New book: Darwin's Debt to the Romantics

Charles Darwin

Darwin's Debt to the Romantics: How Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe and Wordsworth Helped Shape Charles Darwin's View of Nature

by Dr Charles Morris Lansley, Research Fellow, University of Winchester

Published by Peter Lang (ISBN 978-1-78707-138-4).

The author traces the influences that contributed to the development of Charles Darwin’s imagination leading to his theory of natural selection. This asks the question of whether they could be regarded as Romantic and square with Darwin being a Victorian naturalist and gentleman. 

Darwin took Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative with him on the Beagle and this is analysed alongside Darwin’s works to identify any influences. Darwin refers to the concept of ‘archetype’ a number of times in his 'Origin' and this is examined to see if he might have been influenced by Goethe’s use of the concept. If so, could Darwin have been influenced by the German Romantics? Darwin also refers to the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth in his notebooks, yet in his Autobiography he describes all poetry as creating a feeling of nausea. The author looks into this contradiction to see if Romantic poetry had an effect on Darwin’s imagination. Darwin also denied that his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had had any influence on him. The author analyses his poetry to trace any influences and whether any of these could be regarded as strengthening the view that Charles Darwin was Romantic.

One chapter in particular deals with an analysis of The Ancient Mariner in relation to Charles Darwin.

The book cleverly follows Darwin’s form of the narrative in searching for traces of history both in science and poetry, and this is achieved with the same inspired imagination as Darwin’s.

Details of the publication can be found on the Peter Lang web page at

Purchases can be made from Amazon, a selection of which can be found at

Darwin cover

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