Retro Reading

Post before last, I indicated I was reading some histories and oldies in their original published forms.

Last week I picked-up several more books. One new handful from a current reviewers’ copy list at the Rationalist Association, and another old handful of discard copies of the Rationalist Association library held by Conway Hall. Both the oldies in the previous post came from that latter source.

Same again; I’m reading the oldies. Specifically right now I’m reading T. H. Huxley’s “Darwiniana” collection of essays. Published as a collection by MacMillan in 1893, I have the 1899 reprint, the essays themselves come from 1859 to the 1880’s. Lots of stuff here already well referenced and quoted by Dawkins, Dennett, Lewontin, Gould and the rest, but nevertheless fascinating to read in the original contexts. The novelty for Darwin’s conservative religious critics and the need to take “creation” as a serious input, somewhere; the Judaeo-Christian cultural standpoint of the whole, the racial and imperial outlook from our little island towards the French, the Germans and those of the “Palestine” region. (Wallace, Linnaeus, Lamarck, Harvey, Paley, Spencer, De Maillet, Haeckel, Newton, Leibnitz, Galilleo and the Medicis, and yet another Goethe reference, all there.)

Two things of note for me.

  • The careful debate about Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, and the fact that whilst Darwinian natural selection is undoubtedly true, it is clearly not the whole story. Lamarck remains “the skeleton in the closet” (as recently as this 2016 reference).
  • That race and species always were (and still are) slim and slippery customers. It doesn’t pay to dwell on fixed, one-time definitions of either of them. Time and isolation, history and hindsight matter more. Long enough to be usefully named. Pretty much as with “non-racial” cultural and religious belief identities & differences; No?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.