Talk:Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

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Attacks by scientists[edit]

To talk of "scientists" is a bit of an anachronism - but the main scientifc critcisms of Vestiges were that it gave no plausible evidence or mechanisms. NBeale (talk) 20:58, 20 September 2009 (UTC)

What source makes that statement? From Victorian Sensation, the response of men of science was more complex, and tellingly delayed in a way that doesn't come over in the current article. Also, I note you've added Hooker's early comment to Darwin out of historical sequence, and in the section before the "Darwin" section which opens with Darwin's response to that letter. All a bit confusing – any reason not to have the two letters together? . . dave souza, talk 21:56, 20 September 2009 (UTC)
I think the reception section had it about right before the last edit. Vestiges was originally ignored by the scientific and religious establishements (which were not really separate in Britain in 1844) and then attacked as its popularity became apparent. The lack of a scientfiically testable mechanism, and the numerous (especially in the first edition) errors of scientific fact provided fodder for the negative reviews, but the motivation for the hostility was largely ideological, much of it spillover from earlier debates about the veiws of divisive radical figures like Robert Edmond Grant. Most of it came from folks like Sedgwick with ties to the established Church, and some came from radicals like Huxley who disliked the the fact that it implied that the universe was progressing in accordance with some kind of divine plan. We should take care to avoid confusing the substance of the criticisms with the motivation for their rancour and intensity. There are perfectly reliable sources including historians like Bowler, Larson, Secord etc. who cover this all in some detail. Rusty Cashman (talk) 07:10, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
I think it's very hard to say that the motivation was largely ideological. Huxley and Sedgwick were about as far apart ideologically as you could get in the "scientific" world. And if Albert read it to Victoria it can hardly have been seen as wildly subversive. If we can source properly nuanced statements from reputable historians that is fine, but remember most of these have ideological axes to grind as well. As far as I can see, the objections to Vestigies were both scientific and ideological and we should be very cautious about trying to decide that one trumped the other. NBeale (talk) 07:55, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
Which Hooker was delighted with Vestiges? Not supported by the source, and I've moved the relevant letter in contest to the next section. As for the scientific response, Asa Gray writing fifteen years later doesn't support the argument made, and he certainly had an ax to grind. As Rusty says, the scientific and religious establishements of England at that time were not really separate, and scientific responses reflected religious and social concerns. Will make a start on improving that. . dave souza, talk 11:04, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
In the case of Huxley and Sedgwick I think that there is little question that the vigor of their criticism was a result of ideological objections, and as I have said a number of historians have made that point. Of course the nature of those ideological objections was very different (almost diametrically opposed) for the two men. As I said before I think there are plenty of sources that could be used to improve this article. I am going to track down a copy of Secord's book myself. Rusty Cashman (talk) 20:28, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
The book is excellent, in my opinion, but isn't structured to give the sort of simple chronological account that probably works best here. It's as much concerned with publication and how various readerships responded as with the the scientific and religious response to the book, so am finding summarising it a bit heavy going. Will build up the "criticism" section, but the structure may have to be rethought: it works for the initial responses, but there were longer term developments which aren't really covered yet, for example Hugh Miller's Foot-prints of the Creator of 1849 and Hooker's review of 1854. . . dave souza, talk 15:14, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

Theory section[edit]

Would "Content" or "Contents" be a better title for this section?

The beginning of the section switches between the past and present tense:

The work put forward a cosmic theory of transmutation (which we now call evolution). It suggested that everything currently in existence had developed from earlier forms: solar system, Earth, rocks, plants and corals, fish, land plants, reptiles and birds, mammals, and ultimately man.
The book begins by tackling the origins of the solar system, using the nebular hypothesis to explain its formations entirely in terms of natural law. It explained the origins of life by spontaneous generation, ...

I find tenses difficult but wonder whether it would be more consistent to use the present tense where possible throughout?

The work puts forward a cosmic theory of transmutation (which we now call evolution). It suggests that everything currently in existence has developed from earlier forms: solar system, Earth, rocks, plants and corals, fish, land plants, reptiles and birds, mammals, and ultimately man.
The book begins by tackling the origins of the solar system, using the nebular hypothesis to explain its formations entirely in terms of natural law. It explains the origins of life by spontaneous generation, ...

Aa77zz (talk) 14:50, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

Agree with both points, "theory" suggests a coherence which the book perhaps lacks, and the present tense is a good idea in my opinion. Just avoid saying "Chambers says" as that would be better in the past tense, but "the book says" is fine by me. . dave souza, talk 15:01, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

Restructure, Secord[edit]

From reading through Secord's Victorian Sensation, I'm coming to the view that the Reception section should be subdivided to be in a more chronological sequence. "Praise" would become "Early praise", pretty much as it is with some additions. "Criticism" would become "First criticism", with a new subsection "Scientific gentlemen respond" or "Men of science respond" covering the preparation and effect of Sedgwick's review, with the addition of Herschel's views at the British Association. That would then be followed by "Explanations: A Sequel" which responded to Sedgwick, and was tied into considerable revisions as well as the long intended "people's edition". That would be followed by coverage of the continued editions, and responses including Huxley's review. There would then be a new "Influence and effects" main section which would include the current "Darwin and Vestiges" and "Influence on A.R. Wallace" sections, as they don't really fit into the historical sequence of publications and responses. So, will work towards that.

As a minor issue, the Secord publication date's been changed from 2001 to 2000. The publisher's web page says © 2001, 2003, but the 2003 paperback edition says © 2000 so guess we can stick with that. . dave souza, talk 17:52, 28 September 2009 (UTC)

I changed the Secord date based on the ©2000 and that both the British Library and the Library of Congress give 2000. I saw the publisher's page earlier today and thought I'd been too hasty. However I find that Jim Secord gives 2000 on his Cambridge page so I don't feel so bad. Aa77zz (talk) 20:41, 28 September 2009 (UTC)
amazon.com also give 1 Feb 2001 as the publication date for the hardback edition - but "Look Inside" reveals not only © 2000 but also "Published 2000". Aa77zz (talk) 21:17, 28 September 2009 (UTC)

I propose changing the reference Secord (1994) to make Chambers the author. Giving Secord as the author of the book is misleading. The cover (paperback) gives only Robert Chambers. The title page gives Robert Chambers is large letters and then in smaller lettering "Edited with a new Introduction by James A. Secord". The very useful Introduction and appendices are by Secord. The bulk of the book consists of facsimile reproductions of the first editions of Vestiges and Explanation. Secord on his home page gives: 'Introduction', in Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and other Evolutionary Writings, University of Chicago Press, (1994). I propose:

  • Chambers, Robert (1994), Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and other Evolutionary Writings, Edited with a new Introduction by James A. Secord, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-10073-1  Includes facsimile reproductions of the 1st edition of Vestiges and the 1st edition of Explanations.

using the useful "others" keyword. Aa77zz (talk) 09:16, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

Looks good, there is also | editor-last = | editor-first = | editor-link =, but "others" allows useful mention of the introduction. Yes, it should really be Chambers unless we're citing the introduction, not sure how I'd deal with the latter. . dave souza, talk 12:15, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

Minor formatting issue[edit]

In formatting inline citations, my usual practice is to use harvnb as in Secord 2000, pp. 244–247 with no full stop: some prefer to add a full stop after each citation, thus Secord 2000, pp. 244–247. with a full stop appearing at the end. Several references now use harvtxt thus: Secord (2000, pp. 406–410) showing the date and page numbers in brackets. Can we standardise? Thanks, dave souza, talk 18:56, 30 September 2009 (UTC)

What has happened is that I've use harvtxt in "Quoted in Secord (2000, p. 275)." and the "Quoted in" has got lost. See here. Do you think we should simply cite the secondary source using harvnb and skip the Quoted bit? It would make the reflist look more consistent. Aa77zz (talk) 21:34, 30 September 2009 (UTC)
Yes, I don't see much point in "Quoted in" in the first place, and including it in some places and not in others just leads to confusion. Rusty Cashman (talk) 22:53, 1 October 2009 (UTC)
Agree, the reason I was removing "quoted in" is that I was adding content reflecting the secondary source's views and not just the primary source that they quote,[1] which I think is the way to go. Even without that, "quoted in" seems unnecessary as the article wording should make it explicit where the quote originates. . . dave souza, talk 23:08, 1 October 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for fixing that, Aa77zz. Some citations had full stops after the template, so I've removed them in the section I'm working on to be consistent. If some are felt useful or necessary I won't revert any restorations. . dave souza, talk 19:18, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Christian Remembrancer quotes[edit]

The article contains the sentence:

The Christian Remembrancer said the "masterly essay" dismissed the development hypothesis "beyond all further controversy."

I've so far failed to find the quoted text. The article accurately quotes Secord ( p246) who gives references in Footnote 75: Christian Remembrancer June 1845 page 612 and the Christian Observer Sept 1851 page 599-610 at 602. Volumes of the Christian Remembrancer are available online. Christian Remembrancer June 1845 page 612 only contains:

"A very remarkable book has appeared, which seems to be running through many editions, 'Vestiges of the Natural History of the Creation, '(Churchill). Its spreading mischief has been met by a seasonable and searching antidote from Mr. Bosanquet, ' Vestiges of the Natural History of the Creation exposed.' (Hatchard.) We trust to take up the subject shortly."

Perhaps the quoted text is from the Christian Observer but I cannot confirm this as I haven't found the 1851 volume online. Aa77zz (talk) 14:53, 3 October 2009 (UTC)

Thanks for that research, there definitely seems to be a discrepancy. I thought Secord's wording was pretty clear, but may have misunderstood so will remove the sentence, which really just illustrates the previous sentence. . . `dave souza, talk