Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Darwin Made Easy - Edward Bibbins Aveling

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Darwin Made Easy - Edward Bibbins Aveling

My case, dear reader, is that the work of Edward Bibbins Aveling was the 19th Century equivalent of this 2009 blogswarm. The man was a natural scientist, prolific writer and journalist, whose outpourings were presciently titled like crammer's guides of the 21st Century ...."The Student's Darwin", "Science and Religion", "Science and Secularism", "Charles Darwin and Karl Marx - a comparison", intruigingly "The Woman Question" and the one being tenderly cradled here by a modern-day beagle.... "Darwin Made Easy" (Published in London by the Progressive Publishing Company in 1889).

Having spent some time with Aveling's descendents (in whom the natural science genes still persist), I had heard that Edward Bibbins was a cad and a bounder, who had bigamously married Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor then entered into a suicide pact with her, without keeping his part of the bargain. Marx archive and English Heritage references tell of their "common law" marriage and of some suspicion surrounding Dr.Aveling about the circumstances of Eleanor's death.

Be that as it may, Edward Bibbins Aveling certainly helped a multitude of students and others gain access to Charles Darwin's great work. The first of three sections in "Darwin Made Easy" is devoted to "The Darwinian Theory", with Chapters on "Its Meaning", "Its Difficulties" and "Its Evidence". On the 200th Anniversary of Darwin's birth, I close with mention of his death, and Aveling's closing words on Darwin's legacy:

"...and as I end, have but to remind my readers that in every country but England the Darwinian hypothesis has passed into the region of accepted truths; that by the scientific men of England it is regarded as in that fortunate position; that nations sorrowed at his death as at that of their own citizens; that Du Bois Raymond could call him when dead "the Copernicus of the organic world"; that Huxley wrote of him "He found a great truth trodden under foot, reviled by bigots, and ridiculed by all the world; he lived long enough to see it, chiefly by his own efforts, irrefragably established in science, inseparably incorporated with the common thoughts of men, and only hated and feared by those who would revile, but dare not". What a gap is made in the world by the death of this man! Every nation has lost a citizen - a citizen that has done true work and has deserved well of the Republic.

He leaves behind him a vast and ever-increasing army of scientific children. All the young thought of the day is with him. The duty, the joy of these, and of us who are of them, will be to work out yet further the noble ideas received by us from him, and in some measure to endeavour by our numbers, our devotiion to truth, our enthusiasm, to atone for the irreparable loss the world has sustained in his death."

Purple prose indeed - but Edward Bibbins might be intrigued to know that the young thought of this day, 12th February 2009, in celebration of Darwin 200 years after his birth, is doing exactly that - even through the medium of his own great, great nephews.

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