Charles Darwin's Debt to the Romantics.

  • Charles Lansley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The thesis examines the principal works of Charles Darwin to determine whether there is any evidence of Romantic concepts in his writings and whether, therefore, he owes a debt to the Romantics such as Alexander von Humboldt and Goethe. The first two chapters of the thesis trace the influence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) on Charles Darwin (1809-1882). There are frequent references to Humboldt in Darwin’s works. Humboldt’s Romantic concepts of Nature, expressed in his Personal Narrative [1807 – 1834] and in his later Cosmos [1845], are compared to Darwin’s concepts of Nature in his On the Origin of Species [1859, first edition]. An analysis of Humboldt shows him firmly within the German Romantic school of thought with influences from Schelling and Goethe, especially concerning the concept of Mind. Humboldt’s method of analysing Nature aesthetically had a profound effect on Darwin’s own imaginative view of Nature. Further analysis of this method, coupled with Goethe’s ‘Genetic Method’ of moving between the particular and the infinite when seeing the ‘leaf’ and ‘vertebrae’ archetypes, shows strong evidence of the influence of the German Romantics on the development of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In analysing the Romantic concept of a ‘One Reality Nature’, the thesis shows that Darwin’s evidence of a common progenitor provides a moral imperative for treating all races as equal in terms of their origins and their potential for development. In Chapter Three the origins of morality are seen by Darwin as having been generated by natural instincts rather than having come from a Creator. This is examined with reference to Darwin’s The Descent of Man [1871; 1879, second edition] within the moral and cultural context of the Victorian era in which he lived. The final Chapter Four compares The Voyage of the Beagle [1839, first edition] to Darwin’s later works to see if there are differences between his earlier and later forms of Romanticism and how easily they sit alongside Darwin the Victorian. The thesis concludes that essentially Darwin’s Romantic theme of wonder and enchantment is the same for both his early and later years. However, Darwin’s Romanticism has moved from an anthropocentric view with Man as its centre to an anthropomorphic view in which Man is seen as part of Nature but not at its centre. Darwin’s self-expression in his writing has also moved from a subjective form of poetry developed through his personal experience of Nature, to a more objective form of poetic science in which Darwin is able to step back from the science he creates. Finally, the Conclusion suggests that there is sufficient evidence in Darwin’s works to claim that he can be regarded as a Romantic materialist. This is evidenced by his view that Mind and Man’s morality have been developed by Nature’s laws out of matter. It is also evidenced by Darwin’s own mental methods of discovery through his own form of imagination and poetry, sharing some of the themes of the English Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Tennyson.
Date of Award18 May 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorGary Farnell (Supervisor) & Neil Messer (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Darwin
  • evolution
  • Romantics
  • Victorian
  • Humboldt
  • Goethe
  • Wordsworth
  • natural selection
  • mind
  • materialsim

Cite this

Charles Darwin's Debt to the Romantics.
Lansley, C. (Author). 18 May 2016

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis