The genius of Erasmus Darwin

Christopher U.M. Smith (Editor), Robert Arnott (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The Genius of Erasmus Darwin provides insight into the full extent of Erasmus Darwin's exceptional intellect. He is shown to be a major creative thinker and innovator, one of the minds behind the late eighteenth-century industrial revolution, and one of the first, if not the first, to perceive the living world (including humans) as part of a unified evolutionary scenario. The contributions here provide contextual understandings of Erasmus Darwin's thought, as well as studies of particular works and accounts of the later reception of his writings. In this way it is possible to see why the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge was moved to describe Darwin as 'the first literary character in Europe, and the most original-minded man'. Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather, was one of the leading intellectuals of eighteenth-century England. He was a man with an extraordinary range of interests and activities: he was a doctor, biologist, inventor, poet, linguist, and botanist. He was also a founding member of the Lunar Society, an intellectual community that included such eminent men as James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood. Contents: Introduction; Setting the scene, Jonathan Powers; Prologue 'Catching up with Erasmus Darwin in the New Century', Desmond King-Hele. Section 1: Medicine: Physicians and physic in 17th and 18th century Lichfield, Dennis Gibbs; Dr Erasmus Darwin MD FRS (1731–1802): England's greatest physician?, Gordon Cook; William Pale (1743–1805) and James Parkinson (1755–1824): two peri-Erasmatic thinkers (and several others), Christopher Gardner-Thorpe; The vertiginous philosophers: Erasmus Darwin and William Charles Wells on vertigo, Nicholas Wade. Section 2: Biology: The Antipodes and Erasmus Darwin: the place of Erasmus Darwin in the heritage of Australian literature and biology, John Pearn; Erasmus Darwin on human reproductive generation: placing heredity within historical and Zoonomian contexts, Philip Wilson; All from fibres: Erasmus Darwin's evolutionary psychobiology, C.U.M. Smith; Two special doctors: Erasmus Darwin and Luigi Galvani, Rafaella Simili. Section 3: Education: But what about the women? The lunar society's attitude to women and science and to the education of girls, Jenny Uglow; The Derbyshire 'Darwinians': the persistence of Erasmus Darwin's influence on a British provincial literary and scientific community, c.1780–1850, Paul Elliot. Section 4: Technology: Designing better steering for carriages (and cars); with a glance at other inventions, Desmond King-Hele; Mama and papa: the ancestors of modern-day speech science, Philip Jackson; Negative and positive images: Erasmus Darwin, Tom Wedgwood and the origins of photography, Alan Barnes; Section 5: Environment: Erasmus Darwin's contributions to the geological sciences, Hugh Torrens; The air man, Desmond King-Hele; Erasmus Darwin, work and health, Tim Carter; Section 6: Literature: The progress of society: Darwin's early drafts for the temple of nature, Martin Priestman; The poet as pathologist: myth and medicine in Erasmus Darwin's epic poetry, Stuart Harris; 'Another and the same': nature and human beings in Erasmus Darwin's doctrines of love and imagination, Maurizio Valsania. Epilogue: 'One great slaughter-house the warring world': living in revolutionary times, David Knight; Coda: Midlands memorabilia, Nick Redman; Appendix: The Creation of the Erasmus Darwin Foundation and Erasmus Darwin House, Tony Barnard; Index.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAldershot (UK)
Number of pages416
ISBN (Print)9780754636717
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2005

Publication series

NameScience, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945


  • Darwin


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