Victorian Values: The Life and Times of Dr Edwin Lankester MD FRS
by Mary P English

BIOPRESS 1990 187pp. Illus. 29.50. ISBN 0-948737-14-x

by Frank Rowntree
Micscape's Book Reviews and Information Editor
(see footnote)

Microscopists are avid scanners of second hand and antiquarian booksellers and few will be unaware of the ubiquitous "Half Hours with the Microscope" by Dr Edwin Lankester which is regularly found in one or other of its many editions and which has for nearly one hundred and fifty years been a source of much inspiration and information to generations of microscopists. Few however will be much aware of the man who wrote it in 1859 during his term of office as the President of the Microscopical Society of London.

This riveting biography of Edwin Lankester, Victorian Doctor, Scientist and pioneering campaigner tells his story from his early empoverished beginnings when as a 12 year old schoolboy he embarked on a career as a surgeons apprentice finishing only a few years later as a qualified practitioner on his emergence as a graduate of the New University of London. The way was hard and full of difficulty as he fought not only his poverty but the prejudice and snobbery of the time, two barriers that were never to be far from his everyday existence throughout the whole of his life.

His subsequent career was varied and full of controversy as he campaigned against the Establishment and their entrenched views as he sought to improve the lives and health of the poor either by his own actions or by cooperation with other pioneers of the new Public Health movement. He was a friend and collaborator with many distinguished figures of the day and through his membership of many of the scientific societies, for whom he often worked with great energy and vigour using their platforms to broadcast his ideas.

He was a prolific writer and lecturer who appealed both to specialist professional groups as well as lay audiences and through his communications as well as his indefatigable actions had an enormous impact on Victorian Society which laid the foundations for many of the improvements and advantages we enjoy today. Sadly Victorian Society failed to give him the financial reward nor the professional preferrment his talents and endeavours merited and it is only today that we begin to recognise his real stature and his son, Sir Edwin Ray Lankester is better known than he.

Hopefully this absorbing and highly readable biography which sheds so much light on the pain and problems of Victorian England as well as the life of its great figures will go a long way to remedy the situation.

Editor's Note: regular readers will be aware that Frank Rowntree who regularly contributed book reviews and factfiles to Micscape, died in October 1996. He will be sadly missed. Frank generously supplied a number of reviews for use in the magazine and this review forms the last in the series he submitted.

Read a tribute to Frank Rowntree by Maurice Smith, the Microscopy UK site coordinator.


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