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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.23 Gegeef, 'Battle Field of Science'

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Another satirical print by ‘Gegeëf’, The Battle Field of Science and the Churches, is signed and dated 30 November 1873. It survives as a foldout plate in a twopenny journal, The Gauntlet, which, like Our National Church and Our National Religion, was published by Edmund Appleyard. The avowed intention was to mount ‘A Challenge to Superstition; Cant; Bigotry’, and to promote ‘Free Thought, Free Speech; Reason in Matters Religious, Political, Social’. Two follow-up cartoons were planned, where this drama was to be played out – ‘the second will show the Heat of the Conflict, and the third, the Victory’ (p. 4). However, The Gauntlet seems not to have progressed beyond its first issue of December 1873. A detached and damaged copy of The Battlefield of Science and the Churches in the Huxley archive is likely to have been torn out of a copy of The Gauntlet’s ill-fated first issue; or perhaps the print was sold separately, after the demise of the journal. 

Once again, then, the forces of rational enlightenment, with Darwin conspicuous in the foreground, are ranged against the forces of ‘Orthodoxy’ - religious obscurantism, myth and charlatanism. A huge crowned female figure floating above the ideological battlefield represents ‘Reason’ and the triumph of truth, and directly below her is ‘The Gauntlet’, in allusion to the journal’s title – it is thrown down in challenge to the obscurantists. On the left a secular ‘London University’ and the British Association for the Advancement of Science back up a host of scientists and social philosophers, whose views implied a challenge to traditional religious dogma. Huxley raises a placard inscribed ‘Genesis v. Biogenesis’, while Herbert Spencer has the banner of ‘Social Science Association’ and William Carpenter apparently holds a physical ‘brain’ in his hands, in allusion to his research on the human brain’s physiology. Darwin lacks any emblem other than a monkey, which prances on his outstretched hand – the outline of its head corresponding in shape to Darwin’s own bearded profile: an echo of the cartoons that appeared at this time in comic journals in the wake of publication of The Descent of Man. The vanguard of the forces of reaction on the opposing side is formed by the symbols of supposed Old Testament miracles – Balaam’s talking ass, Jonah’s whale, Lot’s wife turned to salt, Joshua making the sun stand still, etc. – and behind them are the representatives of sectarianism and religious tyranny, with the ‘Tower of Babel – Believe or perish everlastingly’ in the background. Of course this image of two polarised and embattled ‘armies’ represents a gross distortion of the range of nuanced views actually held by the participants, but it nevertheless indicates popular interest in contemporary scientific theories as a weapon to be used against the power of institutional authority. The fact that Huxley apparently bought or was given a copy of this crudely drawn print is itself of some interest. 

  • physical location: British Library; another copy in the Thomas Huxley archive, Imperial College London. 

  • accession or collection number British Library P.103/19. Huxley archive, 79. (19) 

  • copyright holders British Library and Imperial College London 

  • originator of image ‘Gegeëf’ (pseudonym) 

  • date of creation 30 November 1873 

  • computer-readable date 1873-11-30  

  • medium and material lithography with the effect of a line drawing 

  • references and bibliography The Gauntlet 1 (Dec. 1873). Warren R. Dawson, The Huxley Papers: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Correspondence, Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Papers of the Rt. Hon. Thomas Henry Huxley . . . preserved in the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London (London: Macmillan for the Imperial College, 1946), p. 199, Section XIV, ‘Caricatures and Cartoons’, 79. (19). 


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