Friday, January 13, 2006

More Family Connections   posted by DavidB @ 1/13/2006 05:48:00 AM

As I have previously written about the family connections of the Darwins, I was interested to see (via Steve) that Skandar Keynes, one of the child stars of that Narnia film, is a great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, and a great-great-nephew of the economist John Maynard Keynes.

Skandar's ancestry can be traced as follows. His father is Randal Keynes, author of a delightful book on Charles Darwin and his daughter Annie. Randal is a grandson of the distinguished surgeon Sir Geoffrey Keynes, who was the brother of John Maynard Keynes. The Darwin connection comes in through Geoffrey Keynes's marriage to Margaret Darwin, daughter of Sir George Darwin, the mathematician and astronomer, who was the second son of Charles Darwin. So Skandar is indeed a great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, and derives 1/32 of his ancestry from him. Of course, there are many lines of ancestry not mentioned here, such as that of Maud Du Puy, the American wife of Sir George Darwin. The name Skandar is said to be a Turkish form of Alexander, but I don't know if this indicates any Turkish connections. [Added: I see from Wikipedia that Skandar's mother is of Syrian descent.]

But all this is really an excuse to celebrate Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1887-1982), one of the most remarkable figures in the whole tribe.

Sir Geoffrey's day job was as a surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, from 1913 to 1951. During that time he pioneered several important innovations. He was largely responsible for introducing the use of blood transfusion in Britain, and designed the transfusion equipment that was standard for about 20 years. He later specialised in surgery of the thyroid and thymus glands, and pioneered the surgical treatment of Myasthenia Gravis. But in hindsight his most important contribution was probably his advocacy of 'conservative' (minimalist) surgery for breast cancer, in combination with radiotherapy and measures to promote early diagnosis. During Keynes's period the prevalent treatment for breast cancer was radical mastectomy - complete removal of the breast and much surrounding tissue. Keynes considered this unnecessary and barbaric, and showed through follow-up studies that simple removal of the breast or just of the tumour itself (lumpectomy), with radiotherapy, was often sufficient. As he later said, 'I was sure that I had initiated an important advance in practice by trying to eliminate what I regarded as surgical malpractice - the performance of a grossly mutilating and illogical operation, when similar or slightly better statistical results could be obtained by conservative surgery supplemented by radiotherapy'. Keynes pursued his own approach with success from the 1920s onwards, but it was generally regarded as heretical, and not widely adopted in Britain until the 1950s. Resistance was stronger in the United States, where the Keynesian approach was not widely followed until some 50 years after he introduced it.

A career like this should be enough for anyone, but Keynes was actually better known in his lifetime for his 'hobby' as a literary scholar and historian. He was a passionate book collector, and as an extension of this began from an early age to produce bibliographies of major authors. A scholarly bibliography is far more than just a book list: it involves the identification and careful description of all the editions of an author's work, which is indispensable for serious historical and literary study. Keynes's bibliographies are often substantial books in their own right, and include studies of Jane Austen, William Blake, Rupert Brooke, Thomas Browne, John Donne, John Evelyn, William Harvey, Robert Hooke, William Petty, John Ray, and Siegfried Sassoon. Keynes's first love was for the works of William Blake, which were still neglected at the time. Keynes became one of the world's leading Blake scholars, and edited many editions of Blake's poetry, including the Oxford edition of his complete works. In addition to strictly bibliographical work, in retirement from surgery Keynes wrote the standard biography of William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood. To cap it all, at the age of 93 Keynes wrote his own highly readable autobiography, The Gates of Memory, which includes his reminiscences of figures such as Henry James, Rupert Brooke, Eric Gill, Siegfried Sassoon, and Diaghilev.

It's a hard act to follow, isn't it?