JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 17
I enjoy the good defense of the wrongfully accused--The Encyclopedia of Incorrect Reviews of Literature and Science is an enormous and multi-generational work, filled to its festering brim with The Bad Stuff: Everyone is represented here, glory rendered to trifle: Hamlet was ripped by Voltaire (“vulgar and barbarous”) while Pepys raped Midsummer Night’s Dream (“insipid, ridiculous”); Moby Dick was “trash, bedlam literature”; Kipling couldn’t write in English (SF Examiner 1889); and Max Eastman weirdly and famously trashed Hemingway and his manhood in the New Republic while reviewing For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940 (“lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man”). Perhaps one of the very prettiest of the bad/wrong review was made by The Bookman (the professional bookseller’s reviewing organ in the United States) in 1906, in reviewing Sinclair’s The Jungle: “His reasoning is so false, his disregard of human nature so naïve, his statement of facts so biased, his conclusions so perverted, that the effect can be only to disgust many honest, sensible folk with the very terms he uses so glibly”. Well put; better still if it were correct. The list goes on and on and touches, well, just about everyone (including Dr. Seuss). What I really enjoy is the response to the bad review, especially when the bad review was, simply, bad.
One good example, .a great example, really, is Thomas Stebbing's response to an inciting, raw and hateful attack upon Darwin's Descent of Man by The Times of London newspaper (April, 1871). Incredibly, or predictably, The Times saw the work as an attack upon society: it accused Darwin of undermining authority and principles of morality, opening the way to "the most murderous revolutions". A "man incurs a grave responsibility when, with the authority of a well-earned reputation, he advances at such a time the disintegrating speculations of this book." Stebbing's review of the Review is drippingly but properly sarcastic, pointing out obvious errors in specific and the tone of the article in general in the defense of the book. Darwin's "facile method of observing superficial resemblances" (says The Times) moves Stebbing to issue the following: "they may fancy that truth is worth discovering , even when it seems to involve some contradictions to our pride and some loss of comfort to our finer feelings..." It is a gorgeous line ending a proper, staid defense of what would seem prima facie to be something in need of no defense whatsoever—in 1871 or 2008.
Reverend Stebbing, a Darwinian, Naturalist and fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, lived another 55 years after this article was published—one year longer than the issuance of the (negative, anti-Darwin) verdict in the Scopes/Monkey trial. I wonder what he was thinking on that day in 1925…