Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science, and Serendipity

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OUP Oxford, Sep 13, 2012 - History - 322 pages
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Dr Erasmus Darwin seemed an innocuous Midlands physician, a respectable stalwart of eighteenth-century society. But there was another side to him. Botanist, inventor, Lunar inventor and popular poet, Darwin was internationally renowned for breathtakingly long poems explaining his theories about sex and science. Yet he become a target for the political classes, the victim of a sustained and vitriolic character assassination by London's most savage satirists. Intrigued, prize-winning historian Patricia Fara set out to investigate why Darwin had provoked such fierce intellectual and political reaction. Inviting her readers to accompany her, she embarked on what turned out to be a circuitous and serendipitous journey. Her research led her to discover a man who possessed, according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'perhaps a greater range of knowledge than any other man in Europe.' His evolutionary ideas influenced his grandson Charles, were banned by the Vatican, and scandalized his reactionary critics. But for modern readers, he shines out as an impassioned Enlightenment reformer who championed the abolition of slavery, the education of women, and the optimistic ideals of the French Revolution. As she tracks down her quarry, Patricia Fara uncovers a ferment of dangerous ideas that terrified the establishment, inspired the Romantics, and laid the ground for Victorian battles between faith and science.
 

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Contents

Serendipity
1
The Loves of the Triangles
11
The Loves of the Plants
65
The Economy of Vegetation
125
The Temple of Nature
185
Reputations and Reflections
252
The Loves of the Triangles
259
Notes
281
Bibliography
297
Index
309
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About the author (2012)


Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is the Senior Tutor of Clare College. A specialist in Enlightenment England, her main passion is explaining to non-academic audiences why the history of science is so fascinating and so important. Her most recent book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (2009), won the Dingle prize awarded by the British Society for the History of Science. Her other successful publications include Newton: The Making of Genius (2002), Sex, Botany and Empire (2003) and Pandora's Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment (2004). An experienced public lecturer, she appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes such as In our Time and Start the Week. She also contributes articles and reviews to many journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Prospect, Nature, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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