[Click the back button on your web browser to return to the section of “Signs of the Times” for which the following serves as an annotation.]

Darwin: Erasmus Darwin was a man of many talents with various interests ranging from evolution to poetry. Not only a physiologist and the inventor of several innovative devices, he was a successful physician for thirty years (so much so he was invited to be a Royal Physician to King George III, an offer he refused), and after he published Zoönomia, a massive treatise on animal life he was recognised as the “leading medical author of the decade” (Hele-King). He was also a natural philosopher, an abolitionist, and a poet. Although his grandson, Charles, is widely accepted as the first to propose the theory of evolution, Erasmus’s didactic poetry contained a lot of natural history, and he actually mentions the notion of evolution in the footnote of his poem “The Loves of the Plants” (1789).

In “Signs of the Times,” Carlyle laments the advancement of science in “the outward, cultivated exclusively on mechanical principles” without any observance of “the inward, finally abandoned, because, cultivated on such principles, it is found to yield no result”. Fundamentally, he arguesthat “Metaphysics” — the very nature of being, has become a mechanical, physical philosophy instead of a spiritual one, and that any tendencies there might have been towards the non-physical have been lost, as that of Hume’s notions of Atheism and Fatalism. Darwin himself wrote admiringly of Hume’s ideas on the development of life:

the world itself might have been generated, rather than created; that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden of evolution of the whole by the Almighty fiat. — What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of THE GREAT ARCHITECT!

Carlyle emphasises this loss of the spiritual by noting that even the works and discoveries of Darwin, who had much to say about the topic of existence in a mechanical sense, are still not considered physical enough.


Darwin, Charles. The Life of Erasmus Darwin. Ed. King-Hele, Desomond. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

“Erasmus Darwin.” Wikipedia. Web. Viewed 5 April 2010.

Hart, Thomas E. “Erasmus Darwin.” Victorian Web. Web. Viewed 5 April 2010.

Rectenwald, Michael D. Section on Erasmus Darwin in “DarwinÕs Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution.” Victorian Web. Web. Viewed 5 April 2010.

Last modified 7 April 2010