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Victorian Sensation : The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation Hardcover – February 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From the Inside Flap
In a pioneering cultural history, James A. Secord uses the story of Vestiges to create a panoramic portrait of life in the early industrial era from the perspective of its readers. We join apprentices in a factory town as they debate the consequences of an evolutionary ancestry. We listen as Prince Albert reads aloud to Queen Victoria from a book that preachers denounced as blasphemy vomited from the mouth of Satan. And we watch as Charles Darwin turns its pages in the flea-ridden British Museum library, fearful for the fate of his own unpublished theory of evolution. Using secret letters, Secord reveals how Vestiges was written and how the anonymity of its author was maintained for forty years. He also takes us behind the scenes to a bustling world of publishers, printers, and booksellers to show how the furor over the book reflected the emerging industrial economy of print.
Beautifully written and based on painstaking research, Victorian Sensation offers a new approach to literary history, the history of reading, and the history of science. Profusely illustrated and full of fascinating stories, it is the most comprehensive account of the making and reception of a book (other than the Bible) ever attempted.
Top Customer Reviews
Bigger than Darwin
VICTORIAN SENSATION: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation by James A Secord Chicago U P pp624
Tennyson, with whom this accomplished work begins and ends, was an avid reader. In 1844, he spotted a review of an anonymously authored book which, according to the critic, convincingly linked the natural sciences to the history of creation. The poet, like many other readers of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, had already formed what we might consider advanced views on this subject. Man had resulted from a slow gestation beginning with simple invertebrates; man's ability to reason and distinguish between good and bad was part of his development. Tennyson had already completed much of In Memoriam, arguably the most powerful of Victorian poems. After reading Vestiges, he used its notion of an ever-ascending condition to celebrate the idea of a link "Betwixt us and the crowning race".
Tennyson's readers knew exactly what that reference meant. It is we who have lost it. Hailing Darwin as the great originator, we have forgotten that Vestiges, in the mid-19th century, had a greater impact, reaching far more readers and being discussed at all levels.
This is the central point of James A Secord's book. The idea he illustrates in a hundred entertaining ways is that we, as readers, like making narratives. We want things tidy, with beginnings and ends. It's reassuring to suppose that the concept of evolutionary culture began with Darwin's Origin of the Species in 1859.Read more ›
This remarkable work on the Vestiges of Robert Chambers is itself a history of the evolution of evolution, describing in wonderful detail the context of a book that perfectly fits Drummond's description. Springing from eighteenth century intimations, first theorized by Lamarck, the idea of evolution finally bursts into public consciousness with Chambers' Vestiges, whose sudden popularity, if not notoriety, made it one of the first modern bestsellers in an age of technological breakthroughs in communications, transport, and printing. Laying the groundwork for laters theories, it nonetheless is too often dismissed as pseudo-scientific when, in fact, the author was aware of certain aspects of the pre-Darwinian ideas of evolution that only now are resurfacing, after being shunted aside by the Darwin tide to come. The account in this work is an engaging hybrid of cultural history mixed into the biography of Chambers' book, and is useful for the student of evolution in its account of the social relations of science, from the gentleman scientist to the grub street popularizers, and indirectly brings to life the later relationship of Huxley to Darwin. The age of Darwin in which we live has made him the sole authority and source of a science of evolution and this distorts the facts, and has obscured the reputation of this and other books. Indeed part of the confusion over selectionist theories sprang from the need for Darwin to artificially separate himself from previous ideas of evolution, by a novelty of claims, since the idea of evolution had seen its foundations laid.Read more ›
It is beautifully, even dramatically written and marvelously researched and illustrated. There are few books as good and surprising and satisfying and informative as this one.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is an exceptional, wide-ranging view not only of evolutionary thought in the nineteenth century, but of the emergence of mechanized printing.Published 17 months ago by Dean Booth
One usually looks at history either as a chronological account of a particular place or discipline, or as broad account of a specific time period. Read morePublished on June 30, 2006 by Elizabeth A. Root