Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Record Keeping

The motions of a diaphragm to usefully record sound were not available in 1860 for the Huxley Wilberforce Debate. Nor was there a stenographer busy with his or her pen.  So there is no reliable record of what actually transpired. However there are snippets, that I at least find interesting. Huxley had the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog."  Which I think explains itself. Wilberforce had the nickname "Soapy Sam." A nickname given him by Benjamin Disraeli, a two time conservative prime minister of Victoria's Empire, who thought Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, "unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous." Unctuous means 'oily'.  Oleaginous can also mean 'oily.' Saponaceous means 'like soap.'  And in those days, before the tyranny of recording devices, public figures were much more inclined to speak from the heart.

During the debate on Origin of Species, it is claimed, Wilberforce asked Huxley something like, "Which was the Ape? Your great, great grandmother or your great, great grandfather."  So clearly passions were running high, and I picture the audience at the gathering of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, rapidly choosing sides. Thomas Huxley, who in cartoons is always portrayed as a man with a very large head and who's photograph does make him look like a very angry sort of person, rose to the occasion and he answered the Bishop with something like, "I'd not be ashamed to have an ape for an ancestor. But I would be ashamed to be connected to a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth."  And I guess now days to get that sort of raw wonderfulness you have to be something like a minimum wage waiter with a camera at a private fundraiser. 

No comments: