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Richard Owen: Victorian naturalist

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
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Book Reviews Nicolaas Rupke, Richard Owen: Victorian naturalist, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994, pp. xviii, 462, illus., £35.00 (0-300-05820-9). Among the visitors who throng the British Museum of Natural History, to stand in awe before its spectacular displays, or marvel at its architecture, few give a thought to Richard Owen, the man who inspired the establishment of the greatest Victorian "cathedral of science". Some will notice Owen's statue and perhaps wonder what it is doing there. For surely this noble building must have been a tribute to Charles Darwin, whose statue, also on view, everyone recognizes! As historians of science know, after his death Owen came to be largely excluded from the halls of fame as a result of the successful "push" of the Darwinian party led by Thomas Henry Huxley. It was only in the 1960s, starting with the work of Roy MacLeod, that Owen attracted serious historical scrutiny. Owen's relative neglect suggests that historians of science, who like to inveigh against Whiggery when perpetrated by scientist/historians, can themselves be Whiggish, according to the amount of attention they devote to their subjects-as deemed "winners" or "losers" by posterity. However, in Nicolaas Rupke's text, Owen, a "loser" in the eyes of the twentieth century, receives at last a major intellectual biography. It has been long overdue. With his diverse cultural background, Rupke is admirably qualified to serve as Owen's biographer. Of Dutch origin, with full command of English and German (and as far as I know French), and with extended periods of residence in Britain and Australia, Rupke has been able to capture major themes in British social history of science in the nineteenth century; analyse the influence-real or imagined--of Continental transcendentalism on Owen's thinking; and recognize the important role of materials sent to Owen for examination from the southern hemisphere and other parts of the globe. To map the terrain of the British scientific commu

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