I recently read At Home
, by Bill Bryson. Engaging and informative stuff. I enjoyed it all.
One of the things Bryson pointed out was the enthusiasm for amateur science among the English gentry in the 19th century. Many clerics and country gentlemen lived on the incomes associated with their positions, and then kept themselves busy with other pursuits. Bryson notes that many of the journals were full of contributions by clergy for sciences like botany, astronomy, and other disciplines that could be done "from home". And, it is clear from Jane Austen that the likes of Mr. Collins were certainly not very busy with what we would consider actual pastoral care, study, and sermon prep, so it is not surprising that many just coasted through their clerical duties and spent large chunks of time in scientific pursuits.
I've just started The Pickwick Papers, and here the same idea is presented from another perspective. Mr. Pickwick is an amateur scientist of a comic sort: he presented a paper to his society about his "discovery" the source for some local lakes, plus a theory of his about bats. The Pickwick society is very impressed and encourages his further scientific and natural explorations, and so he and his companions begin their travels, which provide the narrative excuse for the episodes of the book.
Anyway. It is fun to see how science was such a popular, low-threshold pursuit in the 19th century in a way that has almost disappeared now. Yes, we do have garage tekkies doing this and that as hobbyists and entrepeneurs, but it doesn't have the stature and place that Amateur Science had in the 19th century.
Everybody pretty much watches TV instead, I guess.