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Erasmus Darwin: the 'forgotten hero' of evolution of the fittest theory?

Erasmus Darwin  


Earlier this month, Alfred Russel Wallace was celebrated as the ‘forgotten hero’ of the creation of evolution theory by the unveiling of a statue at the Natural History Museum by Sir David Attenborough and the naming of a new genus of wasp in his honour - Wallaceaphytis.

Wallace and Darwin worked separately but jointly published the theory of evolution by natural selection in a paper in August 1858. However, it was Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species that caught the public imagination the following year.

I think we should give some thought to the contribution to the evolution theory made by Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus.

Erasmus Darwin (12 December 1731 – 18 April 1802) was a Lichfield doctor and one of the key thinkers of the Birmingham Luna Society which was so instrumental in developing many fields of endeavour during the Enlightenment period.

Erasmus was a philosopher, poet and inventor who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and pioneered the use of digitalis in the treatment of heart ailments – apparently working out dosage by (sometime fatal) trial and error.

In his book Zoonomia (published in 1796) he presents the world with the first coherent version of what became known as the theory of evolution. Charles certainly read and commented upon his grandfather’s work but his contribution seems to have been lost over time.



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