I received a very interesting query from a student earlier this week: “I was wondering if you had a source that verifies that Owen wrote the anonymous Edinburgh Review article.”
I assumed that a quick flick through the references in a couple of my many Darwin books would soon resolve that one, but not so: that Richard Owen was the author of the scathing review of On the Origin of Species was simply stated as fact in every book I checked. Charles Darwin was certainly in no doubt whatsoever that Owen was behind the review and wrote Owen's name on the front of his personal copy. But was there a quotable source for this attribution, rather than informed supposition?
I eventually managed to track one down. In a letter to Darwin shortly after the event, Joseph Dalton Hooker wrote:
Bell told me yesterday that Owen avows the Review, I can hardly believe it.
Thomas Bell was president of the Linnean Society. His word reported via Hooker is good enough for me. Guilty as charged, Prof. Owen. (Although, in fairness to Owen, all reviews in the Edinburgh Review were anonymous.)
If anyone knows of a document in which Owen admits to being the author of the review first-hand, I'd be interested to hear about it.