JF Ptak Science Books Post 1962
"...something might perhaps be made out on this question..."
"WHEN on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it."--from the introduction to On the Origin of Species..., fourth edition, 1866
These eyes belong to Pierre-Louis Moreau Maupertuis (1698-1759), a French mathematician/philosophe who worked himself wide and deep across many fields, from mud to blood (geology, physics, math, bio).
But what he saw particularly in regards to Darwin was the matter of relationship in bi-parental inheritance, that there was genetic basis for the inheritance of physical traits. Now he didn't use these terms of course , but he made this sexual generation argument in his Dissertation Physique a l'Occassion du Negre Blanc written in 1744 (and published in Leiden). There is an expanded version of this thought in his Venus physique (printed in 1745, and which is translated as The Earthly Venus), which was a direct confrontation with the belief and theories of the preformationists, who claimed that a being was preformed in either the spermatozoa or the egg. Maupertuis argued that the only way for the characteristics of both parents to be inherent in offspring was for the material to be a combination of the mother and father, and that the preformed theory did not allow for the equal distribution of hereditary characteristics1. Maupertuis is now generally seen as having anticipated the theory of nutation (according to the standard history of medicine bibliography by Garrison and Morton2, appearing in that work as number 215.1).
Darwin published the Origin of Species in a hurry in 1859--after having the idea in his head for 20 years, he was suddenly in the need to quick-publish given the fact that the very young Alfred Russell Wallace was about to scoop his great idea. Part of that quickness evidently resulted in Darwin leaving out his debt to history, not addressing the precursors to his idea, leaving out the bibliographic part. He heard about that very quickly upon the very successful publication of the Origin, which was sold out almost immediately upon publication. Over the next few months he heard from a number of quarters about those who came before whose ideas may well have presaged his own--which of course was the case, and Darwin made basically no mention of work that had come before his own, even though it seems as though he had made am effort to do so at least in notes more than a decade before the publication of the great book. This is a much longer story than I want to deal with right here, but Darwin set to work on addressing this issue and published an "Historical Sketch" which appeared in the authorized first American edition and the first German edition of the Origin in 1860. As Rebeccca Stott points out in the first chapter of her surprisingly good popular history of evolution, Darwin's Ghosts (2012), Darwin included 18 names in his intellectual legacy. Six years later in the fourth edition of the Origin of 1866, the list had expanded to 37 names. The vast majority of those included in the survey were modern to Darwin; generally all of the ancients were left out with but a scant nod to Aristotle, and there were two mentions of works before the 19th century, (which includes Geoffroy Saint Hilaire (1744-1829), who dips just slightly into the 18th century and Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, with his great two-volume work of semi-revolutionary poetry medico-philosophico-botanico Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life, which was published in 1794 though formulated decades before).
Some of the names were quite famous and recognizable; others not so, and some were just extremely obscure3.
Darwin was advised on a number of very obscure publications that came before his own which did seem to address the issue of evolution, though of course not with very much experimental or observational basis. Maupertuis simply does not make the list. He's not there because he was not known to Darwin.
I've wondered about Maupertuis and Darwin, and the Stott book very nicely and very quickly addresses many of the issues regarding the people who came before Darwin, and even so with Maupertuis.
1. "Writing in Vénus Physique (The Earthly Venus), he said: “Could one not say that, in the fortuitous combinations of the productions of nature, as there must be some characterized by a certain relation of fitness which are able to subsist, it is not to be wondered at that this fitness is present in all the species that are currently in existence?”--Source: Maropang (South Africa), "Predecessors of Darwin"
2. A Medical Bibliography (Garrison and Morton) : an annotated check-list of texts illustrating the history of medicine. "7830 entries to references and original sources that represent the most important contributions to the development of medicine. Each entry gives author, dates, bibliographical information, and brief annotation. Personal name and subject indexes. 1st ed., 1943; 3rd ed., 1970."
3. One of the most obscure references brought to Darwin's attention was that of Patrick Matthews, which is described on page xvi int he 1866 edition (in AN HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE RECENT PROGRESS OF OPINION ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.) of the Origin so:
"In 1831 Mr. Patrick Matthew published his work on 'Naval Timber and Arboriculture,' in which he gives precisely the same view on the origin of species as that (presently to be alluded to) propounded by Mr. Wallace and myself in the 'Linnean Journal,' and as that enlarged in the present volume. Unfortunately the view was given by Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an Appendix to a work on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the 'Gardener's Chronicle,' on April 7th, 1860. The differences of Mr. Matthew's view from mine are not of much importance: he seems to consider that the world was nearly depopulated at successive periods, and then re-stocked; and he gives, as an alternative, that new forms may be generated "without the presence of any mould or germ of former aggregates." I am not sure that I understand some passages; but it seems that he attributes much influence to the direct action of the conditions of life. He clearly saw, however, the full force of the principle of natural selection."--Source: Darwin-Online, here.