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History of Medicine

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Banner for Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory banner with a portrait of Charles Darwin, circa 1830, Image B05050 from the Images from the History of Medicine (IHM).

Darwin’s Champions

Darwin’s Campaigners continued

Portrait of George John Romanes  (1848-1894), Image B021895 from Images from the History of Medicine (IHM).
George John Romanes (1848-1894), circa 1894

Canadian-born physiologist George Romanes (1848-1894) extended evolutionary theory to the development of human intelligence, while tirelessly writing and speaking to public audiences. Like many of Darwin’s defenders, Romanes was no blind follower. He felt free to note some of the problematic aspects of evolutionary theory—how did species split off from one another, rather than continually adapt to their surroundings, for example? Yet, even while questioning some aspects of Darwin’s theory, Romanes worked within the Darwinian tradition of careful observation and reasoning. Starting from his work in the physiology of the nervous system, he extended his investigation into mental function in such works as Mental Evolution in Animals (1883) and Mental Evolution in Man (1888). Romanes produced Darwinism Illustrated (1892), a series of wood-engravings “explanatory of the theory,” richly persuasive. And in 1892 he founded the Romanes Lectures at Oxford University; Thomas Henry Huxley gave the second Romanes Lecture, in 1893, on “Evolution and Ethics,” right in line with the founder’s idea that mental function had evolved along with anatomical structure.

Drawing of restored Archeopteryx, from Romanes' Darwinism illustrated.
Archeopteryx, in George John Romanes, Darwinism illustrated, 1892

Darwin’s champions set the tone of Western intellectual life from the 1860s through the early decades of the 20th century. With them, and many others of their day, evolution by natural selection led to the new world view of naturalism—a self-generating, self-evolving world of shifting boundaries and endless possibilities.

Drawing of restored polar bear, from Romanes' Darwinism illustrated.
Skeleton of polar bear, in George John Romanes, Darwinism illustrated, 1892

Last Reviewed: May 8, 2014