Library book sale finds

At two recent library book sales I have come across some Tyndall books. First, I found Hours of Exercise in the Alps (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1896), a collection of writings about mountaineering. Second, as I scanned through the titles on the spines of old books at another sale, the word science caught my eye, then I saw fragments, then the name Tyndall. Thus, I now own a copy of the second volume of Tyndall’s Fragments of Science (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1905), which contains articles and lectures regarding religion, prayer, Darwin, evolution, his Belfast Address, and spontaneous generation.

Book sales are so much fun!

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm  Comments (4)  
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Tyndall on Darwin

I had a chance to look at Thomas Glick’s new book, What about Darwin?: All Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends, and Enemies Who Met, Read, and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World, at a Barnes & Noble in Seattle a little over a week ago.

Seattle Barnes & Noble - Thomas Glick's "What about Darwin?"

There is one entry for John Tyndall:

Seattle Barnes & Noble - Tyndall on Darwin

Here’s the text, which comes from Tyndall’s famous Belfast Address:

Mr. Darwin shirks no difficulty; and, saturated as the subject was with his own thought, he must have known better than his critics the weakness as well as the strength of his theory. This of course would be of little avail [43/44] were his object a temporary dialectic victory instead of the establishment of a truth which he means to be everlasting. But he takes no pains to disguise the weakness he has discerned; nay, he takes every pains to bring it into the strongest light. His vast resources enable him to cope with objections started by himself and others, so as to leave the final impression upon the reader’s mind that, if they be not completely answered, they certainly are not fatal. Their negative force being thus destroyed, you are free to be influenced by the vast positive mass of evidence he is able to bring before you. This largeness of knowledge and readiness of resource render Mr. Darwin the most terrible of antagonists. Accomplished naturalists have levelled heavy and sustained criticisms against him—not always with the view of fairly weighing his theory, but with the express intention of exposing its weak points only. This does not irritate him. He treats every objection with a soberness and thoroughness which even Bishop Butler might be proud to imitate, surrounding each fact with its appropriate detail, placing it in its proper relations, and usually giving it a significance which, as long as it was kept isolated, failed to appear. This is done without a trace of ill-temper. He moves over the subject with the passionless strength of a glacier; and the grinding of the rocks is not always without a counterpart in the logical pulverization of the objector.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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WORKSHOP: Revisiting Evolutionary Naturalism: New Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture

From Situating Science | Science in Human Contexts:

Revisiting Evolutionary Naturalism: New Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture

Node Workshop
May 6 – 7th, 2011
York University, Toronto, Canada

Ever since the 1970’s, when Robert Young and Frank Turner treated T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and their allies as posing an effective challenge to the authority of the Anglican clergy, scholars have found the term “scientific naturalism,” or “evolutionary naturalism,” to be a useful shorthand for referring to an influential group of like-minded elite intellectuals. But over the years, questions have been raised about the cohesiveness and the cultural status of scientific naturalism. Is the term elastic enough to include both the idealist and romantic Karl Pearson as well as the hard-nosed materialist Charles Bastian? Just how powerful were the scientific naturalists if they disagreed amongst themselves on key issues, and if, as many recent studies have suggested, they were confronted by a host of effective opponents in addition to Anglican clergymen, including North British physicists, Oxbridge trained gentlemen of science, self-trained popularizers of science, philosophical idealists, spiritualists, feminists, anti-vivisectionists, and socialists? Indeed, how far were the practices and writings of scientific naturalists actually shaped by their interchanges with such myriad opponents?

In this workshop we hope to explore new perspectives on the British scientific naturalists, re-examining their interactions with each other and with other groups within the larger culture. Speakers include Ruth Barton, Peter J. Bowler, Gowan Dawson, James Elwick, Jim Endersby, George Levine, Bernard Lightman, Ted Porter, Evelleen Richards, Joan Richards, Michael Reidy, Jonathan Smith, Robert Smith, Matthew Stanley, Michael Taylor, Frank Turner, and Paul White. The workshop will take place at 320 Bethune College, York University, Toronto, Canada on May 6th and 7th, 2011. It is sponsored by York University, SSHRC, and by Situating Science.

Barton, Dawson, Elwick, Lightman, Reidy, and Stanley are all part of the John Tyndall Correspondence Project. I’m hoping to attend.

Published in: on September 5, 2010 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tyndall Session at BSHS Annual Meeting

At this year’s annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science (PDF programme), there was a session all about John Tyndall: “John Tyndall and his Audiences” (chaired by Efram Sera Shriar). The participants, with the exception of Young, with the exception of Young, with the Tyndall Correspondence Project. Here are the titles and abstracts of their various talks, as well as comments via Twitter from Rebekah Higgitt (@beckyfh) of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and National Maritime Museum:

Panel abstract: The natural philosopher John Tyndall was both one of the most successful and one of the most controversial science lecturers of the Victorian period. This seeming contradiction is easily understood if we consider the highly differentiated audiences that he addressed in locations both within and without his base in London’s Royal Institution. Our session moves beyond such a facile resolution, however, to consider how Tyndall dealt with the problems he encountered in maintaining effective engagement with such diverse audiences – from the mundane difficulties of weekly lecture preparation to the sustained tensions of the science-spirituality nexus. By considering the strategies he adopted in attempting to overcome these challenges, our papers reveal both how closely networked he was to some key contemporaries and the kinds of boundary work that he undertook in his dealings with them. Several papers in this session draw upon letters recently transcribed in the international John Tyndall Correspondence Project co-ordinated from York University, Toronto.

“John Tyndall: Lecturing, Authority and Correspondence in Victorian Public Science,” Graeme Gooday and Jamie Stark:

John Tyndall‘s lecturing was the epitome of Victorian ‘public science’, to use Frank Turner‘s apposite description. Between his humble accession to a professorship at the Royal Institution in 1853 and his final shambolic lecture there in 1886, Tyndall attained large and diverse audiences both for his lectures and the many books published from them. While several historians have studied Tyndall‘s lecturing technique and his relationship with these audiences, this paper sheds new light on this work from hitherto unexamined correspondence with William Thomson, and William & Eliza Spottiswoode. We learn from these that Thomson became increasingly deferential to Tyndall as an authority on lecturing technique over the course of his career – maintaining their cordiality even during the bitter priority dispute between Mayer and Joule over energy conversation, on which they took opposing sides. From correspondence with the Spottiswoodes it transpires that they – perhaps rather more than fellow members of the X-club – served as Tyndall‘s personal confidantes over the enormously demanding schedule he set himself in lecture preparation. As President of the Royal Society, William would regularly recommend lecture opportunities to him to serve irenic political purposes, e.g. working men in Ireland, and offer support to Tyndall when he encountered difficulties with Establishment disapproval of his religious position. Overall we see that whilst Tyndall‘s surviving letters with hundreds of correspondents reveal him to be a central figure in Victorian science, he also evidently relied upon significant numbers of them for successful management of his public career as scientific authority.

“Working Wonder: Tyndall and the Making of Victorian Scientific Performances,” Iwan Morus:

In his lecture at the 1870 British Association meeting at Liverpool, ‘On the Scientific Uses of the Imagination,’ John Tyndall argued that there was more to science than mere logic or empiricism. In fact he rather mischievously characterized the view that this was all science was, as a Tory calumny. Without imagination there would be no science, he averred. In this paper I want to use some of Tyndall‘s arguments about scientific imagination as an entry point into investigating the genre of Victorian scientific performances, of which Tyndall himself was also a celebrated exponent. In particular – and using some of Tyndall‘s own performances – I want to investigate the aesthetics of performance and the Victorian sense of wonder. Accounts of spectacular experimental performances were often couched in this way, often invoking comparisons with magic. Historians of Victorian public science have had relatively little to say about the visual culture of Victorian physics with which performers like Tyndall captured their audiences. I want to follow Tyndall‘s example by looking at how this sense of wonder was practically achieved and what we as historians of physics can hope to gain by making the practices and technologies through which wonder was produced the focus of our narratives.

“John Tyndall and Theology: The Definition and Boundaries of Science,” Ursula DeYoung:

This paper examines the epistemological issues raised by the many sermons, articles, and pamphlets published in response to John Tyndall‘s Presidential Address to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast in 1874. Tyndall‘s Address served as a direct statement of hostility towards the claims of established religion as a cultural authority, and this paper argues that the Address played a crucial role in the developing definitions of ‗science‘ and ‗theology‘ as intellectual disciplines and as forces in society. The paper explores issues ranging from the perceived duties of a President in making his opening address to the BAAS to the division between rationality and emotion and the contested borderline separating science from theology. Its evidence spans the spectrum of participants, from obscure preachers to such well-known figures as James Martineau. Acknowledging the revisionist work done by historians such as Frank Turner, Bernard Lightman, and Robert M. Young on the ‗war‘ between science and theology in the nineteenth century, the paper nevertheless emphasises the military language used by participants in the science/theology debates and argues that the conflict, after Tyndall‘s Address, centred on the epistemology of science: how it could be defined, how much intellectual and philosophical ground it covered as a discipline, and what role it should play in society.

“Following your example at a distance: The Carlylean balancing of John Tyndall and James Crichton-Browne,” Mike Finn:

John Tyndall‘s outlook on the roles of religion and scientific inquiry was a source of debate in his own lifetime, and remains so for modern historians. Whilst espousing strict materialism in scientific study, he viewed the universe as a living thing, elements of which would always remain mysterious and at the root of spiritual beliefs. Frank Turner and Ruth Barton have both suggested that many Victorian men of science, including Tyndall, were deeply influenced in their religious thinking by Thomas Carlyle; a man who held paradoxical views on matters of science and religion himself. This paper will investigate further the practical implications of a Carlylean approach to balancing scientific and religious convictions in a scientific career, by considering events in the lives of two men who were followers and friends of Carlyle: Tyndall, a physicist, and James Crichton-Browne, a psychiatrist. Following his 1874 Belfast address, Tyndall faced criticism for declaring that religious beliefs must hold no weight in any scientific practice. Concurrently Crichton-Browne, an asylum superintendent, led just such an experimental research programme on the brain. However, whilst Tyndall unflinchingly and publicly defended his controversial views until his death, Crichton-Browne later felt impelled to leave the journal Brain, which he had helped to found, because he could not tolerate its materialist tendencies. It is thus seen that the Carlylean trait of maintaining a sharp demarcation between spirituality and scientific practice had rather different kinds of problematic consequences for their professional and personal lives.

Twitter comments from Rebekah Higgitt (@beckyfh):

#britsochistsci Tyndall discussion: from drunk lecturing to his flirtation with Quakerism

#britsochistsci Tyndall: Mike Finn on Thomas Carlyle’s influence on & friendship with Tyndall & James Crichton-Browne

#britsochistsci Tyndall discussion: Tyndall & the ladies recurring theme. Representations of materialism & morality, also lecturing persona

#britsochistsci Tyndall: Ursula DeYoung on military language used in 1870s debates on science/religion, or what form science should take

#britsochistsci Tyndall: discussion raises T the opium addict – and Huxley his supplier when he was in the Alps!

#britsochistsci Tyndall: Iwan Morus on the self-conscious, controlled performance of physical science lecture: opposing disembodiment of sci

#britsochistsci Tyndall: G Gooday & J Stark on what T Corresp Project can tell about T’s lecturing, its relation to his writing & authority

#britscihistsci Very hard session choices this am. Tyndall & his Audiences, Nuclear Science & Cold War, Music & Sound or Biomedical Sci?

Published in: on July 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm  Comments (2)  

John Tyndall’s Vertical Physics

A new article in the latest issue of Physics in Perspective by Michael S. Reidy looks at the relationship between science and mountaineering in the nineteenth century, using John Tyndall as a case study (Reidy is currently working on a book-length treatment of this topic, exploring many figures, including Joseph Dalton Hooker):

John Tyndall’s Vertical Physics: From Rock Quarries to Icy Peaks

Michael S. Reidy

Abstract I analyze, through the work of the Irish physicist John Tyndall (1820–1893), the close relationship formed in the mid-nineteenth century between advances in the physical sciences and the rise of mountaineering as a sport. Along with groundbreaking experimental research in the physical sciences, Tyndall worked throughout his career to define and popularize the study of physics. He also was a pioneering mountaineer during the golden age of mountaineering. As he practiced his science, from rock quarries to the study of the blue sky, Tyndall’s interests in the fundamental forces of Nature brought him to the summits of mountains. His sojourns to the mountains, in turn, affected the manner in which he approached his researches. His science and mountaineering were tellingly mixed, and worked in unison to shape public perceptions of what physicists did during a period of increasing specialization and popularization of the field.

Published in: on June 18, 2010 at 7:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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John Tyndall Symposium, Thursday 24th June 2010, University of Leeds

John Tyndall

John Tyndall was a famous physicist, lecturer and prominent public figure in nineteenth-century Britain. This symposium aims to bring together researchers interested in the life, letters and works of John Tyndall, and to discuss the current international project to transcribe his letters of correspondence.

The symposium will be held in the Leeds Humanities Research Institute, on Clarendon Place within the University of Leeds. This is site 25 on the university’s campus map. The ‘Freecitybus‘, which passes through the train and bus stations, stops at Clarendon way, a 5-minute walk away from the Institute.

There will be a registration fee of £5 to help cover costs, which can be paid on the day. If you would like to attend the event please contact Mike Finn by Friday 18th June. Download a poster for the event here.

Time Programme


Arrivals and registration

Introduction by Graeme Gooday (University of Leeds)

Session 1




Chaired by Efram Sera-Shriar (University of Leeds)

Michael Reidy (Montana State University)
“Bringing Science to the Humanities: The John Tyndall Correspondence Project”

James Elwick (York University, Toronto)
“Transcribing Tyndall, or, how to make Collaborative Academic Networks more than just a Buzzphrase”

Tea & Coffee

Session 2





Chaired by Jon Topham (University of Leeds)

Graeme GoodayJamie Stark (University of Leeds)
“John Tyndall: Lecturing, Authority and Correspondence in Victorian Public Science”

Mike Finn (University of Leeds)
“Following Your Example at a Distance: The Carlylean Balancing of John Tyndall & James Crichton-Browne”

Michael Reidy (Montana State University)
“John Tyndall’s Vertical Physics”


Session 3





Chaired by Geoffrey Cantor (Emeritus, University of Leeds / UCL)

Frank James (Royal Institution of Great Britain)
“Father, Son, Brother, Colleagues?: Michael Faraday and John Tyndall”


Bernard Lightman (York University, Toronto)
“Tyndall and Patronage”

Wine Reception

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Comments (6)  

Tyndall on Prayer

I have a post up on my other blog about Tyndall on prayer. I put it there so it can be viewed by many more people than normally see the blog.

Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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More antievolutionism in the New York Times

I came across another piece of antievolutionism in the New York Times, of 19 May 1886, in “What Deaf-Mutes Can Do”:

If Prof. Tyndall had been present yesterday afternoon at the pupils’ exhibition of the New-York Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Washington Heights, he would have been compelled to admit that even when the faculty of articulate speech is gone there are still left distinctive differences between the lowest human being and the highest of the animals, which make the interval separating them impassable.

The article is here.

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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“The efficient defender of a fellow scientific man”

I am near finishing my professional paper (not a thesis) for my masters degree, titled “‘The efficient defender of a fellow scientific man’: John Tyndall, Darwin, and Preaching Pure Science in America.” Let me know if you’d like to read a draft, but  it still has some problems to work out.

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 7:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tyndall Project on Twitter

Follow @JohnTyndallCP

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment