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Christmas Dinner, Saturday December 12, 2009

Our annual CHRISTMAS DINNER was held on Saturday, 12th December, at the CARLSON HALL of MOUNT IDA COLLEGE in Newton, Massachusetts, starting at 6:30 pm. After dinner, guests adjourned to the Auditorium downstairs where, following the annual meeting of the Society, guest enjoyed their port and Janet Browne gave her talk.

Our speaker, Janet Browne, the renowned Darwin scholar, is the Aramont Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. A former research fellow of King's College, Cambridge, Professor Browne was also associate editor of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Her magisterial biography of Charles Darwin integrating Darwin's science with his life and times has been awarded many prizes including the James Tait Black Award, the W.H.Heinemann Prize, the Royal Literary Society Prize and the Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society.  The title of her talk was "Celebrating Charles Darwin in 2009".

This mailing also served as the notice for the Annual Meeting of Members and the Regular Meeting of Directors, which took place at the dinner. It also gave notice of certain amendments to the Bylaws which are posted on the web page were reviewed and approved by the Membership under the Bylaws at the said Annual Meeting.

Sincerely,                                                                           Reception: 6:30pm,    Dinner: 7:30pm

Steve McCarthy                                                               Location:    Mount Ida College

Stephen J. McCarthy, Corpus Christi (Oxon.), President of the Society


Over 120 members and guests of the Society attended the 2009 Christmas Dinner, and enjoyed a very festive evening, enhanced by excellent food and drink, ranging from the splendid selection of cheeses at the reception to the finishing Bûche de Noël (and, of course, port during the talk).

This will be the last Oxford & Cambridge event at Mt Ida during the tenure of retiring President Carol Matteson who, fortunately, was able to attend the reception. We greatly appreciate all her past hospitality at Mt Ida and hope that the tradition can continue with her successor.

During dinner, Linn Hobbs introduced the four of five MIT based 2009 Marshall and Rhodes scholars, all with daunting lists of accomplishments already on their resumes.  This has become an annual tradition.

After dinner, and the annual general meeting of the Society, Adam Apt introduced our speaker, Janet Browne. The text of his informative and elegant introduction can be read here.

Professor Browne spoke about Darwin, as a Victorian gentleman, following up a line of research triggered by Darwin response to one question in a survey of British Scientists by his cousin, Francis Galton.

The question was: "Do you possess any special talent?". Conventionally, we would have thought Darwin would remark upon his scientific curiosity or his powers of observation or his patience in pursuing a goal. Counter-intuitively, Darwin wrote: "I am a good business investment manager." Indeed he was, as Professor Brown showed from Darwin's meticulous records--increasing his net worth (setting aside publication royalties) 28-fold despite maintaining a very large family with an extensive household staff. She attributed his acquired habit of careful record keeping to the voyage of the Beagle and his close association with Captain Fitzhugh who kept the ship's log.

Yet Darwin was all of a piece. Professor Browne pointed to a conceptual link between investing wisely and Darwin's view of evolution: steady incremental growth. The discovery of the Cambrian explosion of life forms lay in the hands of future generations.

Darwin was not a Darwinist.  The militants of our day who advocate atheism in his name would have found no favor in his eyes.  Darwin considered himself a deist and brooked no offense at the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England.  If the voyage of the Beagle had proved uneventful rather than inspirational, then it is likely Darwin would have returned to Cambridge for an ecclesiastical degree and become a vicar as did several in his extended family. The Rev. Charles Darwin would be remembered as a gifted British naturalist leaving the famed discovery of evolution to Alfred Russell Wallace.

Professor Brown favored all of us with a Christmas gift of a color copy of Darwin's handwritten personal analysis of the Pros and Cons of Choosing Marriage--on the left hand side of the page, the reasons why and on the right hand side, the reasons why not. At the bottom of the page was his conclusion:"Marry, Marry, Marry. Q.E.D."

Her talk was followed by a lively Q & A session.

Her talk rounded off a most enjoyable and successful evening!