SAVILIAN MICHAEL BOULTER on BLOOMSBURY SCIENTISTS: SCIENCE AND ART IN THE WAKE OF DARWIN

Michael Boulter’s latest book is to be published in October by UCL Press. It is Bloomsbury Scientists, the story of the network of scientists and artists living in a square mile of London before and after World War I. This inspired group of men and women viewed creativity and freedom as the driving force behind nature, and each strove to understand this in their own inventive way. Their collective energy changed the social mood of the era and brought a new synthesis of knowledge to ideas in science and art. Class barriers were threatened as power shifted from the landed oligarchy to those with talent and the will to make a difference.

This was a time of unexpected opportunities, from the new disciplines of Genetics and Ecology to Post-Impressionism and beyond. The book weaves together stories originating from Bloomsbury’s laboratories, libraries and studios. It tells of breakthroughs by scientists such as Ray Lankester and Marie Stopes alongside the creative outputs of H. G. Wells and Virginia Woolf, among many others, and intricately connects them all through personal friendships, grievances, quarrels and affections. The central character is the colourful marine zoologist Professor Sir Ray Lankester FRS, prominent member of the Savile Club from the 1880s to 1929. The talk will focus on Lankester’s relationships with RL Stevenson, Sir Lesley Stephen and HG Wells. Other Savilians in the story are Thomas Hardy, statistician and socialist Karl Pearson, zoologist Raphael Weldon, the God fearing naturalist and tax collector Benjamin Kidd, cantankerous sociologist Herbert Spencer, JBS Haldane, Julian Huxley, CP Snow and Gip Wells. Meanwhile, GB Shaw held out against Darwinism and stayed shy of the Savile.

Bloomsbury Scientists offers a fresh and crucial perspective on this history at a time when the complex relationship between science and art continues to be debated.

Chairman –  Savilian Martin Pick