Introduction to

by Martin Priestman

  1. Erasmus Darwin's last, defiant, densely-packed scientific poem The Temple of Nature, or The Origin of Society was a crucial influence on both the Shelleys, suggesting the opening imagery of Percy's Queen Mab and the conversation between him and Byron about spontaneously-animated "vermicelli" which helped to inspire Mary's Frankenstein.1 The poem also compresses into its four cantos and extensive annotation a great deal of the hard knowledge, speculative brilliance and poetic daring of previous works in verse and prose which had in their turn greatly influenced Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge and many others. In what Desmond King-Hele has called "a life of unequalled achievement," Darwin touched base with almost every aspect of the age of revolutions we label, somewhat inadequately, The Romantic Period. With fellow members of the Birmingham-based Lunar Society2 such as James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley, he was a prime mover of the Industrial Revolution, and his agricultural treatise Phytologia, or The Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening (1800) put the weight of his massive botanical knowledge behind the Agrarian one. He was also the period's most successful physician, whose medical treatise Zoonomia, or The Laws of Organic Life (1794-6, revised 1801) helped to initiate the radically materialist psychology which Alan Richardson terms "neural Romanticism," and the need to suppress which Edward S. Reed sees as the source of a soul-based nineteenth-century psychology. In the other sciences, Darwin attempted and often achieved new syntheses of the most recent, cutting-edge work in geology, astronomy, chemistry and the study of electricity; while in zoology his arguments for the evolution of species—anticipating those of his grandson Charles by more than half a century—have been described by Roy Porter as providing "the British Enlightenment's most sublime theory of boundless improvement" (443).

  2. Politically, Darwin was a radical-progressive Whig. His enthusiasm for the American Revolution was boosted by personal friendship with one of its fathers, Benjamin Franklin; his support for the early stages of the French one was never—as it was by many other erstwhile "jacobins"—explicitly retracted.3 Though perhaps unwilling to notice the new kinds of misery caused by the industrial innovations of friends such as Boulton and Wedgwood,4 he strongly opposed the slave trade,5 wrote against the eviction of the powerless "people of agriculture" by the enclosure of farm land6 and, in A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools (1797), supported womens' right to a rounded education in the arts and sciences. Such radical progressivism played well to an intensely admiring public in his first literary breakthrough, the two-poem work collectively titled The Botanic Garden (1791), comprising The Economy of Vegetation and the earlier-published The Loves of the Plants (1789). The latter of these courted controversy on three counts: by espousing the still-shocking classification of plants according to their sexual traits with which the Swedish Carl Linnaeus had recently revolutionized the study of botany;7 by representing these traits in terms of a series of increasingly promiscuous-seeming human love affairs; and by explicitly addressing women and children as its primary audience.8 The Economy of Vegetation, placed first though published second, is primarily a physico-chemical account of matter and the formation of the earth, which thinly veils its underlying materialism under the figure of the Goddess of Botany addressing the sprites of the four traditional elements, in a structure loose enough to allow for many celebrations of fellow Lunar Society members' scientific and industrial achievements, and for many assaults on tyranny and religious "superstition." But by the later 1790s the same attitudes were considered dangerously libertine, irreligious and hence (in an increasingly common conflation) pro-French. The Anti-Jacobin magazine's 1798 parody, "The Loves of the Triangles,"9 devastated Darwin's reputation, deliberately confusing his views with those of more declared radicals such as William Godwin and libertines such as Richard Payne Knight,10 and poking—admittedly hilarious—fun at his common poetic device of fanciful personification as at once outmoded and  heartlessly frivolous.

  3. The substantial debts of Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge to Darwin—especially to The Botanic Garden and Zoonomia—have been increasingly acknowledged since Desmond King-Hele's Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets (1986). Blake engraved some of Botanic Garden's illustrations, and clearly drew on its plant-personifications for his Songs and Book of Thel.11 Despite a similar degree of influence on their youthful work, Wordsworth's and Coleridge's coming of age as the Romantic poets we recognize coincided with their rejection of the Augustan poetic style of which Darwin was then the leading representative. In 1796, the then-footloose Coleridge spent several months in Derby, largely drawn thither by opportunities for conversations with Darwin, who had moved there from Lichfield in 1783 and seems to have tried to help him find work.12 Coleridge's remark "I absolutely nauseate Darwin's poem" (i.e. The Botanic Garden) needs to be set against many borrowings13 and against his clearly overwhelmed response to "the first literary character in Europe, and the most original-minded man": Darwin was "the everything, except the Christian! [with] a greater range of philosophical knowledge than any other man in Europe. . . . He thinks in a new train on every subject," though the recent Unitarian convert needed to add, "except religion."14 Wordsworth's careful separation, in the 1802 Lyrical Ballads Preface, of the "immediate" pleasures of poetry from the more recondite ones of un-"familiarized" scientific knowledge, as well as its rejection of personification and the "inane phraseology" of poetic diction, suggests Darwin as the key reference-point against which Wordsworth's new poetic defines itself. However, the same Preface's claim that the ballad-form of "Goody Blake and Harry Gill" will give the psychological "fact" it embodies its first real currency constitutes a more complex mix of acknowledgment and disparagement of its source in Zoonomia, which Wordsworth borrowed and read closely in 1798.15 Darwin's psychosomatic treatise also underlies The Prelude's derivation of the "infant babe's" later love of nature from its experience at its mother's breast—whose earliest version was probably written in 1798-9.16 If not quite part of the Romantic literary revolution, then, Darwin gave its formative stages something to kick against,   after first supplying some of its key ideas and images.

  4. In its dependence on the closed heroic couplet Darwin's own poetic style is clearly grounded in the eighteenth century, but the extent to which this mode was displaced by the Lyrical Ballads' experiments can easily be overstated.  In one area his technique was strikingly radical: his insistence that poetry should "show, not tell." As Anna Seward, his most perceptive contemporary critic, put it, "he seldom mixes with the picturesque the (as it is termed in criticism) moral epithet, meaning that quality of the thing mentioned, which pertains more to the mind, or heart, than to the eye" (174). In one of the three prose Interludes inserted between the cantos of The Loves of the Plants, Darwin argues that:

    as our ideas derived from visible objects are more distinct than those derived from the objects of our other senses, the words expressive of these ideas belonging to vision make up the principle part of poetic language. That is, the Poet writes principally to the eye, the Prose-writer uses more abstracted terms. Mr. Pope has written a bad verse in the Windsor Forest:

               "And Kennet swift for silver eels renown'd."

    The word renown'd does not present the idea of a visible object to the mind, and is thence prosaic. But change this line thus,

               "And Kennet swift, where silver Graylings play."

    And it becomes poetry, because the scenery is then brought before the eye.
    (The Loves of the Plants, Interlude I, p. 48)

    Perhaps fortunately, Darwin does not always stick to this exacting standard of non-discursiveness. In The Temple of Nature, for instance, the key-words "young" and "nascent" often derive their poetic force from the double-image of a newborn child and a newly-evolved life-form: a fertile ambiguity which would be destroyed if we could visualize either state completely clearly.17 Nonetheless, his usual prioritizing of the visual keeps his poetry firmly to its purpose of clarifying abstruse science through a series of mental pictures—as in his own image, in the playful "Proem" to Loves of the Plants, of "diverse little pictures suspended over the chimney of a Lady's dressing-room, connected only by a slight festoon of ribbons"(viii-ix). The "slightness" of the ribbons holding the pictures together can be compared to the temporal, narrative dimension of all writing, which Darwin finds many ways to downplay in favour of the synchronically viewable pictures which—as in his repeated use of  extended similes introduced by "So" or "Hence"—he often asks us to juxtapose and compare quasi-spatially rather than merely as diachronically successive. Even his favourite poetic device of chiasmus—the sandwich-like enclosure of lines, couplets or larger units between two forceful verbs or, sometimes, nouns—can be seen as a way of containing the onward impetus of language within a structure appealing to the spatial sense of symmetry.18

  5. While conducive to scientific clarity, this insistence on the visual also relates to Darwin's intense engagement with broader questions of myth, metaphor and symbolic language. Throughout his poetry, Darwin uses Greek and Roman myths as extended similes for scientific phenomena: a procedure which might seem unproblematically neoclassical unless we notice how, in his notes, he is actually conducting a parallel examination of the sources of those myths themselves. Repeatedly, he concludes that they are based on real ancient scientific knowledge, derived from Egypt but converted into linear narratives by those unable to decipher the hieroglyphics in which this knowledge was encoded before the invention of writing. It had, however, been more accurately transmitted to the Graeco-Roman world through the Eleusinian Mysteries, secret ritual performances which revealed only to an initiated elite that the "vulgar" mythology was a misreading of such real material truths as the conservation of  matter from organism to organism.19 The belief in lost Egyptian wisdom, accessible through a rarefied symbolism, has roots in the pre-Enlightenment science of Hermetic alchemy, its offshoot Rosicrucianism and their eighteenth-century successor Freemasonry.20 In ways I shall explore below and in my notes, Darwin draws on all of these traditions for the richest and most seriously meant of all his poetic images: that of his last poem's eponymous Temple of Nature. The contrast between emblematic visual denotations, which is what he took the hieroglyphics to be, and the misleadingly temporal and casually metaphorical connotations of ordinary written language, runs through many of the poem's notes, from his call for a "dignified pantomime" like the Eleusinian Mystery performances to be reinstated to "explain many philosophical truths by adapted imagery, and thus both amuse and instruct," to his arguments for extending the "universal language of the eye" from such recognized emblems as the saint's halo, devil's tail and cap of liberty to a more fully "comprehensive language for painters, or for other arts."21 It is true that what is virtually his last published sentence, at the end of Temple's last Additional Note (XV) , calls for a more accurate use of prose whereby "metaphors will cease to be necessary in conversation, and only be used as the ornaments of poetry," but this apparently rather sad downgrading of the poetic function needs to be set against the rich counterpointing of the two types of language represented by  the verse and notes of all his three major poems, and of The Botanic Garden's opening promise "to inlist Imagination under the banner of Science; and to lead her votaries from the looser analogies, which dress out the imagery of poetry, to the stricter ones which form the ratiocination of philosophy" (v).

  6. His chief model in the project of combining poetry with science was the Roman poet Lucretius's great scientific and philosophical poem De Rerum Natura ("Of the Nature of Things"), written in the First Century BC. Based on the teachings of Epicurus, this poem insists that the universe consists only of atoms and empty space: the earth came about through a chance atomic convergence, is still developing and will one day inevitably fall apart. Though gods may exist in some alternative realm of their own (perhaps simply the poetic imagination), they have no impact at all on the material universe or individual human destiny. People should therefore work out how to live rationally, without fears of punishment after death or divine anger. In its astonishingly wide-ranging fifth book, the poem traces the history of the earth from its first fortuitous formation to the emergence of the various living species from "wombs" in the earth—with only the best-adapted species managing to survive—and thence to the development of human society through various stages of technological development, political organization and (usually misguided) religious belief (V, 807-10).

  7. Though he disagreed with the Lucretian/Epicuran idea that matter is governed by "blind chance" rather than binding Laws of Nature,22 Darwin repeatedly echoes De Rerum Natura's imagery as well as its specific content in his own work, especially The Temple of Nature. Many of the detailed parallels between the two poems are explored in my notes; but the one most worth drawing attention to at a general level is their shared picture of life emerging directly from inorganic matter. Darwin was careful to stress that this can only have happened at a microscopic level, whereafter the various modern species developed only very gradually;23 nonetheless, it is impossible to believe that this idea—on which his grandson Charles's development of it into the evolutionism we know must certainly have been partly if tacitly modelled24—did not find part of its own model in the fifth book of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.

  8. The link was certainly noticed by the Anti-Jacobin magazine's team of writers headed by the future Tory Prime Minister George Canning, whose father had translated into English the eighteenth century's most celebrated attack on Lucretius's godless materialism, Cardinal Melchior de Polignac's Anti-Lucretius. In "The Loves of the Triangles" (1798), the spoof-poem in the Anti-Jacobin which helped to blast Darwin's reputation by successfully linking his metaphorical extravagance with his "jacobinical" science, a mock-solemn note works deliberately to confuse the Lucretian and Darwinian theories of life as spontaneously generated through "the FILAMENT of Organization":

    it seems highly probable that the first effort of Nature terminated in the production of VEGETABLES, and that these being abandoned to their own energies, by degrees detached themselves from the surface of the earth, and supplied themselves with wings or feet [. . .]. Others by an inherent disposition to society and civilization, and by a stronger effort of volition, would become MEN. These, in time, would restrict themselves to the use of their hind feet: their tails would gradually rub off by sitting in their caves or huts, as soon as they arrived at a domesticated state: they would invent language, and the use of fire, with our present and hitherto imperfect system of Society. (II, 172)

    Though the follow-through from animals detaching themselves from the earth to the present "imperfect" state of human society echoes Lucretius, the presentation of this process as gradual and partly volitional echoes Darwin's first, resounding statement of his evolutionary ideas in the medical treatise Zoonomia:

    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 those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end! (II, 240)

    Though "The Loves of the Triangles" was not the only assault on Darwin's jacobinical science—William Paley's 1802 comparison of such a materially self-fashioning universe to the work of a "blind watchmaker" was in part another response25—it had the earliest and perhaps strongest impact, and it is likely that it discouraged him from proceeding with the technological epic he was working on at the time of its appearance. This was The Progress of Society, to be modelled on Lucretius's fifth book and bearing a strong resemblance to The Progress of Civil Society, a similarly-modelled  poem by Richard Payne Knight, to whose existence the Anti-Jacobin's deliberate yoking of it with his own work may have alerted Darwin for the first time. His own planned Progress was also peopled by "genies" of each age resembling the ethereal personifications of plants and elements so effectively ridiculed in "The Loves of the Triangles." But if Darwin did abandon his already substantial and extraordinarily ambitious draft poem for such reasons, it was not in order to draw in his horns. The poem he wrote instead, The Temple of Nature, or The Origin of Society, reads as a prolonged act of defiance, for the first time integrating his evolutionary arguments within a single sustained theory of the material basis of the formation of the universe and, finally, of the human psyche and social organization; investing this vision with an imagery far grander than the somewhat ingratiating nymphs and sylphs of his earlier poems, but also—through its battery of sometimes essay-length notes—daring his critics to counter it on its own scientific terms.

  9. Darwin's evolutionism is only part of a radical scientific vision stretching from the first cosmic explosion to the most refined aspects of human taste and feeling. Though, in Coleridge's words, Darwin "thinks in a new train" on many subjects, this is often a matter of tracing new connections between existing ideas, many of whose sources are traced in my notes. For the purposes of this general introduction, I shall simply draw attention to one significant grouping of such sources: the extraordinary confluence of scientists and philosophers known collectively as the Scottish Enlightenment. As a medical student at Edinburgh from 1753-6, Darwin imbibed a great deal of its intellectual atmosphere, and it is arguable that, with the presence of James Watt and Darwin's Edinburgh friend, the industrial chemist James Keir, the Lunar Society itself can be seen as a Scottish Enlightenment outpost in the English Midlands. In Temple, Darwin's theory of the formation of a stable universe after the big bang leans strongly on the discovery of latent heat by Watt's Edinburgh mentor Joseph Black;26his physiological theories of human and animal health and behaviour as largely dependent on levels of physico-mental stimulation derive from the main sources of his own Edinburgh medical training, William Cullen and John Brown;27 he acknowledges David Hume as a source for his picture of the world developing into its current form from "the activity of its inherent principles" and for his tripartite division of the ways in which we associate ideas;28 but also draws on the leading philosophical opponent of Hume's scepticism, Thomas Reid, for his theory of the natural basis of language;29and on the great social and economic theorist Adam Smith for sympathy with others' feelings as the basis of the social impulse.30

  10. To understand how The Temple of Nature manages to weave these and the other materials discussed in this Introduction into a coherent whole, a more detailed overview of the poem's actual content will be useful. For this I am grateful to Thoemmes Continuum Press, for permission to adapt part of my Introduction to The Collected Writings of Erasmus Darwin.

  11. Published the year after his death, Darwin's last work is really a final synthesis of all his others. After its introductory 222 lines, it largely discards the extended poetic conceits of The Botanic Garden to present a total vision of life in a continuous sequence. This moves from the big bang and the start of evolution (Canto I) to the emergence of sexual reproduction (Canto II) and the development of the human mind and hence of society (Canto III), concluding with an attempt to outweigh the awareness of life's cruelties with a vision of ever-increasing organic happiness (Canto IV). As even this brief outline might suggest, Canto I contains echoes (and even extended quotations, especially in the notes) from Economy and Zoonomia; Canto II from Loves and Phytologia; III from Zoonomia and Female Education; and IV from Phytologia.

  12. Before we arrive at this admirably clear sequencing of all Darwin's most radical and exciting ideas, however, the poem presents certain difficulties, which may have played a part in discouraging readers not already put off by the political assaults on his reputation. While the Preface does little to alert us to the poem's real themes, the second of its three brief paragraphs strangely insists that the classical myths may really have been based on the deeds of actual people and, at the start of the poem, lines 9-14 promise an account of the joys and woes of five "successive Ages" of human society. Neither theme reappears at all clearly in the poem itself; instead the first 222 lines plunge us into a bewildering switchback ride of images: an invocation to Love (15-32) is followed by a possibly ironic retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden, which is suddenly replaced by a howling desert surrounded by rocks, through a tunnel in which the poet's "Muse" and readers seem to enter the central space (33-64). This in turn gives way to a vision of the Temple of Nature itself, which we now seem to have entered because we are taken on a tour of its artworks and its separate realms of pleasure, pain and death (64-128), with the hundred-breasted goddess Nature enshrined in the centre (129-36). She is not to be confused with her Priestess or Hierophant Urania (also the Muse of Astronomy), whose answers to the questions of the poet's Muse (163-222) constitute the bulk of the poem. Long "trains" of virgin supplicants and assorted "Loves and Graces" complete the crowded cast of largely female figures in this somewhat overburdened opening, which also contains detailed descriptions of Orpheus's descent to Hades (181-204) and the rituals of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries (137-54).

  13. Much of this complicated opening becomes clearer if we compare it to a set of drafts recently contributed by the Darwin family to Cambridge University Library.31 Here The Temple of Nature is an occasional alternative to The Progress of Society as the main title of a poem about the five ages of human technology, from hunting to the present scientific age. The page-headers of the published Temple name it The Origin of Society, an echo of the draft Progress title which the publisher Joseph Johnson seems to have changed after Darwin's death to the less-controversial Temple of Nature, which appears on the title page only (King-Hele, Life, 354-5). In the Progress of Society drafts, we are told about the five ages by a Muse or Priestess of Nature in a Temple which clearly occupies the site of Eden, as if to symbolize the way in which man had to invent his own means of subsistence after the Fall. When Darwin changed the poem's theme to the origins of life, this symbolism became far more blasphemous: the temple's scientific account of creation now replaces rather than succeeds the Eden story. Perhaps to disguise this implication in a more general confusion, Darwin retained much of now-dubious relevance from the Progress of Society drafts, and added the theme of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whereby only fit-minded initiates can uncover the true meaning of a set of symbolic images.32 Darwin's hint that some such "solemn pantomime" could be adapted for present-day purposes suggests a possible link between the Mysteries' four main scenes—picturing death, marriage, returning light and celebration of heroes—to the poem's own four cantos.33

  14. From line 223, Urania's account of the origin of life takes us rapidly from the inaugural cosmic explosion we would now call the big bang to the formation of the sea-covered earth round a molten core (226-34), and then to the submarine coalescence of chemicals to produce primeval organisms (235-50), whose growth from specks to lines to rings to ingestive tubes (253-6) closely mirrors the growth of the human embryo in Zoonomia (II, 221). From here the account is pulled in two directions: following the growth of the individual organism until it develops the full human psychosomatic system (251-314); and following the history of the earth, as the first organisms lay down the deposits which will enable the emergence of land, and hence of more developed life-forms, whose marine ancestry is still often discernible in vestigial gills and placental fluid (315-64). Apart from this dramatic development—seen as the true meaning of the story of the birth of Dione (Venus) from the sea (365-78)—Darwin gives no systematic picture of the sequence by which one species developed from another, but does encapsulate it imagistically in an account of microscopically-observed organisms from mould to the "Mite enormous," whose swelling heart and writhing limbs already ally it unmistakeably with higher, emotionally equipped animals such as man (281-94). It is the Additional Note (I) to which this passage refers us that seems to have inspired Shelley's and Byron's discussion of the possibility of artificially creating new life, which in turn gave Mary Shelley the nightmare on which she based Frankenstein.34

  15. If Canto I reprises Zoonomia's crucial section "Of Generation" (vol. II, pp. 194-327), Canto II chiefly echoes Phytologia's corresponding section "The Organs of Reproduction in Vegetables" (pp. 89-131). Urania's opening move from mourning the brevity of life to celebrating the immortality bestowed by reproduction (1-20) also suggests that we may indeed be following the Eleusinian Mysteries' move from death to marriage. As in Economy, the myth of Adonis is used to illustrate the continuous recycling of organic matter (45-60); then a long section (61-176) considers asexual reproduction, from plant buds to oysters to the birth of Eve from Adam's rib (seen in Additional Note X as Moses' misreading of Egyptian scientists' understanding of how species such as the aphid can progress from asexual to sexual birth). The melancholy musings on species degeneration to which this theme gives rise (185-220) are assuaged by a celebration of Cupid and Psyche, "the Deities of Sexual Love" (244), who preside over a return to the material of Loves and then a passage on how "the demon Jealousy" (307) arms male animals such as man in the war of sexual competition. Nonetheless, the Canto ends on a note of celebration, with Urania's attendants cheerfully feeding the poet's Muse beneath the Tree of Knowledge with its fruit's "no longer interdicted taste" (442).

  16. Elaborating on Zoonomia's psychological ideas and linked to the Eleusinian "return of light" scene through a pervasive imagery of enlightenment, Canto III on "Progress of the Mind" is the densest canto Darwin ever wrote. Pleasantly opening with the two Muses conducting scientific experiments (1-34), it goes on to set out Zoonomia's division of all physical and mental responses into the four faculties of irritation, sensation, volition and association (55-92) before turning to the importance of the opposable thumb in distinguishing man from other animals. By relating visual to precise tactile impressions we gain "clear ideas" (126) of objects, prompting the curiosity to explore them further and giving us a sense of beauty, ultimately derived from the shape of the mother's breast (as explored in Zoonomia, "Of Instinct," vol. I, pp. 200-202). The sense of beauty gives rise to that of "Sentimental Love," embodied  by Eros (not the sexual Cupid of Canto III), who may or may not be the son of the Dione (Venus) whose beautiful form he platonically worships. From 207-68 the presiding personification is Taste, seen musing in turn over scenes of beauty, sublimity, melancholy, tragedy and the picturesque. From 269 we plunge into the nature of thought, which begins with accumulations of "sensorial power" not discharged through action (270). By various mixtures of irritation, sensation, volition and association, we learn to connect ideas and imitate others, or external reality in general, and then to communicate by gestures and ultimately language, which boils down highly complex ideas through "Abbreviation" (391), hailed by Darwin's grammatical hero Horne Tooke as "the wings of Hermes" (Additional Notes, p. 93). In its turn, language helps us to develop reason, the power of planning towards specific ends which—lest we get too proud—we should remember we share with wasps and other nest-building insects (411-34). In another return to the Eden myth, Darwin speculates that the real "knowledge of good and evil" may have been the realization of the cruelty involved in hunting animals for sustenance (449-60)—which leads to a concluding celebration of Sympathy (derived from Imitation) as the basis of all social morality, in reminiscence of Female Education's stress on Christ's injunction to do to others as we would be done by (485n).

  17. Continuing this theme Canto IV, "Of Good and Evil," starts by both demonstrating the power of sympathy and lamenting its lack in the universe as a whole. In her longest solo passage, the poet's Muse repeats Phytologia's image of the world as a slaughterhouse (66), bemoaning the human propensity to war, the bloody depredations of the food chain (11-40) and even the "vegetable war" for resources between plants (42). Human vices and natural disasters add to the Muse's inability to "prove to Man the goodness of his God" (134). Urania's answer begins by enumerating life's benefits, from the simple "bliss of being" (150) and the direct pleasures of the eye and ear (151-82) to the idealizations of Fancy, which have inspired patriots, philanthropists and scientists to make the world a better place—though such achievements depend on the freedom of the Press, currently under attack (like Darwin himself) from an increasingly reactionary government (182-290). Such cultural achievements as history, poetry, architecture, painting, dance and music continue the list (291-336). Finally, Urania repeats Phytologia's arguments that every death is matched by an increase in  life and general happiness (337-462), weaving in Thomas Malthus's argument, in Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), that "war and pestilence, disease and dearth" (373) are necessary brakes on human population, but not embracing his notorious corollary that all attempts at improvement are a waste of time. The poem climaxes with a mass choric celebration of Nature, followed by Urania's final unveiling of her "Truth Divine" (463-524).


1 See Desmond King-Hele, Shelley: His Thought and Work, pp. 32-3, 162-5; Martin Priestman, Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830, pp. 221-3; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus: The 1818 text, ed. Marilyn Butler, pp. 3, 195. See too my note to Temple, I, 247.

2 For an excellent recent account of this extremely influential grouping, see Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men: The Friends who made the Future.

3 Indeed, in 1800 he could still describe the French army as acting primarily in defence of its republic (Phytologia, p. 558).

4 See Tim Carter, "Erasmus Darwin, Work and Health."

5 See The Loves of the Plants (Part II of The Botanic Garden), III, 441-56.

6 See Phytologia, pp. 467-8.

7 Darwin's first substantial written works were his translations, under the name of "A Botanical Society at Lichfield", of Linnaeus's A System of Vegetables (1783), and The Families of Plants (1787).

8 See the "Proem" to Loves of the Plants, addressed as to a child and comparing the poem to "diverse little pictures suspended over the chimney of a Lady's dressing room, connected only by a slight festoon of ribbons" (pp. viii-ix).

9 The Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner, vol 2, pp. 162-74, 200-205, 274-80.

10 The Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner, vol 2, p. 162. Canning and Co. attribute the poem to a "Mr. Higgins" (their usual pseudonym for Godwin), who also "wrote" The Progress of Man, their earlier parody of The Progress of Society by Richard Payne Knight, also notorious for such sexually explicit works as A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus (1785).

11 See David Worrall, "William Blake and Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden."

12 See Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement, pp. 301-2.

13 See Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement, pp. 103-19; Ian Wylie, "Coleridge and the Lunaticks."

14 See S.T. Coleridge, Collected Letters, I. pp. 177, 216, 305-6.

15 See William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads (1802), vol. I, pp. vi, xviii, xxxiv-xxxix, liii; King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement, p. 318.

16 See my note to The Temple of Nature, III, 167.

17 See my notes to I, 251; II, 216; III, 117, 120, 149.

18 For a useful discussion of Darwin's use of chiasmus, see Donald M. Hassler, Erasmus Darwin, pp. 30-34.

19 See, e.g., The Economy of Vegetation (Botanic Garden, I), vii-viii; Additional Note XXII, pp. 53-9.

20 See Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Vol. I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985, chapter 3. For more on The Temple of Nature's possible links with Freemasonry, see my note to I, 69.

21 See The Temple of Nature, note to I, 137; Additional Note VI.

22 See The Temple of Nature, note to IV, 147.

23 See The Temple of Nature, Additional Note I. Lucretius was clearly not the only model for Darwin's evolutionism: for others, see my notes to II, 122 and III, 122; and Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin (1963), pp. 63-77.

24 Certainly tacitly: Charles Darwin's biography of his grandfather does not mention evolution once. See Charles Darwin, The Life of Erasmus Darwin, ed. Desmond King-Hele.

25 See William Paley, Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature, p. 1. Paley's "argument from design" of God's existence via the analogy of a watch stumbled across on an empty heath is of course the starting-point for Richard Dawkins's (Charles-) Darwinian riposte in The Blind Watchmaker.

26 See note to The Temple of Nature, I, 235.

27 See note to The Temple of Nature, I, 269.

28 See notes to The Temple of Nature, I, 309; IV, 299.

29 See note to The Temple of Nature, III, 342.

30 See note to The Temple of Nature, III, 461.

31 DAR 227: 2: 22-5.

32 The lateness of this addition is suggested by the way in which Canto I's Additional Notes—possibly set in print first—seem to refer to a poem shorter than the final version by a similar number of lines.

33 See The Temple of Nature, note to I, 137; and Irwin Primer, "Erasmus Darwin's Temple of Nature: Progress, Evolution, and the Eleusinian Mysteries", pp. 64-5.

34 See Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 195, and Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement, p. 361.