Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Scientific Caricatures of the 19th Century

This is a 1882 cartoon of geologist/paleontology/theologian Wiliam Buckland sticking his head into a hyena den, drawn by geologist/paleontologist/clergyman William Conybeare, (via Edible Geography). (I was introduced to both of these characters by a good novel by Joan Thomas called Curiosity, based on the life of Mary Anning). It's surprisingly easy to find 19th century caricatures of scientists; I don't know if this is a function of the medium being more popular, or whether thinkers and scientists were so much more prominent that an educated public could be expected to both recognize them and appreciate the humour. Here we have a few choice selections.

Michael Faraday, FRS (22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867), the great physicist and chemist, meets Father Thames from Punch (21 July 1855). Faraday's many interests included what we would now call environmental science, and his 1855 letter to the Times on the foul state of the River Thames inspired his caricature.

“The great south sea caterpillar, transform’d into a Bath butterfly” (1795) by James Gillray is a caricature of English naturalist and botanist Joseph Banks (who famously sailed with Captain Cook, via Public Domain Review).

This 1863 lithograph shows Félix Nadar (from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) - pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (6 April 1820 – 23 March 1910), a French photographer, caricaturist, journalist, novelist, and balloonist. I'm including him amongst the scientists for his pioneering work in the development (no pun intended) of photography, and because like Conybeare, he was both producing new science and caricatures. That some scientists and innovators themselves drew caricatures no doubt explains why they are also common subjexts. Though, one publication, Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day (1873) with drawings by Frederick Watty is a source of a great many (via Public Domain Review) including:

Charles Darwin (by Frederick Watty)


Sir Richard Owen, FRS KCB (20 July 1804 – 18 December 1892) was an English biologist, comparative anatomist and paleontologist (by Frederick Watty) who coined the word Dinosauria and opposed Darwin's theory of natural selection.

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