Lincoln, Darwin, and Gaskell


Unless you’ve been living in an obscure cave you’ll know that today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of President Lincoln. I wanted to tell you about a touching memorial to him in Manchester, UK.

This statue bears the inscription:

This statue commemorates the support that the working people of Manchester gave in the fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War. By supporting the Union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry…

Technically, Britain was neutral during the Civil War, but Liverpool, the port where the south’s cotton was unloaded, was a wholehearted supporter of the confederacy. The confederacy headquarters were in Rumford Place, where a US flag still flies.

In an 1863 letter to the “working men of Manchester,” Lincoln termed this action “an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age.”

The other big birthday today is that of Charles Darwin, born in the same year. His mother was a member of the Wedgwood family and the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was an obscure cousin. Her last book, and one my favorites, Wives and Daughters, was published around the same time as The Origin of Species.

It’s possible that her portrayal of Roger Hamley, the nature-loving hero of the book, is based on her memories of Darwin as a young man:

He had gone about twenty yards on the small wood-path at right angles to the terrace, when, looking among the grass and wild plants under the trees, he spied out one which was rare, one which he had been long wishing to find in flower, and saw it at last, with those bright keen eyes of his. Down went his net, skilfully twisted so as to retain its contents, while it lay amid the herbage, and he himself went with light and well-planted footsteps in search of the treasure. He was so great a lover of nature that, without any thought, but habitually, he always avoided treading unnecessarily on any plant; who knew what long-sought growth or insect might develop itself in what now appeared but insignificant?

For Darwin Day celebrations, check out this site.

There are many Lincoln celebrations taking place across the US. Here’s the link to the Library of Congress’s With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition.

What are you doing today?

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