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The X ClubPower and Authority in Victorian Science$
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Ruth Barton

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226551616

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226551753.001.0001

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Claiming Cultural Authority

Claiming Cultural Authority

(p.362) Six Claiming Cultural Authority
The X Club

Ruth Barton

University of Chicago Press

The chapter examines the X-men’s roles as spokespersons for science. The chief publicists devoted enormous energy to lectures, speeches, and articles addressed to general audiences. They saw themselves as scientific missionaries, converting ignorant “heathen” English to scientific ways of thinking; they represented all scientific men as especially reliable in their reasoning and virtuous in their concern for the public good. The quieter members, it is shown, shared the naturalism of the leading publicists. Naturalism is here reinterpreted as a project to provide a naturalistic account of the universe, from the original fiery nebula to the development of life, mind, and emotion– rather than as based on particular “scientific” theories. They emphasized continuity through deep time, from plant to animal, ape to human, savagery to civilization. By contrast, their statements of agnosticism reveal little common ground. They also differed over the degree of combativeness appropriate in their circumstances. Their interactions with other cultural elites demonstrate both shared goals and conflicts, their own growing cultural authority and the multi-dimensional nature of Victorian cultural authority. Most notably, in anti-Sabbatarian Sunday societies, they cooperated with reforming lawyers, positivists, and Unitarians to oppose devout culture by offering improving lectures as an alternative to Sunday sermons.

Keywords:   representation of scientific men, self-image, scientific missionaries, naturalistic explanation, agnosticism, combativeness, Unitarian allies, positivist allies, cultural authority, anti-Sabbatarian societies

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