Happy birthday, Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, 1854 (Wikimedia Commons)

Henry Seebohm, 12 December 1886:

Charles Darwin stands head and shoulders above all other biologists of the nineteenth century, as the Titan who destroyed the fetish of Special Creation; nevertheless “he found the theory of Evolution an unaccredited truth and left it an accredited fallacy.”

Ph balanced

I have been back at the APS as a part-timer for a couple of months, doing a lot of rehousing. Fare thee well, acidic folders! Rehousing collections goes very quickly when AT records are in good shape. I rehoused Murchison in a gratifyingly short time, and I am irrationally pleased to see the materials (admittedly, only about half a foot) sitting in upright boxes. And since I’m the one who did the AT data entry a few months ago, there was no one else to blame for typos.

I’m also irrationally pleased that I rehoused Lyell, as well as Murchison, given their intertwined careers. (More on that later…but to save you a trip to Wikipedia: Murchison, Tory imperialist, political animal, catastrophist (e.g. volcanoes did it) approach to geology; Lyell, democratic impulses, friend to Darwin*, uniformitarian (e.g. slow, non-sexy processes) approach to geology.) It’s easy to develop affection for these guys, even with less than a foot of materials.

* Somewhat entertainingly, there is precisely one item in the Lyell collection that merited a mylar sleeve: a not-terribly-compelling letter to Darwin about a ₤25 pledge. Presumably the letter was displayed at some point, and it’s almost certain that said display was devoted to Darwin. A chunk of Lyell material was moved to the Darwin collection; had it been more interesting, this letter presumably would be there as well. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. I mean, Darwin. A nineteenth century scientist everybody knows, and for good reason. One of the jewels in the APS crown. On the other hand, I feel sort of bad for Lyell, whose career was legitimately impressive for many reasons, not simply because he happened to be a correspondent of Darwin’s.