E. Ray Lankester, Ecological Materialist

E. Ray Lankester, Ecological Materialist: Introduction to ‘The Effacement of Nature by Man,” Organization and Environment, vol. 13, no. 2 (June 2000), 233-35. DOI10.1177/1086026600132004

E. Ray Lankester (1847 to 1929) is largely forgotten today—his impor- . tance is only just now being rediscovered. Yet, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Lankester was at the very pinnacle of the British scientific establishment and a well-known, even larger-than-life, public fig- ure. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1993) The Lost World, the central protagonist is a brilliant but bellicose evolutionary biologist and comparative anatomist, Professor Challenger, who was most certainly modeled after Lankester, with whom Doyle was well acquainted. That Doyle had Lankester in mind at the time that he was writ- ing The Lost World cannot be doubted because in introducing the question of van- ished dinosaurs, Challenger refers to “an excellent monograph [Extinct Animals] by my gifted friend Ray Lankester” (Doyle, 1993, p. 35).
A member of the Royal Society, Lankester was the most famed Darwinian evolutionist in the generation following Darwin and Huxley, and from 1898 to 1907, he was the director of the British Museum of Natural History—a position that stood at the apex of his profession. Lankester had been Thomas Huxley’s protégé, trained to carry on the evolutionary cause. Later, he became a close friend of Karl Marx in the last few years of Marx’s life and was to be one of the mourners at Marx’s funeral. He was also a close friend of H.G. Wells, an admirer of William Morris, and a mentor to J.B.S. Haldane, one of the great scientists of the next generation, central to the development of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Lankester was to gain considerable public fame as an essayist on natural history, in a tradition established by such great scientists as Huxley and Tyndall. It was in this context that he wrote some of the most powerful essays on ecological degradation ever authored—the most important of which is “The Effacement of Nature by Man” (Lankester, 1913, pp. 365- 372), reprinted in this issue.


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