University Press in the USA. Darwin also has a significant online presence, with sites such as the Darwin Correspondence Project (www.darwinproject.ac.uk/) and the Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online (www.darwin-online.org.uk/). Many of these works are very…

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