Unfortunately for Darwin, and for progress, the question came to the attention of the great Lord Kelvin (who, though indubitably great, was then still just plain William Thomson; he wouldn't be elevated to the peerage until 1892, when he was sixty-eight years old and nearing the end of his career, but I shall follow the convention here of using the name retroactively). Kelvin was one of the most extraordinary figures of the nineteenth century—indeed of any century.
The German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, no intellectual slouch himself, wrote that Kelvin had by far the greatest "intelligence and lucidity, and mobility of thought" of any man he had ever met. "I felt quite wooden beside him sometimes," he added, a bit dejectedly.
The sentiment is understandable, for Kelvin really was a kind of Victorian superman. He was born in 1824 in Belfast, the son of a professor of mathematics at the Royal Academical Institution who soon after transferred to Glasgow. There Kelvin proved himself such a prodigy that he was admitted to Glasgow University at the exceedingly tender age of ten.
By the time he had reached his early twenties, he had studied at institutions in London and Paris, graduated from Cambridge (where he won the university's top prizes for rowing and mathematics, and somehow found time to launch a musical society as well), been elected a fellow of Peterhouse, and written (in French and English) a dozen papers in pure and applied mathematics of such dazzling originality that he had to publish them anonymously for fear of embarrassing his superiors. At the age of twenty-two he returned to Glasgow University to take up a professorship in natural philosophy, a position he would hold for the next fifty-three years.