This is an excerpt from the Introduction of Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science (University of Chicago Press, 2008). Subsequent chapters trace the various stages and aspects of Hooker's career, from travelling and collecting to publishing and governing — building up a fascinating picture of his rise to prominence in the Victorian scientific establishment. The excerpt has been formatted for the Victorian Web by kind permission of the author, with added illustrations, captions and links. In-text citations replace end-notes; page changes are noted in square brackets. [You may use the images here without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer or source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.] — Jacqueline Banerjee

decorated initial 'V'ictorian men of science professed allegiance to a range of disciplines and institutions, but despite these differences, they were all developing careers at a time of considerable social change. The rapid growth of British cities [28/29] brought them many opportunities, but the cities also brought anonymity, creating uncertainty about whom to trust. As the Congregationalist minister Robert Vaughan noted in his influential work Age of Great Cities (1843), in a village, "every man is known" and "his movements are liable to observation"; these circumstances ensured that "a strong check is constantly laid upon the tendencies of the ill-disposed." By contrast, the "crowded capital is to such men as some large and intricate forest, into which they plunge, and find, for a season at least, the places of darkness and concealment convenient for them" (qtd. in Briggs 64). The city also made it hard to assess someone's place in society, and a whole range of sources testify to widespread concern at the ease with which city-dwellers could claim a social standing they had no right to.

The epitome of the gentleman-botanist, Darwin contemplates a flower-bud in Léon Chavalliaud's statue of him in Sefton Park, Liverpool.

Like so many of their fellow citizens, the men of science were pursuing new ideas and new ways of making a living. Their claims to expertise and credibility were as yet unverified, so good manners, courtesy, and an aura of respectability had to do the work that would eventually be done by formal qualifications and institutional or professional affiliation. To be a trusted member of the early Victorian scientific elite one had to be a gentleman, yet — as we have seen — there was considerable uncertainty as to who or what a gentleman was. Charles Dickens's early work Sketches of Young Gentlemen (published in 1838, the year Hooker obtained his MD) contains satirical observations on the varieties of young "gentlemen" that young ladies were likely to meet. Among them was a particular kind of young gentleman who "has so often a father possessed of vast property in some remote district of Ireland, that we look with some suspicion upon all young gentlemen who volunteer this description of themselves." This unverifiable wealth is as dubious as his claims to be "a universal genius; at walking, running, rowing, swimming, and skating, he is unrivalled; at all games of chance or skill, at hunting, shooting, fishing, riding, driving, or amateur theatricals" (61-62). Dickens's humor expresses a common concern, that the "large and intricate forest" of the crowded city allowed counterfeit gentlemen to pass themselves off as the real thing. Detecting these fakes was no easy matter, and many of the novels, advice books, and etiquette manuals that dealt with gentility were aimed at identifying the true gentlemen amid the anonymous throng.

A young Joseph Hooker, already looking "philosophical" in George Richmond's sketch of him (Huxley, frontispiece).

For a man of science like Hooker, whose "vast estates" were a collection of dried plants and whose "universal genius" was in matters few understood, proving himself trustworthy and reliable was no simple matter. He and his contemporaries stressed that good manners were an essential prerequisite for joining the scientific community, which meant conducting [29/30] disagreements with fellow men of science in measured, courteous tones — preferably in private. In the 1850s, Hooker and Darwin shared their concerns over Huxley's vehement tone and enthusiasm for public brawling; they initially decided not to nominate him for membership of the Athenaeum Club, for fear that his discourtesy might generate opposition that would harm the public image of all men of science (White 33, 48). A few years later, on 13 May 1863, Hooker described to Darwin the advice he had given the entomologist Henry Bates: "to take care not to quarrell [sic] with or show contempt for his brother Entomologists; & to take their sneers & suspicions in perfect good part." As long as Bates avoided such ill-mannered altercations, Hooker was convinced that "if he only goes on quietly & goodnaturedly working hard & publishing such papers as he has in 3 years he will be the first living philosophical Entomologist" — but only as long as "he makes no enemies" among his fellow naturalists" (Burkhardt et al. 413). Hooker wrote to Bates himself, commiserating with him over the ungenerous treatment being meted out by his rivals in London's scientific societies, who Hooker believed were jealous of Bates's accomplishments. Hooker nevertheless urged him, "Do I entreat you smile at their sneers & [?tell] them good humouredly that 'time will show,'" adding, "To get employment especially, nothing is so essential as a character for never being offended, which after all is true dignity" (13 May 1863, APS [JDH]). Hooker's advice to Bates makes a clear connection between being philosophical and being well mannered. Having and keeping "a character" was a key aspect of the developing mid-Victorian sense of what it meant to be a gentleman (for the ideal of the gentleman, see Smiles; St George; Morgan).

Gentlemanly codes of courtesy became an important aspect of the definition of "philosophical" in part for the same reason that the term "professional" was avoided: labeling people as philosophical, rather than professional, defined them by their practices, ideas, and standards of behavior rather than by their source of income; it was a term that allowed members of the diverse scientific communities to negotiate their way through the uncertain and shifting relations between social and scientific status; it was a word with which naturalists attempted to bridge the uneasy gap between a prevailing ideal of practicing science for love, as a gentlemanly vocation, and their often urgent need for money. Above all, "philosophical" is the term that allows us to connect the daily work of science to the great issues that divided Victorian men of science and the society around them. Reexamining those connections gives us new ways of understanding the complex, shifting place of science in society.

Related Material


[Source of text:] Endersby, Jim. Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

APS (JDH). Hooker, Joseph Dalton. J. D. Hooker Papers (BH76), American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

Briggs, Asa. Victorian Cities. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

Burkhardt, Frederick, et al., eds. The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. II, 1863. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Dickens, Charles. Sketches of Young Gentlemen: Dedicated to the young Ladies. London: Chapman and Hall, 1838.

[Illustration source:] Huxley, Leonard. Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Vol. I . London: John Murray, 1918. Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 16 April 2015. [Portrait source.]

Morgan, Marjorie. Morals, Manners and Class in England. 1774-1858. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994.

Smiles, Samuel. Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct and Perseverance. 1859. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

St. George, Andrew. The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules and the Victorians. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993.

White, Paul. Thomas Huxley: Making the "Man of Science." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Created 15 April 2015