Image of Arabella B. Buckley


Lifetime: 1840 - 1929 Passed: ≈ 95 years ago


Writer Science, Educator


United Kingdom

Arabella B. Buckley

Arabella Burton Buckley was a writer and science educator. She championed Darwinian evolution with particular emphasis on the mind and morals, in contrast to the prevailing emphasis on competition and physical survival. Charles Darwin described her as being able to 'treat evolution with much dexterity and thruthfulness'.

Buckley was born in Brighton, England. Her brother was Henry Buckley, 1st Baron Wrenbury. At the age of 24, she went to work as secretary to Charles Lyell, and remained with him until his death in 1875, on which Charles Darwin wrote to her to commiserate with her. After that, she began lecturing and writing on science.

Being Charles Lyell's assistant and a female put her in good standing to educate youth. One of Buckley's earlier pieces, The Fairy-Land of Science, puts her views of science in a children's book setting, much like a mother educating her child. Her work was labelled as lectures rather than chapters, mirroring how she would teach young people. One of her lectures, "The Two Great Sculptors - Water and Ice" emphasizes how water and ice create hills, crevasses and valleys much as a sculptor will create a statue using a chisel. It also describes how water always needs somewhere to go and often takes part of the land with it, causing cliffs to fall apart leaving faults and intrusions behind. She saw no contradiction in using fancy to present fact, writing of the natural world: "Can any magic tale be more marvellous, or any thought grander, or more sublime than this?"

Buckley married at the age of 44, but continued publishing under her maiden name, although one of the later editions of Eyes and No Eyes gives her married name (Mrs Fisher). She also edited two other publications: Mary Somerville's Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1877) and Heinrich Leutemann's Animals from Life (1887). Her books were translated into Japanese, Polish and Swedish in her lifetime.

In Buckley's time, male scientists often had female assistants and included some of their findings in the lead scientists' work. The women themselves generally would not be labelled scientists, and so did not receive any acknowledgement.

Arabella Buckley died of influenza at her home, 3 Boburg Terrace, Sidmouth, Devon, on 9 February 1929.

Arabella Buckley's writing was predominantly aimed at children and young people, but was popular and greatly respected by all ages. She communicated science through enchantment and metaphorical language that was attractive to younger readers. Like many writers in her time, she was trying to distance science from the mechanistic and materalistic philosophies it was sometimes connected to, and promoted it in moralistic terms: learning is presented as a means to become not only knowledgable, but morally good. This places it in the tradition of books such as Charles Kingsley's Glaucus or the Wonders of the Shore (1855) which ignited the Victorian crazy for the popular pursuit of the natural world, seen in a framework of what has been called 'muscular christianity'.

However, Buckley veered away from this hyper-masculinised narrative of nature and science. She tended to avoid technical language, such as the mechanisms of natural selection, and instead use narrative and metaphor to reach a wide audience. This made her work accessible and 'barrier crossing'.

Books by Arabella B. Buckley

By Pond and River Cover image

By Pond and River

Non-Fiction Science
Animal Children's Non-fiction Plants

In By Pond and River, another of Arabella Buckley's wonderful science books for children, she explains the habitats of ponds and rivers, exposing children to the animals and plant life that are found there.

Wild Life in Woods and Fields Cover image

Wild Life in Woods and Fields

Non-Fiction Science
Naturalistic Children's Literature Wildlife

Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella B. Buckley is a collection of stories that will encourage children to become little naturalists and explore the majesty of the great outdoors. This is science taught in such a charming, delightful way that ch...

 Birds of the Air Cover image

Birds of the Air

Non-Fiction Science
Nature Birds

Arabella Buckley had a great love of nature and wished to impart that love to children. Birds of the Air will encourage children to observe birds in their natural environment and notice the habits of each particular bird they encounter.

The Fairyland of Science  Cover image

The Fairyland of Science

Nature Beliefs Imagination Poetry

"I have promised to introduce you today to the fairy-land of science, -- a somewhat bold promise, seeing that most of you probably look upon science as a bundle of dry facts, while fairy-land is all that is beautiful, and full of poetry and imaginati...

Through Magic Glasses and Other Lectures Cover image

Through Magic Glasses and Other Lectures

"The present volume is chiefly intended for those of my young friends who have read, and been interested in, The Fairyland of Science. It travels over a wide field, pointing out a few of the marvellous facts which can be studied and enjoyed by the he...