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Corespondence between Francis Galton and Charles Darwin
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How Erasmus Darwin’s poetry prophesied evolutionary theory
We will try and respond to your request as soon as reasonably practical. When you receive the information, if you think any of it is wrong or out of date, you can ask us to change or delete it for you. He is the author of America and Other Fictions and his next book, Furnace of This World; or, 36 Observations about Goodness , is forthcoming in He lives in Boston. Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. Edited by Sam Dresser. Though he died before his grandson Charles was even born, Erasmus Darwin anticipated the theory of evolution through natural selection, albeit in poetic form.
In his posthumously published The Temple of Nature , he writes of how:. This verse demonstrates the prescience of the imaginative arts, how poetic dreams can foreshadow empirical reality. Poetry has unrealised potential, not just in celebrating and describing nature, but also as an integral way of thinking about nature. While the younger Darwin provided the scientific mechanism for evolution — and a cursory reading of On the Origin of Species demonstrates that he was an adept stylist — his grandfather did accomplish something exemplary.
Charles enumerated the details of evolution, but Erasmus anticipated its broad outlines; the younger Darwin wrote in prose, and the elder imagined in poetry, arguably the most significant scribbler of scientific verse in English, a sadly neglected genre. But The Temple of Nature, an epic about the history of the Universe, was his masterpiece. As with the 17th-century philosopher Francis Bacon, Darwin was an indefatigable advocate for the scientific method.