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The New International Encyclopædia/Darwin, Erasmus

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Edition of 1905.  See also Erasmus Darwin on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

DARWIN, Erasmus (1731-1802). An English physician and naturalist, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. He was born at Elton. He was a keen and philosophic observer of nature, and embodied much of his observations and thoughts in didactic verse, which form several long poems, whose style is stilted and fancifully elaborate. The principal of these is The Botanic Garden (1789), of which the second part, entitled “The Loves of the Plants,” became famous, and was translated into French and Italian. It contained many suggestions as to ‘protective mimicry’ and other features afterwards a part of the elaborated doctrine of the evolution of plants. In 1794-96 was published his Zoönomia, in prose, which was primarily a medical work, but contained many more general reflections, and received wide notice. Its ideas were so novel and revolutionary that, according to Samuel Butler, Paley's Natural Theology was aimed at it and extinguished for a time its influence. Charles Darwin wrote of it, in his Origin of Species: “It is curious how largely my grandfather anticipated the views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck;” and modern students see also that he anticipated much that Charles Darwin himself advanced to acceptance. Erasmus Darwin's views on evolution include the belief that all animals have originated from a single living ‘filament’; that changes are produced by differences of climate; that all animals undergo constant changes, and that many of their acquirements are transmitted to their posterity; that the contests of the males for the possession of the females lead to such results as were afterwards stated under the name of ‘sexual selection’; that many structures have been acquired as a means of security in a struggle for existence; and that a vast length of time has elapsed since these modifications began. The debt which Charles Darwin, Lamarck, and other exponents of the doctrines of organic evolution, owe to Erasmus Darwin has been carefully considered by Packard in his biography of Lamarck (New York, 1901), and by Krause in The Scientific Works of Erasmus Darwin (1879); also by Butler, Evolution, Old and New (London, 1879). A meagre biography by Anna Seward was published in London in 1804. Dr. Darwin's last work was Phytologia, or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening (1799), in which he expresses a belief that plants have sensation and volition. He died at Derby. See Evolution.