Making Descent Decent
It is often assumed that scientists deal in cold, objective fact. Even works of science, however, are a product of the culture in which they are produced. Darwin's correspondence reveals how the content, language and structure of his published work - in particular the risqué Descent of Man - was carefully crafted in order not to offend or alienate his respectable, Victorian audience. As his correspondence shows, making sensitive topics such as sexual selection palatable for a Victorian audience was no mean feat.
In those instances where even the most polite of discourse could not veil the ‘improper’ nature of Darwin’s content, Murray recommended the use of Latin; a strategy which would protect the sensibilities of Descent’s popular audience without depriving its learned readers of what he and Darwin must have deemed crucial supporting evidence for his theory.
Since publication of On the Origin of Species twelve years earlier, Murray and Darwin had developed a close working relationship. Their correspondence reveals two men anxious to produce a socially acceptable piece of work. Only through the careful censoring of language and, in extreme cases, the strategic use of Latin could Darwin and Murray hope that Descent might be read by as broad and mixed an audience as possible.