Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Carnivalesque 96: the Pre-modern Blog Carnival for July, 2013

The July 2013 Pre-modern Blog Carnival



 Welcome to CESQUE 96,  the July 2013 edition of Carnivalesque, the Pre-modern blog carnival.  It is a great pleasure to host the carnival this month, and an equally great pleasure to get the chance to read so many interesting and notable writings. Of course, I hope you enjoy these selections and look for the next edition of the Carnival to be hosted by The Sloane Letters Blog, September 2013.

 On Digital Archives and Manuscripts

Jacqueline Werimont and Daniel Powell have been writing about the four-day NEH forum Early Modern Digital Agenda:

Daniel Powell has posted four Dispatches so far on his experiences and thoughts about the meeting:
Dispatches from Capitol Hill: #1
Dispatches from Capitol Hill: #2, or EEBO and the Infinite Weirdness
Dispatches from Capitol Hill: #3, or XML and TEI are Scary
Dispatches from Capitol Hill: #4, or What is transcription, really?

Jacqueline Wernimont is prompted to consider, from her position as a historian, "the history of Early English Books Online and I have been struck by the centrality of remediation to the history of the resource and the long lines of corporate control" - Alternate EEBOs?

In this vein, Sarah Werner's keynote address at the Digital Preservation 2013 conference, “Disembodying the past to preserve it” raises a number of important questions regarding our experience of digitized archival materials. The text and some slides are posted at Wynken de Worde. There is also a video of the talk and a pdf of the slides.


And Jenneka Janzen considers what in another context Otto Neugebauer referred to as the bias against the study of "wretched knowledges" and the people who produced them: The Boring, Ugly, and Unimportant –Biases in Manuscript Research.
....I’ve spent some time thinking about the role aesthetics play in which manuscripts are studied, and which ones are deemed too boring, unimportant, or ugly to attract interest. Certainly, it depends on your field of study. But where do some of these research biases come from?" - Jenneka Janzen

 Early Modern Science and Philosophy
Taking off from E.P. Thompson's work but looking forward in contemplating its implications for the next decades, The Many-headed Monster hosted The future of ‘history from below’: an online symposium

The Renaissance Mathematicus brings our attention and reminds us to consider what does not get preserved:
....Mathematician, cartographer, navigator, anthropologist, linguist, astronomer, optical physicist, natural philosopher Thomas Harriot was a polymath of astounding breadth and in almost all that he attempted of significant depth. However, for reasons that are still not clear today he chose to publish next to nothing of a life’s work devoted to science.
In Defining early modern experimental philosophy Alberto Vanzo writes: "I tend to think of early modern experimental philosophy as a movement. We can identify the members of this movement based on at least three features which do not involve the commitment to specific philosophical claims... Self-descriptions... Friends and foes... Rhetoric...."

Gender, Slavery, and Law

At @GeorgianGent Mike Rendell begins a series on Sugar and Slavery, starting with the boycott of 1791: 'Slave sugar'and the boycott of 1791 
....In the 18th Century sugar meant one thing: slavery, or at least it did until 1791 when a campaign was launched to boycott sugar from the West Indies. Parliament was dragging its feet over abolition, having failed to pass a Bill in that year outlawing the slave trade. The response: hundreds and thousands of households up and down the country ‘did their bit’ by giving up sugar altogether, or opting for more expensive sugar from the East Indies, produced by free labour.
Did women produce seed? Were men necessary for reproduction? A fascinating post at Early Modern Medicine: Baby in the Bathwater
....The suggestion that women could conceive without engaging in sexual activity may seem bizarre to a modern audience, but it came out of the medical uncertainty about whether or not sex was necessary for conception. One treatise on chemical medicine for example noted that ‘we see many Plants grow without precedent seeds, and many Animals produced without copulation of Male with Female’.3 In particular it was noted that fish could generate without recourse to copulation, which suggested that sex was not always necessary.

The English Legal History blog features a post by Riona Doolan on the arson as a crime in medieval Ireland and mentions having produced translations of the oldest commentaries on arson, which date to the 14th Century: Arson in Medieval Ireland
....Arson was treated as a serious crime in the medieval period. Buildings were mostly made of wood, and fires could spread easily. It was a crime that had the potential to impact not just the victim but also the entire community, with disastrous consequences if the fire got out of control. I have recently completed a translation of the oldest of the five commentaries on arson dating to the fourteenth century

Hygiene, Food, Disease, Coffin Births
and the 
New Morbid Terminology
The Recipes Project gives us a good starting point for a reading through a number of posts this month that intersect quite nicely.  In Dipping Your Toes in the Water: Reconsidering Renaissance England’s Attitudes Toward Bathing, Colleen Kennedy reflects on modern prejudices about bathing, cleaning and hygiene in the history.
Tara Hamling at Material Histories provides a second update to her on decoration in Early Modern Britain: Decorating the Godly Household:Postscript (2) - Another David and Goliath
....This post concerns another lost depiction of David and Goliath, which once formed part of a painted scheme in a house on the High Street of Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire. The building was demolished in 1938 and it appears that no official attempt was made to record or salvage its remarkable scheme of early seventeenth-century domestic decoration.
Another post from The Recipes Project that falls nicely with their first:  Learning to cook in Early Modern England  http://recipes.hypotheses.org/1546 
From cleanliness and food to illness, Alun Withey gives us Polite Sickness: Illness narratives in 18th-century letters
Depending on the writer though, some sickness narratives take an almost humorous view of their symptoms, treating the reader to a light-hearted walk through what were almost certainly unpleasant episodes. To me these are the most engaging. One set of letters I came across in my research for my PhD fits into this category. They are letters from a Breconshire attorney, Roger Jones of Talgarth. I haven’t researched much about the man himself (maybe I will one day) but he was clearly a ‘man about town’ – in eighteenth-century parlance, a Beau Monde. One particular run of letters were fired off in rapid succession following an abortive trip to Hay on Wye. In February 1769 he wrote to his brother, clearly in some distress.
Katy Meyers at the blog Bones Don't Lie gives us the rather chilling account of "Coffin Birth" in both the present day and the 1600s in New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth
...coffin birth is what it sounds like- the occurrence of a fetus being birthed by the mother after her death.When I started researching the term more closely I discovered that this wasn’t actually that uncommon in the past, and its only recently that this doesn’t occur.

  Heresy, Eroticism, Dreams, and the Demonic

Jennifer Evans, of the always engaging and interesting Early Modern Medicine blog provides us with Crime, Sex and the Spanish Fly

....Spanish Fly, or Cantharides, are, as the name suggests, small emerald-green flies (above is a 13th century illustration of one). Crushed or powdered these flies were used throughout the early modern period as a medicinal substance.... - Jennifer Evans
A Foucault inspired account of Erotic Dreams and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present by Charles Stewart from The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 
Andrew Zurcher on Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, heresy, sodomy and a squeamish modern editor: Material Witness
....These days, those suspected of planning hate crimes are likely to lose their USB memory sticks or their laptops; in 1593, the authorities went straight for Kyd's looseleaf papers, the material witnesses of his ideas, his prejudices, his intentions. These were quickly shown to contain heretical writings apparently questioning Christ's godhead, and Kyd was immediately arrested and probably tortured.

Mike Rendell, @GeorgianGent, on how an 18th century exorcism in Bristol spurred the debate on truth of demoniacal possession: 13th June 1778: the exorcism of George Lukins, “the Yatton demoniac”
....a George Lukins from the nearby village of Yatton..... claimed to be possessed by the Devil (well, not just one devil but seven devils, and he insisted that it would therefore take seven clergymen to exorcise him).

And it is always good to end on a note of Satanic Seduction.  Sort of brings the section full circle and connects it to the earlier one on gender, science, and Pre-modern medicine.  Again from the Early Modern blog's Jennifer Evans comes this tale of fertility and domination:
....the idea of witches copulating with the devil, or demons, was widely discussed in early modern Europe, and caused consternation and anxiety for writers at the time. This blog post will consider this phenomenon and show that medical understanding of sex and reproduction were central to these discussions. In particular demonology writers were concerned about whether sex with the devil could ever result in pregnancy and progeny.

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Next Carnival to be hosted by The Sloane Letters Blog, September 2013.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Note: Louis Agassiz "Against the Transmutation Theory" from Methods of Study in Natural History (1886)

Louis Agassiz
"Against the Transmutation Theory"
from Methods of Study in Natural History. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886. [Updated]

"...the resources of the Deity cannot be so meager, that, in order to create a 
 human being endowed with reason, he must change a monkey into a man..." Preface, iv.

A brief excerpt from Agassiz's Methods of Study in Natural History, which begins with his restatement of his opposition to Darwin's work, materialism in general, and to the Darwinian theories that had already, he writes, become generally accepted.  One of the last of the great 19th century naturalists to defend creationism and polygenism, which he did to the bitter end.

"The series of papers collected in this volume may be considered as a complement ... to my 'Essay on classification'....I have also wished to avail myself of this opportunity to enter my earnest protest against the transmutation theory, revived of late with so much ability, and so generally received. It is my belief that naturalists are chasing a phantom, in their search after some material gradation among created beings, by which the whole Animal Kingdom may have been derived by successive development from a single germ, or from a few germs.  It would seem, from the frequency with which this notion is revived, — ever returning upon us with hydra- headed tenacity of life, and presenting itself under a new form as soon as the preceding one has been exploded and set aside, — that it has a certain fascination for the human mind. This arises, perhaps, from the desire to explain the secret of our own existence; to have some simple and easy solution of the fact that we live....These chapters were first embodied in a course of lectures delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston."(Preface, p. iii-vi.)
Agassiz begins the work with this note expressing his understanding of the progress of Natural History... at the very moment when Natural History and not coincidentally political economy were being swept away by new fields of knowledge: biology, ecology, sociology, economics, political science, etc.
 It is my intention, in this series of papers, to give the history of the progress in Natural History from the beginning, — to show how men first approached Nature, — how the facts of Natural History have been accumulated, and how these facts have been converted into science. In so doing, I shall present the methods followed in Natural History on a wider scale and with broader generalizations than if I limited myself to the study as it exists to-day. (p.1.)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Found Object: 1946 Letter from E.S. Rohde to Mrs. C. Beamiss inside of Rodhe's The Story of the Garden.

A couple of years ago I purchased a copy of Rohde's The Story of the Garden.  Inside was a letter from Rohde to "Mrs. Calmon Beamiss" of "Redhills, Exeter, Devon."  Below is the letter as well as the preface from Rohde's Story of the Garden.
Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
Cranham Lodge,
Croydon Road,
Reigate, Surrey

Tel. Reigate 2355


Dear Madam,
     Your letter was forwarded to me from Messrs. Heath & Heather, and please forgive the delay in replying, but as we are in the middle of transferring the plant business, you can imagine how extra busy we are.
Chamaemelum Double

Papaver somniferum
     Mr. Claisen, of Messrs. Heath & xxxxx Heather, tells me that as you are particularly anxious to have a Chamomile plant and want only one, he would be glad if I would send it, and I do so with pleasure.  It is impossible at present to send large quantities.  This is the Double Chamomile, and if you will cut it down in May when it starts to grow tall, it will spread rapidly.  In regard to the Poppy seed used for flavouring bread, etc., this was the seed of Papayer somniferum, the white-flowered form.  I had it at one time, but gave it up as there was very little demand for it.
With every good wish

Mrs. Calmon Beamiss,
32, Isleworth Road,
Redhills, Exeter, Devon.


Eleanour Sinclair Rodhe.  1932 (reprinted 1933).  The Story of the Garden, with a Chapter on American Gardens by Mrs. Francis King.  Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint, Publishers.
Preface to The Story of the Garden

"The frontpiece of this book is from the original picture in Colonel Messel's collection and reproduced with his kind permission.  I am delighted to be able to include a chapter on American gardens by Mrs. Francis King, whose books are a great source of pleasure to English as to American garden-lovers.  Parts of this book have appeared in article form in The Field and The Bookman and are reproduced by kind permissions of the editors.  I am indebted for the illustration of one of the patron saints of gardening -- Saint Fiacre -- from a miniature in a manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale, to Mrs. Roy Hunt of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who most kindly sent me a reproduction of it."
The vignette on the title-page -- 'Love lays out a Garden on the Earth' -- is from an eighteenth-century gardening book -- not merely a charming 'conceit' of that period, but a beautiful ideal which I think appeals to us all.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
Cranham Lodge,
Reigate, Surrey.
November, 1932.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Darwin, Slavery, the HMS Black Joke, and Seaman Morgan.

I decided to repeat this story each year in honor of Charles Darwin.
HMS Beagle

During the same stay in Brazil that brought Darwin face to face with the horrors of slavery, he was for a time left behind in Rio while Captain Fitz-Roy and the HMS Beagle retraced the previous months voyage down the Brazilian coast. Capt. Fitz-Roy wanted to confirm that Bahia was to the east of Rio and remap that portion of the Brazilian coast. Upon the return of the HMS Beagle, Darwin was so overjoyed that he later wrote an unusually long entry in his Diary. The night before, he met one of his shipmates, King, who had come ahead. Darwin learned from King
"...the calamitous news of the death of three of our ship-mates. — They were the three of the Macac├╣ party who were ill with fever when the Beagle sailed from Rio. — 1st Morgan, an extra-ordinary powerful man & excellent seaman; he was a very brave man & had performed some curious feats, he put a whole party of Portugeese to flight, who had molested the party; he pitched an armed sentinel into the sea at St Jago; & formerly he was one of the boarders in that most gallant action against the Slaver the Black Joke. — 2nd Boy Jones one of the most promising boys in the ship & had been promised but the day before his illness, promotion. — These were the only two of the sailors who were with the Cutter, & picked for their excellence. — And lastly, poor little Musters; who three days before his illness heard of his Mothers death. Morgan was taken ill 4 days after arriving on board & died near the Abrolhos, where he was lowered into the sea after divisions on Sunday — for several days he was violently delirious & talked about the party. — Boy Jones died two days after arriving at Bahia, & Musters two days after that.— They were both for a long time insensible or nearly so.— They were both buried in the English burial ground at Bahia; where in the lonely spot are also two other midshipmen" (1).
Darwin was obviously taken with this Morgan, especially given the contrast with Captain Fitz-Roy's support for slavery as a "civilizing" institution. The story of the HMS Black Joke is a little different, though. The British navy's frigates could not match the speed of the average slaver, and "the smaller ships were mostly Sepping brigs (2), which everyone agreed sailed like haystacks, compared with the clean lines of the slaving schooners." So said Christopher Lloyd in his The Navy and the Slave Trade (1949). When it happened that the slaver Henriquetta was captured, it was bought by the Royal Navy in 1828 and renamed the HMS Black Joke. Until it was scrapped in 1832, with a crew of 34 and just one 18-pound gun, the HMS Black Joke, whose name can not help but make possible all sorts of puns, captured nine slavers, including the 18 gun El Almirante after a 31 hour chase and battle. In their 16 months of active duty against the slave trade, the crew of the HMS Black Joke freed 466 enslaved Africans from those nine ships.

Later, Darwin relates the discovery of a Mate on another ship, the Unicorn:
May 28th & 29th Captain FitzRoy hired a small Schooner to go to the Rio Negro to bring Mr Wickham in order that he might take command of our Schooner. She arrived yesterday, & to day Mr King, who came with Mr Wickham paid me a visit. — They are heartily tired of their little vessels & are again as glad to see the Beagle as every one in her is to see them. —

30th, July 1st & 2nd Have been employed in arranging & writing notes about all my treasures from Maldonado. — The Captain informs me that he hopes next summer to double the Horn. — My heart exults whenever I think of all the glorious prospects of the future.

3rd–7th All hands of the Beagle continue to be employed in working at the Schooner (for the future the Unicorn). My occupations likewise are the same & I do not stir out of the Ship.

8th It was discovered to day that one of the Mates, belonging to the Unicorn, had formerly been in the President, a vessel supposed to be piratical & which brought the English man of war, the Black Joke, to action. It has, since the Trial, been suspected that this same ship took & murdered every soul on board the Packet Redpole. — Captain Fitz-Roy has determined to take the man a prisoner, to the Consul at M. Video. I have just been astonished to hear the order, "to reeve the running rigging, & bend sails". And we now a little before 12 at night have weighed anchor & are under sail (3).
According to Nora Barlow's note: “The 'Black Joke' was sent out by the Admiralty in 1829 to intercept slavers in West Africa” (4). There are a couple of explanations for why Darwin would get elements of the story reversed or wrong. It is clear that he enjoyed some familiarity with the crew of the Beagle. He mentions in his accounts arguing with Fitz-Roy over slavery and as a result being banished by him from the cabin, only to be invited to eat with the crew. Perfect opportunities to hear tales told by an experienced crew like the Beagle's, who knew him well enough to nickname him “Philosopher.” Darwin does seem to have the story correct by the time of the incident with the Mate of the Unicorn, though. A painting of the Black Joke attacking the slaver El Almirante comes from the Royal Naval Museum.

It is little wonder that someone who hated slavery as much as Darwin would mention the passing of Morgan. It says something about History that all we have of Morgan is this brief mention. Perhaps, too, it was people such as Morgan who prompted Darwin to write that contrary to the claims of some Darwinists and followers of Spencer:
“I felt that I was walking on a path unknown to me and full of pitfalls; but I had the advantage of previous discussions by able men. I tried to say most emphatically that a great philosopher, law-giver, etc., did far more for the progress of mankind by his writings or his example than by leaving a numerous offspring. I have endeavored to show how the struggle for existence between tribe and tribe depends on an advance in the moral and intellectual qualities of the members, and not merely on their capacity of obtaining food”(5).
In the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin brought into the open all of the events he witnessed in the slave countries, but also reveals how he still continued to suffered from the horrors of what he had seen there. His son's statement that even decades later his father endured nightmares of Brazil has a more than adequate foundation in Darwin's own writings. Here is a writer who noted every detail, who centered his work upon his own observations and those of others, who even notes the sound of the sands near Rio Madre when trodden upon by his horse, but who at times leaves out details of his own experiences because the memory so easily enrages and horrifies him. The contrast between the Brazil of infinite tangled banks and the horrific land of slavery found its way into Darwin's work. Even if he could never leave behind the Brazil of his nightmares, he was glad to sail away, never to return.
On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating forever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; -- nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.
In this final passage, Darwin refers not very approvingly to Malthus and Spencer while reaffirming his own repudiation of slavery. The final sentence is often quoted, but it is rarely rendered in its full context. The possible reasons for this omission are numerous, and like similar omissions, it is not often noticed. History is made of omissions and the fragments of everyday human life.
“It is argued that self-interest will prevent excessive cruelty; as if self-interest protected our domestic animals, which are far less likely than degraded slaves, to stir up the rage of their savage masters. It is an argument long since protested against with noble feeling, and strikingly exemplified, by the ever-illustrious Humboldt. It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children -- those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own -- being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: but it is a consolation to reflect, that we at least have made a greater sacrifice, than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin”(6).
Darwin writes of witnessing just such events as the selling off of family members while in Brazil. It was Darwin's own blow that the slave mentioned in the previous passage was afraid to defend himself against, but Darwin said he had not raised his hand to hit the person, but in frustration because of their arguing about passage across the river. The encounter profoundly effected Darwin. He was shocked to find himself in the position of being seen as a slaver in the eyes of an actual slave. Slavery, he notes, can quickly make anyone, no matter how civilized or progressive, into the most brutal and inhuman master. Moreover, no matter one's personal view of slavery, the institution itself taints everyone in such a society, slaver and abolitionist alike.

During the voyage, Darwin also gave up hunting, which had been a favorite past time before the expedition.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. He and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. November will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin's Origin of Species sold only 50,000 copies during his life. In comparison, George Combe’s Constitution of Man (1827), a phrenological guide to life and conduct, sold 350,000 copies and remained in print from 1828 until 1899.

1 Darwin, Diary, June 4, 1832.
2 “Sir Robert's important improvement in giving to line-of-battle ships a circular bow, we have already slightly touched upon his ingenuity has since produced a more surprising, and an equally important, change at the opposite extremity of the ship, a circular instead of a square stern. ... It having occurred to the philosophic mind of this ingenious architect, that, by not removing the solid bow in the wake of the second deck, in order to substitute the usual flimsy fabric, called the beak-head, the ship would acquire additional strength. in that part of her frame, as well as afford some protection to her crew when going end-on upon an enemy, the circular bow of the Namur was allowed to remain. The advantages of this important alteration struck every one who saw the ship when finished ; and subsequently, as we shall hereafter have occasion more fully to relate, every ship in the British navy was ordered to be constructed with a solid circular bow instead of a beak-head.” James, William. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. Apparently, though, this improvement made the ships slower than the slave schooners, who had to deliver their “cargos” before too many of them died. The best that one could hope for in terms of the self-interest of the slavers moderating their treatment of their captives was to be delivered into the hands of the master quickly before dying at sea. It was no doubt unclear to many below decks which alternative was preferable.

3 Keynes, R. D. ed. 2001. Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4 Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. Edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. 1933. New York: MacMillan Company.
5 Letter 241. To John Morley. Down, March 24th, 1871.
6 Darwin, Charles R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. London: Henry Colburn.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Asa Gray writes to Darwin on the death of Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery.

From Gray's Elements of Botany
Asa Gray writes to Charles Darwin on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, relations between England and the United States, and the end of slavery
....You have always been sympathising and just, and I appreciate your hearty congratulations on the success of our just endeavors. You have since had much more to rejoice over, as well as to sorrow with us. But the noble manner in which our country has borne itself should give you real satisfaction. We appreciate too the good feeling of England in its hearty grief at the murder of Lincoln.

Don’t talk about our “hating” you,—nor suppose that we want to rob you of Canada—for which nobody cares.

We think we have been ill-used by you, when you thought us weak and broken.— & when we expected better things. We have learned that we must be strong to live in peace & comfort with England,—otherwise we should have to eat much dirt. But now that we are on our feet again, all will go well, and hatred will disappear. Indeed, I see little of that. We do not even hate the Rebels, and may not even execute so much of justice as to convict of treason & hang their President, whom we have just caught,—but I hope we shall,—hang the leader & spare the subordinates. We are now feeding the south, who starved our men taken prisoners.

Slavery is thoroughly dead. We have a deal to do, but shall do it, I trust, and deserve your continued approbation. We have a load to carry—heavy, no doubt, but a young & re-invigorated country, with a future before it can do and bear, & prosper under what might stagger a full-grown, mature country of the Old world.
From: Gray, Asa
To: Darwin, Charles.  Sent from: Cambridge, Mass. 
May 15-17, 1865.
CULDAR 165: 147

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Darwin, Slavery, and Science (2009)

Darwin, Slavery, and Science (draft)
for The Civil War and Reconstruction Era: 1850s-1877 in the series Conflicts in American History, edited by Brian L. Johnson and Edward J. Blum. Manly, 2009.

In an era of revolutions, tucked away on the Down House estate, Darwin was the most reclusive of revolutionary figures. His theories were based upon direct observation, rather than philosophical speculation. Yet his views on the origin and variation of species transformed our understanding of natural and human history. While Darwin's work is often seen in terms of its conflict with Christian doctrines on creation and design, this was not the controversy that Darwin sought to engage. The Biblical chronology had been under siege for quite some time. The great naturalists that preceded him--- Linneaus, Cuvier, Blumenbach, and Lamarck--- all placed humans in the natural order, and the wide variety of new species of plants and animals, and new varieties of humans, confronting Europeans on their voyages of discovery and conquest, scientific research came to center on what was referred to as the species question. What could explain the rich variety of species found in the world? Why is there such variety to a divinely created and designed world? If the variety of nature was too great to allow one to answer these questions, then humans could serve as a model. If we could understand why humans vary, then we would have the key to the species question. A decade before the publication of the Origin of Species, the American craniologist Samuel G. Morton stated flatly that “the question of the origin of species is of the human species.” In the years between 1830 and 1859, a new scientific theory of human origins known as polygenesis ---which held that humans were divided into races,each with a separate origin and with fixed characteristics--- had come to dominate the understanding of human origins. Advocated most vigorously by a group of naturalists and doctors that came to be known as the American School, the polygenic theory of human origins was used by many as scientific justification for slavery and used against the abolitionists who often turned to the Biblical account of humans as having one single origin, or monogenesis, to support their cause. Although Darwin's work is often associated with the challenge it posed to Christian doctrine, this was not the opponent Darwin had in mind when he wrote the Origin of Species. His scientific intervention was against the polygenic theory and its implicit justification of slavery. To do this, Darwin proposed scientific, and not religious, monogenic theory of the origin and variation of species. Although humans are not mentioned at all in the work, its argument led to an unavoidable conclusion that humans are one species. The scientific foundation for slavery was ripped away, much to Darwin's satisfaction.

The American School, associated with such naturalists and doctors such as Morton, Josiah Nott,George Gliddon, and Louis Agassiz were perhaps the first American scientist to be fully recognized by their European peers. By 1850, the American School's polygenic theory had succeeded in challenging the Biblical chronology of the history of the earth and its inhabitants. Freed from doctrine, the American School hailed a new era of “free scientific inquiry” into human origins was upon us. The proponents of the American School elaborated the polygenic theory with such rigor that it was taken as the accepted scientific truth in the two decades before the publication of the Origin.  

The debate between the monogenists and polygenists was between two powerful explanations human variety. It would be simplistic to think that the polygenic/monogenic debate was between pro and anti-slavery advocates who wanted to wrap themselves in the veneer of scientific respectability. This debate went to the very core of the ethics of scientific inquiry. Supporters of slavery could be found on each side, as could abolitionists. The monogenist and co-author with James Audubon, the Rev. John Bachman of Charleston supported slavery, while those opposed to slavery included George Squire, polygenists and founder of the New York Anthropological Society.  

It is often uncritically accepted that the ideas and concepts Darwin brought together so masterfully in the Origin of Species had been “in the air” as part of the “spirit of the age.” But was everything already neatly in place and pointing to the same inevitable conclusion? Was Darwin's work the mere assembling and making intelligible insights already available? What is certain is that Natural History had reached a crisis amidst the disputes over fixity, variation, and classification. If a puzzle was before Darwin, it had been laid before him by the polygenists.

Darwin purposely avoided the use of the term evolve or evolution until the very last sentence in order to avoid any confusion of his work with the already well know use of the term. Evolution at the time of Origin of Species was most often used in the sense of an inevitable and determined unfolding over time of characteristics already present from the beginning. The homunculus, or the little man  in the head of each sperm, best represented this type of evolutionary view: “all future generations had been created in the ovaries of Eve or testes of Adam, enclosed like Russian dolls, one within the next---a homunculus in each of Eve’s ova, a tinier homunculus in each ovum of the homunculus, and so on.” Darwin redefined evolution to mean indeterminate change over time, i.e., change directed only by the needs of the individual to survive its struggle for existence and its ability of the species to adapt and vary in the course of the struggle for life. Instead of a movement towards an end or a higher stage, the history of nature became the struggle of life to perpetuate itself, in part through “natural selection” ---defined by Darwin as “the preservation of slight changes.”

Darwin put to rest the scientific discourse on the species question, which dominated the study on human origins. Darwin's work was grounded not only in the elements that he carried forward --- the importance of the fossil record, embryology, and rudimentary organs --- but also in the debates and discourses which he would either transform or destroy. The Origin of Species asks the central question of Darwin's time: What explains the origins and variety of species? That variation exists is obvious to any observer, Darwin notes at the beginning of his work. In 1842, a reviewer of recent polygenic works was led to begin by asking “[i]n surveying the globe in reference to the different appearances of mankind, the most extraordinary diversities are apparent to the most superficial observer.... Hence arises the question ---  Have all these diverse races descended from a single stock?” Human variety held the key to the species question precisely because the question always referred to human variety,and because Linneaus, Cuvier, and Lamarck had the wisdom to place humans in the animal kingdom.  Variation in one could explain variation in all because the process was at work on all. The struggle for life points to a commonality that is fundamentally genealogical. Darwin's theory, though, was neither eugenic nor teleological; and for him genealogy rather than Spirit connected all life.  

The Origin is structured as an argument for the theory. It begins with an exposition on variation as it exists under domestication, and without the intervention of humans. Instead of fixity, Darwin's takes variation to be the norm: individuals, even those classified as belonging to the same species vary across time and space. Variation is the central theme and the essential product of the struggle for life,and variation is generated by the struggle. Natural selection, amongst other forces is the basis of this law of variability. At the heart of nature rests variation. Life, embroiled in the struggle for existence, maintains itself through variation.

The remaining portion of the Origin is given over to anticipating objections to the theory.  Instinct, especially discussed in terms of slave-making ants and mutualistic aphid/ant relationships, hybridity approached as the permanent production of variety, and not as a violation of fixity. Other  problems of the geological record (fossils and catastrophe and extinction); the succession of organic beings (preformism, teleology) and geographic distribution (design and special creation) are addressed as possible areas from which objections will be heard. In spite of these difficulties, or perhaps because of them, Darwin proposes a new science arising from genealogy, morphology (the comparative study of function, behavior, and environment), embryology, and the study of rudimentary organs. This is the structure of the Origin which reveals the transvaluation of Natural History into the science of life. "All true classification is genealogical, that community of descent is the hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking, and not some unknown plan of creation, or the enunciation of general propositions, and the mere putting together and separating objects more or less alike." Darwin’s  genealogical tree of evolution represents the history of Nature, and that species are an expression of continuity, but also of this discontinuity of past extinctions and adaptations. 

History is not the striving of different species for supremacy, but the conflict within one species in particular as it confronts its own conditions of life. To Darwin, the torments of the rest of nature are rare and brief, only humans have learned to make suffering itself into a way of living. To see this, one needed only to observe, he often remarked, the torment of animals under the whip of the driver, or the knife of the vivisectionist,or the wars and enslavement of humans themselves.

Darwin did not engage in the active defense of his theory, leaving it to his friends Thomas Huxley and Asa Gray to respond to the more heated attacks. There were many reasons for this,including his health, which had been severely compromised during the five year circumnavigation of the H.M.S. Beagle.  It was not known at the time what caused his chronic illness and bouts of intense pain, but it is now speculated that he contracted a disease akin to sleeping sickness while on his excursions inland. Much of Darwin's work was shaped by his voyage. He had begun the voyage a believer in fixity and creation, and by the end had already begun to sketch the outlines of the theory. He had also begun the voyage as an ardent opponent of slavery, and related how he was often told that experiences in the slave countries would prove to him the inferiority of the Negro. He wrote to his sister that his experiences in Brazil in particular only hardened his opposition to slavery.  
Darwin was not the Beagle's naturalist, but more the social companion for Captain Fitz-Roy. British naval commanders were drawn from the upper class and it was forbidden for them to socialize even with their own junior officers. It was a lonely life for a ships captain, made all the more apparent by the suicide of the Beagle's first Captain while sheltering in a harbor in the Straits of Magellan. Fitz-Roy took Darwin even though he was concern, given his interest in craniology, that the shape of Darwin's nose suggested that he was not up to the hardships of the voyage. Reluctantly, Fitz-Roy took Darwin aboard and they shared the cramped quarters of the ship for five years. The smallness of the cabin became even more pronounced when the two discovered their opposing views of slavery. Fitz-Roy shared the common view that slavery was a necessary evil because of the inherent inferiority of the enslaved races. Slavery would ultimately raise the Negro to civilization, he thought. Fitz-Roy was himself returning three captives taken from Tierra del Fuego during the previous voyage to be trained as missionaries and potential colonial agents. The attempt ended in failure and tragedy.

But it was in Brazil that Darwin observed slavery for himself, and his experiences never left him. His son Francis remembered that his father was often awaken by nightmares of his Brazilian experiences, and he would become enraged at the mere suggestion that slavery might have any redeeming value. Those who thought so, he wrote, had never put themselves in the position of the slave. When his friend and mentor Charles Lyell wrote to Darwin about the forced separation of a slave family, Darwin's response was brutal, though once he realized that Lyell was only relating the views of another, he excused himself by saying that only the subject of slavery made his emotions get the better of him.  During the period between Darwin's return from the Beagle and the publication of his major works, it could not have been lost on anyone at the time ---especially one who like Darwin maintained a voluminous international correspondence--- that they were seeing the transformation of scientific knowledge --- and the “Spirit of the Age” is really only the structure of knowledge and its disciplines.Physics and chemistry were already becoming the province of specialists. The laboratory was becoming the locale for organizing the production of scientific knowledge. The rapid foundation of new learned associations and societies reflected both the move towards specialization and the speedier dissemination of results and theories. Science had finally turned to the study life. Just one governing principle remained to be overthrown:  the view of Man as the apex of creation. In this regard, the Origin of Species is a profound argument for human humility. The history of the Earth could no longer be thought of as identical with the history of Man, but it was now possible to assert that it was key to understanding the history of life. 
“As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived on this earth have to be classed together, and as all have been connected by the finest gradations,the best, or indeed, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical. Descent being on my view the hidden bond of connection which naturalists have been seeking under the term of the natural system.”
 The Tree of Life was transformed into the tree of genealogical affinities: “I believe this simile largely speaks the truth” Darwin modestly stated. The Tree of Life, as well as his evocation of the “tangled bank,” represented a dynamic and indeterminate Nature.

Darwin executed more than just a rhetorical maneuver with the naming of The Origin of Species. Darwin choose to avoid the question of human origins, because to do so would have been to play on his opponents board and make his work a part of the monogenic-polygenic debate. To make a break with that controversy, Darwin answered the species question by demanding that we consider humans to be just one of an infinite variety of living organisms, all of which were created by the same processes that could even now be seen at work. Darwin shifts man from a central place in understanding variety in nature, and so produces a break with the polygenic/monogenic debate. If humans can tell us so much about the origins of the vast cacophony of nature, then there was no reason to privilege humans as the special key to knowledge. Any species could answer some or all of the question of origins. Darwin combined the genealogical classification of species with the gradual accumulation of small variations --- “a grain of sand is enough to tip the balance”--- and a theory of  population. With these he destroyed the theory of the fixity of species and the multiple origins of humans. Even Cuvier's theory of a series of creations could no longer be accepted.

Darwin was profoundly materialistic. With his intervention into the monogenic/polygenic controversy, the fixed, closed systems of classification of Natural History could no longer adequately describe the world. Now the Earth could only be seen as a planet where life “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” This,the last sentence of the book, is the only instance in the Origin of Species where evolution is used. It is significant that it is used in this passage to juxtapose the fixity of the law of gravity with the plasticity of descent with modification, a plasticity that is due in large part to the workings of chance.  

Most simply put, Darwin made the question of human origins a matter of the origin of any species.  Humans were no longer at the center. Linneaus may have placed Man in the chart of classification and as the measure and explanation for its origins, but Darwin placed humans in the genealogical tree of life, that is, directly in nature itself, and allowed that other species shall now explain the origin of man.  Darwin's work opens us to the infinity of nature, and makes humans just one of many species joined in life's great struggle for existence “whilst this planet has gone cycling according to the fixed law of gravity.” 
We should not think of Darwin's intervention as the triumph of reason over false-science, for with the new theory came also new forms of knowledge such as degeneracy and eugenics, and new forms of control that relied on new systems of classification which never quite left behind those of the late period of Natural History. These were not new forms of unreason, and neither was polygenesis merely a false and wretched knowledge that was a perversion of reason. It constituted scientific reason in relation to Man. Our present everyday knowledge of race owes much to it, but so too the the same degree do the sciences of life such as biology and sociology insofar as they came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to buttress the eugenic movement.  
Life and its struggle now occupied the center, and the displacement of Man could not be sustained under the guise of Natural History. New fields such as biology, sociology, and ecology would now supplant Natural History with the new study of life. The end of Natural History came along with the end of the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists. The polygenic theory was turned on its head by Darwin's account of a single common line of descent shaped by natural selection, among other conditions of life.

Darwin does not directly refer to polygenism until ten years later in the Descent of Man, and by then the polygenists had already been eclipsed by the combined forces of Darwin's critique and the American Civil War. That we do not remember the monogenic/polygenic debate is what Darwin hoped would be one of his most notable achievements.