Eight years of minute research
A monograph on the fossil Lepadidae, or, Pedunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain, bound with A monograph on the fossil Balanidae and Verrucidae of Great Britain.
London: Printed for the Palaeontographical Society, 1851-1854.
By 1846, as he completed his three-volume geological series, Darwin had only one specimen left unreported from the Beagleexpedition, a tiny barnacle he had found in Chile in 1835 and expected to dissect and describe in a single short paper. The barnacle turned out to be very odd indeed, and barnacles themselves had just been newly recognized as crustaceans, rather than mollusks. Darwin found himself deferring his grand theory on natural selection and embarking instead on an eight-year project to describe all species of the barnacle family, fossil and living. He became especially fascinated by what barnacles (cirripedia) suggested about the process of sexual differentiation in the tiny creatures. Since this exhibit was first prepared, the two parallel Ray Society monographs on the Living Cirripedia have also been purchased from the Irvin Endowment. Together, the four volumes in which Darwin eventually published his barnacle research would remain standard scientific references for more than a century.
Why Darwin was awarded the Royal Medal before writing the Origin
The Royal Medal citation,
Transactions of the Royal Society, 1854.
The Royal Society, the premier scientific body in Britain, has two major annual awards for research, the Royal Medal and the Copley Medal. Darwin eventually won both, but this report of the President's speech in awarding him the Royal Medal makes clear the reputation he had built up as an original researcher in two distinct fields, geology and marine biology, before he took up the risky project of explaining natural selection to his scientific colleagues.
The Victorian interest in marine science
Charles Kingsley, 1819-1875,
Glaucus, or the wonders of the shore.
Second ed. Cambridge: Macmillan, 1855.
Kingsley's Glaucus, a prettily-bound reprinting from an article in the North British Review, attests to the popularity of natural history (and the newly-invented aquarium) in the eighteen- fifties, when Darwin's barnacle studies appeared. Subsequently, Kingsley would be one of the first clergymen to write in support of Darwin's Origin and would incorporate ideas from it in his children's fantasy The water babies (1863).
Darwin and the domestic pigeon
Among the practical experiments that Darwin undertook in the 1850s for his work on species was a study of how pigeon-fanciers selected and exaggerated particularly-desired features for exhibition through successive pigeon generations, until quite distinct varieties of pigeon (pouter, carrier, and fantail) had been developed.
Herbert Spencer and theories of social development in the 1850s
George Henry Lewes, 1817-1878,
"On the fundamental law of evolution," in his Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853.
While Darwin pored over his barnacles, the radical circle centered on the London publisher John Chapman propounded their own French-derived theories of social and biological development. Both Lewes and the pioneer sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) wrote periodical essays on social evolution, Lewes in 1852 for the Leader and Spencer in 1855 for the more prestigious Westminster Review. One of the challenges Darwin faced as he at last began work on his long- planned magnum opus on natural selection was how to distinguish his scientific explanation from the politicized a prioriideas of development appearing from other writers.
A preemptive strike in the debate over development
"On the Anthropoid Apes,"
Report of the British Association, 33 (1854), part 2: 111-113.
The distinguished anatomist and palaeontologist Richard Owen, who had contributed to Darwin's Zoology of the Beagle, emerged during the 1850s as one of the leading opponents of secular biology. In 1849, a missionary oddly named Savage first reported the existence of a new primate, the gorilla, and Owen, seeing a potential threat to the distinctiveness of humans, obtained specimen gorilla skulls. By the mid-1850s, Wombwell's Menagerie was touring Britain with a live gorilla on display. In this address to the largely-amateur British Association, Owen took up a firm anti-Lamarckian stance, with no space for ideas of species transmutation. He subsequently asserted that the distinctiveness of humanity lay in a single portion of the brain, the hippocampus minor. While Owen would later become the butt of brutal attacks by the Darwinians, especially Huxley, his intransigence in the 1850s warned the still-cautious Darwin about the risks of discussing human evolution until his general theory was established.