Lectures on the physiology, zoology and natural history of man. William Lawrence.

Lectures on the physiology, zoology and natural history of man

Publisher Information: London: J Callow, 1819. First edition.

Lawrence, William (1783-1867). Lectures on physiology, zoology and the natural history of man. 8vo. xxiii, [1], 579, [1]pp., plus 16-page publisher's catalogue. 12 plates. London: J. Callow, 1819. 226 x 138 mm. (uncut and partially unopened). Boards ca. 1819, recased, light wear. Minor foxing, but very good.

First Edition of the highly controversial Natural History of Man, which sets forth Lawrence's radical-and to our eyes, remarkably advanced-ideas concerning evolution and heredity. Arguing that theology and metaphysics had no place in science, Lawrence relied instead on empirical evidence in his examination of variation in animals and man, and the dissemination of variation through inheritance. On the question of cause, Lawrence disagreed with those who ascribed variation to external factors such as climate, and rejected the Lamarckian notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. His understanding of the mechanics of heredity was well ahead of his time: he stated that "offspring inherit only [their parents'] connate qualities and not any of the acquired qualities," and that the "signal diversities which constitute differences of race in animals . . . can only be explained by two principles . . . namely, the occasional production of an offspring with different characters from those of the parents, as a native or congenital variety; and the propagation of such varieties by generation" (p. 510).

While Lawrence did not grasp the role that natural selection plays in the origination of new species, he recognized that "selections and exclusions," including geographical separation, were the means of change and adaptation in all animals, including humans. He noted that men as well as animals can be improved by selective breeding, and pointed out that sexual selection was responsible for enhancing the beauty of the aristocracy:

"The great and noble have generally had it more in their power than others to select the beauty of nations in marriage; and thus . . . they have distinguished their order, as much by elegant proportions of person, as by its prerogatives in society" (p. 454).

Lawrence investigated the human races in detail, and insisted that the proper approach to this study was a zoological one, since the question of variation in mankind "cannot be settled from the Jewish Scriptures; nor from other historical records" (p. 243).

The Natural History of Man came under fire from conservatives and clergy for its materialist approach to human life, and Lawrence was accused of atheism for having dared to challenge the relevance of Scripture to science. In 1822 the Court of Chancery ruled the Natural History blasphemous, thus revoking the work's copyright. Lawrence was forced to withdraw the book, a fact reflected in the comparative rarity of the first edition: OCLC cites three copies, at the University of Pennsylvania, Cambridge University and the National Library of Israel, and there are also copies at the British Library and the Library of Congress. However, the book's notoriety was such that several publishers issued their own pirated editions, keeping the work in print for several decades. A list of the London editions of Lawrence's work, taken from OCLC, follows:

1819 J. Callow (authorized)

1819 s.n. (?)

1822 W. Benbow

1822 J. Smith

1822 Kaygill & Price (unillustrated)

1823 R. Carlile

1823 J. Smith

1834 J. T. Cox

1838 J. Taylor

1840 J. Taylor

1844 J. Taylor

1848 H. G. Bohn

1866 Bell & Daldy

Editions were also published in Edinburgh and America.

Darwin owned one of the unauthorized editions listed above, the one issued by "the notorious shoemaker-turned-publisher William Benbow, who financed his flaming politics by selling pornographic prints" (Desmond & Moore, Darwin, p. 253). Darwin was obviously impressed with Lawrence's work, citing it five times in The Descent of Man (1871). 34693

Book Id: 34693

Price: $4,750.00

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