darwin’s ghosts


Darwin had anticipated the charge of plagiarism. Buried somewhere in his notes was a list of predecessors he had planned to acknowledge. With so many enemies lining up against him — venting the expected “disgust and outrage” at his theory of natural selection — he could ill afford to offend his allies. So in the first American edition of “Origin,” he appended a “Historical Sketch” crediting 18 others, including Powell. In subsequent editions, the roll expanded. Stott usefully includes as an appendix the version Darwin added to the fourth British edition, in 1866. It cites over 30 names, many now obscure. Stott, in her absorbing account, shows that Darwin, who had sat on his discoveries for 20 years, had good reason to worry about his book’s reception. Among many other cautionary tales, there was one very close to home: that of the doctor and poet Erasmus Darwin, his talented and outspoken grandfather.

more from Hugh Raffles at the NY Times here.