Record

Reference numberVF/28
Alternative reference numberVF28
LevelItem
Title"Old Bones"
Date01 March 1873
DescriptionVanity Fair cartoon of Sir Richard Owen FRS. Full length, left profile
CaptionNo. 226. Men of the Day. No. 57
Professor Owen
Among all the forms of human activity that would seem to be one of the least promising which deals with the relics of the past in an age so devoted as this to the present; and yet Richard Owen has succeeded in becoming one of the most prominent figures in England entirely through the study, practical and theoretical, of old Bones. It is indeed rather by accident than of set purpose that an ignorant public has come to take an interest in this matter. Twenty-five years ago the name of Owen was hardly known out of the medical profession. Surgeons and such like people were well aware that they had among them a Lancashire lad who was likely to make a mark in the world. His youth had been laborious and given to exertions which were not likely to make him known to any but the scientific men of Europe, among whom he was already regarded as a shining light. At thirty-one he had been made Hunterian Professor of the College of Surgeons, and even before that he had begun to occupy himself with anatomy in a larger field than was common. He had read papers and written books which under the modest form of the Catalogue disclosed great acquired knowledge and a remarkable original power. But he was generally unknown until, about the era of Universal Peace inaugurated by the First Exhibition, he put his comparative anatomy into popular form by reconstructing the Megatherium and other strange and extinct beasts from mere fossil relics. His monsters became the delight and the wonder of an idle people, and having found a permanent place at the Crystal Palace, they to this day remain the best-known works of their designer. Professor Owen has thus been brought before all as the discoverer of an abiding unity of plan in animal organisation, fearfully and wonderfully illustrated by the strange things he has dug up out of oblivion. He has ever since continued to expend a prodigious activity in this field, publishing in every variety of form every variety of new results arising from his theory, and in public estimation he now holds a high place. So that he has been placed on two Royal Commissions of a sanitary kind, has had a public residence assigned to him and has been made the Superintedent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum. He is a simple-minded creature, although a bit of a dandy, and if men who have done service to mankind and honour to the English name (otherwise than by acquiring property) had any claim to distinction he would now, after close upon seventy years' labour, illustrate some one of those titles, which illustrate many men of a very different calibre.
FormatLithograph
MaterialsColoured lithograph on paper
Dimensions380mm x 263mm
NotesText is accompanying article from "Vanity Fair" (by Spy)
Access statusOpen
ProvenancePurchased by Royal Society from Patrick Pollock Antiquarian and Rare Books September 1999
Related materialAlan H Sykes, 'The Doctors in Vanity Fair' 1995, page 13. Colour transparency, Box N101, IM/003396
Related records in the catalogueIM/003396
Fellows associated with this archive
CodeNameDates
NA8083Owen; Sir; Richard (1804 - 1892)1804 - 1892
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