- Darwin: "Mr. Owen, you are truly the most insufferable fellow I have ever had the misfortune to count among my acquaintances! Mr. Dickens was right: Foul weather wouldn't know where to have you!"
- Owen: "Foul weather - Bah! I have always been convinced that existing influences were responsible for the ordained birth of species!"
- —Owen arguing with Darwin, 1868.[src]
Sir Richard Owen (1804 – 1892) was an English biologist, comparative anatomist and paleontologist.
While a gifted naturalist, Owen tended to respond poorly to criticism, frequently crossing the line when it came to acceptable behavior and discourse in the scientific community. This was especially evident in his treatment of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which he viciously opposed.
Owen studied to become a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh and subsequently found work at the Hunterian Museum, where he catalogued plant and animal specimens. In 1830, he was elected to the research arm of the Zoological Society of London, being the youngest and most active member of the group.
During the mid-19th century, the scientific community's theories centered on the presence of the Divine in natural sciences. Owen himself published papers outlining his own theory on the origin of Earth's species. In essence, he believed that the changes observed in animals occurred as a response to their environment, with all species sharing a common archetypal ancestor. As well as this, all species were supposedly progressing towards an idealized form, with humans having already reached their apex.
Owen's ideas did not gain much traction, however, being condemned by fellow scientists. This did not deter the naturalist, who stood by his theories, gaining a reputation for overreacting to criticism and responding in anger. While his peers gradually came to accept Darwinism and natural selection, Owen remained severe in his articles on Darwin's On the Origin of Species.
Encounter with Jacob Frye
- Jacob: "What about Starrick's Soothing Syrup? [...] I wager your life, Mr. Owen, that you know something."
- Owen: "Stop! I'm telling you, I do not know a thing! I swear! Nor am I involved - or have I ever been involved - with anyone selling that patent medicine!"
- —Owen being interrogated by Jacob, 1868.[src]
In 1868, Owen was accosted by Darwin, who demanded he admit to writing an anonymous article that besmirched Darwin's reputation. Owen denied the accusation and quickly cut the argument short by getting in his carriage and driving off. However, the Assassin Jacob Frye, an associate of Darwin's, chased after Owen and managed to hijack the vehicle.
Owen was subsequently questioned on his position at the Lambeth Asylum and Starrick's Soothing Syrup, but stubbornly refused to share any information, believing Jacob to be a ruffian hired by Darwin to scare him. In response, the Assassin began ramming the carriage into traffic, in an effort to make the scientist talk. Eventually, Owen relented and revealed that the Syrup had been created by John Elliotson, a doctor working at the asylum.
His continued criticism of Darwin's work led Owen to feel alienated from his peers in the field of biology. Hence, he began focusing his efforts elsewhere, establishing the Natural History Museum in 1881. Knighted in 1884, Owen retired shortly thereafter and eventually died in 1892. Although he was chiefly remembered for his opposition to Darwin, Owen left behind a legacy in coining the word "dinosaur".