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Charles Darwin’s Debt to the Romantics

How Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe and Wordsworth Helped Shape Darwin’s View of Nature

Charles Lansley

This book argues that the Romantic movement influenced Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Given that Darwin has traditionally been placed within Victorian naturalism, these Romantic connections have often been overlooked. The volume traces specific examples of Darwin’s reliance on the Romantics – such as Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative, which he took with him on the Beagle, and the poetry of William Wordsworth, discussed in his notebooks – and explores correlations in Darwin’s own writings. When Darwin refers to the «archetype» in Origin, could he be drawing on Goethe’s own use of the concept? And how to explain his description of all poetry as creating a feeling of «nausea»? In addition to these key figures, the book also explores the possible influence of Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. The book cleverly follows Darwin’s form of the narrative in a search for traces of history in both science and poetry, inspired by the unique imagination of Darwin himself.

CONTENTS: Charles Darwin’s Victorian Debt to the Romantics – Organic and One Reality Nature in Humboldt and Darwin – The Forces of Nature in Humboldt and Darwin – Darwin’s Romantic Theory of Nature – Darwin’s Romantic Theory of Mind – Darwin’s Concepts of Morality and Romantic Materialism – Darwin’s Moral and Reflective Nature: Conflicting Values in the Victorian Era – The Transmutation of Darwin’s Romanticism – From Erasmus Darwin’s Broth of Chaos to his Goddess of Nature – The Rime of the Ancient Naturalist.