On this day in 1858, Darwin received a bombshell in the form of a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace. More »
New in the Friends of Charles Darwin book reviews section, a review of Darwin's Apprentice: an archaeological biography of John Lubbock by Janet Owen.
I'd heard the legend, of course. Every Darwin groupie has. The missing photograph of the two co-discoverers of evolution by means of Natural Selection, Darwin and Wallace, standing side-by-side. Together. In the same frame.
The incorrigible sceptic in me had always dismissed the tale as a myth. Wishful thinking. It never happened. But wouldn't it be fantastic if it had?
And then, last week, browsing the History of Science section in one of my favourite second-hand bookshops, I chanced upon a collection of Thomas Henry Huxley's essays, Darwiniana. I picked it up to examine it, and this fell out:
There's a Pulitzer in this for me, mark my words.
I just received the following email, which might be of interest to those of you within easy reach of London (although the event will also be available online):
I’m hoping that one of UCL’s free public Lunch Hour Lectures on Tuesday 4 June entitled Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park will be of interest to you and other members of the Friends of Darwin.
I work in UCL's events team running our free public Lunch Hour Lecture series. The lectures are going 'on tour' to the Museum of London this summer with a short series of four talks being held on Tuesdays in June, 1.15pm-1.55pm.
For more information about the full series visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/lhlontour
The lectures are free and open to all on a first-come first-served basis and require no pre-booking. Lectures can also be watched live online at www.ucl.ac.uk/lhl/streamed or after the event at our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/UCLLHL
Date: Tuesday 4 June, 1.15pm
Venue: The Weston Theatre, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
Lecturer: Prof Joe Cain, UCL Science and Technology Studies (@profjoecain)
Summary: The famous ‘monsters’ in Crystal Palace have been on display since the park opened in 1854. These are the first life-sized three-dimensional sculptures of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts, but there is a lot more to them than meets the eye. Discover the ideas behind them with science historian Professor Cain.
I've just posted my entry on my personal website. It didn't win, but Charles Darwin gets a mention, so you might want to check it out.
Want to put a nifty Charles Darwin icon on your iPhone, iPad or other iOS device?
It's dead easy. Simply visit any page on the Friends of Charles Darwin website in your device's Safari browser (I would recommend the home page or blog page), then select the Send To icon (immediately to the left of the Safari address bar on an iPad, or at the bottom of the screen on an iPhone/iPod touch) and click Add to Home Screen, like this:
…and Charlie-Bob's your uncle:
A shameless and pathetic plug, I realise. But it puts Darwin on your desktop for Pete's sake!
In recent years, I've become a huge fan of the writings of the late W.G. Sebald. Not that I always understand what's going on in them, you understand. Sebald blends fiction, biography, memoir, and a bunch of other genres in a prose style which is frankly breathtaking. Although he lived in Norfolk, and had a command of English better than most, Sebald wrote in his native German, working closely with the translators of the English editions of his books.
Such a Sebald-groupie have I become, that I thought it was about time I read some of his poetry. I'm not very good with poetry. I don't get most of it. But I thought I'd give it a shot, and have just finished reading Sebald's Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964--2001.
What can I say? I found Sebald's poetry utterly incomprehensible. I'm sure it's fantastic, but, as I read it, I stared open-mouthed at each page, wondering, ‘What on Earth is he on about?”
Why am I telling you all this on a blog which is supposed to be dedicated to the history of science in general, and Charles Darwin in particular? Well, because one of Sebald's poems, Barometer Reading, begins as follows:
Nothing can be inferred
from the forecasts
are ignoring their ladders
Do you see what I mean? What on Earth is he on about?
At the end of the book, Sebald's translator, Iain Galbraith, includes some brief notes about the poems. A note about Barometer Reading, reads:
ignoring their ladders: weather-frogs (tree-frogs) were kept in preserve glasses with some water in the bottom and a small ladder. If the weather was changing for the better the frog would climb the ladder; if rain was imminent the frog descended the ladder.
Weather-forecasting frogs. Now that's more like it!
I've done a bit of Googling, but haven't been able to find out an awful lot about these weather-forecasting frogs. From what I can tell, they seem to have been mainly a German/Swiss phenomenon. Sebald was brought up in the Bavarian Alps, near to the Swiss border, so that's almost certainly where he heard about them.
A few things I haven't been able to establish:
- who first thought up the idea for these weather-frogs?
- were they a serious attempt to forecast the weather, or where they just a bit of harmless fun?
- did they actually work?
Any information gratefully received in the comments, thanks.
Hmmm, thinks... I'll bet Thony C knows something.
Four years ago today, I planted the Darwin Bicentennial Oak in my garden. I am pleased to report that it is doing well, and has now grown into a magnificent, erm, small sapling.
This tree-growing malarkey is a long-term commitment.
It occurs to me that I might have spent the last four years inadvertently gathering material for the longest time-lapse movie ever. Or should that be shortest?