Charles Darwin, the 19th Century and the New Romantics

The Age of Queen Victoria

Books - important to the Victorians.
Books - important to the Victorians. | Source
India, considered the jewel in the British crown.
India, considered the jewel in the British crown. | Source
In the 19th Century British justice was not always as just as it could have been.
In the 19th Century British justice was not always as just as it could have been. | Source
Death in summer due to rampaging disease was once all too common to Londoners.
Death in summer due to rampaging disease was once all too common to Londoners. | Source
Increases in population plus advances in technology resulted in the Industrial Revolution.
Increases in population plus advances in technology resulted in the Industrial Revolution. | Source
Those who worked in  factories in the 19th Century were not always treated well.
Those who worked in factories in the 19th Century were not always treated well. | Source
The cost of sea travel became cheaper in the 19th Century.
The cost of sea travel became cheaper in the 19th Century. | Source
Charles Dickens wrote sympathetically about the poor.
Charles Dickens wrote sympathetically about the poor. | Source
During the 19th Century there was a great movement of people leaving Ireland for the USA, Canada and Australia.
During the 19th Century there was a great movement of people leaving Ireland for the USA, Canada and Australia. | Source
Train travel made a difference to the lives of many people.
Train travel made a difference to the lives of many people. | Source
Balloon travel was the wonder of the age.
Balloon travel was the wonder of the age. | Source
Nature's fury can inspire.
Nature's fury can inspire. | Source
Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin | Source
Charles Darwin studied many creatures including moths and butterflies.
Charles Darwin studied many creatures including moths and butterflies. | Source
The mysteries of life and death were being scientifically explored.
The mysteries of life and death were being scientifically explored. | Source
The advancement of science and what it might lead to was questioned in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein.
The advancement of science and what it might lead to was questioned in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein. | Source
During the 19th Century there was a romantic harking back to earlier, less complicated times.
During the 19th Century there was a romantic harking back to earlier, less complicated times. | Source
The nature of 19th Century British society and politics was sent up in Lewis Carroll's Alice books.
The nature of 19th Century British society and politics was sent up in Lewis Carroll's Alice books. | Source
The Cheshire cat.
The Cheshire cat. | Source
With the Cheshire cat there is a cheese connection. Hence the grin.
With the Cheshire cat there is a cheese connection. Hence the grin. | Source
In Britain, Australia and the USA wilderness areas were being set aside as national parks.
In Britain, Australia and the USA wilderness areas were being set aside as national parks. | Source
The study of nature continues.
The study of nature continues. | Source
Bones of ancient creatures were analysed in the 19th Century by scientists. They didn't always get it right but they made a good start.
Bones of ancient creatures were analysed in the 19th Century by scientists. They didn't always get it right but they made a good start. | Source
Some people in the 19th and 20th Centuries felt that Darwin's ideas threatened the Bible. Of course they were wrong.
Some people in the 19th and 20th Centuries felt that Darwin's ideas threatened the Bible. Of course they were wrong. | Source
Discoveries in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries tended to prove that the Earth was very old indeed.
Discoveries in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries tended to prove that the Earth was very old indeed. | Source

DARWIN and the 19th Century

AN OVERVIEW OF THE 19TH CENTURY

The 19th Century was a time of tremendous change. Britain had her empire upon which the sun never set. Britain also had the greatest navy in the world.

Policies would fail, however, resulting in mass starvation in both Ireland and India. At a time when food was plentiful elsewhere and in close reach and much of the suffering and death could have been alleviated or avoided, there seems to have been a lack of will to do what needed to be done. Jonathan Swift, the writer of Gulliver's Travels, had attacked the English for neglecting the well being of the Irish in his A Modest Proposal (1729). It seems that a hundred years or so later another A Modest Proposal needed to be written.

Both in Ireland and India political movements to extricate the people from British rule would take on more and more momentum. The Irish who saw little future in Ireland and could leave by ship would migrate to the USA and Australia. During the American Civil War Irish migrants fought on both sides in the conflict. It was not unusual to have one company from an Irish county facing another company from a different Irish county. There was also a riot in New York against conscription. This riot was strongly supported by newly arrived Irish who wanted to stay out of the war.

SCIENCE MOVES AHEAD

In Britain, Europe proper and the USA science was on the march. In Britain new methods of farming meant there was less people needed on the land. Inventions such as the steam engine and the spinning jenny made the factories that took in the surplus population from the country practical. Large towns and cities grew larger. This lead to problems with sanitation and the need to keep fresh water fresh and free from contamination.

There were times in the 19th Century when parliament could not sit because of the stench coming from the Thames. There was sickness caused by overcrowding, poor water supplies and poor sanitation which was solved by brilliant engineers and doctors. By the end of the 19th Century, London had the best sewage system in the world and the best medical facilities. The rest of Britain, the empire, Europe and the USA followed suit.

Factory workers were often treated shabbily. There had been a symbiotic relationship formed over centuries between landowner and farm laborer or tenant farmer. There was no established relationship at first between factory owner and factory worker. The factory worker was merely a means to an end. If the worker complained about the wages being too low or the hours being too long then he or she could easily be replaced. For much of the 19th Century workers were easy to come by. Where it was possible to hire women instead of men this was done because you didn't have to pay women as much. Where it was possible to hire children instead of men or women this was done because there was a saving there, too. It should be noted here that women didn't get equal pay with men until well into the 20th Century and that the Australian government was the first government to decide upon the minimum wage - a wage employers could not go below.

Unions were formed as a voice for the common worker. There were members of parliament who spoke out for those who toiled the hardest for the lowest pay and new laws were passed. It became mandatory for all children to attend school for a period fixed by the government. Education was on the rise and not just for the rich.

Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of the poor in many of his works including Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. He also wrote about how the skies over large towns and cities were becoming choked with pollution.

THE NEW ROMANTICS

Artists, poets and novelists came to lament the passing of an age when England was greener and free of coal dust and the sound of machinery. They were the New Romantics.

Some of these Romantics harked back to a less Industrialized age. In art there is The Ploughman by Edward Calvert (1789-1883).Here we have a mighty farmer from the past working the land with two equally hardy horses. Were we better off when we worked the land the way this ploughman does? The farmer toils but appears to be content.

In Stonehenge, here shown in a storm, by J.M.Turner (1775-1851) mother nature is seen in her full fury and all her magnificence. The bolt of lightening comes down and all is exposed in its light. There is terror, a touch of the new Gothic, but there is also beauty.

There was also art around, counter to the new Romantics, which was in praise of heavy industrialization and progress at any cost.

In the poetry of William Morris we are called back to not the age of King Arthur but back to what the age of King Arthur, according to Morris, should have been like. Morris' poems tend to be full of sadness. Camelot failed in the end as did the king. There was a golden age but it is over. Certainly there is a feeling that 19th Century industrialization is also putting an end to another golden age.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) became a popular poet after his death. He wrote about kingdoms and civilizations that rose from the dust only to return to the dust and be forgotten. Perhaps he was wondering where his own civilization was headed. He also wrote about nature's majesty, power, beauty and strength. His wife Mary Shelley (1797-1851) managed to combine the new Romanticism with the new Gothic in her masterpiece, Frankenstein. Here a man in defiance of both nature and God goes too far with science in creating a creature like a man. Frankenstein's biggest failure, however, is not taking responsibility for what he has done. Were there leading Industrialists in Mary's day who needed to take more responsibility for what they were doing in the name of progress? Is there a limit to what man should know? These questions are still, to some extent, relevant in the 21st Century.

SEEING OUR WORLD IN NEW WAYS

Travel in the 19th Century was becoming cheaper thanks to rail and steam. Toward the end of the century those who could not have afforded it before could now afford a trip to the seaside or to the countryside.

The weekend came into being and the question was what to do with it. Parks were provided where people could picnic and play cricket and bowls in the warmer months. National parks, such as Yellowstone in the USA and The Royal National Park in Australia came into being.

During the Middle Ages wilderness areas were viewed as hostile, horrid places. They had the taint of not being civilized. If they could not be tamed and turned into farmland or a town then they were also useless. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and that was a lesson that stuck hard. Nature was seen as the enemy. There were few who argued against this point of view.

Leonardo da Vinci was one such person. Look closely at the background to the Mona Lisa. In his time it would have been challenging to the sensibilities of his viewers. It was wild, untamed and remains wild, untamed. Among the many things connected with Leonardo, Naturalist would be quite a stretch but he certainly had an interest in nature and he wasn't dismissive of how it could impact in his art.

By the 17th Century there were people traveling not because they had to but because they wanted to do so. Of course there have always been people keen on travel but in the past there had to be a strong legitimate reason to do so. Travel for the sake of travel, before the 17th Century, would have seemed ludicrous to the point of madness because of the various dangers from hostile locals to floods to highwaymen. By the 17th Century there were better roads across Britain and Europe proper. There were also more Inns friendly toward visitors.

With the development of the railways in the 19th Century, great distances could be traversed in more comfort than ever before. It was even possible, according to Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg, to travel around the world in 80 days (1873).

With the holiday maker and the sightseer came a fresh, new attitude toward the wilderness. The mountains of Europe were to be admired, not condemned. Forests were to be explored, not avoided. Out of this change of attitude came the Naturalist. Just what was Man's place in the world? Was there something to be learned about Man's existence through the study of other creatures we share the planet with?

CHARLES DARWIN

Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) was born into a time when progress meant advancement in technology and scientific knowledge. Darwin traveled extensively visiting parts of the empire such as Australia and New Zealand. He loved the natural world and his mission in life became to understand how creatures came to be so diversified. Why aren't all moths the same color? What is the relevance if any of color when it comes to the ability to survive? It should be noted here that he was taken with the wonder of life and not death.

Darwin questioned Man's place in the scheme of things in ways that had never or rarely been done before. He was a thinking man with some courage.

Before his theory of evolution came out, people were already beginning to wonder just how old the earth really is. Could it be far older than the Church authorities, both in England and in the Vatican, would have it? Was there a fantastic prehistory to be discovered in fossil remains?

The Theory of Evolution has now been with us for generations and has yet to be proven to be scientifically wrong by sane, competent scientists who have no hidden agendas. There was much opposition when it first came out. It seemed to threaten the Bible by questioning Genesis. In the Bible Belt of the USA evolution was condemned and there have been subsequent bouts of condemnation up to this present day. There have been pseudo scientists, calling themselves Creationists, that have battled, without much success, to find scientific reasons to call evolution 19th Century rubbish. There have also been Christian scientists who agree with evolution and still see themselves as being Christian.

Does the Theory of Evolution still make sense or is it a tired 19th Century theory? Recent development in the understanding of DNA plus bones and fossils discovered since Darwin's day appear to support Darwin and his theory. As we go further into the 21st Century I am confident even more proof that Darwin was on the right track will emerge.

This hub was inspired by hubbers Baileybear, Jane Bovary,The Rope, Joni Douglas, James Watkins (who seems to inspire people to write hubs on Charles Darwin), lone77star, Manna in the wild, Classy, and Austinstar.

I hope you have enjoyed the read.

I know it is a bit of a Cook's tour of history.

Cheers all!

More by this Author


Comments 18 comments

Baileybear 5 years ago

will link into my hub. Ideas were changing around that time before Darwin - he just gets the blame!


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Rod, thank you! And what a delicious tour it is.

My high school World History teacher turned me on to history in a very big way. She threw out the notion of testing a memorization of dates. Dates were important, she said, but motivation is far more important.

In your article, you provide the setting into which motivation takes on concrete meaning. Bravo!

Darwin was a hero in many senses of the word. Evolution is here to stay, even if the Texas School board tries to write it out of their textbooks. But Darwin did not "kill God," as some are so quick to say. His work did shake up a laziness inherent in biblical interpretation. Instead of searching for deeper meaning, though, many literalists (the lazy ones) took Darwin as an assault on not themselves, but on the veracity of their Holy Book. Little do they realize, they are protecting not the Bible, but their own egos.

Rod, I emphasize my delight over this article. James Watkins has a talent for bringing history to life (in most of his articles), and so do you. From one "Rod" to another, well done!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

The blame or the credit, Baileybear. I suppose he gets both. Thanks for stopping by.

Thanks lone77star. You had a fine history teacher. James for the most part does know his history.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Fine hub, Rod. I love the way you led us up to the period of time that Darwin traveled and observed his world. It brought his outstanding brain into focus for me. I admire the man even more now.

While James does seem to know a lot about history, his view of it is very skewed to me. I prefer looking at the facts and making up my own mind about why things were done a certain way.

Rated up and thanks!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

I enjoyed every minute I spent reading your fascinating account of the 19th century and Charles Darwin. Thank you, Rod, for the trip.


mrpopo profile image

mrpopo 5 years ago from Canada

A great read Rod! I enjoyed the bits on revolutionary thinkers like Da Vinci, the Shelley's and of course Charles Darwin. They were far ahead of their time, which is unfortunate and poetic in some ways. I am glad they gave us some slight cues as foresight about the future, I just wonder if we'll listen to it in time.


Baileybear 5 years ago

Rod - James chooses the bits of history that fits his political ideology. I don't know history or politics well, but I don't trust James for an accurate, balanced version. I agree with Lonestar that James is an engaging writer - unfortunately people also accept that his view is correct.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

Thanks for stopping by drbj.

mrpopo, there is still hope for the future otherwise neither of us would be involved in these hubs.

Baileybear, thanks for stopping by for a second visit. My own views on history are in this hub and other hubs. How biased or unbiased I happen to be is up to the reader to decide. Some of James hubs I agree with and some I don't.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

This was great Rod....and very interesting to get some context around Darwin. It puts things in perspective.

The advent of the railways must have made a tremendous difference because travel had been so darn slow before then.

I'm glad you mentioned the unions...people who bag the unions today forget that many of the rights and benefits they have in the workplace today were hard won through the blood, sweat and tears of those people. For the first time, the working people had some power.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

Thanks Austinstar. One does one's best. Darwin was a man of his times as well as a man who could glimpse the past and maybe give us all a better future.

Thanks, Jane. Yes, train travel made life very different for the Victorians. It must have been exciting when it first started up. It must have been exiting not only in Britain but in Europe proper, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

I agree with what you say about the unions, Jane. Yes, for the first time, thanks to the early union movement, the working people did have power but as you say it didn't come easy. The weekend as we know it wouldn't exist for the average worker if not for the unions.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

The problem so often is that followers tend to distort ideas over time. Evolution, for example, is not necessarily Darwinism.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

dahoglund, Darwinism is a term often used by Creationists to blacken the name of Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. It puts people in mind of Social Darwinism which is ugly and a distortion of Charles Darwin's ideas. Darwin explored life. He would have found Social Darwinism positively revolting especially when it carries his name. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. The person who came up with the idea of Social Darwinism may have thought himself to be a follower of Darwin but as far as I am concerned he was something else.

Thanks for stopping by.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

I so enjoyed this fantastic journey. You swiftly covered tons of ground. It is well done!

I have no further comment on the Hub, but in a comment above it says the word "Darwinism" is the work of Creationists. Actually, Darwin's most fervent supporters coined the term with a few years of the publication of The Origin of Species, fully meaning it as the highest of compliments.

Thanks for mentioning my name. I have spawned quite a few Hubs on Darwin. :D


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

James, I think the term Darwinism has fallen on hard times in the 20th and 21st Centuries and has been used by Creationists to strongly push for a connection between Charles Darwin's ideas and Social Darwinism. I am right when I do say 'Darwinism' is often used by Creationists to blacken the name of Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. Darwinism, its earlier use in another time, the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, was never in question.

Being connected in any way with Charles Darwin and his great work would and still is a compliment to many such as myself. To be in any way connected to Social Darwinism which has nothing to do with Charles Darwin and his great work is something else.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

I certainly did enjoy the read, Rod! Thanks very much. It is an entertaining and useful Hub raising some important issues. Loved the bit about the Mona Lisa - hadn't thought of that!

Love and peace

Tony


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

I am glad you liked the read, tonymac04. Yes, I was a bit surprised about the Mona Lisa, too. It is a rather small painting that packs, in one way or another, quite a punch. I take it that's why it is considered to be a masterpiece.


Highvoltagewriter profile image

Highvoltagewriter 5 years ago from Savannah GA.

Great hub and thank you for your insites! I would like to know more of your thoughts about some of the other so called missing links that science has come up with besides Java Man, particularly Peaking Man for that is one I did not study much! Thanks again and voted up!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

Well Highvoltagewriter, from what I can gather Peaking Man is genuine and so is Lucy. I take it that dinosaur skeletons have turned up in many ages of Man and have been taken as various mythological beings including dragons before 19th Century science took a hold.

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