What do Charles Darwin and the rock band Kasabian have in common?

Kasabian’s latest album ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ finds an eerie echo in letters Charles Darwin exchanged in the 1860s and 70s with James Crichton-Browne, the young superintendent of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Alison Pearn, assistant director of the Darwin Correspondence Project will reveal insights gleaned from this rich stream of correspondence at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester.

Although Crichton-Browne became famous in later life as a founding-father of modern psychiatry, his formative years at the 1000-inmate West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum would be almost completely lost were it not for about 40 letters in the Darwin Archive in Cambridge University.

‘They contain explicit accounts of the lives of both superintendent and patient and show Darwin in a hitherto underappreciated role as a patron,’ says Pearn. ‘They also reveal the extent to which he was dependent not only on Crichton-Browne’s data, but also on his contribution to the development of Darwin’s argument for one of his most important publications – Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.’

In one of the letters, probably written on 26 March 1872, Darwin even made the unprecedented suggestion that the book ought to be described as ‘by Darwin and Browne.’



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