Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists

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Press: Bloomsbury UK (May 1, 2012)
Publication Date:2012-5-10
Author Name:Rebecca Stott


Christmas, 1859. 
Just one month after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin received a letter that deeply unsettled him.
He had expected criticism.
Letters were arriving every day like swarms, some expressing praise, most outrage and accusations of heresy.
But the letter from the Reverend Powell was different.
It accused Darwin of failing to acknowledge his predecessors, of having taken credit for a theory that had already been discovered by others, Baden Powell himself and Darwin's own grandfather among them.
For all the excuses that leapt to mind - publication had been rushed; he hadn't been well - Darwin knew he had made a grave error in omitting to mention his intellectual forebears.
Yet when he tried to trace these natural philosophers, he found that history had already forgotten them...In Darwin's Ghosts, historian and novelist Rebecca Stott rediscovers Aristotle walking the shores of Lesbos with his pupils and Leonardo da Vinci searching for fossils in the mine shafts of the Tuscan hills; Diderot, in Paris, under the surveillance of the secret police, exploring the origins of species, and the brilliant naturalists of the Jardin de Plantes first recognising proof of evolutionary change in the natural history collections stolen during the Napoleonic wars.
Darwin's Ghosts is a masterful retelling of the collective daring of a few like-minded men who had the imagination to speculate on nature's ways and the courage to publish at a time when to do so, for political as well as religious reasons, was to risk everything.
More than a tale of mummified birds, inland lagoons, Bedouin nomads, secret police files, microscopes and curiosity cabinets, Darwin's Ghosts is the story of an idea that would change the modern world.

About the Author

Rebecca Stott is a novelist and historian. 
She is Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and an Affiliated Scholar at the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University.
She is the author of eleven books including three non-fiction history of science books: Darwin and the Barnacle, Theatres of Glass: The Woman who Brought the Sea to the City and Oyster, two historical novels, and most recently the bestselling Ghostwalk, shortlisted for the Jelf First Novel Award and the Society of Authors First Book Award, and The Coral Thief, both of which have been published in many different countries.
She is regularly asked to contribute to radio and TV documentaries and arts programmes.
Rebecca Stott lives in Cambridge.


Science & Math,Evolution,History & Philosophy,Politics & Social Sciences,Anthropology,Cultural

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Comment List (Total:5)

  •     This was a superb review of 19th Century thought.
  •     A very readable account of early questions regarding where creatures came from dating most significantly from well before Christ but without the tools of modern science. The philosophers, stargazers and thinkers were on a path that Darwin, and others since, have refined and proven beyond doubt.An enjoyable read.
  •     "Darwin's Ghosts" is, in effect, a series of thumbnail biographies of Charles Darwin's intellectual predecessors - thinkers who saw, at least in part, the possibility of the interconnectedness of species and/or species transmutation. Starting with Aristotle, moving through the 9th century AD Abbasid Empire of the Middle East, and on through the Renaissance and into the 19th century, Stott paints a portrait of the physical, intellectual, political, and theological environment in which the characters developed their ideas, describes what can be known (or reasonably surmised) about the process by which they developed their remarkable views, and identifies the influences that may have played a part.Stott presents these fascinating characters with an easy prose that nicely combines storytelling with historical documentation, floating each chapter into the stream of thought which eventually led to Darwin's most famous work. Along the way, we see Aristotle peering into the sea from the docks on Lesbos to observe sea urchins and cuttlefish, we see Persia during the golden era of the Islamic world, and we see the efforts taken to keep heretical ideas alive during European witch hunts, the Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Knowing how the tale turns out only adds to the enjoyment and fascination found in the stories of these brilliant minds.I highly recommend this work to anyone with an interest in the history of scientific thought.
  •     Perhaps this should have been subtitled, "The history of the evolution of evolutionary thought'. It's a total delight to read, full of facts about the various historical characters who preceded Darwin in his journey towards the origin of species. Well rounded in its research, well constructed, well written, it takes you glidingly through the myriad strands of thought lines down the centuries, leading to the concept of evolution as a science as well as a philosophy.
  •     This is a very compelling read and provides a reasonably good synthesis of the known literature regarding Darwin's precursors. I see other reviewers, on Amazon, of this book, have identified that Stott has just made some things up in 'Darwin's Ghosts'. I can't comment on that with any degree of qualification. But there is a massive concern on my part about this book being passed-off as non-fiction, because, most unfortunately, Stott, weirdly, creates a brand new myth in her book where she writes the outrageous falsehood on page 12 that Patrick Matthew "...had conceded the throne..." of natural selection to Darwin, and that his final word on the matter was published in the Gardener's Chronicle of 1860. Where on Earth did she get such an idea? I think its possibly a unique falsehood of her own making. Hopefully she will retract this utter un-evidenced claptrap!We know authors read these reviews so here is some news for Stott and her Editor and Darwinist advisers from one of Darwin's ghosts that she obviously missed by not looking at original sources:In 1864 Matthew published a political pamphlet that proclaimed him as "Solver of the Problem of Species. That was an act of defiance, one that we know, from his personal correspondence on the Matthew problem, really got under Darwin's skin.As a matter of fact, all of Matthew's actions following his Gardener's Chronicle revelation of 1860 hardly constitute those of a man conceding the throne to Darwin.Having been earlier snubbed by the Dublin University Magazine in February 1860, Matthew wrote back to the editor demanding an apology (see pages 717 to 718 of that publication). He demanded that apology in light of the fact that Darwin had, in the Gardener's Chronicle, accepted that Matthew had fully enunciated the theory of natural selection. What followed was typical Darwinist rank closing: David Anstead (FRS) , Lecturer for the East India Company, fellow graduate of Cambridge, personal correspondent of Darwin, fellow member of the Royal Society, former Vice Secretary of the Geological Society - taking up office on Charles Lyell's departure - authored a paper on the subject of Palaeontology where he fully supported Darwin's Origin and in a lengthy footnote replied on behalf of the magazine to blatantly refuse to accept that Matthew had written anything at all that was original.By way of another example of Matthew's futile fight for recognition against the Darwinists, in a footnote to his letter to the Farmers Magazine, he wrote (Matthew 1862):`The writer has not been has not been much used to speak of what he has done. For more than thirty years after the publication of "Naval Timber and Arboriculture" he never, either by the press or in private conversation, alluded to the original ideas therein brought forward, knowing that the age was not suited for such. And even now, notwithstanding the great teaching influence of our cheap daily press, such is the power of sham, bigotry and prejudice over the editors of these, directly by perverting their own minds, or indirectly by perverting their candour, honesty and truth in accommodation to the reader's prejudices, together with the subserviency of the Editors to power and place that he is not sure the age is yet ripe. He was so far of this opinion, that he did not speak of these original ideas till driven to do so in protecting them as his.'And we can see even further through the Darwinian myth-smog by way of another example. This one is a recollection byDarwin's son Francis (Darwin 1887. p.302):`Mr. Matthew remained unsatisfied, and complained that an article in the 'Saturday Analyst and Leader' was "scarcely fair in alluding to Mr. Darwin as the parent of the origin of species, seeing that I published the whole that Mr. Darwin attempts to prove, more than twenty-nine years ago."--Saturday Analyst and Leader, Nov. 24, 1860.'Interestingly, years earlier, Darwin's wife Emma (Darwin 1863) used the same parent metaphor in a letter she wrote on Darwin's behalf to reply to a letter from Matthew that is - once again - unfortunately lost, which renders what follows rather cryptic:`With regard to Natural Selection he [Darwin] says that he is not staggered by your striking remarks. He is more faithful to your own original child than you are yourself.'Despite Darwin's defensive platitudes, Matthew had sufficient self-regard to continue asserting the truth for the publication record. In 1865, then 75 years old, he wrote to the German scientist Ernst Hallier to let it be known that natural selection was his discovery and concept and not Darwin's (Hallier 1866 p.382):`Matthew himself wrote me about it in a letter of 6 October 1865, in which he first brought to my attention his book on naval timber and arboriculture, published on January 1st 1831, by Longman et Co London and Adam and Charles Black Edinburgh . He wrote: "I fully brought out the theory of competitive natural selection. This was about 30 years before Darwin brought out the same. In his preface to the edition of his work on the origin of species, Darwin states that I anticipated him by many years, and apologizes for his unintentional blunder. The fact is my work did appear before its time, when bigotry and prejudice were in the ascendant."'The publication record therefore proves that, despite the most embarrassing lack of genuine expert knowledge among all the leading Darwinian authors on this subject - Stott being their mere toady - Patrick Matthew never ever gave up on letting the general public and other scientists know that natural selection was his original discovery!in 1874 Patrick Matthew went to an unmarked grave, somewhere in Errol churchyard in Scotland, having fought all his life, without success, for the recognition he deserved for discovering natural selection many years before Darwin and Wallace. For example, at the 1867 British Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Dundee, Scotland, which was attended by Darwin's friends Charles Lyell, Robert Chambers and Alfred Wallace - Matthew (1867), then aged 77 years, was platform blocked! He complained in the press that he was strategically prevented from speaking about his discovery. No one listened then, because Darwin and his adoring Darwinists had so cleverly, yet fallaciously, portrayed Matthew as a deluded crank.So much for Stott's research. The literature she failed to read and synthesise on Matthew reveals many other examples of how the Originator of natural selection complained in the press and to other naturalists that Darwin was getting all the credit for his idea.Had Stott researched and addressed the rank mythology that Darwinists have spun to fill the knowledge gaps regarding what naturalists really did with the great breakthrough that Matthew published (not just in the appendix), pre-1868 she would have produced a text worthy of the classification 'non-fiction' - as it is one has to wonder why on Earth she created the Happy Handover Myth?Matthew, was in 1860 bankrupt and impoverished when he wrote to the Gardeners' Chronicle to lay claim to his prior-discovery of the 'natural process of selection'. Incidentally Darwin uniquely four-word shuffled Matthew's unique name for his discovery into 'process of natural selection' (Darwin does that 9 times in the Origin 1859!). This and numerous other instances of clear plagiarism have now been discovered. Had Stott done any original research she might have discovered this for herself. As it is she has done no more than Darwin's sly bidding from beyond the grave in order to keep Matthew buried in oblivion.Today Matthew's ghost has returned from his unmarked grave to prove that he did influence both Darwin and Wallace.Just Google: "Internet Dating with Darwin" to discover newly discovered facts - which always trump old rhetoric, no matter how eloquently written. The newly discovered facts prove why it is always best to search in original sources rather than replicate dreadfully biased Darwinist secondary sources. And as for just making stuff up. Surely no non-fiction writer expects to get away with that. Do they? Did Stott and Bloomsbury get their genres crossed? On which note, I wrote to Stott's editor at Bloomsbury, in the autumn of 201,3 to inform them of the above facts, so that they might know that they are publishing complete fallacies. Unsurprisingly, they never even bothered to respond. Perhaps they intend to proudly specialise in pseudo-scholarship?

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