Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Erasmus Darwin


The grandfather of Charles Darwin, named Erasmus, is pretty famous in his own right.  Erasmus was a physician by trade; also a philosopher and poet.  He was born, and lived in, the same town as Samuel Johnson; Lichfield.  Erasmus died on April 18th, 1802.

The connection to Sir Walter Scott for today involves Darwin’s writing, and a controversy over some lines he “borrowed” from fellow Lichfieldian Anna Seward.  The issue is described in Ernst Krause’s “Erasmus Darwin".

‘The whole case is unintelligible, and in some respects looks more like highway robbery than simple plagiarism. Mr. Edgeworth [Richard, the father of Scott’s friend Maria Edgeworth], in a letter (Feb. 3, 1812) to Sir Walter Scott, says that he had expressed surprise to Dr. Darwin at seeing Miss Seward's lines at the beginning of his poem, and that Dr. Darwin replied : " It was a compliment  which he thought himself bound to pay to a " lady, though the verses were not of the same  tenor as his own." But this seems a lame excuse, and it is an odd sort of compliment to take the verses without any acknowledgment. Perhaps he thought it fair play, for Edgeworth goes on to say that " Miss Seward's ' Ode  to Captain Cook ' stands deservedly high  in public opinion. Now to my certain knowledge most of the passages which have been selected in the various reviews of the work were written by Dr. Darwin. I knew him well, and it was as far from his temper and habits, as it was unnecessary to his acquirements, to beg, borrow, or steal from any person on earth." These passages at any rate show how true and ardent a friend Edgeworth was to Dr. Darwin long after his death…’

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