Hewett Cottrell Watson
Victorian Plant Ecologist and Evolutionist
This title was first published in 2003. Hewett Cottrell Watson was a pioneer in a new science not yet defined in Victorian times - ecology - and was practically the first naturalist to conduct research on plant evolution, beginning in 1834. His achievement in British science is commemorated by the fact that the Botanical Society of the British Isles named its journal after him - Watsonia - but of greater significance to the history of science is his contribution to the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The correspondence between Watson and Darwin, analysed for the first time in this book, reveals the extent to which Darwin profited from Watson’s data. Darwin’s subsequent fame, however, is one of the reasons why Watson became almost forgotten. At the same time, Watson can be called a classic Victorian eccentric, and his other ambition, in addition to promoting and organizing British botany, was to carry forward the cause of phrenology. Indeed, he was a more daring theoretician in phrenology than ever he was in botany, but in the end he abandoned it, not being able to raise phrenology to the level of an accepted science. This biography traces both the influences and characteristics that shaped Watson’s outlook and personality, and indeed his science, and the institutional contexts within which he worked. At the same time, it makes evident the extent of his real contributions to the science of plant ecology and evolution.
Table of Contents
Contents: Preface; Introduction: Watson's significance; Psychobiography or not?; Chapter organization; Part I. Finding a Place in the World: "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, 1804-28; Edinburgh and career possibilities, 1828-32: The city and phrenology; The university and plant geography; Part II. The Life of a Gentleman Scientist: Relationships and social perspectives, 1833-59: Private life; Family life; Phrenological struggles, 1833-40; Outlook and social responsibilities, 1835-60: Science and religion; Political and social views; Continuing plant geography studies, 1833-48: In Britain; In the Azores Islands; Relationship with William Hooker, 1833-50; Seeking employment, 1842-48; PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH FORBES, BABINGTON AND BALFOUR, 1833-59: Conflict with Edward Forbes; Botanical colleagues: Watson vs Babington and Balfour; Botanical societies: Edinburgh vs London; HISTORY NOT QUITE REPEATED: WATSON, THE BOTANICAL SOCIETY oF LONDON AND THE PHYTOLOGIST, 1840-58; THE ORIGIN AND TRANSMUTATION OF SPECIES, 1833-47: Watson's orientation and studies; Darwin's orientation and studies; DARWINIAN PARALLELS AND CONTRASTS, 1809-58: Early life and personality; Early thoughts on brain and emotions; Early studies on biogeography; Private and family life; outlook and social responsibilities; In the Azores; Involvements with science and scientists; STONECUTTER FOR DARWIN'S EDIFICE, 1847-1859: Watson's own scientific conclusions; A colleague for Darwin; Part III. Later Life, Work, and Influences: LATER LIFE, WORK AND INFLUENCES, 1860-81: Doubts on the Darwinian revolution; A synthesis on the botany of the Azores; Relationship with Joseph Hooker; A protégé for Watson; Watson's other relationships and influences; DARWINIAN PARALLELS AND CONTRASTS, 1860-82: Later work; Later life; Influences; Conclusions: Personality: Watson's; Darwin's; Difficult personalities within scientific communities; Scientific achievements; Bibliography; Inde
Frank N. Egerton is Professor of History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He has published widely on the history of ecology and history of evolutionary biology. Currently he is writing a history of the ecological sciences. He has edited History of American Ecology (Arno Press) and Edward Lee Greene's Landmarks of Botanical History (Stanford University Press).
'For anyone who loves Victorian England, stumbling on Frank Egerton's biography of Hewett Cottrell Watson is like finding a previously unknown Sherlock Holmes mystery. Anyone who is as partial to Victorian science as I am can settle in for a very good read.' David L. Hull, Department of Philosophy, Northwestern University, Illinois 'Frank N. Egerton's biography brings Watson out of the shadows and explains why his meticulous work in plant biogeography and systematics was so important to Darwin and other Victorian naturalists... Egerton opens a window on the complexity and vitality of biology in the age of Darwin.' Nature '... a detailed and meticulously researched memoir which should set the record of Watson's considerable achievements in their true light, away from the unjustified obscurity into which they have fallen.' Archives of Natural History 'The book's contribution to historiographical debates is not to be missed. Especially as [it] is enhanced by an impeccable erudition, a fluid writing and quality illustrations.' Gesnerus 'There are few historical studies of Hewett Cottrell Watson, and Egerton has done a fine job of bringing to light the role of a marginal scientist in the age of the Darwinian revolution.' Metascience '... this biography is obviously important reading for Darwin and Watson scholars, as well as those working on histories of evolution and phrenology.' The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation '... Egerton's biography will certainly give readers a rich taste of the scientific culture of this period and abundant insights into the trials and tribulations of this very singular gentleman scientist.' History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences '[Hewett Cottrell Watson] is examined in this welcome biography of a lesser-known nineteenth-century man of science. Badly needed to complement the more plentiful studies of the better-knowns... the author's adept depiction of Watson's temperamental difficulties, and of his painful search for recognition in spite of his middle-class status, offers a distinctive contemporary view of Victorian natural history from the outside, looking in.' Isis