Saturday, 10 November 2012

E Ray Lankester and Henry Gosse


I was very pleased to be named as one of the winners in the UCL Research Frontiers competition: E Ray Lankester (above, centre), the subject of my entry, was a formidable man but he had great judgement and pushed for what he felt was right.

When writing the “Imaginary Interview”, I was already aware of the mutual respect between Lankester and Henry Gosse, as Lankester’s name cropped up several times during my research for “Walking with Gosse: Natural History, Creation and Religious Conflicts”(above, left). Lankester had been inspired by Gosse (above, right) when he visited the Lankester family home and told Ray of the many wonders of Natural History that he had observed. In turn, Lankester, much later, ironed out problems that Henry Gosse had with the Scientific Establishment when he insisted on referring to his devout Christian beliefs in scientific publications. It was also Lankester who suggested that Edmund Gosse should write the first biography of his father, which appeared as “The Naturalist of the Sea-Shore: the Life of Philip Henry Gosse”.

Both Ray Lankester and Henry Gosse were great figures although, like all great people, they had areas of quirkiness. For Lankester, it was his sometimes bombastic approach; for Gosse, his imprisonment in narrow religious beliefs. I find it easy to forgive both, so what better way to have launched “Walking with Gosse” than in the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL? In the Museum, which Lankester helped to develop, are some of the specimens he used in his pioneering research and, with that all around us, we were able to discuss Henry Gosse and the respect everyone felt for his achievements. It was a special occasion.

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