In the great length of time since the earth began to exist … would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts … and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!
-from Zoönomia by Erasmus Darwin, 1794
Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus first conceived the idea of evolution when men wore wigs, but the world was not yet ready for the idea, and in any event, Charles Lyell had yet to unearth the geologic evidence for a planet old enough to support evolution.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about equality of the sexes in 1792, and Sismondi envisioned socialism in 1818. At the birth of the modern world we find the germs of three of the driving ideas of last century: socialism, feminism, and evolution.
I wonder which ideas are now too novel, or too unformed, to be accepted today, but will change the world of our grandchildren?
(Illustration from Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, 1857)