JF Ptak Science Books Post 1422
Poor Mr. Bergh.
I wonder what his reaction was to appearing in this 1871 Harper's Weekly cartoon by the great and indomitable Thomas Nast, linking him in a terrible and probably inscrutable way with the man of the century?
Henry Bergh was the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (mainly I think in response to the treatment of work horses and the campaign for anti-sweating rules), and he is grabbing Darwin's shoulder to remind the old man that in the shadow of the publication (earlier that same year) of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (twelve years after the first edition of the Origin, and two years after the appearance of the Origin in its fifth edition) that a great harm was being done to the weeping gorilla. Weeping because he was upset at being coupled with Darwin, weeping with the insult that someone such as Charles Darwin could be associated with him, with Mr. Bergh gently but firmly pointing out to Darwin that by connecting himself with the gorilla that he was doing a grave injustice to the gorilla. (The original is available on our blog bookstore.)
Of course Darwin didn't use a gorilla in the Descent, but no matter--it was a quick work by Nast and it contained enough of the stuff of some truth to reach publication. Nast after all usually produced two of these small sketches plus a full-page work every week, and would do so for decades. He got his point across--and it was a point shared by many, not the least of which/whom was The Times.
The Times of London gave such an awful review of the book that a review of this review was published in the April edition of the British journal Nature1. It was Thomas Stebbing who wrote the response to The Times' inciteful, hateful attack upon the Descent of Man. The Times saw Darwin's work as an attack upon society, accusing him 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 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) incites 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..." (What a great line!)
And so Thomas Nast piled on, though I'm not sure if he had a personal opinion on the matter--I prefer to think of Nast as rather forward thinking, at least in terms of more-correct thought on Indians/women/Blacks/the KKK/public education/government corruption, though he did have his failures in regards to the Irish, Catholics in general, the Pope, and some other areas2. Nast may have just been reporting on public sentiment, or maybe not. He at least doesn't depict Darwin in a physically abusive manner like so many others, though Darwin does appear a little on the stubby side.
But getting back to Bergh--I have my doubts that he would've been entertained by being depicted so. As I said, he founded the ASPCA, and also founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He inherited a fine family fortune, and put it to good use. He died at home, 429 5th Avenue (around 38th St and 5th, just a couple of blocks from where the NYPL would be) in 1888. I hope he didn't care; I doubt Charles did.
1. Nature, 1871, volume 3, 20 April 1871.
2. He hated Gen. George McClellan so far as I can tell, which gives him an "A" rating in my book.