What’s on : Lectures

The Poor Man’s Darwin

17 Mar 2009
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Prof Edward Royle
The Poor Man's Darwin

Event Information

Joint lecture with the York Branch of the Historical Association
Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the publication of “OnThe Origin of Species”

The Poor Man’s Darwin
Prof Edward Royle

by Patrick Mason

The reception, interpretation and understanding of Darwin’s ideas in the scientific and religious communities over the years is a well discussed topic. However, Darwinism also reached directly to a section of society of more lowly social status than academics and clerics. There existed, in the nineteenth century, a class of workers and tradesmen who, although lacking a formal education and qualifications, nevertheless engaged in intellectual pursuits and were essentially “self-taught working men”.
In an age when science and philosophy had begun to seriously challenge religion on a number of fronts, keeping abreast of the latest scientific ideas became increasingly important and popular. For those less privileged members of society, knowledge was available through various low-cost media. There were the low-priced publications such as “Chamber’s Information for the People”, “The Reasoner” and later, “The Freethinker”. There were also a number of cheap books which delivered original scientific texts or popularised accounts.
Of the more influential popularisers of the ideas of Darwin were Thomas Huxley (Lessons in Physiology) and Edward Aveling (Darwin Made Easy). Publications such as these were available to working people via public libraries and also Mechanics’ institutes. Public lectures on Darwinism and related ideas were presented at institutes. The York Institute of Popular Science and Literature was a significant resource locally in this respect.
The “working man” was therefore able to self-teach himself by directly engaging in the discussion and understanding these ideas in their own context. In this respect, the science of Darwin appealed to those who could identify with his search for truth “…in the midst of pigeons, rabbits and worms, gardens and woods, moors and hillsides…”.
It should be appreciated then that scientific knowledge was not filtered down to the lower classes of society by a means of “chinese whispers” but by an effective system. More importantly, the system worked because within the lower social classes there existed the desire to learn and the effort to engage and understand.

Sponsored by Historical Association

The following book by Edward Royle is related to the subject of this lecture. Follow the link to Amazon for more details.