From butterfly mania to aquarium fever to gorilla madness - Victorian society yielded to the excesses of a grand passion for natural history. In the name of 'rational amusement,' the bored upper classes ventured outdoors to look for 'sermons in stones' or invited fashionable friends in for 'an evening at the microscope.' No middle-class drawing room was complete without its exotic ferns, insect collections, shell pictures, and stuffed birds. And, at all levels of British and American society, public demand for fascinating facts, bizarre anecdotes, and pious homilies about nature made books such as 'Marvels of Pond Life' national bestsellers.
Why? What caused this popular obsession that lasted from the 1820s to the 1860s? 'This book traces the relationship between the natural history craze and 'nation theology' - the belief that the study of nature led to spiritual enlightenment. It brings to life the notorious eccentrics of 19th-century naturalism, the gentlemen-scientists who managed to ignore the real controversies brewing between science and religion. And it describes the religious and intellectual shock waves created by the advent of Darwinism - why its impact was irreversible and how the 'Origin of Species' undermined and finally killed the popular enthusiasm for natural history.
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