Charles darwin

There’s nothing shameful about hypochondria

The hypochondriac is the butt of jokes. Even his butt is the butt of jokes. A story doing the  rounds in the 16th and 17th centuries concerned a Parisian glassmaker who, believing himself to be also made of glass, fastened a cushion to his buttocks in case they broke when he sat down. His anxiety was mocked by a character in a play called Lingua, Or the Combat of the Tongue: ‘I am a Urinal, I dare not stirre,/ For fear of cracking in the Bottome.’ The aim of A Body Made of Glass is to take hypochondria, or ‘illness anxiety disorder’, seriously. But in a moment of levity, Caroline

Dinosaurs, dogma and the Victorian mind

In March 1860, shortly after The Origin of Species was published, Charles Darwin wrote to Leonard Horner thanking him for some surprising information. ‘How curious about the Bible!’ he exclaimed. Horner had taken aim at the marginal notes that were printed in the standard (and ubiquitous) Authorised, or King James, Version. These began with the date of creation, 4004 BC, as calculated by Archbishop James Ussher in the 17th century. Darwin was astonished. ‘I had fancied that the date was somehow in the Bible,’ he wrote. The disturbing ‘monsters’ dug from the cliffs of Lyme Regis did not sit well with the literal reading of Genesis The fact that Darwin,

The mad, bad and dangerous theories of Thomas Henry Huxley

Racism lies at the heart of the Victorian rewrite of the creation myth. What happened in prehistory, according to Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s representative on Earth, was that while Homo sapiens emerged from its primitive state among the other apes and lemurs, some – Europeans – developed at a faster rate. Humankind had evolved from a ‘hairy, tailed quadruped’, which was itself ‘probably derived from an ancient marsupial animal’ (Darwin). But once the human species emerged, ‘men differ more widely from one another than they do from the apes’. This ineluctably leads to the conclusion that there is as much difference, perhaps more, between the higher type of human being

My literary heroes have led me astray

Gstaad   Good manners aside, what I miss nowadays is a new, intelligent, finely acted movie. Never have I seen so much garbage as there is on TV: sci-fi trash, superhero rubbish, dystopian crap and junk about ugly, solipsistic youths revolting against overbearing parents. The director Jimmy Toback blames the subject matter for the lousy content, driven as it is by the need for diversity. I think lack of talent is the culprit. The non-stop use of the F-word is a given in Hollywood productions. Combined with constant violence, it makes for a lousy and unwatchable film. When one thinks back to classic movies such as The Best Years of

Where did birds first learn to sing?

The crisis inflicted by Covid-19 has been a source of anguish for everyone; yet we frequently hear how people are rediscovering solace in nature, especially in their gardens or in the surging renewal of life in the spring. According to Tim Burt and Des Thompson, the editors of a collection of essays about the importance of field research, this fulfilment reveals something much more profound than a distraction from lockdown.They argue that a response to the natural world is hardwired in the human psyche. Out of that fundamental reflex has evolved not just our prowess as hunters, then agriculturalists, but the entire edifice of science, whose assembled vision of the