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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 Morris 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.

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About the author

Charles Morris Lansley is an Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Winchester (2016–2018), where he was awarded his PhD for the research that forms the basis for this book. He also holds a BA (Hons) in Philosophy from the University of London, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Leicester and a Master of Arts in Language and Linguistics in Education from the University of Southampton. Prior to his PhD, he worked for the British Council overseas and for the Defence Academy in language and logistics training. Dr Lansley is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. His research interests are in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century naturalists and in scientists and poets of the Romantic era.

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