Erasmus Darwin

Darwin wrote of this work, and the controversy it encountered, in his Autobiography:

Erasmus DarwinIn 1879, I had a translation of Dr. Ernst Krause's Life of Erasmus Darwin published, and I added a sketch of his character and habits from materials in my possession. Many persons have been much interested by this little life, and I am surprised that only 800 or 900 copies were sold. Owing to my having accidentally omitted to mention that Dr. Krause had enlarged and corrected his article in German before it was translated, Mr Samuel Butler abused me with almost insane virulence. How I offended him so bitterly, I have never been able to understand. The subject gave rise to some controversy in the Athenæum newspaper and Nature. I laid all the documents before some good judges, viz. Huxley, Leslie Stephen, Litchfield, etc., and they were all unanimous that the attack was so baseless that it did not deserve any public answer; for I had already expressed privately my regret to Mr. Butler for my accidental omission. Huxley consoled me by quoting some German lines from Goethe, who had been attacked by someone, to the effect "that every Whale has its Louse."

Further discussion, especially of the accusations of Samuel Butler, can be found in LL 3: Chapter VI and in Barlow ed., Autobiography, p. 167 and Appendix 2 'The Darwin-Butler Controversy'

John van Wyhe

Bibliographical introduction by R. B. Freeman

Ernst Krause's short scientific biography of Darwin's grandfather had originally appeared in the German periodical Kosmos in February 1879, a Gratulationsheft for his seventieth birthday. This translation was published in November, and in it Krause altered the text to refer, indirectly, to Samuel Butler's Evolution old and new which had appeared in May. The alterations are not specifically noticed in the book, and Butler took strong exception to them, an exception which resulted in a sordid and one-sided quarrel in which Darwin remained silent. A copy in the British Library contains manuscript notes by Butler.

Darwin's own biographical contribution, which was based on family papers, is longer than the original article, and, in recognition that it contains his work, the binding is standard green cloth. Festing Jones, in his Samuel Butler, a memoir (Vol. I, p. 320, 1919) states that the translation was instigated by Charles Darwin and his brother Erasmus. The price was 7s. 6d. and the Autobiography p. 97 notes that, by May 1881, only 800 or 900 copies had been sold.

The so-called second edition of 1887, which was edited by Francis Darwin, consists of sheets of the first, or from stereos, except that page [1] has been reset with the dropped title altered from 'Preliminary notice' to 'Erasmus Darwin'. The title changes to give Darwin more credit for the work, and the preliminaries are altered to include a note, on page v, which states that Krause had altered his text in the first edition from that of the original German; there are also seven errata on page [xii]. There is a freak copy at the University of Toronto which has a title page and preface of the first edition, bound with the additional matter and text of the second. It is a school prize, bound in full calf, and cannot be a made-up copy.

An American edition, from English stereos, appeared in 1880, but there were no later reprints of the work except for a facsimile of the first edition in 1971. Darwin's notice alone appeared in German in 1880, and has since been translated into Russian.

1879. Preliminary notice. Krause, Erasmus Darwin. Text Image PDF F1319 Darwin's annotated copy: Image PDF

1887. Preliminary notice. Krause, Erasmus Darwin. 2d ed. Text Image PDF F1321 [Notice added to 2d ed. only, PDF=complete book]

King-Hele, D. ed. 2002. Charles Darwin's the life of Erasmus Darwin. First unabridged edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. F1853


1880. Erasmus Darwin und seine Stellung in der Geschichte der Descendenz-Theorie von Ernst Krause. Mit seineme Lebens- und Charakterbilde von Charles Darwin. Text Image PDF F1323

Click here for a full bibliographical list.


From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d ed. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 31 Baalbec Road, London N5 1QN.

Corrections and additions copyright John van Wyhe, The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online - National University of Singapore.


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