"Vestiges" and the Debate Before Darwin, Volume 1
'Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was the most important pre-Darwinian work of evolutionary thought published in Victorian Britain. It caused huge controversy and was undoubtedly a major factor in preparing the way, both positively and negatively, for On the Origin of Species. To this point, essential documents surrounding the work - the reviews, the commentaries, the expositions, and more - have been incredibly difficult to obtain and truly available only to the most privileged scholar. Now with the publication of the Thoemmes Press collection on Vestiges, essential material will be readily available to all. The editor, John M. Lynch, and the Press are to be congratulated and thanked for making this possible.'
- Michael Ruse
Vestiges and the Debate Before Darwin centres on Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and reprints all the key documents in the controversy that surrounded its publication.
Vestiges was first published in 1844. Chambers, one of the most successful publishers in Britain, managed to keep his authorship a secret throughout the ten editions published in his lifetime. The work reached a huge popular audience and was widely read by the social and intellectual elite. Despite initially favourable reviews, its publication sent shockwaves through the world of British science. Chambers suggested that the whole of nature, including mankind, could be explained by the action of a single universal evolutionary law--a law that suggested that not only did change happen in the past, but that it would continue into the future. Such a statement enflamed both religious conservatives (Sedgwick referred to the 'inner deformity and foulness' of the work and its 'gross and filthy views of physiology') and scientists (T. H. Huxley said that the author was 'one of those who--indulge in science at second-hand and dispense totally with logic', and physicist Sir David Brewster warned that Vestiges 'stood a fair chance of poisoning the fountains of religion'). Understanding the upheaval that Vestiges caused in 'polite' British society is key to understanding Darwin's later argument and the reaction to his work by the same public.
Reprinted here is the rare tenth edition of Vestiges (1853), written in response to this widespread criticism, plus Chambers's 'sequel', Explanations, written largely as a reply to Sedgwick's highly critical review of Vestiges. Periodical reviews and other important book-length refutations are also incorporated, including rare editions of works by Adam Sedgwick, William Whewell and Hugh Miller. With introductory essays by John M. Lynch of Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins, this important set will appeal to both historians of evolutionary thought and philosophers of science alike.
-collection of rare primary sources on the evolution debate before Darwin
-selects the best editions, added to which are extensive introductory essays
-gathers numerous critical reviews tracing the debate over ten years
-intriguing case study of Victorian scientific controversy
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Phrenological Journal and Magazine of Moral Science
W B Carpenter
W H Smith
Edinburgh Review vol 82 July 1845
T H Huxley
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