Tyndall Born 189 Years Ago Today

Happy Birthday, John!

Published in: on August 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Evolution Quote Mining in the 19th-Century

Do check out my post “Evolution Quote Mining in the 19th-Century” at my other blog The Dispersal of Darwin. I look at how a quote from John Tyndall was taken out of context in the 1880s, making it seem that he rejected the theory of evolution.

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

19th-Century Caricature Prints with Tyndall

Earlier this month I went to Cambridge, England for a conference (here is a series of posts on my Darwin blog about the trip). I took in as many of the Darwin exhibits around the university, including “Darwin’s Microscope” at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. The exhibit was more than just the microscope, for on display were numerous Darwin/evolution objects from the museum’s collection as well as a vast amount of contemporary Darwin memorabilia (photos from the exhibit here).  Here I want to point out two pieces in the exhibit that deal with Tyndall.

First, a late nineteenth-century caricature print published by E. Appleyard, London:

Our national church the aegis of liberty, equality, and fraternity

"Our national church the aegis of liberty, equality, and fraternity"

A close-up of a portion of the left side:

Darwin, Huxley, and Tyndall

Darwin, Huxley, and Tyndall

Tyndall holds the banner of “Science” while Darwin recruits younger men of science (Huxley, Tyndall) to his cause, the “dawning of an intellectual era” states the print at bottom right (“This way to daylight, my sons,” Darwin says, with a reference to Genesis 27:2: “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death.” The top right of the print gives reference to Genesis 27:11: “Behold, my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man”). A key at the bottom of the print lists four representatives of science (Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, and Colenso).


UPDATE: I have since learned that this caricature was released as two versions. Looking again at this photo of Darwin memorabilia in the same exhibit,

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

I noticed that the caricature was in the magazine article on the left, but slightly different:

"Our national church the aegis of liberty, equality, and fraternity"

"Our national church the aegis of liberty, equality, and fraternity"

I tracked down the article, which is “America’s Difficulty with Darwin” by historian Thomas Dixon in History Today (February 2009, pp. 22-8). Dixon told me that the later caricature is described (p. 131) and reproduced (pp. 132-3) in Paul White’s Thomas Huxley: Making the Man of Science (2003) and both are described (pp. 380-1) in Janet Browne’s Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002). Here is what White has to say about it:

As one broadsheet produced in the early 1880s [1882] indicates, the claims of learned men, including members of Parliament, to be the best representatives of England’s people could become the subject of derision. As the Church parties pull in different directions beneath the dome, Roman Catholics, Dissenters, Freethinkers, and Secularists stake out different terrain outside. In the upper left corner, John Tyndall and Herbert Spencer accompany Huxley toward the dawn of Darwinism and Protoplasm (?).

Dixon provides in a footnote that “a different version of this broadsheet, printed ten years earlier, is reproduced in Desmond 1998.” That dates the version I saw as 1872. Darwin published The Descent of Man in 1871, and in the earlier version of the caricature Darwin is portrayed as a monkey. Browne, in her article “Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution” (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 145, No. 4, Dec. 2001, pp. 496-509; PDF), wrote:

With publication of the Descent of Man in 1871, followed by
Expression of the Emotions in 1872, Darwin himself entered the cartoons,
usually as the ape itself. His personal facial attributes, such as
his beard, the great dome of his skull, and the beetling eyebrows, were
already relatively familiar to the public from the Vanity Fair chromolithograph
and photographic images reproduced in the Illustrated
London News and elsewhere.20 Such recognition was unusual at a time
when mass publicity was only in its infancy, even more so for a scientist.
Nevertheless, Darwin’s facial features were heavily emphasised
in every caricature around the time of the Descent of Man and the
Expression of the Emotions.
With publication of the Descent of Man in 1871, followed by Expression of the Emotions in 1872, Darwin himself entered the cartoons, usually as the ape itself. His personal facial attributes, such as his beard, the great dome of his skull, and the beetling eyebrows, were already relatively familiar to the public from the Vanity Fair chromolithograph and photographic images reproduced in the Illustrated London News and elsewhere. Such recognition was unusual at a time when mass publicity was only in its infancy, even more so for a scientist. Nevertheless, Darwin’s facial features were heavily emphasised in every caricature around the time of the Descent of Man and the Expression of the Emotions. (p. 506)
And this is how Browne describes, in much more detail, both caricatures in The Power of Place:
Darwin also made an appearance as a minor character in a vast satirical broadsheet published under the name “Ion” in London in 1873 (with another version following afterwards in 1883). This satire was attributed (probably correctly) to clever, mild-mannered George Holyoake, the leading radical secularist of the period… Holyoake had dedicated his life to creating a secular alternative to the established British church… The broadsheet linked ecclesiastical dissent with descent. It was titled Our National Church and provided an all-embracing critique on the fragmenting religious beliefs of the nation, depicting rival sects of Broad Church, Low Church, High Church, Dissenters, “No Church,” Catholicism, and Science. Up in a corner it included three priests of scientific naturalism, Darwin, Huxley, and John Tyndall. This complex picture primarily played on James Martineau’s widely publicised attempts during the 1870s to unite all clergymen under the single umbrella of a “national” church, and evolutionary theory was merely one of several perceived threats to the theological establishment. The print showed the dome of St. Paul’s Catherdral as a giant umbrella unable to shelter religious traditionalists from the stormy winds of doctrinal unrest. Nonconformists pull the chocks away, atheists rant in a corner, Catholic converts follow a signpost “To Rome,” and neither the broad churchmen not the low churchmen can handle the dome’s straining guyropes in the gale. A donkey rudely calls, “Let us bray.” It was fair comment, said the radical divine Moncure Daniel Conway. Huxley, Tyndall, and the renegade clergyman Bishop Colenso push upwards towards the apish figure of Darwin on a hillside, who calls, “This way to daylight, my sons.” The tightly packed text informed readers that over the horizon lay the dawn of an intellectual era which would dispel “the chilling influence of the church.” The second version, usually printed in red and black, was revised to emphasize the evolutionary point. This later version showed an ape carrying the flag of Darwinism, followed by a trail of well-known agnostic philosophers and dissenting clergymen, including Spencer (“Philosophy”), Conway (“We must move on”), Huxley, and Tyndall (“Science”), all aiming for a plinth in which stood Darwin’s bust surrounded by a cloud of “Protoplasm.” Both versions of the print were in Darwin’s personal collection, although it is not known how many others were printed and distributed, or to whom. The artist, whoever he was, considered Darwin and his theory an integral part of the secular, highly politicised world coming into being around him.
So, the first caricature (White says [1872], Browne says 1873), and the second (White says 1882, Browne says 1883), are well known to historians of science (both versions are on The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online as well: 1st/2nd). Darn, I thought I was seeing something untouched by historians, not knowing that it is featured in two books that sit on my shelves. But they will still be useful to me for the paper I will write concerning Tyndall and Darwin, which work on really begins this fall semester.

Second, an 1883 caricature print published by Maclure & MacDonald, Lith, London:

A Versatile Vivisected View of the Monkey House (from the Zoological Gardens)

A Versatile Vivisected View of the Monkey House (from the Zoological Gardens)

A close up of the left side shows Tyndall holding I know not, Joseph Dalton Hooker possibly examining a plant, Thomas Henry Huxley comparing the anatomy of his hand to that of a fish’s fin, and Sir Richard Owen seemingly jealous of Huxley:

Tyndall, Hooker, Huxley, and Owen

Tyndall, Hooker, Huxley, and Owen

All four are designated as F[ellows of the] R[oyal] S[ociety], but I don’t know what GL stands for. [UPDATE: Bill Ashworth suggests that FRGSL stands for Fellow of the Royal Geological Society of London. That makes sense!]

Has anyone seen these caricatures before?

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Comments (9)  
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New Scientist: The man who discovered greenhouse gases

New Scientist has an article by Stephanie Pain, “The man who discovered greenhouse gases” (13 May 2009), that gives Darwin’s friend John Tyndall some recognition in the Darwin Year:

As an antidote to this year’s Darwin-mania, we celebrate a piece of science from 1859 that wasn’t remotely controversial at the time, but which underpins the hottest political potato of our era: climate change. In May 1859, six months before the publication of On the Origin of Species, Irish physicist John Tyndall proved that some gases have a remarkable capacity to hang onto heat, so demonstrating the physical basis of the greenhouse effect. Charles Darwin had journeyed round the world and ruminated for 20 years before presenting his inflammatory ideas on evolution. Tyndall spent just a few weeks experimenting in a windowless basement lab in London.


Many people think the greenhouse effect is a late 20th-century invention. Yet the physical basis for anthropogenic global warming was established six months before Darwin published On the Origin of Species,” says [Mike] Hulme. “Unlike Darwin, Tyndall’s findings didn’t cause a revolution in thinking. It was a long, slow process before people recognised the implications.”

So, while Darwin connected man to the rest of the natural world, Tyndall was not quite to the point of thinking how man affects the natural world.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Transcribing Too Many Letters?

Each week in my historical writing course we have to write up a review of the book we read for that week, and make it available for all other students in the class to read. A fellow graduate student told me today, while reading my review of Mary Murphy’s Hope in Hard Times, that I am beginning to write like a nineteenth-century Englishman. He said I have been transcribing too many Tyndall letters!

On another note, I wish we could have a little “tropic sunshine” here in Montana. Tyndall used “tropic sunshine” in a letter, and now I like to use it. Maybe I do need a break from transcribing…

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Busy Semester

Sorry for the lack of posts. Been very busy this semester between classes (why did not anyone tell me how much reading history graduate students must do?). Just finished transcribing another set of 50 letters. My fellow transcriber is house-sitting in Scotland (yeah, house-sitting in Scotland!), and she took letters with her to work on. 

I am planning a research trip to London for this fall. The archives of the Royal Insititution of Great Britain hold the most material available on Tyndall. You can see the scope of that collection here.

Published in: on February 15, 2009 at 9:11 am  Comments (2)  

[Tyndall Blogged] Funny Deaths

From the blog Revolving Doors (2008-12-17):

Funny Deaths

There are many ways to leave this world. John Tyndall, famous Irish scientist who discovered that CO2 and vapor enables the atmosphere to trap heat, died in a rather anticlimactic way. In his late years he suffered from insomnia and his wife accidentally killed him when she by mistake gave him too much of his sleep medication. I wonder how he exclaimed his last words: “Louisa, my poor darling, you have just killed your John”. Matter-of-factly, fearfully, tensely, laughingly, angrily, whisperingly, chokingly, gigglingly, graspingly, gaspingly, disappointedly?

Another famous scientist who was interested in the trapping of heat, Jean-Baptist Fourier, was actually killed indirectly by self-inflicted heat confinement. He had this idea that heat was essential for good health. He always kept his home extra warm an he wore multiple layers of clothes. A fall down a flight of stairs sent him to heaven.

I read about these deaths in Professor Christian Azaar’s book Makten över klimatet.

John & Louisa Tyndall in 1884

John & Louisa Tyndall in 1884

I don’t think I would call Tyndall’s death funny… Unfortunate, yes. Funny, no. Louisa was so distraught over the accident  (1893) that she devoted her time to collecting Tyndall’s papers and letters with the intention of producing a grand Life and Letters of Tyndall. It proved such a large task that it was incomplete when she died in 1940. Others continued the project for her and published Life and Work of John Tyndall in 1945. It has been a while since a Tyndall biography, and one of the benefits of the John Tyndall Correspondence Project is the writing of a new biography.

Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The New Scriptures According to Tyndall, Darwin, Etc.

I found this in the Times and Register of March 26, 1892, but I’ve seen it in other periodicals from at least 1875, one year after Tyndall’s call for the authority of science and materialism - his address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast:




PRIMARILY, the Unknowable, moved upon cosmos, and evolved protoplasm.

2. And protoplasm was inorganic and indifferentiated, containing all things in potential energy; and a spirit of evolution moved upon the fluid mass.

3. And the Unknowable said, Let atoms attract; and their contact begat light, heat and electricity.

4. And the Unconditional differentiated the atoms, each after its kind, and their combinations begat rock, air and water.

5. And there went out a spirit of evolution from the Unconditioned, and, working in protoplasm by accretion and absorption, produced the organic cell.

6. And cell by nutrition, evolved by primordial germ, and germ developed protogene, and protogene begat eozoön, and eozoön begat monad, and monad begat animalcule.

7. And animalcule begat ephemera; then began creeping things to multiply on the face of the earth.

8. And earthy atom in vegetable protoplasm begat the molecule, and thence came all grass and every herb in the earth.

9. And animalculæ in the water evolved fins, tails, claws and scales; and in the air, wings and beaks; and on the land there sprouted such organs as were necessary, as played upon by the environment.

10. And by accretion and absorption came the radiata and mollusca, and mollusca begat articulata, and articulata begat vertebrata.

11. Now these are the generations of the higher vertebrata, in the cosmic period that the Unknowable evoluted the bipedal mammalia.

12. And every man of the earth, while he was yet a monkey, and the horse, while he was a hipparion, and the hipparion, before he was an oredon.

13. Out of the ascidian came the amphibian and begat the pentadactyle, and the pentadactyle by inheritance and selection produced the hylobate, from which are the simiadæ in all their tribe.

14. And out of the simiadæ the lemur prevailed above his fellows and produced the platyrrhine monkey.

15. And the platyrrhine begat the catarrhine, and the catarrhine monkey begat the anthropoid ape, and the ape begat the longimanous ourang, and the ourang begat the chimpanzee, and the chimpanzee evoluted the what-is-it.

16. And the what-is-it went into the land of Nod and took him a wife of the longimanous gibbons.

17. And in the process of the cosmic period were born unto them and their children the anthropomorphic primordial types.

18. The homunculus, the prognathus, the troglodytes, the autochthon, the terragen – these are the generations of primeval man.

19. And primeval man was naked and not ashamed, but lived in quadrumanous innocence, and struggled mightily to harmonize with the environment.

20. And by inheritance and natural selection did he progress from the stable and homogeneous to the complex and heterogeneous; for the weakest died, and the strongest grew and multiplied.

21. And man grew a thumb, for that he had need of it, and developed capacities for prey.

22. For behold, the swiftes men caught the most animals, and the swifest animals got away from the most men; wherefore, the slow animals were eaten, and the slow men starved to death.

23. And as types were differentiated, the weaker types continually disappeared.

24. And the earth was filled with violence; for man strove with man and tribe with tribe, whereby they killed off the weak and foolish, and secured the survival of the fittest.


Crossposted at The Dispersal of Darwin.

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Scientific American: Carbon Dioxide and Climate

Scientific American online has up an article from July 1959 about the role of carbon dioxide in climate change. Of course, Tyndall is mentioned in this article as having stated the theory in 1861:

Even the carbon dioxide theory is not new; the basic idea was first precisely stated in 1861 by the noted British physicist John Tyndall. He attributed climatic temperature-changes to variations in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The article links to a video on SciAm’s blog 60-Second Science about “A history of the climate change conspiracy,” featuring historian of science Naomi Oreskes:

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tyndall Died Today in 1893

From Today in Science History:

British physicist who demonstrated why the sky is blue. His initial scientific reputation was based on a study of diamagnetism. He carried out research on radiant heat, studied spontaneous generation and the germ theory of disease, glacier motion, sound, the diffusion of light in the atmosphere and a host of related topics. He showed that ozone was an oxygen cluster rather than a hydrogen compound, and invented the firemans respirator and made other less well-known inventions including better fog-horns. One of his most important inventions, the light pipe, has led to the development of fibre optics. The modern light instrument is known as the gastroscope, which enables internal observations of a patient’s stomach without surgery. Tyndall was a very popular lecturer.

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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