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Darwin's Evolving IdentityAdventure, Ambition, and the Sin of Speculation$
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Alistair Sponsel

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226523118

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226523255.001.0001

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Burned by Success

Burned by Success

(p.149) 8 Burned by Success
Darwin's Evolving Identity

Alistair Sponsel

University of Chicago Press

This chapter shows how, with Lyell’s collaboration, Darwin navigated the social world of British science in the late 1830s. Lyell’s interventions were a mixed blessing. Although he groomed Darwin as a spokesman for uniformitarian geology, he complicated Darwin’s relationship with his Captain Robert FitzRoy and made Darwin feel intense pressure to publish his geological ideas rapidly and boldly. While Darwin struggled to make progress on his book of Beagle geology, Lyell incorporated the younger man’s unpublished findings and ideas into his own new book, Elements of Geology, and into revised editions of Principles of Geology. By mid-1838 Darwin was in a tense position: he had begun to regret that his geological work under Lyell’s guidance was earning him a scientific reputation for overzealous theorizing (or “speculation”) even as he was in avid private pursuit of a theory of the origin of species. Darwin tried to manage the situation by requesting that Lyell “quote [him] with caution” and studying books by John Herschel and William Whewell on scientific method. Darwin’s 1839 paper on the geology of Glen Roy, Scotland was boldly speculative, but he couched his theorizing in philosophical terms intended to demonstrate his matured judgment.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, John Williams (missionary), boundary work, Robert FitzRoy, speculation, anxiety, scientific priority, parallel roads of Glen Roy, Royal Society of London, social status

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