Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Corresponding interests: artisans and gentlemen in nineteenth-century natural history

  • Anne Secord (a1)

Early nineteenth-century natural history books reveal that British naturalists depended heavily on correspondence as a means for gathering information and specimens. Edward Newman commented in his History of British Ferns: ‘Were I to make out a list of all the correspondents who have assisted me it would be wearisome from its length.’ Works such as William Withering's Botanical Arrangement show that artisans numbered among his correspondents. However, the literary products of scientific practice reveal little of the workings or such correspondences and how or why they were sustained. An exchange or letters is maintained if the interests of both recipient and writer are satisfied. Withering's book tells us only that his interests were served by his correspondents; it allows us to say nothing with certainty about the interests of those who wrote to him. Published texts effectively hide the means by which the author determined the veracity of distant correspondents and also the way these informants demonstrated their credibility.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Corresponding interests: artisans and gentlemen in nineteenth-century natural history
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Corresponding interests: artisans and gentlemen in nineteenth-century natural history
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Corresponding interests: artisans and gentlemen in nineteenth-century natural history
      Available formats
Hide All

1 Naming correspondents as discoverers or informants in natural history texts did not detract from the author. Rather, it served to enhance the reliability of the information if associated with a reputable person and to deflect any challenge over the accuracy of information away from the author to the source of the information. For an analysis of this procedure, see Larsen Anne, ‘Not Since Noah: The English Scientific Zoologists and the Craft of Collecting, 1800–1840’, Princeton University Ph.D. thesis, 1993, 183–95.

Studies of natural history correspondence networks include, ibid., ch. 7; Emma Spary's analysis of André Thouin's correspondence network in ‘Making the Natural Order: The Paris Jardin du Roi, 1750–1795’, Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis, 1993; Gruber Jacob W. and Thackray John C., Richard Owen Commemoration, London, 1992; Outram Dorinda (ed.), The Letters of Georges Cuvier, Chalfont St Giles, 1980; Allen D. E., The Naturalist in Britain: A Social History, London, 1976, 20–1; Fleming James Rodger, Meteorology in America, 1800–1870, Baltimore, 1990, 64–6; Keeney Elizabeth B., The Botanizers: Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America, Chapel Hill, 1992, 25–6, 34–6, 79, 126; Slack Nancy G., ‘Charles Horton Peck, bryologist, and the legitimation of botany in New York State’, Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden (1987), 45, 2845; Sheets-Pyenson Susan, ‘Geological communication in the nineteenth century: the Ellen S. Woodward autograph collection at McGill University’, Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series (1982), 10, 179226.

2 Newman Edward, A History of British Ferns, and Allied Plants, 2nd edn, London, 1844, p. xxxii. The names of Newman's correspondents, including artisans, appear only at the places their information is used, unlike the first edition (London, 1840), in which Newman did list those who had helped him at the beginning of the book (pp. xxxiii–xxxiv).

3 The names of two artisan botanists, George Caley and William Evans, appear in a list of correspondents at the beginning of Withering William, A Systematic Arrangement of British Plants: With an Easy Introduction to the Study of Botany, 4th edn, 4 vols., London, 1801, i, p. v. Even though the names of these artisans would have been unfamiliar to most readers, their lowly status is reflected by their designation as ‘Mr’ as opposed to ‘Esq.’ Similarly, later in the century Baines Henry, The Flora of Yorkshire, London, 1840, 130–1, distinguished between ‘S. Gibson’ and ‘J. Nowell’ (two working men) and ‘W. Wilson, Esq.’ and ‘Sir W. J. Hooker’.

4 Shapin Steven, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, Chicago, 1994. For the role of trust in different cultural contexts, see Gambetta Diego (ed.), Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, Oxford, 1988. For gentlemanly ways of going on in nineteenth-century science, see Morrell Jack and Thackray Arnold, Gentlemen of Science: Early Years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Oxford, 1981; Golinski Jan, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, Cambridge, 1992; Rudwick Martin, The Great Devonian Controversy: The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge among Gentlemanly Specialists, Chicago, 1985; Secord James A., Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian—Silurian Dispute, Princeton, 1986.

5 Despite urging that letters be written in an ‘easy, familiar and engaging language’, The Complete Young Man's Companion, Manchester, 1811, 32, advised that ‘regard must be had to the rank and character of the persons to whom they are addressed; we must write to superiors with humility, modesty, decency, and respect: to equals with all the affability of innocent and virtuous friendship, in the same manner as if we were conversing together; and to inferiors with that tenderness which should distinguish our character, as men and Christians’.

6 Larsen, op. cit. (1), 307–40. The most usual way this was done was by a separate letter of introduction from a naturalist known to both sender and recipient or by the correspondent mentioning the name of a mutual scientific acquaintance.

7 The most extensive biographical account of these artisans is Cash James's Where There's a Will, There's a Way! or, Science in the Cottage: An Account of the Labours of Naturalists in Humble Life, London, 1873. However, the middle-class ideology of individual self-help underlying Cash's portrayal of working-men naturalists has led Vincent David, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography, London, 1981, 173, to claim, with regard to this same group of artisan naturalists, that ‘there is little evidence of much personal contact between educated and self-educated botanists or geologists’.

8 See Secord Anne, ‘Science in the pub: artisan botanists in early nineteenth-century Lancashire’, History of Science (1994), 32, 269315.

9 Vincent David, Literacy and Popular Culture, England 1750–1914, Cambridge, 1989, 137.

10 Secord, op. cit. (8).

11 Hobsbawm Eric, ‘The tramping artisan’, in Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour, London, 1968, 3463; Harrison Brian, Drink and the Victorians, Pittsburgh, 1971, 4952.

12 Wearmouth R. F., Methodism and the Working-Class Movements of England 1800–1850, London, 1937. The organization of both the radical reform movement and Chartism was based on the Methodists' organizational structure.

13 Thompson E. P., The Making of the English Working Class, London, 1980, 19, 133, 147, 149, 153, 162–3, 165. Once the authorities perceived the potential political power of this correspondence network, the London Corresponding Society was condemned as seditious.

14 Thompson E. P., ‘The crime of anonymity’ and ‘Appendix’ in Hay Douglas, Linebaugh Peter, Rule John G., Thompson E. P., Winslow Cal, Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, London, 1977, 255340.

15 Vincent, op. cit. (9), 3252; Mitch David F., The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England: The Influence of Private Choice and Public Policy, Philadephia, 1992, 4350; Thompson F. M. L., The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain 1830–1900, Cambridge, Mass., 1988, 358–9.

16 Caley George to Dickson James, 13 04 1813, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, Banksian Collection Manuscript, Robert Brown Correspondence, vol. 1, letter 110.

17 When possible, the upper classes also avoided payment. Before 1840, peers and MPs had the privilege of franking their own letters and would often (illegally) offer this favour of free postage to their friends. See Robinson Howard, The British Post Office: A History, Princeton, 1948, 113–18, 282–3.

18 Edinburgh Review (1819), 32, 377.

19 Vickery Amanda, ‘Women of the Local Elite in Lancashire, 1750–c. 1825’, University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1991, 128, notes that the marked differences in courtship letters of an eighteenth-century couple and those of a couple in the early nineteenth century are certainly not derived from letter-writing manuals, which hardly change between 1740 and 1840.

20 Jennings James, The Family Cyclopaedia; Being A Manual of Useful and Necessary Knowledge, 2 vols., London, 1821, ii, 712–13.

21 The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840), 18, 453.

22 For reasons as to why this would have been so regarded, see Shapin Steven and Barnes Barry, ‘Head and hand: rhetorical resources in British pedagogical writing, 1770–1850’, Oxford Review of Education (1976), 2, 231–54.

23 Rudwick, op. cit. (4), 432–3. Rudwick refers to exchanges between élite geologists during the course of a controversy and distinguishes such correspondence from the deferential letters of amateurs, who, by restricting their letters to supposedly factual matters, show ‘their tacit acceptance of their proper place within the scientific world’. I argue below that the same analysis applies to deference itself.

24 It was a naturalist, J. E. Gray, who claimed to be the first to come up with the idea of a penny post in 1834 (DNB).

25 Agardh C. A., ‘Ueber die Versammlung zu Cambridge. Characteristik Robert Brown's’, Flora oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung (1833), 2, 531–42. Quotations taken from a manuscript translation signed ‘Agardh C. A., Lund, 15. 08 1833, British Library, Robert Brown Correspondence, Add. MSS 32441, ff. 202–7. Dawson Turner to Robert Brown, 28 August 1809, British Library, Robert Brown Correspondence, Add. MSS 32439, ff. 296–7.

26 Turner Dawson to Brown Robert, 24 11 1808, British Library, Robert Brown Correspondence, Add. MSS 32439, ff. 272–3.

27 Hooker W. J. to Brown Robert, 8 11 1818 and 21 10 1815, British Library, Robert Brown Correspondence, Add. MSS 32440, ff. 203–4, ff. 87–8.

28 Smith J. E. to Wilson William, 10 05 1826, Warrington Library, William Wilson Correspondence, MS 54a.

29 Berkeley M. J. to Wilson William, 9 06 1843, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, William Wilson Correspondence, vol. 2; Hooker W. J. to Brown Robert, 2 02 1819, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, Banksian Collection Manuscript, Robert Brown Correspondence, vol. 1, letter 226.

30 Hooker W. J. to Brown Robert, 25 11 [before 1818], Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, Banksian Collection Manuscript, Robert Brown Correspondence, vol. 1, letter 223.

31 Agardh, op. cit. (25).

32 For the most overt claim that natural history was ‘classless’, see Barber Lynn, The Heyday of Natural History, 1820–1870, New York, 1980, ch. 2, especially 35–7.

33 Ophir Adi and Shapin Steven, ‘The place of knowledge: a methodological survey’, Science in Context (1991), 4, 321, on 11.

34 Agardh, op. cit. (25).

35 Collini Stefan, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, Oxford, 1991, especially ch. 3; George Andrew St, The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules & the Victorians, London, 1993; Morgan Marjorie, Manners, Morals and Class in England, 1774–1858, London, 1994. Of course, the aristocracy and landed gentry, who were undisputedly of gentle birth, continued to emphasize their pedigrees as the sign of their social distinction. None the less, they too were increasingly judged by their character. As the Family Cyclopaedia, op. cit. (20), i, 547, pointed out: ‘A nobleman, or even a king, may, or may not be a gentleman.’ For the shift towards moral evaluations within the social élite during the eighteenth century, see Barker-Benfield G. J., The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Chicago, 1992.

36 Smiles Samuel, Self Help; With Illustrations of Character and Conduct, London, 1859, ch. 13, ‘Character – the true gentleman’, 314, 328, 316, 329.

37 There were many ways of judging and developing character in the early nineteenth century. These ranged from the dominant view (culminating in Smiles's work) that character enabled one to rise above circumstances to the Owenites' diametrically opposed notion that circumstances form character, as well as phrenological schemes for developing character as revealed by one's cranial bumps, and various systems of physiognomy. This variety simply attests to the widespread preoccupation with sound individual and national character.

38 Collini, op. cit. (35), 30–2. See also St George, op. cit. (35), 3744; Curtin Michael, Propriety and Position: A Study of Victorian Manners, New York, 1987, 101–25; Sennett Richard, The Fall of Public Man, New York, 1974, 153, 165–8. An example of the difficulty of judging gentlemanly status is provided by Charles Darwin's reaction to the news that Warren de la Rue, a manufacturing stationer, already FRS and member of the Council of the Royal Society, had been blackballed during the 1855 election of members to the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society: ‘I am…very sorry about De la Rue: he does not appear like a gentleman, but all that he says at the Council seems very gentlemanlike & nice: I would not have the blackballing of such a man on my conscience for a couple of hundred guineas: what a mortification for him.’ The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (ed. Burkhardt F. and Smith S.), Cambridge, 1989, v, 330.

39 Boucicault Dion, London Assurance (The full original text (1841). Adapted and edited by Ronald Eyre), London, 1971, 87.

40 St George, op. cit. (35), 33.

41 Bulwer Edward Lytton, England and the English (ed. Meacham Standish), Chicago, 1970, 31–2.

42 Bradshaw's Manchester Journal (1841), 1, 180–2. During the class conflict of the 1840s, increasing attention was drawn to the fact' that there was very little interaction between the working class and the higher classes of society.

43 St George, op. cit. (35), 7, argues that 1832 was the point when ‘etiquette gave way to manners and became a class-based set of rules for admitting oneself and keeping others out’. Despite the popular genre of biographies charting the rise of successful men from obscure and humble beginnings, the number of men who actually achieved this was small.

44 Crossick Geoffrey, ‘From gentlemen to the residuum: languages of social description in Victorian Britain’, in Language, History and Class (ed. Corfield Penelope J.), Oxford, 1991, 150–78, on 160–2.

45 Collini, op. cit. (35), 30. Both Peterson M. Jeanne, Family, Love, and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen, Indiana, 1989, and Davidoff Leonore, The Best Circles: Society Etiquette and the Season, London, 1986, also make the point that the distinction between gentlefolk and the rest of society was the most pronounced division in the Victorian social hierarchy.

46 Bellamy H. to Leyland Roberts, 7 11 1843, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/36. In the event, Bellamy did not engage in the proposed exchange as he did not possess sufficient duplicate specimens to do Leyland ‘justice’. Instead he offered to give Leyland some specimens in return for a donation to the Plymouth Natural History Society.

47 Corrie Susanna to Leyland Roberts, 13 12 n.y., Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/74.

48 The risks were usually thought low when dealing with social inferiors or foreigners, for example, who had little power in a network to challenge a gentleman and who were unlikely to encounter the gentleman face-to-face.

49 Shapin, op. cit. (4), 83, 212, 223–7, 237–8. Similarly, Biagioli Mario, ‘Galileo the emblem maker’, Isis (1990), 81, 230–58, on 258, has shown that in seventeenth-century natural philosophy, being ‘disinterested – that is, not having one's mind clouded by the idols of the marketplace – was a prerequisite for having credibility’. This ideal persisted in early nineteenth-century science, and according to Agardh, op. cit. (25), found its apotheosis in the botanist Robert Brown who, he reported, ‘appears in deed and impulse to be science only, and not perso … Without vanity and without ambition, but nevertheless conscious of his own greatness, he publishes his writings, not to instruct the world, but to illustrate and advance the Science. It is indifferent to him whether they are read by the multitude, but it is not indifferent to him whether they are worthy of science and incorporated with it.’

50 Loudon J. C., ‘Notes and reflections made during a tour through part of France and Germany, in the autumn of the year 1828’, The Gardener's Magazine (1829), 5, 113–25, on 123; Family Cyclopaedia, op. cit. (20), i, 196, whose ideal reader belonged to a middle-class family with an income of £400 a year (p. xii).

51 Smiles, op. cit. (36), 154–5.

52 Bennett E. T. to Leyland Roberts, 22 05 1822, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78.

53 I am not suggesting that an artisan consciously set out to display his character in these natural history letters, although being judged by character would not have been unfamiliar in the world of work. A man's ‘character’ was encapsulated in letters of recommendation to prospective employers and was known to be a reference to his moral worth.

54 I draw on anthropological literature for much of this analysis. Crucial to understanding the functioning of natural history exchange networks is the demonstration by Strathern Marilyn, The Gender of the Gift, Berkeley, 1988, 221, that gift exchange is ‘the circulation of objects in relations in order to make relations in which objects can circulate’. Bourdieu Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice (tr. Nice Richard), Cambridge, 1977, 171, argues that gift exchange is distinguished from the circulation of commodities by the ‘sincere fiction of a disinterested exchange’, represented by the lapse of time between a gift and counter-gift. Given the epistemological importance of disinterestedness in science, we can understand the imperative for the circulation of natural history objects and information to be regarded as gift exchanges. Bourdieu allows us to appreciate why the lack of a counter-gift was regarded as tantamount to ‘stealing’ the original ‘gift’. For further discussion of the exaggerated contrast between ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’, see Thomas Nicholas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific, Cambridge, Mass., 1991, 1422, and Appadurai Arjun, ‘Introduction: commodities and the politics of value’, in The Social Life of Things (ed. Appadurai A.), Cambridge, 1986, 363.

55 Much of the literature on correspondence networks, cited in note 1, also details exchanges of specimens, etc. Kohler Robert E., Lords of the Fly, Chicago, 1994, ch. 5, analyses the ‘moral economy’ of Drosophila exchanges in early twentieth-century American laboratories. Hagstrom Warren O., ‘Gift giving as an organizing principle in science’, in Science in Context (ed. Barnes Barry and Edge David), Cambridge, Mass., 1982, 2134, argues for the persistence of gift exchanges in modern scientific practice.

56 Belchem John, Industrialization and the Working Class: The English Experience, 1750–1900, Aldershot, 1990, 33.

57 Desmond Adrian, ‘The making of institutional zoology in London 1822–1836: Part I’, History of Science (1985), 23, 153–85, on 176–7. Lucier Paul, ‘Scientists, Salesmen, and Swindlers: Geology, Chemistry, and the Rise of Scientific Consulting in the American Industrial Revolution, 1830–1870’, Princeton University Ph.D. thesis, 1994, shows how early scientific consultants had to overcome the persistent belief that Selling services was a corruption of scientific ideals.

58 For further development of this argument, see Secord, op. cit. (8), 291–4.

59 Joyce Patrick, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class 1848–1914, Cambridge, 1991, 90. See also Behagg Clive, Politics and Production in the Early Nineteenth Century, London, 1990, ch. 3. Similarly, rural workers regarded customary dues such as gleaning and the harvest home as part of their rights in return for their labour. See Bushaway Bob, By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700–1880, London, 1982, ch. 4. For the perseverence of ‘customary prices’ well into the 1880s (even at times when the product cost more to make than it was sold for), see Thompson, op. cit. (13), 260–1.

60 Conversely, Shortland Michael, ‘Darkness visible: underground culture in the golden age of geology’, History of Science (1994), 32, 161, on 28–37, argues that gentlemen field geologists had to assume the attributes of labourers in their investigation of caves; they consequently had to re-establish their gentlemanly status in their published works.

61 In some situations, however, gentlemen used payment in order to safeguard their scientific interests. The working-class mesmerist S. T. Hall was mortified when he was treated as a tradesman by Lord Morpeth, who sent him a fee for his mesmeric services and never accepted Hall's wish to be treated on equal terms. See Winter Alison, ‘Mesmerism and popular culture in early Victorian England’, History of Science (1994), 32, 317–43, on 335.

62 Hampson James to Hobson Edward, 5 05 1827, Botany Department, Manchester Museum, Edward Hobson's Botanical Correspondence, 138 (emphasis mine).

63 Hauworth John to Leyland Roberts, 12 02 1837, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78. The value of the moss in question was clear to the men as they had already sent some to the bryologist William Wilson. They had little left because Wilson had been ‘desirous that we send him a good supply. And owing to his kind liberality in sending us a good number of species of very rare British mosses we have acted in accordance to his wishes’ (ibid.).

64 Hauworth John to Leyland Roberts, 16 10 1837, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78.

65 Sim John to Wilson William, 15 08 1864, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, William Wilson Correspondence, vol. 10. Mentioning other artisan naturalists was more common later in the nineteenth century as they became better known through natural history publications. Had he known of Nowell and Wilson's acquaintance no other way, Sim would have seen Nowell's name in Wilson's Bryologia Britannica, London, 1855, which he was loaned for a short period.

66 Gentlemen, of course, did this implicitly by mentioning ‘connections’ or by relying on letters of introduction, which established them as people whose word could be trusted. Perhaps it was abuses to the system that led to more explicit statements concerning gentlemen later in the century. In 1861, Robert Davies introduced Peter Inchbald (well known to several naturalists) to William Wilson, with whom Inchbald hoped he might ‘occasionally communicate… by letter’, explicitly stating that Inchbald ‘is in independent circumstances’ (Davies Robert to Wilson William, 9 07 1861, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, William Wilson Correspondence, vol. 4).

67 Manchester Guardian, 21 12 1850, 5. Whittaker's trade as a joiner is given in The Gooseberry Growers' Register, Blackley, 1850, 183.

68 Wilson William to Hooker W. J., 19 07 1831, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Directors' Correspondence, vol. 6, letter 346. In this case, Wilson's opinion was based on a meeting with Martin as well as on his letter and specimens. In addition, Wilson's servant, who had been taught by Martin at Sunday School, testified to Martin bearing ‘an excellent character’ within his own community.

69 Letters were successfully used in this way by the ‘literate swindler’, especially after the introduction of the penny post. Chesney Kellow, The Victorian Underworld, Harmondsworth, 1972, 289, notes: ‘A well-drafted letter in an educated hand still carried a strong presumption that the writer must be a respectable man, and it was a fine way of obtaining things on false pretences.’

70 Smith Olivia, The Politics of Language 1791–1819, Oxford, 1984, especially 4–5. See also Vincent, op. cit. (9), 82.

71 Smith, op. cit. (70), 22.

72 I do not mean to imply that classificatory systems themselves transcend class and identity. With respect to the Linnaean system, recent work has revealed its social and political underpinnings and uses. See Browne Janet, ‘Botany for gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and The Loves of the Plants’, Isis (1989), 80, 593621; Schiebinger Londa, ‘The private lives of plants: sexual politics in Carl Linnaeus and Erasmus Darwin’, in Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry, 1780–1945 (ed. Benjamin Marina), Oxford, 1991, 121–43; Pratt Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London, 1992, 2435.

73 Mellor John to Leyland Roberts, [20 05 n.y.], Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78.

74 Cyffin Carlo, ‘Correspondence to the editor’, Analyst (1835), 3, 289–90. I am grateful to Gordon McOuat for this reference. For an analysis of debates over nomenclature and the ‘value’ of names, see McOuat Gordon, ‘Species, rules and meaning in early nineteenth-century natural history’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (forthcoming).

75 As Bourdieu Pierre, Language and Symbolic Power (tr Raymond Gino and Adamson Matthew), Cambridge, Mass., 1991, 242, points out, ‘even if the specifically symbolic power of naming constitutes a force which is relatively independent of other forms of social power’, it is never completely independent of the social positions of the parties involved in the struggle for the preservation or transformation of a particular field.

76 For the invisibility of assistants, see Shapin, op. cit. (4), ch. 8; Sibum Otto, ‘Reworking the mechanical value of heat: instruments of precision and gestures of accuracy in early Victorian England’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (in press). I have derived evidence of the status of informants in natural history texts primarily from botanical literature, but see Larsen, op. cit. (l), 190–2, for the same process in operation in entomological publications.

77 Martin John to Wilson William, 19 06 1831, Warrington Library, William Wilson Correspondence, MS 53. For the comment about Martin's speech, see Wilson William to Hooker W. J., 15 10 1831, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Directors' Correspondence, vol. 6, letter 347.

78 Crozier George to Wilson William, 30 04 1843, Warrington Library, William Wilson Correspondence, MS 52. From the way in which Crozier described his circumstances to Wilson, it would be difficult to tell that not only had Crozier supplied Wilson with specimens in the past but was also known personally to him. The only indication of this in the letter is Crozier's statement that knowing Wilson's ‘kindness & willingness to help in times of need I have made bould to submit a few spesemons to you beging you will have the kindness to look them over & write your opinion of them’.

79 Sometimes geographical distance alone presented the same problem for gentlemen. One of the reasons Hooker gave in the 1830s for wanting to leave Glasgow, where he had amassed an enormous private herbarium, was that ‘so little use is made by others of my extensive collections & Library’ (Hooker W. J. to Brown Robert, 13 02 1838, British Library, Add. MSS 32441, ff. 328–9). Close to London, Hooker's collections would become more useful because of the ease of access.

80 Gray John Edward, ‘Some remarks on museums of natural history’, Analyst (1836), 5, 273–80, on 274. I am grateful to Gordon McOuat for this reference. The Manchester Natural History Museum did not admit nonmembers until 1838, when visitors were allowed in for one shilling, and school children and members of the working class for sixpence each (Love Benjamin, Manchester As It Is, Manchester, 1839, 125).

81 Bentley William to Hooker W. J., 21 01 1846, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Directors' Correspondence, vol. 24, letter 62.

82 Bentley William to Hooker W. J., 20 02 1843, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Directors' Correspondence, vol. 19, letter 86. Letter-writing manuals advised readers never to use a postscript when writing to a superior.

83 Joyce Patrick, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in later Victorian England, Brighton, 1980, 92–4.

84 Joyce, op. cit. (83), 80. Joyce cautions that deferential behaviour in the 1840s should not be regarded as the ‘embourgeoisement’ of sections of the working class nor as passive acceptance of the difference in social ranks, by claiming that ‘deference was an aspect of the class relationship… with sufficient power…greatly to erode the consciousness of conflict but never to displace it’ (p. xvi).Kirk Neville, The Growth of Working Class Reformism in Mid-Victorian England, London, 1985, 18, points out that Joyce's underestimation of the independence of workers and his close attention to paternalistic employers has led to his accepting ‘a view of social reality as presented from the big house’. For a similar critique of paternalism leading to a description of social relations as seen from above, see Thompson E. P., Customs in Common, London, 1991, 21–4.Price Richard, Labour in British Society, London, 1986, 11, argues that: ‘it is the presence of differing quantities and types of “subordination” and “resistance”, of “class consciousness” and “class co-operation”, of “hegemonical” influences and “independence”, that composes the character of the wider structures of social relations…The trick for the historian is to see how they operated as a process without losing sight of the historical transience of their particular forms.’

85 Behagg Clive, op. cit. (59), 71–8. ‘Understandings’ were collective, unwritten, informal work practices based on custom and central to work organization, which reveal ‘a labour-oriented perception of social order’ (ibid., 123). See also Joyce Patrick, ‘Work’, in The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750–1950 (ed. Thompson F. M. L.), 3 vols., Cambridge, 1990, ii, 165–6.

86 Bentley William to Hooker W. J., 21 01 1846, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Directors' Correspondence, vol. 24, letter 62. There is almost the hint that writing to Hooker was regarded as a chore. Bentley was probably secretary of the artisan Royton Botanical Society before becoming president in 1848.

87 Draft letter from Edward Hobson to Henderson Joseph, 18 04 1826, Botany Department, Manchester Museum, Edward Hobson's Botanical Correspondence, 141.

88 Natural history collecting and taxonomy rank so low in the scientific pecking order – possibly because of the democratic nature of the Linnaean system – that it is important to stress how much knowledge was needed in order to recognize specimens that were different or interesting. As indicated earlier, botanists like Sir J. E. Smith had little patience with those who sent him common specimens believing them to be something new. For a discussion of whether natural history collecting is science, see Griesemer James R. and Gerson Elihu M., ‘Collaboration in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology’, Journal of the History of Biology (1993), 26, 185203, on 202.

89 Joyce, op. cit. (83), 93–4.

90 Mabberley D. J., Jupiter Botanicus: Robert Brown of the British Museum, London, 1985, 40.

91 Caley George to Banks Joseph, 7 03 1795, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, Dawson Turner Correspondence (DTC), 9, 201–2.

92 Caley George to Banks Joseph, 23 08 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 37–43.

93 Caley George to Banks Joseph, 12 07 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 6–8.

94 Caley George to Banks Joseph, 23 08 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 37–43.

95 Thompson E. P., op. cit. (14), 306. Caley, unwilling to suffer any more ‘injury’, issued an ultimatum to Banks: ‘if you do not answer this letter within ten days…I shall consider you as not acting in a proper manner, and shall think myself at liberty… and, if ever I am able… I will return you the money which you have given me, even the postage of the letters’ (Caley George to Banks Joseph, 23 08 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 37–43).

96 Caley's refusal to train in botanic gardens made it impossible for Banks to recommend him for government support. In exchange for complete freedom to collect as he saw fit, Caley remained ten years in Parramatta in a position and at a wage (15 shillings a week) that no gentleman would have tolerated. For the social conditions of New South Wales at this time, see Hughes Robert, The Fatal Shore, New York, 1988.

97 Banks Joseph to King Philip Gidley, 29 08 1804, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 15, 73–8. Duelling was an expression between equals of an aristocratic code of honour. See Kieman V. G., The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy, Oxford, 1988. Banks's reply to Caley's initial attack, 27 08 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 44–5, put Caley firmly in his place and was the epistolary equivalent of the ‘thrashing’ gentlemen were supposed to administer to their social inferiors in lieu of a duel (Perkin Harold, The Origins of Modern English Society 1780–1880, London, 1969, 274).

98 Caley George to Banks Joseph, 12 07 1798, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, DTC, 11, 6–8.

99 Sim John to Wilson William, 4 01 1865, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, William Wilson Correspondence, vol. 10.

100 Sim John to Wilson William, 19 08 1864, Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London, William Wilson Correspondence, vol. 10.

101 Gibson Samuel to Wilson William, 21 07 [1842], Warrington Library, William Wilson Correspondence, MS 52. Gibson lived in Hebden Bridge, a substantial distance from Wilson's residence in Warrington.

102 For artisans' attitudes towards middlemen, see Joyce, op. cit. (85), 165; Prothero I. J., Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century London, Folkestone, 1979, 336.

103 Gentlemen, of course, received many letters from unknown correspondents. However, other signs would have indicated the lowly status of artisan correspondents: quality of paper and ink, penmanship and, before the advent of envelopes, the seal of a letter.

104 Strathern, op. cit. (54), 167.

105 Although William Helme, John Nowell and Jethro Tinker were factory workers, they had originally been handloom weavers. Rule John, ‘The property of skill in the period of manufacture’, in The Historical Meanings of Work (ed. Joyce Patrick), Cambridge, 1987, 99118, on 115, stresses that artisan attitudes persisted into new work contexts and that such men can be regarded as ‘factory artisans’.

106 Wilson William's ‘Greenfield Memoranda’, on the back of a letter from MrChristy , 14 06 1832, Warrington Library, William Wilson Correspondence, MS 52.

107 Hooker W. J. to Hobson Edward, 27 10 1816, Botany Department, Manchester Museum, Edward Hobson's Botanical Correspondence, 153.

108 Hobson's sets of mosses (Musei Britannici (exsiccatae), 2 vols., Manchester, 1818, 1822), were announced in Hooker W. J. and Taylor Thomas, Museologia Britannica; Containing the Mosses of Great Britain and Ireland, Systematically Arranged and Described, London, 1818, p. x; 2nd edn, London, 1827, pp. xxvixxvii.

109 The correspondence between Helme and Kirby is known only from the extracts of letters from Helme published in Freeman John (ed.), The Life of the Reverend William Kirby, London, 1852, 357–63. Freeman mistranscribed Helme's name as ‘Holme’. Letters in other manuscript collections are clearly signed ‘Helme’ and an obituary in the Manchester Guardian, 19 04 1834, 3, also bears this name.

110 Freeman, op. cit. (109), 357.

111 Freeman, op. cit. (109), 358, 362.

112 Freeman, op. cit. (109), 362.

113 Draft letter from Edward Hobson to W. J. Hooker, n.d., Botany Department, Manchester Museum, Edward Hobson's Botanical Correspondence, 159.

114 Biagioli Mario, Galileo, Courtier; The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism, Chicago, 1993, 40–1 and n. 101.

115 Freeman, op. cit. (109), 361. In 1822, Helme found a new contact nearer home in Roberts Leyland: ‘your proposition of us keeping A little correspondence meets with my direct approbation and shall feel great pleasure in communicating and exchanging duplicates with you as I have been told… that you are an Assiduous collector of Plants Insects and shell &c which studys are the same with me’ (Helme William to Leyland Roberts, 24 11 1822, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78).

116 This is particularly apparent in Joyce, op. cit. (83), 95, where the difficulty of evaluating the nature of the ‘deferential response’ lies in the lack of evidence.

117 In his study of Galileo's self-fashioning, Biagioli, op. cit. (114), ch. 1, carries out an ‘epistolary anthropology’ in order to analyse the patron/client relationship. In such cases, however, both patron and client were aware of the etiquette employed (hence the skill required of the client in establishing a relationship), unlike the interaction between artisans and gentlemen naturalists.

118 Tinker Jethro to Leyland Roberts, 22 06 1834, Calderdale Central Library, Halifax, Roberts Leyland Correspondence, SH: 7/JN/B/66/78.

119 The solitude of Scottish working-men naturalists is not just a reflection of the ideological bias of Samuel Smiles's biographies of men like Thomas Edward and Robert Dick. For the communal nature of artisan botany in Lancashire, see Secord, op. cit. (8).

120 Even Bentley's letter to Hooker, op. cit. (86), written on behalf of ‘would be Botanists’ indicated that artisans believed themselves capable of becoming botanists.

121 Helme William to Hobson Edward, [25 03 1817], Botany Department, Manchester Museum, Edward Hobson's Botanical Correspondence, 138.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 73 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 173 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.