Charles Darwin, the 19th Century and the New Romantics
The Age of Queen Victoria
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 (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.
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