Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802)

ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves

Was born and nurs'd in Ocean's pearly caves;

First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,

Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;

These, as successive generations bloom,

New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume;

Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,

And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.

(1803)

Renowned English medical doctor, poet, inventor, and naturalist. In his Zoonomia and Temple of Nature, he offered a speculative theory of evolution that was widely denounced for religious and political reasons. Although these arguments did not clearly enunciate the theory of natural selection sensu stricto, they did capture basic ideas such as the unity of organic life, the efficacy of sexual selection, and the importance of heredity and the struggle of existence for the evolutionary process, while avoiding any emphasis on teleology or Lamarckian inheritance. Grandfather of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton; Erasmus' son Robert followed him in founding a lucrative medical practice, and in turn sent Charles to study medicine at Edinburgh. However, Charles showed little interest in the family profession. Erasmus founded the highly influential Lunar Society in about 1766; it included Priestly, Watt, Wedgwood (Charles Darwin's other grandfather), and other notable English intellectuals.

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