Education or degeneration: E. Ray Lankester, H. G. Wells and The outline of history

This paper uses the friendship and collaboration of Edwin Ray Lankester , zoologist, and Herbert George Wells , novelist and journalist, to challenge the current interpretation of late Victorian concern over degeneration as essentially an intellectual movement with little influence in contemporary debates over social and political problems. Degeneration theory provided for Lankester and Wells the basis both for a personal bond and for an active programme of social and educational reform. I trace the construction of Lankester’s account of degeneration, initially as empirical ‘fact’ and later as ideologically inflected theory, and the reciprocal relationship between this theory and his critique of the British university system. I use Wells’s Outline of history to illustrate the profound influence of Lankester’s degenerationist worldview on Wells’s scientific and socio-political thought. Lankester’s synthesis of his theory and his critique led the two men to reject eugenics as an unscientific and ideologically incompatible solution to the problem of national deterioration. Instead, they campaigned for the reform of scientific education as a means of keeping mankind from physical, intellectual and cultural degeneration
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.03.002
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J. E. Chamberlin (1981). An Anatomy of Cultural Melancholy. Journal of the History of Ideas 42 (4):691.

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