The Gentleman and the Rogue: The Collaboration Between Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt

An online first article from the Journal of the History of Biology:

The Gentleman and the Rogue: The Collaboration Between Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt
Martin Amrein and Kärin Nickelsen
Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Published online: 11 October 2007

Abstract This paper investigates the relationship between the eminent 19th-century naturalists Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt. On two separate occasions, Vogt asked Darwin for permission to translate some of the latter’s books into German, and in both cases Darwin refused. It has generally been assumed that Darwin turned down Vogt as a translator because of the latter’s reputation as a radical libertine who was extremely outspoken in his defence of scientific materialism and atheism. However, this explanation does not fit the facts, since, on closer investigation, Darwin not only gave serious consideration to engaging Vogt as the German translator of two of his books, albeit ultimately rejecting him, but he also collaborated with Vogt on the French editions of his works. In this paper we argue that this was not because Darwin was unaware of Vogt’s personality and blunt writing style; rather, Darwin seems to have decided that the benefits he would gain from their association would clearly outweigh the risk of offending some of his readers: in working with Vogt, who was not only a knowledgeable scientist but also an avowed adherent of Darwinism, Darwin could be assured of the scientific quality of the translation and of an edition that would not distort his central concepts – both of which were by no means matters of course in 19th-century translations of scientific works.

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