Charles Darwin’s great work, ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ didn’t just spring out of the primordial ooze of one man’s brain. In the 1770’s, about the time Washington was crossing the Delaware, “Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin, a physician and philosopher, publicly declared that different species had evolved from a common ancestor. He even had a motto, “E conchis omnia” (“Everything from shells”) painted on his carriage, prompting a local clergyman to lambaste him in verse:
Great wizard he! by magic spells
Can all things raise from cockle shells.
In the 1794 book of his two-volume ‘Zoonomia,’ the elder Darwin ventured that over the course of “perhaps millions of ages . . . all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament,” acquiring new traits and passing down improvements from generation to generation.” (end quotes)
Click the site below to read a colorful article in Smithsonian Magazine in which author Richard Conniff explains how Wallace’s parallel work in Amazonia and Asia finally prompted Charles Darwin to publish his book.
And who wrote ‘Vestiges?’ “By the 1840’s, evolutionary ideas had broken out of the scientific community and into heated public debate. The sensation of 1845 (when Thoreau built his cabin at Walden Pond), was the anonymous tract, ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,’ and it set both Darwin and Wallace on career paths that would converge in that fateful 1858 mail delivery. ‘Vestiges’ deftly wove evolutionary ideas into a sweeping history of the cosmos, beginning in some primordial “fire mist.” The author, later revealed to be the Edinburgh journalist and publisher Robert Chambers, argued that humans had arisen from monkeys and apes, but he also appealed to ordinary readers with the uplifting message that evolution was about progress and improvement.
‘Vestiges’ quickly became a popular hit, a rose-tinted ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ of its day. Prince Albert read it aloud to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace . . . ” (and I suspect Thoreau read it quietly on the shores of Walden Pond and later discussed it with Emerson and Channing).