Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 223–238


  • English

Print Length

16 pages

8. The Antichrist and the Shaven Monkey

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
The incoming editor of the Owenite house organ, the Crisis, was shocked by Saull’s monkey ancestry. The Rev. James Elishama Smith was a heretical Glaswegian millenarian, who had bathed in disreputable Southcottian waters before his arrival in London. Here he delivered his inflammatory “Antichrist” lectures at Borough’s blasphemy chapel in 1832-1833. So extreme were these (he made God and the Devil one) that the police kept tabs on him, and a spy thought him the greatest abuser of Christianity he had ever heard. His talks alternated with Saull’s at the chapel, so he knew the latter’s views well. He agreed with Saull on so much: life’s graduated scale, huge geological time spans, on mankind’s rise from savagery. And the two shared reformist views and worked together at Owen’s Institution. Smith took over the flagging Crisis just as Saull was delivering his Bristol lecture, and Smith’s first act was to print a transcript of the talk and attack its monkeying conclusion. This would be the start of Smith’s lifelong trend, through a series of publications, of spoofing Saull’s monkey man. The causes of the differences between the Owenite millenarians and materialists are dissected, and Smith’s unsettling transformation of the Crisis into a millenarian organ is analysed.


Adrian Desmond


Adrian Desmond was educated at University College London and Harvard University, where he was Stephen Jay Gould's first history of science PhD student. He has two MSc's, one in history of science, another in vertebrate palaeontology, and a PhD for his work on radical Victorian evolutionists. For twenty years he was an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London. He is the multi-award-winning author of nine books, which include: The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs, Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, Darwin, Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple, Huxley: Evolution’s High Priest, Darwin’s Sacred Cause (with James Moore)