I wanna party with Darwin and Dickens
May 31, 2019 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I just woke up from a dream in which I was claiming that I had been to the same party as Charles Darwin, by which I meant that I had been to a periodic institutional celebration that Darwin also would have been to. What gala events that Darwin may have attended are still held today?

Bonus question, extra difficulty. In the dream I actually said Charles Dickens, though I meant Charles Darwin. Is there a party I could theoretically go to that both Dickens and Darwin would have attended?

It’s ok if I would have to discover radium or the source of the Nile or sell a billion copies of my novel to be invited. I can work on that.
posted by moonmilk to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well for starters, Darwin was a fellow in the Royal Society, the Geological Society of London, and the Linnean Society of London, all of which are still around. Dickens was not in any of these clubs.

The Royal Society has quite a few events you can pick from, and for a gala, they have the Premier Awards Dinner each year in the fall. You probably need to be a Fellow to nab an invite, and Fellowship is only by invitation.

At the Geological Society, the main annual bash appears to be the President's Day, which is on June 6 this year, so you can still make it if you rush. But you need to join up, and to do that, you'll need to know something about rocks.

The Linneans are easier to join. Fellows can attend the annual Anniversary Meeting (just held on May 24), which includes awards, speeches, and a dinner at the Cavendish Hotel. It might not technically be a gala, but it would probably put you at the same shindig as Darwin, or at least, at a meeting of the same outfit he belonged to and to which his Theory was first presented. Darwin wasn't there for that presentation (his son had died two days earlier of scarlet fever) but must have attended other Linnaean events.

Yes, eponysterical handle below:
posted by beagle at 6:37 AM on May 31, 2019 [12 favorites]

Both Darwin and Dickens apparently knew Charles Babbage and attended his soirees. While not institutional, they could conceivably have met there (caveat: I have absolutely no proof of this). A possible modern equivalent might be something like the Fellow of the Royal Institution lectures, or Ted talks. Not 'parties' as such though. Interesting question!
posted by carter at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Darwin attended Christ's College Cambridge and might have attended one or more of their May Balls, even after going down--I believe old boys do attend, though I don't know how common it is at that specific college.
posted by praemunire at 8:55 AM on May 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well, continuing in the epon[emotional state] vein pioneered by beagle, just how attached are you to that nick of yours?

Because Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, established the Lunar Society:
The members cheerfully referred to themselves as "lunaticks", a pun on lunatics. Venues included Erasmus Darwin's home in Lichfield, Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, Bowbridge House in Derbyshire, and Great Barr Hall.
a paper read at the Science Museum in London in 1963 claimed that "of all the provincial philosophical societies it was the most important, perhaps because it was not merely provincial. All the world came to Soho to meet Boulton, Watt or Small, who were acquainted with the leading men of Science throughout Europe and America. Its essential sociability meant that any might be invited to attend its meetings."[22]
And Charles Dickens' first novel, The Pickwick Papers, centered around the doings of a somewhat similar organization:
The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club.
The Lunar Society link above describes modern incarnations of the society you might be able to join.
posted by jamjam at 9:35 AM on May 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Darwin was a member of the Royal Society, and Dickens was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, which apparently wasn't the same thing. I haven't figured out a way to make use of this information yet, but maybe someone else will? Maybe the two Royal Societies have been jointly holding mixers for a century or two?
posted by moonmilk at 10:00 AM on May 31, 2019

Dickens and Darwin were both members of the London Library which you can join today. Not quite a party, perhaps, but you might nod to each other in the reading room. I don't know if the library's summer party took place in the 19th century, but my guess is that it's a recent invention.
posted by tavegyl at 10:30 AM on May 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

One promising possibility, from Rosemary Ashton's One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858:
Darwin and Dickens, though neither knew it, had shared a moment in June 1838, when they were both elected to the Athenaeum Club, founded in 1824 to celebrate intellectual and literary attainments.
While she suggests here that the two didn't meet directly (or at least consciously), and goes on to describe how Darwin was quite reclusive when it came to the London social scene, it's plausible that they could have run into each other incidentally if the so-called "forty thieves" class of inductees had some sort of induction ceremony that they were expected to attend.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:28 PM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

There were Royal weddings then, and there are Royal weddings now, with attendant parties, of course.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:55 PM on June 1, 2019

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