THE NATURAL HISTORY MAN

Richard Whittington-Egan : 9781-902918-60-0
The Life of the Reverend J.G. Wood

John George Wood was born in Derbyshire in 1827 and won a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford where he read theology. After ordination, he worked as a parish priest, hospital chaplain, and eventually became the Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral. It was in that post where, as the originator of processional singing, he left an unrecognized mark on church services which survives to this day.

Various circumstances had aroused in him an early enthusiasm for natural science and he was determined to popularize the subject with the missionary zeal that some of his fellow clergy possessed towards the unaware regions of the world. To that end, he compiled a series of shilling editions for the young, and illustrated titles for adult readers, the latter being published in beautiful bindings by Routledge.

He devoted the rest of his life to researching, writing, and illustrating every aspect of zoology and wrote over a hundred books 'where scientific language has been studiously avoided'. His work became as popular as that of any present-day television expert, written as it was with humour and an acute eye for observation.

In 1879 he took up lecturing, despite a stammer which made some words difficult, drawing his illustrations on a large blackboard as he spoke, as well as on his clerical abilities. He toured America twice, and his accounts of crossing the Atlantic in a fearful storm, or of being trapped in a snowbound train during a north American 'vortex winter', are as fresh and vivid as though written yesterday.

Like many clever men, he had poor financial acumen, which meant living on a treadmill of literary servitude, and he suffered several appalling injuries. Although he disliked Darwinism, he took no public part in the 'apes or angels' schismatic view of evolution which shook Victorian England. It is probably that lack of prominence that has led to his non-appearance in the annals of modern zoology, which this biography attempts to correct.


The Author

Richard Whittington-Egan was born in Liverpool in 1924 and educated at Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe in Lancashire. In the medico-legal tradition of his family, he originally read medicine and was to qualify for the Bar. During the Second World War, he served with the army in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, where he broadcast to the Allied Forces. While in Italy, illness forced him to curtail his medical studies and concentrate on writing.

Approaching his ninetieth year, few writers have covered such a wide range of literary subjects. His knowledge of medicine, criminal cases, the law, the personalities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, combined with his skill and perception as a writer, all provide both insight and entertainment. He is a member of the Medico-Legal Society, the Crime Writers' Association, and the Society for Psychical Research.

Working as a freelance journalist, he has been a contributor for many newspapers and periodicals, including The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, Books and Bookmen, Chambers' Journal, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Liverpool Daily Post, and the Liverpool Echo as well as the New York Times. He wrote his first literary review for the Contemporary Review at the age of 27; his last article coinciding 62 years later with the final issue of that journal in December 2012. His work as a literary journalist, spanning more than sixty years, illustrates his mastery of the craft of English prose in the fine tradition of a genuine 'man of letters'..


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