The C. Warren Irvin, Jr., Collection of Darwin and DarwinianaIsland 1
Time scales based upon systems of biblical computation long predate the scientific principle of the geologic time scale. Jewish chronology traditionally places the Creation 3760 years before the commencement of the Christian era. The most popular Christian attempt to identify the precise moment of divine creation was that of James Ussher. After careful calculation, Ussher pinpointed the moment of creation to the afternoon of October 23, 4004 B.C. Ussher's chronology, from the 1658 first edition of his Annals, is shown here.
Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, a physician, radical and free-thinker, was a significant figure in late nineteenth-century natural history. Darwin was influential in the publishing of the first English editions of Linnaeus's works and like Linnaeus, who saw in the propagation of plant hybrids the possibility for the development of new species, Darwin believed that existing life forms had evolved gradually from earlier species. He ascribed evolutionary development to the organism's conscious adaptation to needs and environment. Zoönomia (1794-1796), a popular two-volume work on animal life, contains a chapter on "generation", stating his evolutionary theories. His views are close to those later espoused by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, which were discredited by his grandson, Charles. Phytologia ("The study of plants"), vegetable companion to Zoönomia, contains the earliest detailed description of photosynthesis and, coincidentally, the first description of the geological principles of the artesian well. Study of insectivorous plants convinced Darwin that vegetables had muscles, nerves and a brain. He also believed that cross-fertilization was a superior form of reproduction to self-fertilization since it encouraged diversity. Consciously or unconsciously, Charles Darwin returned to these and other of his grandfather's interests.
The first section of The botanic garden. Darwin's posthumously published Temple of Nature; a poem with philosophical notes (1803), contains the statement that "all vegetables and animals now existing were originally derived from the smallest microscopic ones, formed by spontaneous vitality." This view, which explicitly excludes divine intervention as a factor in creation, is close to basic modern scientific theory.
The poet Anna Seward, "Swan of Lichfield", was a close acquaintance of Erasmus Darwin when he practiced medicine at Lichfield (1756-1781). Many recollections in the Memoirs, compiled after Darwin's death, are of a curious nature; for example Darwin's swimming a river, fully clothed, in a state of "vinous exhilaration", subsequently preaching from a barrel in Nottingham market-place on the need for "prudence and sanitary regulations". In his biography of his grandfather, Charles Darwin claims that a number of Miss Seward's anecdotes are false, attributing this to disappointment at Darwin's failure to propose marriage after the death of his first wife and it is certain that she resented Darwin's unattributed incorporation of her verse in The botanical garden. Miss Seward herself subsequently retracted one incident reported here. Her talents should not be judged solely on the equivocal contents of this brief notice; she was highly regarded by many contemporaries, among them Darwin and Sir Walter Scott, who corresponded with her regularly during the final years of her life.
Though the scientific study of zoology, botany and geology was the principal basis of Darwin's work, the doctrine of the survival of the fittest as the principle determinant in evolution owes much to Malthus's Essay on the principle of population. Malthus's central thesis is that population increases geometrically, whereas food supplies increase only arithmetically. Unless checked artificially, therefore, population inevitably increases until it exceeds its food supply. At this point natural factors come into play through the decimation of less privileged sections of society by famine and disease.
As Darwin read Malthus's Essay (September 1838) he realized that because of high infant mortality species do not increase in proportion to the number of young that they produce. He deduced that survivors are, on average, better suited to survive in their environment and termed this process of selection through natural causes "natural selection". Both Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (who also regarded the survival of the fittest as crucial to evolutionary theory) acknowledged Malthus as a major influence on their work. Essay on the principle of population was first published in 1798. The second edition of 1804, shown here, was much expanded and contains a fully-developed statement of Malthus's theories.
Lamarck's Philosophie zoölogique contains the first detailed statement of the principle that the progressive complexity of life forms, from simplest to most advanced, parallels the chronological development of life forms. However, his belief that environment alone could create hereditarily transmissible modification to organisms varies sharply from Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection, which maintains that naturally occurring variations survive and prosper if suited to basic needs or habitat.
Robert Chambers, 1802-1871
Chambers' anonymously published Vestiges is an uncomfortable compound of scientific observation and ill-supported hypothesis. Chambers formulates a basic statement of evolutionary theory but fails to underpin this with a consistent, rational model. For the first time, however, evolution was a subject for popular debate. The acrimony of the debate was responsible in part for Darwin's cautious approach to the publication of his own theories.
Shortly before the Beagle sailed in 1831, John Stevens Henslow, professor of Botany at Cambridge, presented Darwin with a copy of the newly-published first volume of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, warning him strongly against its contents. Lyell's Principles dealt a death blow to the Catastrophic school of geology, establishing a scientific principle of the uniformity of nature free of elements of supernatural intervention. The book's authority depends on Lyell's familiarity with advances in paleontology, particularly the study of shells, not available to earlier scholars. The second volume of Principles, published in 1832, reached Darwin in Montevideo. Darwin valued Lyell's opinion so highly that he forwarded advance sheets of On the origin of species to him in September 1859 with the statement "remember that your verdict will probably have more influence than my book in deciding whether [my] views...will be admitted or rejected". Though he was largely in agreement with the principles of the Origin, Lyell never unequivocally and publicly accepted Darwin's hypothesis, largely because he baulked at the realization that its principles must apply to man as to other animals.
This copy of Lyell's Principles of geology was originally owned by Thomas Cooper (1759-1839), second president of this institution. At the time of publication Principles of geology, which effectively disposed of supernatural intervention as a factor in the study of geology, was considered to be dangerously radical (Professor Henslow presented a copy of the first volume to Darwin with the warning that he should "on no account accept the views therein advocated"). Lyell held, however, that there was no geological evidence for the evolutionary principal, an opinion which he continued to hold until 1859, when he helped arrange for the publication of On the origin of species. It is clear from marginal annotations in this copy that Dr. Cooper disagreed and that he believed in some form of evolution. On the page shown Cooper has placed a question mark next to Lyell's observation that the successive development of animal creation is wholly unsupported by geological evidence. Other notes in this volume make it clear that Cooper regarded man as a species of animal.
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