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Something fishy: the view from Bath

There is a lot of activity down in Bath, where Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is organising Darwin and Beyond – a programme of themed talks, events and displays throughout 2009.

Darwin's fish

Darwin and Beyond logo

Darwin and Beyond logo

The aim is to explore parts of Darwin's life and the influences upon it, and to identify aspects of his legacy which have contemporary relevance in a variety of fields. Presentations on the life sciences, linguistics, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry and the visual arts are planned.

A fishy theme to these events will feature strongly, as Bath can claim a unique connection to Charles Darwin through the work of his lifelong friend, Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893). Jenyns was a natural scientist and clergyman who lived in Bath for nearly half his life. The two had met at Cambridge and, when Jenyns declined a place on board The Beagle owing to his clerical duties, Darwin was proposed instead.

An uneasy undertaking

On his return, Darwin asked Jenyns to undertake the descriptions of the fish specimens he bought back with him, which were published between 1840 and 1842 as Fishes of the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. The fish illustrations were drawn by Waterhouse Hawkins, now better known for his full size models of prehistoric creatures in the grounds of Crystal Palace.

An exhibition, called Mr Darwin's Fish, will explore the sometimes fraught production of this volume. Jenyns found the work arduous and was self-conscious about his slow progress. As he laboured over the preserved specimens, he wryly observed that just the mention of Darwin's name brought on a fishy smell.

 

‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin