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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Samuel Butler   2 January 1880

15. Clifford’s Inn | Fleet Street E.C.

Jan 2. 1880

Charles Darwin Esqr | F.R.S. &—

Dear Sir

Will you kindly refer me to the edition of ‘Kosmos’ wh: contains the text of Dr Krause’s article on Dr Erasmus Darwin, as translated by Mr W. S. Dallas?

I have before me the last February number of Kosmos, which appears by your preface to be the one from wh: Mr Dallas has translated; but his translation contains long and important passages which are not in the February number of Kosmos, while many passages in the original article are omitted in the translation.1

Among the passages introduced are the last six pages of the English article, which seem to condemn by anticipation the position I have taken as regards Dr Erasmus Darwin in my book Evolution old & New, and which I believe I was the first to take.2 The concluding and therefore, perhaps, most prominent sentence of the translation you have given to the public stands thus;—

“Erasmus Darwin’s system was in itself a most significant first step in the path of knowledge which his grandson has opened up for us, but the wish to revive it at the present day as has actually been seriously attempted shows a weakness of thought and a mental anachronism which no man can envy.”3

The Kosmos which has been sent me from Germany contains no such passage—

As you have stated in your preface that my book Evolution old & New appeared subsequently to Dr Krause’s article, and as no intimation is given that the article has been altered and added to since its original appearance, while the accuracy of the translation as though from the February number of Kosmos, is as you expressly say guaranteed by Mr Dallas’s “scientific reputation together with his knowledge of German”,4 your readers will naturally suppose that all they read in the translation appeared in February last, and therefore before Evolution old and New was written, and therefore independently of, and necessarily without reference to that book.

I do not doubt that this was actually the case, but have failed to obtain the edition which contains the passage above referred to, and several others which appear in the translation.

I have a personal interest in this matter and venture therefore to ask for the explanation which I do not doubt you will readily give me

I am | yr. faithfully | S. Butler—5


Ernst Krause had published an article on Erasmus Darwin in Kosmos (Krause 1879a). William Sweetland Dallas agreed to translate this article from the German for Erasmus Darwin (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter from W. S. Dallas, 14 March 1879). However, Krause sent a revised and much enlarged version of the article in manuscript, and it was this revised text, not the original Kosmos article, that Dallas translated (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter from Ernst Krause, 5 May 1879, and letter from W. S. Dallas, 7 May 1879). In the preface to Erasmus Darwin, p. iii, CD mentioned only Krause’s original article, having decided to omit much of the revised essay from the published English version. The additions were reinstated in Krause 1880.
Butler’s Evolution old and new (Butler 1879) was published in May 1879 and contained lengthy discussions of Erasmus Darwin, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, and other descent theorists. CD sent Krause a copy of Butler’s book (Correspondence vol. 27, letter to Ernst Krause, 13 May 1879). Both CD and Krause were critical of Butler’s views (see ibid., letter to Ernst Krause, 14 May 1879, and letters from Ernst Krause, 23 May 1879, 7 June 1879, and 13 June 1879); however, CD remarked: ‘I hope that you will not expend much powder & shot on Mr Butler, for he really is not worthy of it’ (letter to Ernst Krause, 9 June [1879]).
The quotation is taken from the final sentence of Krause’s essay in Erasmus Darwin, p. 216.
Erasmus Darwin, p. iii n.
Emma Darwin wrote at the head of the letter, ‘To be returned as it means war we think’.


Butler, Samuel. 1879. Evolution, old and new: or, the theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, as compared with that of Mr. Charles Darwin. London: Hardwicke and Bogue.

Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

Krause, Ernst. 1879a. Erasmus Darwin, der Großvater und Vorkämpfer Charles Darwin’s: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Descendenz-Theorie. Kosmos 4 (1878–9): 397–424.

Krause, Ernst. 1880. Erasmus Darwin und seine Stellung in der Geschichte der Descendenz-Theorie von Ernst Krause. Mit seinem Lebens- und Charakterbilde von Charles Darwin. Leipzig: Ernst Günther.


Asks CD for reference to the edition of Kosmos that contains the original of Ernst Krause’s article on Dr Erasmus Darwin. There are serious differences between the translation by W. S. Dallas and the Feb [1879] article by Krause on which CD, in the preface to Erasmus Darwin, says it was based. SB notes in particular that the concluding sentence of the translation, which is clearly aimed at [SB’s] Evolution, old and new, is not in the original. Since readers will assume the text of Erasmus Darwin was written before his book appeared, SB asks for an explanation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel Butler
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Clifford’s Inn, 15
Source of text
DAR 92: B65–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp & ACCS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12393,” accessed on 22 April 2024,