RECORD: Krause, Ernst. 1881. Unconscious Memory—Mr. Samuel Butler. Nature 23 (27 January): 288.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by AEL Data, corrections and editing by John van Wyhe. RN1

NOTE: Janet Browne revealed in her book Charles Darwin: The power of place. volume II of a biography. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002, p. 475, that Darwin encouraged the embryologist Frank Balfour to translate Krause's letter, originally published in Kosmos 8 (1880-1): 321-2, for publication in Nature. Butler was angry about passages in Erasmus Darwin.

[page] 288


Unconscious Memory—Mr. Samuel Butler

WILL, you kindly allow me a portion of your valuable space in order that I may demonstrate the completely groundless character of a series of insinuations which Mr. Samuel Butler has made not only against myself, but also against Mr. Charles Darwin, in the work which he has recently published, entitled "Unconscious Memory" (Op. 5).

1. Mr. Butler insinuates that Mr. Darwin caused my essay on Dr. Erasmus Darwin to be translated simply in order to throw discredit on his work, "Evolution, Old and New" (Op. 4), which was published in May, 1879. Upon this point I have to observe that Mr. Darwin informed me of his desire to have my essay published in English more than two months before the appearance of Mr. Butler's book; that the translation did not appear earlier is due to the fact that I asked for a delay in order that I might be able to revise it.

2. The assumption of Mr. Butler that Mr. Darwin had urged me to insert an underhand attack upon him (Mr. Butler) in my sketch, is not only absolutely unfounded, but, on the contrary, I have to state that Mr. Darwin specially solicited me to take no notice whatever of Mr. Butler's book, which had in the meantime appeared. Since however I thought it desirable to point out that Dr. Erasmus Darwin's views concerning the evolution of animated Nature still satisfy certain thinkers, even in our own day (a fact which must add greatly to Dr. Darwin's reputation), I have made some remarks upon the subject in a concluding paragraph, without however naming Mr. Butler. And I may here emphatically assert, that although Mr. Darwin recommended me to omit one or two passages from my work, he neither made nor suggested additions of any kind.

3. Mr. Butler's assertion that the revision of my translation was made "by the light" of his book is only in so far justifiable that I looked over the latter before sending off my work, and that my attention was thereby called to a remark of Buffon's. From Mr. Butler's book I have neither taken nor was I able to take the slightest information that was new to me concerning Dr. Erasmus Darwin's scientific work and views, since in it practically only one portion of the "Zoonomia" is discussed at any length, and this portion I had already quoted and analysed, while Mr. Butler only refers to one comparatively unimportant part of the "Botanic Garden," and absolutely ignores the "Phytologia" and the "Temple of Nature." So that no single line of Mr. Butler's far from profound work was of the slightest use to me.

Mr. Butler's contention that I have quoted from his book a remark from Coleridge is entirely without foundation. I have been acquainted with this remark for years, and from the source quoted. It is also quoted in Zoeckler's work (vol. ii. p. 256), mentioned by me on p. 151, which appeared prior to Mr. Butler's book (Op. 4). The whole of my indebtedness to Mr. Butler reduces itself therefore to a single quotation from Buffon.

4. Finally, as concerns the main accusation that no mention is made in the preface of the fact that my essay had been revised previously to publication, it is clear, as even a child could not fail to see, that this is not due to design, but is simply the result of an oversight. It would be simply absurd for a writer intentionally to attack a publication which appeared subsequently to the date indicated on his title-page; and the so-called falsification, so far from injuring Mr. Butler, could only be most agreeable to him, because it might induce the careless reader to fancy that no reference whatever was intended to Mr. Butler in the closing sentence. Should however such a reference be clearly intended—and to every reader posted up in the subject this could not be doubtful—every man of common sense would recognise this terrible falsehood to be a simple oversight.

Berlin, January 12

This document has been accessed 580 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012