The Darwin-L Archives, a discussion group for academic professionals in the historical sciences that was active from 1993–1997. The site notes that “[i]n spite of its name, Darwin-L did not focus specifically on the work of Charles Darwin, but rather covered the entire range of palaetiology from an explicitly comparative perspective, including evolutionary biology, historical linguistics, textual transmission and stemmatics, historical geology, systematics and phylogeny, archeology, paleontology, historical geography, cosmology, and historical anthropology.”
Linnaeus’ personal copy of his Systema Naturae (1st edition, 1735), an important document for the emergence of taxonomic classification of living organisms, was put on display at two American locales to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus’ birth (see this link for posts with Linnaeus celebration information). First, it was on display at the New York Botanical Garden from November 8-10, including some talks, one with Edward O. Wilson. Then it went to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History from November 13-14 as “A Tribute to Carl Linnaeus,” part of a symposium, “Three Hundred Years of Linnaean Taxonomy.” The blog of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) originally posted on this, and digitized versions of Systema Naturae are available at the BHL or Botanicus.org.
Wonders and the Order of Nature is more than just a collection of stories about marvels. As a cornucopia of contexts, this book provides a wealth of social, cultural, religious, and political forces behind the history of wonders and the history of the emotion of wonder itself. In several ways, however, Daston and Park offer some broader themes. In their sweep through six centuries (from the High Middle Ages through the enlightenment), they show how the passions of wonder and curiosity have defined what objects were worthy of study and collection (and use) by European elites, be they courtly princes, natural philosophers, medical men, or theologians. Within those definitions emerge a multitude of boundaries – natural/unnatural, domestic/exotic, learned/lay (cultivated/vulgar), particulars/universals, theology/secularism, natural/artificial, empiricism and reason/ignorance, common/rare, physical experience/text experience, utility/futility, and ordinary/extraordinary – that help to understand how European elites viewed wonders and connected them to their lives.
Always with a dictionary at-hand, I found this book difficult at times to grasp a larger picture and yet redeemed as the authors summarized the main themes in each chapter. Chapter 1 places wonders geographically (or more exactly topographically), where marvels were “compiled, collated, analyzed, and multiplied.” Most important here is the boundary between the domestic and the exotic. Marvels were found on the margins of Europe, to the east in Asia and Africa, and to the west in, at one time, Ireland, and later in the sixteenth century, the New World of North and South America. Recalling Pliny, the English monk Hidgen said “Nature plays with greater freedom secretly at the edges of the world than she does openly and nearer us in the middle of it.” How geography defined marvels said something about the society of those experiencing the marvel. Marvels on the margins reflected Nature acting against her own laws, while marvels (of a different sort) that appeared within European society were considered horrors, signs of sin from the people. Those marvels on the margins were often exotic races such as the Cyclops (part of the natural order), while marvels at home were singularities: a monstrous birth, a comet, or blood-rain (ruptures of the moral order). While horrific marvels at home caused fear, exotic marvels, since they were not local, were viewed with tolerance. Part of this tolerance emerged from a view of relativity. Earlier readers of texts about monsters thought the exotic races barbarous and threatening. Medieval readers, however, saw exotic races through the eyes of those exotic races; they were no longer perceived negatively. Despite this new perspective, Europeans still expressed their superiority over exotic races.
While some viewed the marvels of the East as pleasurable (and non-threatening), Augustine placed them in a theological context. Representing the omnipotence of God, marvels should evoke religious awe. An Augustinian practice – by fellows like Bartholomaeus, Thomas, and Vincent – was to pore over catalogues of marvels and “bring out the moral sense.” “He told of wonders,” a Christian author wrote about Pliny, “and I speak of morals.” According to Daston and Park, the principal difference between singularities (prodigies) and marvelous (exotic) species “lay in their signification rather than their form.” If a marvel were on the boundaries, then they represented symbols of the “power and wisdom of their Creator” or “figures of some higher theological or moral truth;” if they were found within society, then they acted as signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure “with particular situations or actions,” and required immediate documentation because they “engag[ed] immediate human interests.” Another aspect of the exotic versus domestic nature of marvels I found interesting is that travel writers relied on eyewitness experience in their accounts of visits to the east because “they needed to present their narratives as both literally and morally true.”
In the next chapter, Daston and Park discuss wonders as physical objects and commodities of material culture rather than how they were significant to their observers or fit into literary culture as textual objects. As physical objects, wonders represented the wealth, power, and cultivation of those who owned them, and thus emerges the objects’ association with courts and nobility. The medieval collection was not a museum, for objects were not “prized for cognitive or philosophical reasons,” but rather a collection of treasures as a “repository of economic and spiritual capital.” Daston and Park describe medieval collections as having “little resemblance to early modern or modern museums” and that they “functioned as repositories of wealth and of magical and symbolic power rather than microcosms, sites of study, or places where the wonders of art and nature were displayed for the enjoyment of their proprietors and the edification of scholars and amateurs.” I somewhat disagree with this statement, for some modern museums were created and continued to represent the power and wealth of their donors or proprietors, and were intended for use by the wealthy and upper class citizens of society. Although offering their collections to public institutions, museum historian Marjorie Schwarzer notes that some self-made tycoons of the early twentieth century in America “expressed power through acquisition.” Isabella Stewart Gardner named her art museum after herself and gained a “great increase in social stature.” Thus, some modern museums retained symbolic expressions of wealth and power (but probably not magic), not only by what they collected but also how they displayed their objects. Almost the entire collection of museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was on display, a symbol of the institutions extent of acquisitions.
Although accessible to European elites, medieval collections were essentially off limits to laymen. It seems that by restricting access to treasures, the wonder they elicited from laymen was not only enforced, as Daston and Park note, but in some manner even constructed by those keeping them restricted. “[T]he wonders of the Crista were not generally available for popular contemplation,” and “ordinary laymen had to wait for one of the special festivals when the treasure was exhibited to the avid multitude, resulting in intense and sometimes rowdy scenes.” Had these wonders of spiritual and economic capital been open to the masses more regularly, would they have elicited the same wonder and caused the same rowdy scenes? Chapter Two closes with a discussion of wonder at court. Daston and Park show how collections of marvels held social, economic, and political means for princes and dukes. Whether to impress court visitors, as symbols of Eastern conquest, or as symbols of wealth and power, courtly princes made “repeated and specific use of the marvelous as an elaborate system of emblems and signs to dramatize both their particular historical situation and their political aims.”
Chapter Three looks beyond the role that wonders played for courtly princes and theologians of the Middle Ages to the place they held for natural philosophers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. According to Daston and Park, natural philosophers generally rejected wonders as worthy of inquiry not only because of their rarity but because of their unknown causal mechanisms. They viewed them as irrelevant to their work and as being outside or beyond the course of nature. Despite Aristotle’s claim that wonder, as ignorance of the causes of natural phenomena, and the study of particular natural phenomena created inquiry to search for those causes, Latin natural philosophers used Aristotle’s emphasis on causal mechanisms as the basis for their dispelling of wonders. In order to make sense of the natural order, these natural philosophers did not study particulars – individual marvels – but instead sought to understand natural variability through “elaborating general statements about the causes of certain types of phenomena.” They studied universal principles rather than particular phenomena, and instead of observing natural phenomena, the natural philosopher’s task was “to refine and distill the universal truths he found in books and received from his teachers.” Thus, the work of Latin natural philosophers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries did not rely on direct experience.
From Thomas Aquinas we get three types of physical occurrences. Wonders and the Order of Nature is not concerned with the supernatural (miracles), but with both the natural (naturalia) and the preternatural (mirabilia, marvels, wonders, you name it). There were problems with distinguishing between these three realms, but for the most part wonders and the passion of wonder associated with those wonders belonged to the preternatural. “Because wonder was associated with the ignorance of causes,” write Daston and Park, “it was a peculiarly unsuitable passion for one whose entire discipline was organized around the causal knowledge of nature.” In their attempt to “make wonders cease,” natural philosophers in the fourteenth century posited explanations by natural causes without seriously invoking divine or demonic intervention. Moreover, they claimed that particular wonders, as objects which had to be experienced to be known, could not become part of natural philosophy.
Daston and Park move to Latin medical writers in their fourth chapter. Working for princely patrons who admired wonder and wonders, medical writers thus viewed wonders with attraction rather than the distaste of Latin natural philosophers. Because these physicians, involved in elite medical practice, “began to explore the therapeutic powers of particular marvels,” wonder and wonders emerged as part of natural philosophy, and, Daston and Park write, “lay at the heart of much philosophical writing” by the middle of the sixteenth century. That particular phenomena became important as objects of philosophical reflection and wonder itself was reclaimed as a philosophical emotion led to a new philosophy, preternatural philosophy, which was concerned with adding personal experience of wonders to previous textual evidence, and used wonder as a tool for philosophical inquiry. Objects used by physicians and collected by apothecaries were not only wonders, but most were also exotic, associating them with elite practice. The marvels that poured out of the New World in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries provided much new natural material for study, especially for medicines, and reformed the ways in which “nature herself might best be explored.”
The practice of collecting natural objects for their own sake, and not as objects that were collected by courtly princes, followed from global explorations. These collections helped to add practical use to the Greek and Roman texts on medicine and natural works. They also were places for research and tools in “professional and social self-fashioning.” Like the collections of princes, however, marvelous natural history collections also transferred “the emotion of wonder from the objects themselves to their erudite and discriminating owner.” Sixteenth-century collectors preferred particulars rather than universals, and thus sought specific explanations for individual phenomena. Ficino went beyond this and sought “overarching, speculative, and synthetic accounts of nature.” Daston and Park describe Ficino’s work as “a view of nature and natural philosophy that emphasized the power of human knowledge to transform the material world.” The emotion of wonder as used by sixteenth-century collectors was now “passed through a professional lens.” A philosophical elite knew which phenomena were worthy of his attention, for this wonder was “a finely graduated register of response that only the best-informed and the most philosophically sophisticated could deploy.” A new age of wonder emerged in both natural philosophy and the literature and art of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
As the centerpiece of Wonders and the Order of Nature, Chapter Five is a retelling of Daston and Park’s original work that ultimately led to this book. In their 1981 article on monsters, they provided a chronological account of the views of monsters held in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – horror giving way to pleasure giving way to repugnance. They have changed their approach for this book, and now claim that chronology is ambiguous, for the ways in which people perceived monstrous births – horror, pleasure, and repugnance – occurred simultaneously and were not demarcated in time. Monsters could evoke horror or terror as signs of divine wrath signaling collective sin, pleasure as sports of a benign nature and ornaments of a benevolent creator, or repugnance based on anatomical, theological, or aesthetic grounds. As prodigies, monsters were ruptures in the physical order. As sports, they were objects of spectacle – such as a means for parents to make money – not just for princes and medical men but for laymen at marketplaces and fairs or expressions of “nature’s creative variety.” As errors, or objects of repugnance, monsters “violated the standards of regularity and decorum not only in nature, but also in society and the arts.”
Chapter Six discusses how marvels became part of natural philosophy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific academies, such as the Royal Society of London and the Paris Académie Royale des Sciences. Naturalists in these circles weighed the credibility of marvelous reports and looked at “problems of evidence, explanation, and experience” in their study of nature in these centuries. They devised new ways of understanding their roles as inquirers into the natural world. They were “the curious,” a combination of “a thirst to know with an appetite for wonders,” and their discipline was “a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint,” a “discipline for the mind.” They sought to understand the particularity of phenomena and through this, understand the normal, by looking at facts rather than explanations or theories. It became important to verify facts, to determine whether or not marvelous reports were sound or invented. Part of this verification was probably social, for a “delicate economy of civility governed the reporting on wonders.” As gentlemen and members of scientific circles, it proved difficult to contradict their testimony of marvels.
Wunderkammern – cabinets of curiosity – are the subject of the seventh chapter. In opposition themselves with the Aristotelian opposition between art and nature, Wunderkammern displayed artificialia alongside naturalia, juxtaposing in collections, even in single objects, nature’s elegant economy with the extravagance in expenditure of labor and materials. “Nature does nothing in vain,” while art is “careless of function” and prone to useless ornamentation. In some sense, combining art and nature in a single object, like the ornamented nautilus shell created by Bartel Jamnitzer of Nuremberg (p. 279), not only contrasts nature with art, but also juxtaposes nature with man’s ability to control and manipulate nature (in the form of mining the metals used in art). For the owners of Wunderkammern, they held “hidden assumptions and aims,” and mainly served to show off the prince’s magnificence to visitors (usually of a political nature), or in the case of scholars and physicians, to “stupefy visitors with wonder” culminated from learning rather than wealth. Objects also showed how art imitated nature, such as trompe l’oeil paintings and casts from nature, or how nature imitated art, as in swirls of marble resembling clouds and figured stones. These imitations garnered wonder rather than the objects themselves. The contrast of art and nature in Wunderkammern also pointed to questions of nature and theology: was nature art, or artisan? If nature produces art, then what does that say about God’s sovereignty? According to Boyle, God did not need nature as an assistant. To Enlightenment naturalists and collectors, “[n]ature had become ‘the Art of God,’ no longer able to create art on her own.”
Chapter Eight discusses the shifting relationships of wonder and curiosity as emotions, at times aligned and at other times opposed. The final chapter is about how wonder and wonders were no longer important to European intellectuals, and how marvels waned from prominence, although not completely disappearing. Very quickly Daston and Park counter the argument that “the new science” of the seventeenth century dismissed marvels by means of objective and rational explanations. Instead, Enlightenment intellectuals ignored marvels on metaphysical, aesthetic, and political grounds. Daston and Park argue that it was “neither rationality nor science nor even secularization that buried the wondrous for European elites,” and that “Enlightenment savants did not embark on anything like a thorough program to test empirically the strange facts collected so assiduously by their seventeenth-century predecessors or to offer natural explanations for them.” A broad theme emerges in the last paragraph of this chapter. Daston and Park write that for all participants involved in the emotion of wonder and experienced wondrous objects from the twelfth through eighteenth centuries, “the natural order was also a moral order in the broad and somewhat old fashioned sense of moral as all that pertains to the human, from the political to the aesthetic. Hence the aberrations of nature were always charged with moral meaning.”
If we look back through the examples offered by Daston and Park, we begin to see this theme of wonder and wonders fashioning the self: topographically, the occurrence of wonders in the European center spoke of sin, while the knowledge of wonders at the margins testified to European dominance, and therefore superiority, of the East; courtly princes used their collections of exotica and other wonders to impress others with their power and wealth, as well as create wonders of themselves, such as Philip the Good of Burgundy as “a new Alexander;” natural philosophers rejected wonder because it stood for one’s ignorance of causes, and thus defined their intellectual status; early natural history collections were involved with “professional and social self-fashioning” and represented the ability of their physician/naturalist owners to know what was or was not worthy of wonder, making wondrous the wealth and power of their philosophical intellect (a philosophical elite); for those studying “strange facts” through scientific societies, natural history was a “discipline for the mind, a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint,” a practice only a select group could be involved with – to be a naturalist within scientific societies was often to be a gentlemen, one with indispensable time and hardly concerned with daily life and trivial matters; Wunderkammern symbolized the magnificence and taste of their princely owners or the ostentatious intellect of their scholarly owners, with objects juxtaposing art and nature representing Europe’s technological and intellectual status; and for the philosophers in the first half of the eighteenth century who sought to remove the “fear of divine wrath and wonder of divine intervention” from marvels, the vulgar were women, the very young and very old, primitive peoples, and the uneducated masses, all those not involved in philosophical inquiry of the natural world, and they were “barbarous, ignorant, and unruly.” “The ‘order of nature,’ like ‘enlightenment,’” according to Daston and Park, “was defined largely by what or who was excluded.” As much as this book is about the emotion of wonder and the objects of that wonder, Wonders and the Order of Nature is about how European elites largely defined themselves – how their place in society related to others morally or intellectually – through a “process of exclusion” and by how they understood the marvelous.
 Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books: 1998), p. 25.  Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 25.  Ibid., p. 41.  Ibid., p. 41.  Ibid., p. 52.  Ibid., p. 52.  Ibid., p. 65.  Ibid., p. 62.  Ibid., p. 74.  Ibid., p. 68.  Marjorie Schwarzer, Riches, Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2006), p. 70.  Schwarzer, Riches,Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America, p. 10.  Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 77.  Ibid., p. 101.  Ibid., p. 114.  Ibid., p. 118.  Ibid., p. 124.  Ibid., p. 133.  Ibid., p. 147.  Ibid., p. 158.  Ibid., p. 158.  Ibid., p. 164.  Ibid., p. 167.  Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, “Unnatural Conceptions: Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England,” Past and Present 92 (1981): 20-54.  Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 201.  Ibid., p. 202.  Ibid., p. 220.  Ibid., p. 218.  Ibid., p. 230.  Ibid., p. 249.  Ibid., p. 277.  Ibid., p. 273.  Ibid., p. 267.  Ibid., p. 301.  Ibid., p. 361.  Ibid., p. 363.  Ibid., p. 158.  Ibid., p. 230.  Ibid., p. 343.  Ibid., p. 350.
The book uses the career of Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) to explore three of the major themes in the historiography of Victorian science: the reception of Darwinism; the consequences of empire; and, the emergence of a scientific profession. Each of its nine thematic chapters looks at a particular scientific practice – such as travelling, classifying or writing – and examines its role in Hooker’s work and its broader significance as a way of placing science within the rapidly developing social world of nineteenth-century Britain.
Endersby runs a website devoted solely to Darwin’s botany-buddy, Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Second, the fourth edition of the Missing Link podcast is up here (or here with show notes). In this episode, “Constant Companions,” historian of science Elizabeth Green Musselman “considers some of the animals – big and small, welcome and unwelcome – that have accompanied us humans on our journeys through the history of scientific and medical discovery.” She provides two essays, “The Dog Who Would Be Naturalist” and “No Flies on Me.” It’s worth a listen… (the photo to the left is a cover from the Montana State Board of Health’s Special Bulletin of April 1916. The caption at the bottom reads “There Are No Flies on Me”)
Lubbock, J. 1870. [Attempt, at the behest of Darwin, ‘to insert the words, “whether married to a first cousin” in the census.] Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, 3rd series, 22 July 1870, col. 817; 26 July 1870, cols. 1006-1007). Images
Two newly discovered descriptions of Darwin’s specimens:
Cobbold, T. S. 1873. Notes on Entozoa—Part I. [Read 10 October] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 47 (18 November): 736-742, 1 plate. Images
Cobbold, T. S. 1874. Notes on Entozoa. Part II. [Read 2 January] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 48 (3 February): 124-8, 1 plate. Images
Venn, J. A. ed. 1944. Alumni Cantabrigienses… Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Part 2, vol. 2, pp. 228-9. [Darwin family entries] Images
In 1827, Charles Darwin was accepted into Christ’s College at Cambridge, but did not start until winter term because he needed to catch up on some of his studies. A grandson of Erasmus Darwin of Lichfield, and of Josiah Wedgwood, he had entered the University of Edinburgh in 1825 to study medicine, intending to follow his father Robert’s career as a doctor. However, Darwin found himself unenthusiastic about his studies, including that of geology. Disappointing his family that he gave up on a medical career, he left Edinburgh without graduating in April 1827. His scholastic achievements at Cambridge were unremarkable, but after graduation, Darwin was recommended by his botany professor to be a naturalist [gentlemanly companion] to sail on HM Sloop [?] Beagle.