For English people of
the Victorian era, the traditional dependence upon religion to provide
answers to the big questions was giving way to a new belief that
science could and would eventually explain the answers. Science
was revealing the world's secrets, promising to unravel the great
mysteries, and Victorian society evidenced a pervasive fascination
with all things scientific and a belief in the value of self-edification.
Reforms had made it possible for Victorians of moderate status to
ensure a good education for, and thus, in theory, a prosperous future
for, their children.
By 1836 Darwin had traveled with the Beagle and his On the
Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation
of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, better known today
as "The Origin of Species," published in 1859,
presented new theories for debate among the members of the Royal
During this time scientists in important academic positions and
members of the Royal Society had unprecedented influence on popular
thinking and even political decision-making.