Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

James A. Secord

The first half of the nineteenth century saw new scientific disciplines begin to take shape, while new concepts of the natural world and its processes - concepts of evolution and the vastness of geological time - began to spread. Jim Secord, Director of the Darwin correspondence project, captures the changing times through the nature and reception, by genteel ladies and working men as well as among the intelligentsia, of a selection of key books from the 1830s, including Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, Mary Somerville's Connexion of the Physical Sciences, and Thomas Carlyle's satirical work, Sartor Resartus. Set in the context of electoral reform and unrest in continental Europe, of debates about the extension of education to working people to meet the demands of a new industrial, machine-dominated world, Secord shows how the books were published, disseminated, admired, attacked, and satirized.


1. Fantastic Voyages: Humphry Davy's Consolations in Travel
2. The Economy of Intelligence: Charles Babbage's Reflections on the Decline of Science
3. The Conduct of Everyday Life: John Herschel's Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy
4. Mathematics for the Million?: Mary Somerville's On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences
5. A Philosophy for a New Science: Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology
6. The Problem of Mind: George Combe's Constitution of Man
7. The Torch of Science: Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus
Further Reading
Bibliography of Works after 1900


Jim Secord is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, and a fellow of Christ's College. His research and teaching is on the history of science from the late eighteenth century to the present. He has published several books, including Controversy in Victorian Geology (Princeton, 1986) and editions of the works of Mary Somerville, Charles Lyell, and Robert Chambers. Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (Chicago, 2000), an account of the public debates about evolution in the mid-nineteenth century, won the Pfizer Prize of the History of Science Society and the award for the best book in history from the Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division.