By Ernst Krause
Translated by William Sweetland Dallas
By Charles Robert Darwin
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2009
Online Publication Date:August 2010
Original Publication Year:1879
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511704482.003
Subjects: Evolutionary biology , History of science
On the second page of the later editions of Darwin's ‘Origin of Species’ we find the following brief observation:—“It is curious how largely my grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, anticipated the views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck in his ‘Zoonomia’ (vol. i. pp. 500–510), published in 1794.” Being quite aware of the reticence and modesty with which the author expresses himself, especially in speaking pro domo, I thought immediately that here we ought to read between the lines, and that this ancestor of his must certainly deserve considerable credit in connection with the history of the Darwinian theory. As no light was to be obtained upon this subject from German literature I procured the works of Erasmus Darwin, and have found singular pleasure in their study.
I was speedily convinced that this man, equally eminent as philanthropist, physician, naturalist, philosopher, and poet, is far less known and valued by posterity than he deserves, in comparison with other persons who occupy a similar rank. It is true that what is perhaps the most important of his many-sided endowments, namely his broad view of the philosophy of nature, was not intelligible to his contemporaries; it is only now, after the lapse of a hundred years, that by the labours of one of his descendants we are in a position to estimate at its true value the wonderful perceptivity, amounting almost to divination, that he displayed in the domain of biology.