If there’s one biologist you know, it’s probably Charles Darwin, who is famous for developing the theory of evolution…or so you were taught since infancy.
… not so fast!
Years before Chuck was born, his grandfather Erasmus Darwin – a noted physician, philosopher, slave trade abolitionist, inventor, and poet – laid down some rhymes to make Lesane Parish Crooks blush from beyond the grave:
Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs’d in ocean’s pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.
This was from The Temple of Nature, written five years before Charles Darwin was born. But he didn’t stop there. Other works of his show evidence that Erasmus also came up with the idea of natural selection and life emerging from a single organism. And Wikipedia has a much earlier, weirder “evolution” poem penned by Erasmus, and we’ll just have to trust what they say about it.
So what does a brilliant, 330+ pound man do when he figures out that reproduction (along with awesome poetic skills) is the key to immortality?
Well, he fathered 14 known children with two wives and a mistress, and probably also fathered a daughter who went on to marry a guy named John Hardcastle and become mother-in-law of a guy named Francis Boott.
He had five children with his first wife, Polly Howard, including Erasmus Darwin II and Robert Darwin, who would become Charles Darwin’s dad. When Polly died, Erasmus hired a governess to care for Robert, and then had two children with her. Then, after that, he met his funny-named equal: a married woman named Elizabeth Pole – daughter of Charles Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore.
He courted Mrs. Pole with poetry for five years until her husband kicked the bucket, and then he married her and moved into a house called Radbourne with her, and had seven more kids. Most notable among these were Frances Ann Violetta Darwin (who would marry Samuel Tertius Galton), and Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin, who clearly followed in his father’s footsteps.
It was only then that he came up with the evolutionary theories that justified how awesome he was. He wrote two long poems called The Loves of the Plants (which was the first recorded account of evolution-esque theories) and Economy of Vegetation, and then penned his most famous work, Zoönomia,and then inspired some of the most significant thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries.