L0012623 Robert Chambers, engraved portrait
L0012623 Robert Chambers, engraved portrait Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Chambers, Robert 1802-1871 Milton Millhauser, ‘Just Before Darwin’, Middletown Conn., Wesleyan U.P., 1959. Frontispiece, page 22. Engraving portrait of Robert Chambers, seated, to right;anon;before 1864. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Anonymously published in 1844, The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation has been noted by Millhasuer as “…one of the most roundly hated books of its time.” It caused much outrage from gentlemen of science and other commentators when it was published. Samuel Richard Bosanquet (1800-1882) wrote a whole book on his dislike for it entitled “Vestiges of the natural history of creation”: its argument examined and exposed” in 1845. I think he goes a bit over the top:

The treatise which we have to examine and analyse is most engaging and interesting. We willingly accord to it all the attractions of novelty and ingenuity, the fascinations of beauty, the delights of theory. We readily attribute to it all the graces of the accomplished harlot. Her song is like the syren for its melody and attractive sweetness; she is clothed in scarlet, and every kind of fancy work of dress and ornament…. But she is a foul and filthy thing, whose touch is taint, whose breath is contamination; whose look, and words, and thoughts, will turn the spring of purity to a pest, of truth to lies, of life to death, of love to loathing

Adam Sedgwick anonymously reviewed the Vestiges for the Edinburgh Review in July 1845. He spends about 15 pages discussing the “anatomy of the authors mind” and then concludes that

“..our authors work is not merely shallow and superficial, but utterly false throughout to all the principles of sound philosophy”

Despite this loathing of the book, it still ran to eleven editions and sold forty thousand copies in Britain alone.

We sadly don’t have a copy of the first edition but do have copies of the 4th and 9th editions (STORE 152:28 and STORE 47:213). On both of these copies previous owners have added Chambers name to the title page. We also have a German version, Spuren der Gottheit in der Entwickelungs by A. Seubert which Livingstone has pointed out “…strangely incorporated material from William Whewell’s Indications of the Creator (1845)- originally intended to rebut Vestiges”.

Newspaper clipping

In 1884, Chambers name finally appeared on the title page of Vestiges. The photo here shows a clipping from the Glasgow Evening Citizen which is pasted into our copy of Chamber’s follow up to the Vestiges “Explanations: a sequel to Vestiges of the natural history of creation” which was published in 1845, explaining the revealing of the author.



Millhauser, M. Just before Darwin: Robert Chambers and Vestiges
Livingstone, D.N. Putting Science in its place
Lightman, B “Science and the public” in Harrison, P., Numbers, R.L. & Shank, M.H. (ed.) Wrestling with nature, pp.337-375


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